Friday, October 19, 2007

It's Not Like I Ain't Been Writin'...

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1979-1984: A Failure of Accountability

“A new year is not really new if we live the same old life,”[1] The Plain Dealer quotes from a “sage observer”. One could even say that about a new decade or a new century when talking about Cleveland. Politicians are continuing to make promises to help those who need it most and fail to follow through or set up check points to make sure plans are enacted as intended. More interested in protecting their power base than pulling together and finding ways to serve the greater good, politicians, including school superintendents, continue to drop the ball and those who suffer are the ones who need the most to survive. The year 1979 opens with proclamations of doom and gloom. Inflation and unemployment are out of control and the politicians seem to lack the skills to bring people out of it all. According to the front page of The Plain Dealer on the first day of 1979, “the city is broke and the politicians sometimes act like monkeys or as if their New Year’s Eve party was occurring every day.”[2]

In the neighborhoods, people suffer as landlords and contractors fail live up to promises to repair homes in Garfield Heights. The county has given two women, for example, grants of $10,000 each to fix up their crumbling houses. Once again the best intentions of urban renewal falter as contractors cut corners and politicians turned a deaf ear, claiming the women shouldn’t complain about inexperienced workers conducting haphazard repairs because it is free. In the end, the beneficiaries could end up paying the price for shoddy workmanship in fines for code violations. [3]

The director of the program, Vincent J. Lombardi, was sympathetic to the women and explained that new workers would be hired to complete the work. However, the contractor scoffed at the women’s complaints and called the ladies “foolish”. The women and the contractors were left to arbitrate the work on their own, without county oversight and intervention. The county has offered many promises, but has failed to follow through. A pattern that has appeared over and over throughout the early twentieth century with regard to urban renewal is perpetuated in 1979: Politicians promise and don’t follow through. The county selected the contractor, forced the homeowners to accept and deal with him, and then overloaded him with work, all the while sincere in their expectations that the job would be done. No accountability measures were in place and no investigations were allowed into the contractor due to state privacy laws.[4] Fortunately, a few days after this article ran, the powers that be were forced to examine the situation closely. Commissioner Robert E. Sweeny ordered an investigation.[5]

In 1982, there seemed to be little improvement in the housing situation. Public housing projects are worse than what was available before. Since the state gave tax breaks through depreciation. “Why should a landowner, especially an absentee landlord or real estate investment company renovate or rebuild when it will only serve to increase one’s taxes?” wondered the editor of the Call & Post. He recommended that the state adopt a site-value system that would encourage improvements. [6]

Housing was also becoming more segregated as real estate practices that encourage resegregation were “threatening some integrated areas. The Call & Post recommended affirmative marketing efforts” to slow the process of resegreation. The Report on Population and Race, based on the 1980 census, revealed that integrated areas were expected to “undergo more racial change over the next three years than less-integrated tracks.”[7]

At the county level, there has been a high level of turnover on four different boards of county commissioners within three weeks’ time. [8] Coming off of a year of fiscal failure, having defaulted on its debts in 1978, The Plain Dealer tries to put a positive spin on the hopes for the new year, recommending that everyone just forget about 1978 all together.[9] It’s not that bad, claim the editors. Let’s just forget last year and hope for the best. This attitude is pure Cleveland: just ask any Browns fan. But a city that refuses to conduct a post-mortem on its failures, will never learn how to do it right. Relying on luck seems to be a common practice for Cleveland politicians, who neglect to examine their missteps and correct them. Over and over, they seem convinced that things will work themselves out on their own, and they move on to plan their next run for office.

Having lost the race for Mayor to Kucinich, Edward Feighan was sworn into office as County Commissioner, returning the commission to the hands of democrats after three years in republican control. Feighan swore to work responsibly and maturely to straighten out the problems in Cuyahoga County during the “most turbulent political period in our history.” His focus will be on welfare reform, treatment for alcoholism and programs for battered wives.[10] He was also poised to take on City Hall and Kucinich head on as the battle between the two organizations was sure to continue.[11]

The battle continued between City Hall and City Council. Having won the mayoral election based on appealing to voters rather than relying on political connections, Dennis Kucinich entered office with few debts to other politicians and the freedom to follow his ideals. But it also left him as an outsider with very few allies in the city government.[12] On January 5th, the courts blocked the Mayor’s proposed lay-offs of 400 city workers. An order to stall the lay-offs was presented to the city administration in order to give the City Council time to find the money to bolster the payroll. A land deal and a proposal for early pay-off of an RTA debt needed time to be passed through. Meanwhile the city personnel, while dreading the effects of loss of human resources, were realistic in understanding that they could not afford to wait on hope to pay off. [13]

While City Council and the Mayor’s Office tried to work a deal, the Fraternal Order of Police chimed in, mocking the Mayor for his fool-hardy plans to lay off hundreds of police officers. William D. Gallagher claimed that there was money enough to postpone lay-offs until late February when they could be reconsidered after the land deals went through.[14] However, the planned lay-offs would save the city $600,000 a month, but would end if voters would approve a .5% income tax hike.[15]

The city’s financial woes were decried in the January 3rd issue of The Plain Dealer. The editor noted that city has had warning of its troubles since at least 1974 but the government and the people have fooled themselves into thinking that things would work out, due to lack of understanding or political reasons. Politicians had been pointing blame at each other for years without sincerely researching the problems. At least at this point the negative national attention has been forcing the city to seriously examine what’s wrong.

But the political fighting didn’t only go on between City Council and the Mayor’s Office, but also among City Council itself. In 1982, the Call & Post reported about the way Council President George Forbes indiscriminate use of the gag order. Because certain legislation about the deduction of union dues, the police unions were fighting amongst each other. The Council, who were tired of long Council meetings, refused to discuss the issues of snow-removal and blight removal. Those issues were not on the agenda so, according to Forbes, no one had the right to talk about it. This infuriated several council members who planned an investigation. [16] At least these politicians were good at enforcing their own rules for their meetings, they certainly weren’t seeing through anything else.

On the national front, in 1979, the minimum wage had been raised by 9.4% to $2.65 percent. However, lack of follow-through is evidenced by the observation made by economists that “as the minimum wage increases, compliance diminishes.”[17] Without accountability measures in place, what’s the point of trying to enact any law? With a city facing lay-offs and tax hikes, the unenforced minimum wage hike seemed pointless.

In the letters to the editor on January 2, 1979, it is interesting to note that a reader from the city of Cleveland suggests that the city and the suburbs join forces and become one. She recommends that if the suburbs want access to their profit-generating water resources, they should share their recreation facilities and snow plows. She complains that the suburbs want to keep their own resources and take Cleveland’s as well.[18] Other Clevelanders complain about the arrogance of the few in the near-west side of Cleveland wanting to secede. A few wealthy people moved there, tidied up a bit and immediately wanted to separate from the problems of Cleveland, they even threatened to put up toll booths at their border. All of these actions were led by a politician, William Sullivan, claiming to represent the entire ward, when in actuality he was representing the interests of a privileged few.

In October of 1979, Kucinich faced George Voinovich in the mayoral race. Kucinich was in a tight spot due to his confrontational style. Because he was unwilling to pay party politics, even just a little, he couldn’t make deals and move forward from the default. As Swantstrom notes, “Default…was a serious blow to the administration. Unable to borrow money, the Kucinich administration was forced to rely on a depleted tax base to make ends meet. Default was essentially an economic boycott of the city for political reasons.” Business leaders refused to help Cleveland until Kucinich was gone.[19]

Kucinich’s refusal to compromise and his frontal political assaults on banks, in particular, for not investing in the city, caused a hostile reaction in the bankers. They took their “attempt to bribe an entire city…” public in the form of default. Default was possible because the banks had financial power over the city; it could issue municipal credit. The banks wielded this power over a mayor who wouldn’t bend, even when default was imminent. [20]

Voinovich ran a smooth campaign for mayor in November of 1979, and held a nonpartisan stance as Kucinich ran around trying to attack, claiming that Voinovich was in the pockets of the wealthy business owners or “Fat Cats,” While many Clevelanders didn’t care for fat cats and appreciated the way Kucinich stood up to them, voters knew they needed the fat cats for the city to survive. The people of Cleveland started to blame Kucinich for the lack of “business confidence.” [21] Voinovich seemed willing to carry forward with the current administrations plans of hanging on to Muny Light and rejecting tax abatements, but he took umbrage with the “chaos and confrontation at City Hall, which, he claimed, was holding back civic progress.” [22]
Suburbanites continued to exploit the city in the form participating in prostitution.

Councilwoman Artha Woods started a campaign to fight prostitution in Ward 18 on Cedar Avenue and discovered that most of the customers drove in from the suburbs. She hoped her new law to prosecute both prostitutes and their customers would bring an end to the unhealthy practice. While the benefits to ending prostitution are obvious, she was immediately criticized by the ACLU, who presumably were opposed to exposing the identities of the suburban customers.[23] Who knows where her hope comes from, as she explains that many laws are not enforced in her ward, especially with regard to housing.[24]

By 1982, some of the housing woes seemed to have been eased. E. 55th Street neighborhoods were booming with local business and friendly home-owners. Though there were crime and drug issues, and some businesses were leaving, residents and business owners had a plan for growth: renovation of structures, more sales and services, improve parking, acquire new equipment, and significantly increase employment. [25]

In 1984 other neighborhoods were gaining momentum in finding was to improve their situation. The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland was spending time getting to know ethnic communities and finding out about their employment needs. By providing communities with supplies and equipment appropriate to their skills and culture, ethnic community members were able to make enough money to put food on the table.[26]
The Office of School Monitoring and Community Relations criticized a student rights and responsibilities code in 1979, claiming that it was confusing and worse than no code at all. The OSMCR explained that this kind of code should be upheld at the school level to protect all students from arbitrary discipline during this period of desegregation. The code is described as being inconsistent.[27] Meanwhile, even if there were a suitable code in place, the Cleveland Schools lacked sufficient staff to enforce it. The Assistant State Superintendent put the school system on warning, threatening to withdraw over $800,000 in state aid if the number of teachers failed to meet the standard of 40 teachers to every 1000 students. There was a huge teacher loss at the beginning of the year due to a six-week strike and administrators were scrambling to fill jobs.[28]

Staffing seemed to be one of many problems facing Cleveland Schools. Complaints were growing about East Side schools. Students were unmonitored and allowed to loiter and play games rather than given instructional activities. Teachers were there more for security reasons than educational ones. Stanley Tolliver decried the inequity of services offered at the East and West side schools. “…how could there be such a difference between the schools on the East Side and West Side? I don’t think it’s a coincidence…These kids are getting ripped off. There are hundreds of millions of dollars going down a rathole every year, and I think it’s high time…for a wall-to-wall audit of the school system.” [29]

High school and junior high school attendance dropped 2.8% and 2.3% respectively in the beginning of the 1984-85 school year, contradicting the claims of Supt. Frederick D. Holiday’s claims of successfully fighting absenteeism. Attendance steering committee members noted that their recommendations for raising attendance had been followed, as long as they didn’t cost any money. Once again, lack of enforcement drains the life out of good ideas.

By 1982, the Editor of the Call & Post was decrying the lack of compliance in Cleveland with desegregation rules. They called the federal government’s policy “putrid” and cried foul when the federal court denyied tax-exempt status to private schools who discriminated, yet let discriminatory practices continue in Cleveland Schools. “The federal government is no longer going to enforce those laws aimed at correcting the racial injustice that has been the dark side of America’s greatness.”[30]

In 1982, Dr. Frederick Holliday became Cleveland School’s first black superintendent who was facing a huge task: School closing, administrative in-fighting, low standards, and red tape. His hopes were to raise achievement and improve the system’s standing as the leader in suspensions in the nation. By taking a firm stand and a hatchet to the budget, it seemed accountability was about to return to Cleveland schools.[31]

During this time it seems like the only accountability measures in action were the spotlights of the national and local media. Politicians drunk with power and thirsting for popularity enact program after program all with the hopes that something would stick. Each effort to improve the city seemed doomed due to the lack of enforcement measures. Nothing can succeed without appropriate follow-through. And how could it with the many branches of the city government (the City Council, City Hall, the police force and schools) constantly fighting with each other and name calling? Meanwhile, the citizens suffer the loss of adequate services and reliable resources such as livable housing and adequate education. Throughout the 20th century the citizenry suffered as the politicians played games with money entrusted to them for the public good.
In November of 1984, Cleveland’s infrastructure was crumbling and suffering from neglect. In the race for County Commissioner, State Rep. Mary O. Boyle was challenging the incumbent Vincent C. Campenella and accused him of working too hard on tax hikes and not working hard enough to get federal funds for improvements.[32]

It seems that our best hope for the future of our city is taking time to find out what we are about and what we are good at and poring resources and accountability measures to foster growth rather than force it or allow it to trickle down. “Most important to the city’s recovery is a new realism about the city’s problems.”[33] Let’s stop building Conference Centers, while they may bring in artificial communities, born to serve a market, their cotton candy foundation will not last a Cleveland Winter. Better we pull together, decide what we’re good at and do that. Haven’t we learned by now that the best thing about Cleveland is us?

[1] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 26-A
[2] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 1.
[3] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 1.
[4] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 6-A.
[5] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 5, 1979, p. 14-B.
[6] The Call & Post, January 23, 1982, p. 8-A.
[7] The Call & Post, January 23, 1982, p. 16-A.
[8] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 4-A.
[9] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 22-A.
[10] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 30-A.
[11] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 1-B.
[12] Swanstrom, T. (1985). The Crisis of Growth Politics, p. 9.
[13] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 5, 1979, p. 1-A.
[14] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 5, 1979, p. 12-A.
[15] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 3, 1979, p. 1-A.
[16] The Call & Post, January 23, 1982, p. 18-A.
[17] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 1979, p. 36-A.
[18] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 2, 1979, p. 20-A.
[19] Swanstrom, T. (1985). The Crisis of Growth Politics, p. 213.
[20] Swanstrom, T. (1985). The Crisis of Growth Politics, p. 230.
[21] Swanstrom, T. (1985). The Crisis of Growth Politics, p. 217.
[22] Swanstrom, T. (1985). The Crisis of Growth Politics, p. 219.
[23] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 5, 1979, p. 1-D.
[24] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 5, 1979, p. 2-D.
[25] The Call & Post, January 8, 1982, p. 14-A.
[26] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 2, 1984, p. 1-B.
[27] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 3, 1979, p. 1-A.
[28] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 3, 1979, p. 3-A.
[29] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 3, 1979, p. 3-A.
[30] The Call & Post, January 16, 1982, p. 8-A.
[31] The Call & Post, January 1, 1983, p. 7-B.
[32] The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 1, 1984, p. 20-A.
[33] Campbell, Thomas E., “Cleveland: The Struggle for Stability.” p. 131.


  1. that's fucked up. Maybe it DESERVES it's moniker of "mistake by the lake" after all...

  2. meanwhile, did you have to read all that shit on micro-fishe or what? I would be interested only in the comix from that period of time, so it's a good thing YOU got the ass-ignment, not me.

    Still, good writing, tho'

  3. wow...I mean, wow!!! That must have been hard work...good job, flann. I didn't think you liked writing about this kind of stuff, but apparently it doesn't make a difference.