Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
CHAPTER SIX: The Yo-Yo Swings Upward: 1935-1940
The election of Harold Burton as mayor came like a breath of spring after a long, hard winter. Plenty remained to be done to get the city back on its feet again, but already there were good signs. It looked as if depositors in the closed Union Trust would soon get a partial payment on their frozen accounts. The Chamber of Commerce was talking of plans to hold an exposition on the lakefront in the summer of 1936, with Lincoln G. Dickey, former manager of Public Hall, a skilled and trusted showman, in charge. The Republican national convention had been scheduled for Cleveland in June. The newspaper editors were pleased again, now that their old enemy, Harry L. Davis, had been defeated for mayor.
It was the perfect example of the Yo-Yo condition of politics, government, and business in Cleveland, the upsy-downsy volatility. It would take a long time to clean up the unhappy debris of the first five years of the decade, but the people, as well as the leaders, were looking forward now, instead of backward. Even the long-standing, apparently insoluble, relief problem was about to be solved, now that the federal government had set up the Works Progress Administration, which would at least give thousands of families regular eating money, instead of the uncertainty of getting support from the city, county, or state.
Burton moved swiftly to solve his major problem, which was getting control of the police department and cleaning out the bad apples. He astounded the community by appointing Eliot Ness director of public safety. It did not at first dawn on most people what a tremendous effect this would have on the community, but the newspaper reporters who had dealt with Ness as a federal agent, and who first suggested him to Mayor Burton, anticipated there would be a great explosion, with aftereffects that would last for years.
Ness had been a career man with the alcohol tax unit, and had no political background at all. He had never run for office or been identified as a Republican or Democrat, and did not work for Burton's election. He was a totally new face, in one of the most politically sensitive offices.
Eliot Ness has now become a legend, a prototype of all the good guys, since TV made a series, "The Untouchables," out of his career as a lawman. A combination of Sherlock Holmes, the Lone Ranger, and Zorro, his name is now as familiar to millions all over the world as Sherlock's. The real Ness was totally unlike the actor on the television tube. A few of the TV incidents came close to what he did in Chicago, where he first started hounding racketeers, but almost none are relevant to his five years as safety director of Cleveland.
Ness was one of the most unusual public officials, in Cleveland or anywhere else. He was totally unlike the picture the public now sees. He was no swashbuckler, no Agent .007, no slick type from Mission Impossible, or the Man from U.N.C.L.E. In his personal life, he was a complete nonhero. He looked less like a detective or private eye than anyone you could imagine. He had a baby face, a soft voice, a disarming youthful ingenuousness; but a brilliant mind. He knew little about politics and cared less. His only foray into elective politics was disastrous. He knew how to perform honest, devoted public service in the name of the law, and he had a natural yen for that.
Eliot was a baker's son, who went to school in Chicago and to the University of Chicago. He got a job as federal agent
when prohibition was at its worst, unrespected and unobserved by the majority of citizens, and unenforced by the local police. The federal agents had to do whatever was to be done about the predatory bootleg gangs who were making millions, such as the one bossed by Al Capone or the one cut down in a garage in the famous St. Valentine's Day massacre. An agent in those wild days had to have plenty of moxie to cope with the hard guys. Most of the work consisted of tracing the financial transactions of the beer barons, whose business could not all be done in cash. Capone could never be nailed for murder or other felonies under state law, but eventually the federal government arrested him for income tax violations and sent him to jail. The agents were offered bribes, threatened, and cajoled, but they were respected. Ness and the other T-men nailed Capone through painstaking work. When they had to they got tough physically. They once drove a truck through barred doors of a Capone brewery to get necessary evidence.
After Capone was lodged in a federal prison (to remain there until he died of paresis), Ness was transferred to Cleveland. He soon attracted the attention of newspapers. He was not one to blow his own horn, but he had a keen natural news sense. The Cleveland reporters soon found out from their Chicago counterparts what a great job Ness had done so quietly there. His Cleveland operations began to make page one regularly. The reporters admired his work and liked him personally. He was a friendly guy, an unusual official, dedicated to his job.
When Harold Burton was elected mayor, his most urgent need was for a strong man to clean up the police department. During the two previous administrations, the top police brass was strictly political. The chief, George Matowitz, an honest man himself, but ineffectual and anxious to keep his job, contented himself with issuing numerous platitudinous orders to enforce the law, but the cops knew they were just so many words. They were careful not to raid joints whose owners had chipped in to the incumbent mayor's campaign fund. Democratic detectives wielded great influence under Democratic
Mayor Miller. Republican detectives ditto under Republican Mayor Davis. There was an "outside chief" who got around to pass the political message (the "inside chief" merely sat in his office and composed the orders). It was a lousy way to run a police department, and the honest cops felt life wasn't worthwhile. Mayor Burton knew he'd have to reestablish authority and bounce the corrupt police. He didn't have much time to find the right man.
Wes Lawrence, the Plain Dealer federal reporter who had recently been shifted to city hall, first thought of Ness for safety director. He had admired Eliot's work while covering the federal beat. "Ness would be just the kind of guy Burton needs," he told the day city editor (who was I) after election. "But it seems impossible that Burton would offer him the job. He's strictly nonpolitical. Harold tries to be independent, but he's still a Republican. I don't think Ness has any politics."
Anyway, it was agreed that Wes suggest Ness to Burton and Burton phoned various other newspaper and business friends to discuss it. Everywhere he heard high praise for Ness. So he offered Ness the job.
It just didn't seem possible. Ness was only thirty-three, had been in Cleveland but a short time, had no political connections, wasn't eager to change jobs, though he knew the police department was ripe for an overhaul (who didn't?). The dream turned out not to be impossible, after all. The baby-faced agent took the job.
There were conditions attached to his acceptance, however. One was that Ness would have a free hand to hire private investigators, and pay them out of unofficial undercover funds. Burton knew where to raise such funds -- from his friends in the Chamber of Commerce and American Legion, who were tired of being shaken down. He told Ness he would arrange for the secret funds.
The appointment of Ness was a real bombshell. To say it amazed the politicians was the understatement of the decade. It astounded everyone. Most of the veteran policemen were cynical and didn't believe Ness was for real. The politicians
of both parties were sure he was an overpublicized tyro, a Boy Scout built up by the newspapers, who would soon fall on his face and embarrass Burton. Most reporters and editors hadn't really believed it would happen, though they were hopeful. Ness was totally unlike a policeman, not the type who might command policemen and win their respect. And boy, did he have a job ahead -- like Hercules, trying to clean out the Augean stables!
The young Hercules was not daunted. He had hardly settled in his chair before he hired his private eyes and started to investigate high police officers. He knew just where to look, for his work in ferreting out bootleggers had led often to policemen who knew all about the rackets and may have had a part in them. His young investigators were not known then in Cleveland, which made their job easier. (In later years, they became renowned on their own.) Tom Clothey, Sam Sagalyn, Keith Wilson were a few of his trusted bird dogs; another bright lad who worked for Ness was James M. Limber, now a retired police inspector, former chief of the Cleveland detective bureau. The agents received their pay from the anonymous businessmen, who became known around newspaper offices as the Secret Six. Ness himself, who looked like a recent escapee from a college senior class, did a lot of the gumshoeing, too. He enjoyed it, would simply disappear from his office for several days.
In a remarkably short time, some really fancy corruption was brought to light. One captain, Louis Cadek, was found to have invested $100,000 in a cemetery lot venture that had elements of a racket, and which had failed in the depression (where would an honest police captain get $100,000?). Another captain, Michael Harwood, was found to be the real owner of a bootleg joint that had been raided. A falling-domino pattern began to develop. One policeman told of payoffs and that led to another. Saloon keepers began to phone Ness with tips. Wives of men who had squandered their paychecks in gambling joints gave him names and addresses. Very quickly, seven policemen, ranging from a deputy inspec-
tor to lieutenant to patrolman, were indicted for various forms of graft.
At first there was skepticism in newspaper offices as to whether Ness would get full cooperation from the Democratic prosecutor's office. That fear was soon dispelled. The prosecutor then was Frank T. Cullitan, who was running the same sort of honest, aggressive office that Ray Miller had. The office was manned by bright young lawyers, many of whom were getting paid more than their boss, whose salary was held down by state law. Miller had vigorously prosecuted crooked councilmen; Cullitan was ready to do the same thing with crooked policemen. He and Ness became firm friends and great teammates.
In every case that Ness dug up, the indicted policeman was convicted and sent to prison. The convictions had the cleansing effect Mayor Burton and Ness needed, for a half dozen other policemen of high rank and much seniority, who had not been indicted, decided it was time to retire on pension. A whole new day dawned, a new lineup of top brass, in whom Ness had confidence, was promoted, and by now the entire department knew that the kid, Ness, was for real, and plenty tough.
Soon there came another chance for Ness to shine, in a different field, the murky world of union rackets. In the early thirties, when widespread union organization got the sanction and encouragement of the Roosevelt administration, many predators, less interested in legitimate unionism than in lining their own pockets, began to operate in Cleveland unions. Everyone seemed to know who they were, and the shakedowns they engaged in, but no one had the guts to track down the evidence that would drive them out of business.
Two of the most notorious union racketeers were John McGee and Don Campbell, officers respectively of the window washers' and glaziers' union. Businessmen who refused to cough up found their expensive plate glass windows mysteriously broken, and it was almost impossible to get them replaced. Store fronts remained open to bad weather, or ig-
nominiously boarded up. Installation prices skyrocketed. Most of the suffering businessmen had decided that the simplest course was to pay the tribute. But two of them did not -- Vernon and Gordon Stouffer, who had built up a flourishing restaurant business from practically nothing, in the midst of depression. They complained to Burton and Ness. Eliot moved in eagerly, and before long, his sleuths caught Campbell and McGee red-handed. They were sent to the penitentiary. It took guts for the young Stouffer brothers to stand up against this racket, but with Ness and Cullitan on the job, they showed what could be done. Union relations began to improve all over Cleveland.
The community was far from cleaned up, however; in several suburbs, protected gambling joints were openly operating. One was the Mounds Club in Geauga County, unreachable by Cuyahoga County or Cleveland police, a snazzy place where fashionable Heights matrons and burghers used to eat well, gulp bootleg booze, and gamble without hindrance, often for high stakes. Another was the Pettibone Club in Bainbridge, also unreachable from Cleveland. The most obvious one, right under the noses of the Cleveland police and almost surrounded by the city, was the Harvard Club, in Newburgh Heights. It had all the earmarks of a well-protected fortress, and ran night and day without hindrance. The village police ignored newspaper criticism. The Cuyahoga County sheriff was reluctant to move. Though the newspapers pestered continually, nothing happened, and the public yawned. Plenty of suckers were always ready to go where the action was and lose a bundle.
The Cleveland police technically had no jurisdiction there, since it was in another municipality. Obviously the only way to get inside the club would be with a search warrant. Frank Lausche, then a young common pleas judge, was persuaded to issue the search warrant. Prosecutor Cullitan could serve it, since the sheriff would not act. Safety Director Ness told Cullitan he would go along, too; he was certain some big-shot criminals had connections with the club. So Ness and Cullitan,
with assistant prosecutors -- and reporters, too -- went out with the warrant. The group was met by guards with tommy guns, who were always on duty at the fortress's door; but they got inside.
Ness was unarmed (he always went unarmed to dangerous places) and there could have been a nasty confrontation. It didn't happen; Ness simply faced down the lookouts and went in. Of course, they found nothing inside for which arrests could be made, for a tip-off had warned the manager; but Ness was right -- big shot criminals were connected with the club. He found out later that Alvin Karpis, a much-wanted hoodlum from Chicago, had been inside the club when Ness and Cullitan arrived, but made a fast escape before they reached the door.
After that the Harvard Club gradually lost popularity, and eventually folded. The reputations of Judge Lausche, Director Ness, and Prosecutor Cullitan went up several notches.
Ness's activity as safety director was not confined to sensational investigations. He had a sensible plan for modernizing the police department by putting it on wheels, getting more men on patrol in autos directed by swift radio communication, a technique that today is standard in all big cities. He never was able to get as many prowl cars as he wanted, since the city was still having financial problems. (The Secret Six did not put up money for autos.)
Ness also tried to set up the traffic division as a separate force, not to be considered, for budget purposes, the same as police. He felt that, though the traffic cops were uniformed and had to make arrests and citations, they should not be considered in the same light as policemen who tracked down felonies.
Ness also did a great deal to modernize the fire department, putting in high pressure pumpers, newer equipment of all sorts, and giving the firemen more training.
During most of Ness's tenure as director, his number one assistant was Robert W. Chamberlin, a young lawyer who had grown up here, played football at Lakewood High and Uni-
versity of Michigan, and was an officer in the Ohio National Guard. Chamberlin was Ness's landlord when he first came to Cleveland as a federal agent; the Nesses had a small cottage on Chamberlin property in Bay Village, and a close, neighborly relationship developed. When Ness's first assistant, John Flynn, was eased out because he became too political in his judgments, Eliot appointed Chamberlin and the two stuck together like glue until Chamberlin was called to federal service with the Guard in 1940. (He later served in the Pacific and in Europe, and retired as a reserve brigadier general. )
Eliot was a gay, convivial soul, who liked nothing better than to sit around till all hours, drinking with friends, or dancing. It seemed to unwind him to visit night clubs and hotel dance spots. He was not a heavy drinker, but he could keep at it for long periods without giving any appearance of being swacked. During his latter days as director, after he had finished his cleanups of the crooked police and racketeering unionists, he was seen more and more at public drinkeries, usually with newsmen. This made him vulnerable to backbiting by his enemies, who were now numerous because of the predators he had sent to jail. They spread the word that Ness was a lush; so how could a man who was on the sauce all the time be so all-fired virtuous? His close friends had doubts that so much public drinking was wise.
Eliot seemed unaware that this was rendering him vulnerable. He really enjoyed the bright lights and the companionship. Probably it was because he was lonely. He seemed to have trouble keeping any sort of lasting love life. When he first came to Cleveland, he seemed happy with his first wife, Edna, but not long afterward, they quietly divorced and she left town. He did not talk about it. Women were attracted to him, and during his bachelor period, he never lacked for gals who were charmed by his boyishness. But the relationships were short-lived, and one of them said privately that he didn't have the essentials to keep them going. So it was somewhat of a surprise when he married a second wife, Evaline, an artist.
This marriage seemed to be working. But it, too, fell apart, and they were seen less and less together. Ness must have been conscious that a second divorce would harm his public image, for this divorce petition was slipped quietly into the clerk of court's office after hours, and not discovered by reporters until days later. It was revealed almost at the same time as the discovery that Ness had been involved in a slight traffic accident about 3 A.M. when he was coming home after a party. The implication was that he was under the weather from drink and hence had not reported the accident, which, as safety director, he certainly should have done.
The gossips went to work on Ness's reputation after the accident and the second divorce, but in newspaper offices, his reputation for integrity was still unsmirched. The reporters and editors, high and low, were willing to forgive him if his only peccadillos in private life resulted from staying out late with convivial friends. The most convivial friends happened to be journalists. Two of Ness's closest buddies were Ralph Kelly of the Plain Dealer and Clayton Fritchey of the Press. They spent a lot of time with him after hours as well as at city hall, and could always be counted on to know exactly what Ness and the Secret Six were up to.
(After Ness left Cleveland, Fritchey went to work for other Scripps-Howard papers, became an editor in New Orleans, and finally got into the high councils of the Truman and Kennedy administrations. He was administrative assistant to Adlai Stevenson Sr., ambassador to the United Nations, and after Stevenson died suddenly, Fritchey resumed column writing. Kelly eventually left the Plain Dealer, took a political public relations job in Columbus and ultimately returned to Cleveland to work on the News. He died in his fifties.)
Much cocktail-party talk has sloshed around about what might have happened if Ness had decided to run for mayor in 1941, after Mayor Burton had left city hall. Eliot was then at the peak of his popularity. He could not have had a better press run up to that time. It seems not to have occurred to him then that he might easily have gone on to elective office. He
just didn't think of himself as a candidate. But he was such a commanding public figure that when Lausche was elected mayor in 1941, Lausche kept him on as safety director, an act that caused permanent estrangement between Lausche and Democratic boss Miller. Ness solved the problem himself a few months later by finding a way to get into the war effort and resign.
Instead of trying for a military commission, which he could easily have obtained, he accepted a civilian assignment with the War Department, trying to keep venereal disease under control in cities near army camps. It was a kind of police work, and must have seemed challenging to Ness. It took him out of town, and he dropped out of the public eye until after the war ended. Then he returned to Cleveland, and about this time married a third wife, Betty Anderson Seaver, an attractive young sculptress and divorcee, who had graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He also went into the import-export business with Dan T. Moore, an old friend and a Democrat, who during the war had been in Egypt with the OSS, assigned to keep track of King Farouk.
Suddenly, encouraged by old personal and political cronies, mainly Ralph Kelly, Eliot was urged to run for mayor as a Republican. He had never taken part in political activity during his years as safety director and for him to turn up suddenly as a party candidate for mayor seemed incongruous. The Republicans were desperate for a candidate to run against Mayor Tom Burke, who seemed unbeatable by anyone but Superman, and possibly not by him. Ralph Kelly and the party duumvirs, former Senator Bender and Councilman DeMaioribus (who were rapidly becoming chiefs without Indians) persuaded Eliot he was Superman. He wasn't. The campaign was a disaster. Clevelanders had almost forgotten Ness's amazing record. He was a wretched public speaker. He had a winning private personality, a good-looking wife, and a fine record in public office, but his day had passed. Burke clobbered him.
From then on, it was downhill all the way for Eliot. Like
Alexander the Great, he reached his peak too young, and after being safety director, had no more worlds to conquer. His career as a lawman did not bring him opportunities he now needed in business. He had accumulated no private resources during his years of working for the public, nor did his specialized talent for police work necessarily equip him for business. The export-import business in the Middle East did not pan out. He tried other commercial activity without notable success. For a while he was chairman of the Diebold Safe & Lock Company of Canton, through his friendship with the Rex family, which then controlled it; but when the company reorganized, he was dealt out. Though his family life had stabilized (he and Betty had adopted a small boy, Bobby), and he was popular socially, this didn't produce the big jobs that paid big money. Finally, he moved to Coudersport, Pennsylvania, to engage in a small manufacturing business. It was there that he died of a sudden heart attack at fifty-three. As a young man he had fame, but in middle age fortune eluded him.
Had Eliot lived a little longer, he might have cashed in. Just before his death, it occurred to him that his gold mine of experience as a lawman could be made into an exciting book or a TV or radio show. With this in mind, he had started to give material to a professional writer who was to ghost it. Eliot died before the book was well under way, and before TV and movie rights had been contracted in his name. The writer, however, knew a good thing when he saw it and kept on going. Before long a TV series was on the tube and bringing in royalties to the author. It became instantly popular as "The Untouchables." Not much of the royalty money was coming back to Ness's widow and son, who needed a substantial source of income, since Eliot had left them no estate worth mentioning except his golden reputation. Ultimately, Betty obtained a larger share of the proceeds, but nothing like what would have been available had Eliot lived.
It was inevitable that such a popular American folk hero, as portrayed on TV, would become popular abroad, too, and
"The Untouchables" soon had TV watchers in Europe bug-eyed. A few years ago the Ness legend was so popular that Paris-Match sent its New York correspondent to Cleveland to do a personal story about Ness.
Mrs. Ness is still living quietly in California. Bobby grew up, did service in the Navy, and is back, and married. "The Untouchables" is still coming through regularly in reruns. It seems immortal as entertainment and the fictionized Eliot Ness is well known all over the globe, as a white knight.
Ness had unique views. It was hard to understand at first why a young man of his appearance, education, and background would choose police work for a career. He was frank about it. "I looked around me after a little while and decided there really wouldn't be much competition in that field," he told me with a grin. He was right, too. A man of superior intelligence, with ample guts, simply had to rise to the top in police work in the thirties. Today, with more emphasis on professionalism in police work, top officers going to college to learn executive management and college graduates being recruited onto the forces, this would not be quite so obvious.
Ness was way ahead of his time. He did a phenomenal job as safety director, and was the only man ever to serve in the job under both a Republican and a Democratic mayor. He lacked political savvy, and had no phony charisma. But he had a great sense of humor, was down to earth, without a swelled head; frank, highly devoted to duty. Could he have been elected, he would have made a great mayor or governor.
The summer of 1936 was a big one for reviving the sagging spirits of Cleveland, indeed of all northern Ohio. The Great Lakes Exposition put a lot of men to work erecting new buildings on the made land north of the railroad tracks next to Lake Erie. Lincoln Dickey, an old pro, had planned well. Not only had he a big exhibit devoted to science, but big league entertainment -- Johnny Weismuller, the champion swimmer, and Eleanor Holm, the movie actress, in an Aquacade, with gorgeous gals doing water ballets; Sally Rand, the fan dancer, who performed at a restaurant aboard a remodeled lake
freighter; an International Village, with many little sidewalk cafes and shops that sold authentic foods, drink, and clothes from all parts of Europe. Visitors were attracted from all over the state and adjacent West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. The newspapers gave the Expo tremendous coverage.
While the Expo was still in progress, the Republicans from all over the country swarmed in, trying to find a presidential candidate who could stay in the ring with President Roosevelt. They found him in Governor Alf M. Landon of Kansas, but he didn't exactly stay in the ring. Roosevelt carried forty-six of the forty-eight states, in the biggest landslide up to that time. The convention brought hundreds of visitors to Cleveland, the city was back in the national headlines again, and the citizens felt as if they were again on the upgrade.
After that convention came two others, also political and more colorful, the Townsendites and the Coughlinites. The depression was a great time for the flowering of wild economic ideas, and one of them that bloomed strongly then was put forward by Dr. Francis E. Townsend, a Californian who wanted the federal government to pay everyone over sixty $200 a month. The idea of getting something for nothing has always attracted humans, and Dr. Townsend's plan became instantly popular among the oldsters, and many middle-aged folks who would soon become eligible. Townsend Clubs sprang up everywhere, and bombarded the newspapers with pleas to promote and cover their meetings. When the papers decided there was little news in routine club meetings, and editorially denounced the plan as wild-eyed economics, the Townsendites were bitter. They had money enough, however, to pay expenses for delegates, and they held a national convention in the Public Hall, shortly after the Republicans. Covering it was an ordeal like that of white newsmen covering a convention of black activists in the 1960s.
A few weeks after the Townsendites, came another national gathering, the disciples of Father Charles Coughlin, the Detroit "radio priest" who was the principal critic of President Roosevelt in the thirties. Coughlin, a skilled orator with
a great sense of the dramatic, had a weekly radio program in which he regularly scorched the president and the ruling Democratic party, and blamed them for every known variety of political and economic ailment. Adolf Hitler was going strong just then, and the United States was beginning to make undercover moves to halt him. The country's sentiment just then was strongly antiwar, and Coughlin appealed to this, winning adherents among Protestants as well as Catholics.
One of Coughlin's loudest fans was Municipal Judge Martin L. Sweeney of Cleveland, who had run unsuccessfully for mayor, and was in a daily hassle with the regular Democrats of Burr Gongwer, and the newspapers. So Cleveland was a natural place for a Coughlinite convention. It' too, was an ordeal for the newsmen, who generally took a dim view of the Reverend Coughlin, and considered him a demagog.
Finally in August, the national convention of the American Legion came to Cleveland. It brought thousands of ex-soldiers, filled with gaiety and the good booze now available since the demise of prohibition. Parades were endless and so were pet-pinching incidents. The downtown merchants and hotel keepers loved it, for business was perking up, and the city seemed to be on one of its upward swings again. In November, Roosevelt was swept in again by the landslide, the Democrats were solidly entrenched in Washington and Columbus and in the Cleveland county offices.
The Great Lakes Expo had been such a spirit-lifting success that the business community put up the funds to repeat it in the summer of 1937, and it once again was a magnet for vacationers.
About this time, it looked as though the Plain Dealer was finally going to take hand in the editorial management of the afternoon News, which it had rescued from bankruptcy in 1934. Nathaniel R. Howard, who had been a protege of Hopwood and Bellamy, having risen swiftly as reporter, political writer, city editor, and managing editor, was transferred to the News to become editor, replacing Earle Martin. Howard took with him three of the Plain Dealer's key men -- Paul Hodges,
from the Washington bureau, to be city editor; John W. Vance, reporter, to be chief editorial writer; and Lawrence F. Levenberg, copy editor, to be telegraph editor. It looked like the beginning of a joint effort of sister papers to move against the Press, which was coming up fast under Louis Seltzer.
Howard took over the job in 1937, and Stanley P. Barnett replaced him as managing editor at the Plain Dealer. It looked as if the Forest City Publishing Company was finally going to put some big money into building up the News. The long lease of the PD property by the Liberty E. Holden estate to a management group (which had endured through Baker, Hopwood, Rogers, McCarrens, and Bellamy) had expired. Rumors flew wildly, and the general expectation was that a lot of editorial personnel would be shifted back and forth between the Plain Dealer and News.
This didn't happen. The principal immediate result of Howard's appointment was the departure of A. E. M. (Al) Bergener, as managing editor of the News. Bergener was sent to Washington as a sort of special writer, and Hugh Kane, who had served as city editor and Sunday editor (when the News had a Sunday paper) became managing editor. The News business office also had a shakeup, and Charles F. McCahill came in from Rochester as general manager.
The outbreak of World War II in Europe in September 1939, created an uncertainty about the future of business, and Howard and McCahill did not get the anticipated infusion of funds. The circulation of the News did not increase, and no further transfers of key personnel from the Plain Dealer took place. Hodges later resigned to go with Castle & Cooke on the west coast, and Vance quit to become assistant public relations director of International Harvester Company. Levenberg stayed with the News until it was sold in 1960, eventually became chief editorial writer, then went back to the Plain Dealer.
Mayor Burton was easily elected to a second term in 1937 and a third in 1939. He was achieving popularity by his good appointments and attention to duty, and soon sought broader
fields of government. Like his friend Dan Morgan, Burton became one of the few who achieved success in all three branches of government -- the state legislature, city executive, United States Senate, and later as a justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Burton got into politics belatedly, after World War I. He came originally from Massachusetts, went to Bowdoin College, saw active service as a captain in Belgium and France and returned with the Croix de Guerre and Purple Heart. He was one of the group of bright young men whom Maschke helped elect to the legislature in 1929.
In 1940, three-term Mayor Burton ran for United States senator. The favored candidate of downstate Republicans (especially Edwin D. Schorr, the boss in Cincinnati) was Congressman Dudley White of Norwalk, who had a good record and attractive personality. Burton found that his best talking point was to refer to himself as an "off-Schorr" Republican, which put him in position of fighting a boss, and giving himself the color of independence, which had served him so well in Cleveland. It was effective, and so was the fact that for years, Ohioans had been voting for a man named Burton for United States senator (Theodore E. Burton). The combination of the big vote in Cleveland and the name Burton was too much for White. Burton won the primary, then easily defeated John E. McSweeney, a former congressman and state welfare director, in November. (The senatorial seat had been open because Vic Donahey, after six years in Washington, found out he didn't really enjoy it there, and declined to seek reelection.)
Senator Burton became a close friend of Senator Harry S. Truman, of Missouri, also a World War I veteran, and after World War II broke out, served with Truman on a committee investigating wartime contracts. Truman admired Burton's perspicacity and tirelessness, and when Truman became president in 1945, he appointed his old buddy Burton, though a member of the opposition party, to the Supreme Court. There he remained until Parkinson's disease forced him to retire in the mid-60s.
No mayor of Cleveland ever worked longer hours than Harold Burton. It was legendary that several nights a week lights would be burning in the mayor's office long after his subordinates had all gone home. With a lawyer's caution and attention to pestiferous little details, he went over important contracts and ordinances himself. He explained city expansion projects in great detail to reporters and councilmen. He made a lot of speeches. They were not oratorical gems, but he conveyed the impression of deep sincerity. Heavy dark circles under his eyes (they may have been the natural result of too much pigment, for he was dark-haired and dark-eyed) made him look perpetually fatigued. But if he was tired, it didn't show in his work record.
Burton never pretended to be a backslapper, or a ball of fire. Perhaps it was the lack of such outgoing characteristics, in contrast to Davis, that made him popular. He was always good old Harold, to his friends, supporters, and employees. (His detractors said the reason he had to do so much overtime work was that he wasn't sharp enough to plow through it swiftly and let others handle the detail.) He saw no reason to hurry official business, and it didn't bother him that the job took up his evenings. He preferred work to socializing.
The socializing he left largely to his vivacious, imaginative wife, Selma, especially after he went to Washington. He never cared for the cocktail circuit, and after he went on to the Supreme Court, he made a regular practice of going to his chambers each night to work for a while in quiet. Mrs. Burton, a tall, friendly woman, did not hesitate to set new fashions. For a while, she had the social set buzzing by wearing two earrings on one ear.
Burton was proud of his Swiss ancestry (his mother was born in Switzerland) and for several years while on the court he would go each summer for a visit to the canton where his mother was born.
In the 1930s, George H. Bender was coming on strong as a big figure in Republican local and state politics. Originally elected to the state senate as a dry during the prohibition heyday, young Bender came up very fast because of his flair
for getting publicity, and his friendship with the press corps in Cleveland and Columbus. He quickly recognized after his first term that prohibition was losing favor in the cities, although the pastors and the Anti-Saloon League kept the legislators in central and southern Ohio terrified of their power. One of the principal reasons the dry law was becoming unpopular was that its enforcement was becoming a menace to personal liberty because of the raiding squads operated by justices of the peace. Carte blanche had been given these petty officials by the Ohio law, which permitted them to raid for suspected liquor not only in their own townships but all over the county. Greedy, unscrupulous men soon saw easy money in this and hired special agents, often experienced thugs, who foraged for victims among the illiterate ethnics, who had never really understood why America, which had made them citizens, would permit them to be arrested for possessing a few jugs of homemade wine or schnapps.
The victims were invariably found guilty and fined $1,000 and costs. The fines were used to pay the raiders on commission, as well as make the J.P.s rich. Finally the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the raiders were interfering with civil rights and exceeding their authority, and ordered the racket stopped.
The professional drys, however, refused to take this lying down, for they had been enjoying the heady sensation of controlling legislatures as well as Congress. Nowhere in the country was the prohibition movement stronger than in Ohio. The national headquarters of the Anti-Saloon League was in Westerville, just outside Columbus. They had succeeded in getting a stiffer dry law enacted in Ohio even before the national prohibition amendment went into effect. C. C. Crabbe, an active dry who had been lawyer for the Anti-Saloon League, was now attorney general of Ohio. So the drys cooked up a new bill to overturn the unfavorable Supreme Court decision that outlawed the raiders. It was called the Marshall Bill (after its sponsor, Senator J. T. Marshall) and was the most controversial of the 1927 session.
By this time, Senator Bender had become the most vocal
opponent of the drys and their Marshall Bill. He had started in politics as a vigorous crusader for prohibition, and an active churchman. He neither drank nor smoked, and was regarded as a paragon of virtue. It was largely his support by church people and conservatives (plus his inborn sense of how to make news) that had got him nominated in the Republican primary at age twenty-four. Nomination in those days was equivalent to election.
Bender was always quick to sense when public opinion was changing. He discovered that, by opposing the J.P. raiders, he could be on both sides of the fence at once, something all successful politicians love. He could say he believed in prohibition, didn't drink himself, but was opposed to raiding for profit. The newspapers praised him and his name was constantly in the headlines. But the professional drys were on to him now. They still had the votes in the assembly to drive the bill through, which they did. Bender had the help of other big city legislators; Maschke, with whom he had not been on chummy terms, also tried to defeat the bill. But the bill passed. Bender had warned that if it passed, he would circulate petitions for a statewide referendum.
As soon as the session ended, he started raising funds for the referendum, and easily got enough signatures. It was his first venture into statewide fund-raising and launched him on a much broader political career. The referendum defeated the drys' pet bill, and the raiding J.P.s were finished. It raised Bender's status tremendously.
Bender enjoyed heavy-handed ridicule, and, in the 1927 session, he pulled a stunt that infuriated the drys and had the correspondents in stitches. He had already gathered several thousand signatures on a petition opposing the Marshall Bill, and had pasted them together in an enormous rolled-up sheet. He warned that he intended to present a large petition to the Senate before the final vote, but nobody was quite prepared for the way he actually presented it. He hired a small German band and had them waiting in the State House corridor before the Senate met. When the formal afternoon ses-
sion began, Bender told the leader to strike up the band, and it went oompahing up the long stairway to the Senate chamber, followed by paraders carrying the petition, which was about fifty feet long. The band proceeded inside the chamber, but was blocked at the rail by the sergeants-at-arms, who had been rounded up by furious rural dry legislators. The petition was presented, and the band sent home. The theatrics were perfect. Bender got the story on page one all over the state.
Bender got ahead largely because of tremendous energy, a thick skin, and a talent for landing on his feet despite reverses. Through his long career, no matter how much he changed his views, he still exuded the evangelical, hymn-singing optimism and pleasant good humor that had launched him as a political boy-wonder before he was old enough to vote. He was always cheery and good-humored.
Bender came from Protestant Czech-Bohemian stock, and he had a firm base among the ethnic groups; when his name, which was originally Benda, finally emerged on the ballot as Bender, he picked up supporters in the Anglo-Saxon suburbs, too. As a teen-ager, Bender had enthused about the Bull Moose anti-establishment campaign of Teddy Roosevelt and had made speeches favoring T.R. As a young man, he engaged in a variety of businesses -- sold and wrote advertising, dabbled in newspaper editorial work, and for a while, in 1924, was manager of a small Cleveland department store, Bedell's. He got his biggest kicks out of associating with newspapermen. This came naturally to him, for he had one of the most sharply sensitive noses for news ever known. (The only person who compared with him thus was Carl Friebolin, who also preferred newsmen's company to any others'.)
The legislative correspondents could count regularly on George to come up with bills to confound the establishment and issue public statements to embarrass bosses and lobbyists. Hardly an evening went by during the session that he did not eat dinner with his closest friends among the reporters. (Naturally, this did not endear him to the other legislators.) He
enjoyed needling the majority leader in the Senate, and harassing the county chairman at home. He was always good for a speech to back up statements he had previously made to reporters. He never refused to answer a question.
At first the party regulars looked on Bender as a freak built up by the papers. But they soon recognized that he had native shrewdness as well as that passion for publicity, and they made use of it. When Bender raised a bundle of money for his Marshall Bill referendum (a big job of organization, requiring forty thousand signatures, at least), they recognized him as a pro. He was still under thirty when he won his big victory over the drys.
Bender returned triumphantly to the Senate in 1929, and became more and more an important figure. He now had four terms under his belt and had made friends with the Republican regulars whom he had previously tended to ignore. He was feeling his oats so much that he pulled another practical joke on the Senate, which caused much red-faced embarrassment to the lieutenant governor and most of the senators.
During a week when things were dull, Bender had gone to Keith's Theater to see a vaudeville entertainer, Jim McWilliams, who had a delightful satirical act of impersonating a senator making a corny political speech, complete with gestures and bouncing up and down with light knee-flexing. It was so close to the real thing that if you didn't know better, you might believe he was actually running for office. He was billed as the "Senator from Virginia." (McWilliams did indeed live in Norfolk during the off season, and he had the right accent.)
Bender invited McWilliams to stop in at the Senate the next afternoon. It was not unusual for visiting hotshots to be introduced at the legislature, and be voted the honorary privilege of the floor for a few moments. But Bender had a more diabolical purpose. He was going to show the Senators just what hicks they were.
So when McWilliams arrived, instead of telling Lieutenant Governor John T. Brown, an amiable but unsophisticated
farmer, that Jim was an actor, Bender introduced him as the "Senator from Virginia." Brown, who hadn't been to the theater and was a courteous gentleman, easily swallowed the bait, and when Bender introduced a resolution to give McWilliams the privilege of the floor, Brown invited him to sit beside the presiding officer's chair, and introduced him as Senator McWilliams from Virginia. When the resolution was adopted by unanimous voice vote, as was customary, Bender suggested that the senator say a few words.
So McWilliams began his usual delightful low-key routine. It was delicious satire on political speechmaking. For three or four minutes, none of the other senators caught on, but when Jim started to really corn it up, and began to bounce up and down (Newton Baker used this oratorical trick, too), it dawned on them that they were being suckered, especially when they saw Bender and the reporters laughing themselves silly. First, amazement crept over their faces, then resentment, then anger. Little huddles of fury took place all over the chamber. When McWilliams finished his peroration, the senators were fit to be tied.
McWilliams hastily made his exit. Lieutenant Governor Brown and the rural senators wondered what to do to recapture face. But Bender had wisely vanished, too. Cooler heads finally prevailed, for they knew that censuring Bender would simply play into his publicity loving hands.
Bender at this time was wisely biding his time. He was half in the Republican machine and half out. He had not become embroiled in the antimanager charter fight (he did not like Harry Davis, but stayed aloof). He had secretly enjoyed the land graft scandals that had rocked the council, but he didn't get into the act. He sensed that the charges of corruption would gradually diminish the power of both Maschke and Hopkins, though neither was involved in the graft. He became especially friendly about this time with Councilman "Sonny' DeMaioribus, who was becoming a power on Mayfield Road. He made some anti-Hopkins speeches in the council campaign of 1929. But the political writers were not really prepared for
the strength that Bender showed in the council after Maschke had decided to give Hopkins the bounce. He almost had a majority.
The census of 1930 had shown that Ohio was entitled to another seat in the House, and the congressman was to be elected at large. Bender's campaign against the Marshall Bill had given him all the statewide prominence he needed, and he was elected to congress. When Roosevelt's 1936 landslide swept out all Republicans, Bender lost his seat to Stephen M. Young (also from Cleveland and destined to become United States senator twenty years later). He later regained the seat and served several terms in the House.
By this time, Bender had learned how to make money out of politics, and unhesitatingly did so. He established himself in the insurance business, following the example of Gongwer and Davis. After Maschke died and Davis was defeated for reelection in 1935, Bender and DeMaioribus controlled what little patronage the Republicans had left. There wasn't much in the forties. When John W. Bricker was governor, there were again some state jobs. DeMaioribus had his own business interests (primarily a brewery that had been rebuilt legally after prohibition ended), and Bender had his insurance business. Also Bender had perfected the technique of continuous fund-raising.
Political fund-raising is a shadowy business, skirting the law regularly. It has always been possible (still is, today) to raise fabulous sums for elections and never completely disclose their source, or how they are spent. The laws are strict about amounts that can legally be given to individual candidates, and reporting them promptly to election boards, but they are muddy about gifts to committees. So actual funds given by corporations and unions, and lobbyists representing them, almost never appear in full as campaign expenses. All the political pros know this, and ignore the law, with tongue in cheek.
Bender had discovered how easy it was to raise funds during his Marshall Bill referendum, and he continued to raise money
for his campaigns for congress. He was not the first, nor the last, to become expert in the perpetual campaign fund, which is described by cynical pros as "hunting out of season." His expertise at it resulted in an attempt to send him to jail for violating the letter of the law. His sudden rise to the top in the thirties caused some of his former friends to suspect him. Since the Democrats controlled the prosecutor's office, they were eager to find witnesses against him. He was indicted, but acquitted.
It was about this time that many of his former associates and admirers began to wonder if George had not used them, by dropping their names, to promote his own ends. He had begun to distribute expensive Christmas and birthday presents to journalists; instead of trivially inexpensive belts and cuff links, he gave Swiss watches, cases of liquor, and so forth.
Bender meanwhile had become completely a Republican regular, one of the inner Ohio group. He was for Taft for president against General Eisenhower in 1952. He had become the regular cheerleader for Ohio in big political rallies, leading crowds in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic in a booming baritone and getting the old-time evangelical quality (which he never really lost) into his voice. He was a ubiquitous and ebullient figure around Washington, and on the friendliest terms with Washington correspondents.
When Senator Taft died in 1953, Bender reached for the opportunity to go to the Senate himself, and opposed Tom Burke, who had been appointed by Governor Lausche, in the 1954 election. With the help of newspapers (including the Plain Dealer, which decided that President Eisenhower needed Republican help in the Senate), he beat Burke by a narrow margin. But George was not a United States senator long. Two years later, Lausche, then invincible in Ohio when running for any office, took on Bender, and defeated him easily.
Bender by this time had succumbed completely to the lush political life on the Potomac, a totally different atmosphere from that around Columbus when he was a young teetotaler fighting the corrupt drys. He had relaxed his rigid views
against drinking and smoking and indulged in both. He threw lavish parties, which included old Ohio friends, lobbyists, journalists, and members of his staff. One of his sons-in-law, Joe Bartlett, was appointed reading clerk in Congress. He bought a big estate in Chagrin Falls, which was the scene of large and delightful parties, where liquor flowed freely. The young George, a crusader for purity and honesty, had metamorphosed into a famous host, whose generosity was fabulous and acquaintance universal. He was congressman, political boss, and goodwill ambassador all at the same time. He also had some strange friends, including a few from the politically pragmatic Teamsters Union, which supported him regularly. Unions didn't usually back Republicans.
During his campaigns for the United States Senate, Bender pulled out all the old tricks from his political bag, and several new ones, too. A mysterous explosion shook his garage in Chagrin Falls early one morning, and he blamed it on political enemies. Newspaper gossip insisted that George himself was aware of just when and where the bomb was going to explode. It did little damage, but a bomb story got into the papers.
After his defeat by Lausche, Bender became morose, instead of his usual bouncy self, and seemed to fear the future. He was obviously depressed. A few months after he left the Senate (but not Washington), he came back to his Chagrin Falls estate for a visit, and was found dead in his garage, presumably from monoxide fumes. He may have had a heart attack after driving in.
After Bender died, the entire responsibility for Cleveland Republican affairs fell on DeMaioribus, and the party became practically nonexistent. Sonny hung on, however, until he died in 1966. Then the party organization took on a new lease on life, under Saul Stillman and Robert Hughes.
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