Suppressing Black political growth behind Cleveland’s charter changes since 1937

CLEVELAND, OH – When Carl Stokes tested the Cleveland mayoral waters in his first campaign for the job in 1967, Call & Post Publisher William O. Walker, Jean Capers and Charles Carr paid attention to the city’s demographics.  Politics is “ethnic” not “racial,” and the city’s Black political leaders knew they had an ethnic voting base of 37 percent.  They also knew their Black ethnic brothers and sisters were the city and county’s largest demographic group and voting bloc then as they are today.   So instead of competing with the white ethnic candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties, they ran Stokes as an independent both times. 

Consider the influence of an American man who owned a newspaper that protected the Black community for 60 years like Bumpy Johnson protected Harlem from Russian gangsters. This writer’s newspaper publishing mentor, William Otis Walker, published the 5th largest Black owned newspaper in America before there was even a Jet and Ebony magazine. He delivered the highest quality of information to his majority Black readers. Not that 8th grade dumbed down shit from the Russian-owned Plain Dealer. He wanted the Black community mentally-strong. Not mentally weak.

The “American Negro unity” behind Stokes’ victories terrified the leaders of both parties and he didn’t bullshit about pushing an American Negro agenda when brother Louis Stokes joined him in founding the 21st  Congressional District Caucus.  It was a “long promised” gangster move.  No loyalty to either party.  American Negro Cleveland voters would vote as a group and there was nothing either party could do about it.

All this was post Hough and Glenville riots and Black people were still seething.  Blacks had never held an office in the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party.  Throughout the county the presence of Black Democrats or Republicans on boards and commissions was damn near tokenism zero as it is today on some of the non-profit and housing boards.  Since Virgil Brown and Mary Yates Malone served as the county elections board’s directors in the 1970’s and early 80’s; the Eastern Europeans and Irish Catholic minorities have blocked others.

Stokes and his brother, Louis, demanded 20 percent of all the parties offices and access to the patronage jobs that came with political muscle.  Board and commission seats were included in the demands so that no government within the county, local or otherwise, failed to employ or appoint any Black citizen to its governing body.  Job demands included Parma. 

The Stokes brothers, with the backing of Walker’s Call & Post, declared that Black folk weren’t just paying taxes in Cleveland or the county without working everywhere their tax dollars went; and in proportion to their percentage of the town’s population.  That “all Eastern European” shit Joseph Bartunek was pulling as the Democratic Party’s boss was dead.  They were organizing to address every single racial inequity that had been forced upon them by the Eastern European ethnics.  

Eastern European Joe Bartunek led the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and didn’t spend a dime to turn out the Black vote when Carl Stokes campaigned for mayor twice in 1967 and 1969 before winning the second time. Although Black Americans had longer roots to the nation than his people did from the Communist, Fascist and Nazi nations; they arrived from only to realize White Anglo Saxon Protestants didn’t see them as “their kind.” So WASP politicians enacted laws to deport them. Bartunek served on Cleveland State University’s board and is shown in this fair use photograph with incoming president Walter Waetjen.

Stokes and the Call & Post would also back Black candidates to challenge Eastern Europeans holding council, house and congressional seats like Czechoslovakian American Charles Vanik in emerging and predominantly Black wards, cities, school districts, municipal courts, county courts and county and state offices.  Czechoslovakia had aligned with Adolph Hitler’s Nazis as a German state.  After World War II the Czechs became Communists.  Both Stokes brothers were U.S. Army veterans of World War II.  Vanik’s presence over a predominantly Black congressional district seemed offensive to Black World War II veterans who’d fought Nazis in a nation where its citizens were taught to “hate” Communists.  Vanik had been tolerated but had to go.

Charles Loeb was one of W.O’s Call & Post business and writing partners when I worked for the newspaper in 1978-79.  As a teenager helping his father campaign for the seat George Forbes held in 1971, I remember the climate and why Walker and Loeb “went off” on the Democratic Party, Bartunek and even the deals they were cutting with American Negro politicians like Kenneth Clements and Leo Jackson outside the caucus.  Loeb’s words reflected the newfound political strength and “racial pride” being felt by the city’s American Negro population.

“No more blind loyalty, no more alliances of conveniences, no more encouragement of weak-kneed “brothers” because they’re “brothers,” and no more supine capitulation to the powerful County Democratic bosses who have held the whip hand over Cleveland for more than a half-century, and the black vote in its hip-pocket.”

Under Bartunek, Democrats then as they do today didn’t invest a dime in turning out the majority Black vote. So as the Stokes brothers campaigned to push American Negro politics further, Walker’s Call & Post and printing presses drove the messaging.

William O.Walker’s 1934 coverage of charter changes proposed then saw men like Dr. Leroy Bundy and Lawrence O. Payne on the ballot for council. Eastern European Arthur Finkle represented one of the majority Black Cleveland wards Walker led the Black community to take.

Owning the Call & Post and a press to print it gave Walker the same power to “buy ink by the barrell and paper by the ton” as the Russian-owned Plain Dealer when Solomon Isadore Neuhaus (aka Samuel Irving Newhouse) from Belarus purchased it in 1967.  Walker was born in Alabama in 1897 and had published the Call & Post in Cleveland since 1921.  That gave his 46-year presence here more intimate familiarity with the city’s institutional history than the name-changing Neuhaus’ in 1967.

Walker didn’t see the city as Black and White.  He saw it as American Negro, German, Irish Protestant, Irish Catholic, Italian, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian and understood the the geographic, historical and political differences and “conflicts” between the immigrants who’d arrived here from Nazi, Communist and Fascist nations.  He’d printed Zoltan Gombos’ Hungarian language weekly, Szbadsdag, as he did other ethnic publications.  He also knew that at 37 percent his people were the overwhelming largest “ethnic” majority and he’d watched that number grow. 

Walker told me when I was the last journalist to interview my former mentor and employer that every census from the 1930’s on carried with it some type of reform from the growing number of Eastern Europeans here that was aimed at suppressing Black political participation.

In 1953 Eastern Europeans had shrunk in power and influence and were trying to hold on as the city’s Black population grew to numbers that exceeded 400,000.

In 1937 his newspapers covered how “charter changers” sought to increase the mayor and council’s terms of office from two to four years when Harold Burton served as mayor and Alessandro DeMaioribus served as a George Forbes-like council president for 8 years before leading the county Republican party.  It failed.  Walker’s newspaper rejected the charter change since he’d served on the council and realized several more Black seats were being developed.

In 1953 the number of Black council seats grew from the two to three and the Eastern European ethnics who’d lost one seat decided more losers were coming as the city’s Black residents tired of being represented by them in the majority Black wards out of the 33 that existed.  A charter change passed that let voters elect candidates in a run-off that came with a constitutional flaw.  Any candidate winning 51 percent of the vote during a “primary” election didn’t have to proceed to a general election and larger voter turnout.

Walker gave voice to Black attorneys Wyatt Brownlee and Albert Gamble who joined several ethnic attorneys in getting the “un-American” charter change overturned as unconstitutional.  Brownlee had challenged Charles Carr and been denied a general election opportunity.  Gamble had challenged Russian American Harry Jaffe and was deprived a general election return.  The charter change was overturned.

By 1971 Stokes had opted not to run for re-election in 1973 and Eastern European Democrats and Republicans saw an opportunity to advance either Ralph Perk or George Voinovich to the mayor’s job. Stokes had picked Arnold Pinkney to replace him. My father, Harold Pride Brewer, owned a farm in Orwell, Ohio and butchered a cow to feed Pinkney’s campaign workers.  In 1971 my father was a candidate for the seat held by George Forbes.

By 1971 William O. Walker’s Call & Post was clearly identifying the Eastern European ethnics from Communist, Nazi and Fascist nations who were trying to suppress the growing Black presence in the city’s elected offices.

The 1971 charter change sought to eliminate the partisan primary elections between Democrats and Republicans in favor of an “improved” version of the 51 percent non-partisan primary that had failed in 1953 the year this writer was born in Cleveland.  The top two vote-getting candidates made it to the general election. 

This time it passed and it temporarily helped Eastern European ethnics Perk, Dennis Kucinich and George Voinovich.  Ultimately it killed off the very strong presence of Black Republicans in Cleveland.  Then Black people voted Black. Republican leadership didn’t support it; and Perk sad he supported Republican leadership while quietly encouraging the change’s passage.  He used it to beat Pinkney in 1973 by creating coalitions with the other ethnics who hated Blacks.

By 1978 the Eastern European community was at it again with a plan to reduce the council from 33 and give them four year terms.  In 1978 Black councilmen and women held 13 out of 33 city council seats and Walker saw an additional 8 Black seats being added with the 1980 census.

Late attorney Wyatt Brownlee challenged Charles Carr in 1953 for a seat on Cleveland city council and wasn’t allowed to go to the general election to compete against him because the incumbent won 51 percent of the vote. That anti-American charter change was ruled unconstitutional.

Understanding the ethnic differences found in a person’s “last name” gave Walker, Stokes, Capers, Carr and the diverse team of thinkers, strategists and organizers around them like former State Senator Charles Butts the clear understanding that there is no such thing as a “homogenous” white vote.  Butts’ ancestry is White Anglo Saxon Protestant English. 

Americans tend to forget George Washington’s ancestry was English and French while Thomas Jefferson’s was English and Scottish.  Alexander Hamilton was Scottish and Benjamin Franklin all English.  What would they think of Cleveland’s Irish Catholic councilmembers enacting an ordinance to prevent Cleveland from doing business with Irish Protestants?

Being 31 years older than Stokes gave Walker the nuanced understanding that whites voted along ethnic and not racial lines among the arriving ethnics as he observed Cleveland from 1921 until his death in 1981. To win Black politicians then exploited the historical hatred the white “Eastern European” ethnics had against each other and kept the Black community, Democrat and Republican, unified.  They created “strategic” ethnic coalitions and rejected the Democratic and Republican party’s endorsed candidates if they hadn’t encouraged them.

While Forbes played the “Democratic game” and supported a council reduction from 33 to 21, after Walker backed and protected him, Walker’s longer knowledge of history made him understand that capitulation was not an option when it comes to “political power” from a Black perspective.  He’d lived through the anti-Black labor riots Eastern Europeans engaged in between 1917 and 1945 across the nation as they pushed their violent labor movement and his newspapers covered it.  He understood that racial capitulation would cost Black political growth instead of advancing it.

My grandmother Helen Pride-Brewer’s brother, Dr. Hemphill Pride, Sr., was South Carolina’s first Black dentist.  He and Dr. Leroy Bundy, a Cleveland councilman, were dentistry peers and my father relocated and raised his family between St. Louis, Missouri and East Saint Louis, Illinois between 1956 and 1969.  He and William Lacy Clay, Sr., who later led St. Louis as mayor before his election to the U.S. Congress, integrated the Bi-State Bus System there as the first Negro bus drivers.  Bundy’s name was well-known in East Saint Louis. 

Bundy was accused of transporting weapons to Black East Saint Louis residents who’d been slaughtered by Eastern Europeans in their 1917 race war to “ethnically cleanse” the city so they could have all the jobs.   They entered the city’s Black neighborhoods and torched their homes.  When Black men, women and children fled, the Eastern European cowards beat, shot and burned them.  Bundy and other militant Black men like him with means had no other choice but to react in defense of “their people.”

Walker rallied this town’s Black community and that shit against Dr. Bundy went no fucking where. An ethnic group that represented 1.6 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have the numbers to win a race war.  That truth Walker understood more intimately than politicians like Forbes and Stokes who weren’t even born when that evil took place.  So did ex-President Theodore Roosevelt when he told Samuel Gompers after their “labor riots” he would have hunted them down.

Walker told me in 1980 that he had no expectation that the Black councilmen and politicians emerging in the 1980’s would “advance or protect the race” politically.  He didn’t expect the 1980’s class of Black politicians to push a civil rights “job including” agenda.  He saw them as intellectually weak and politically lazy. Walker told me they hadn’t worked for the seats they held so they wouldn’t appreciate the struggle of others to get them. 

Race was and will always be behind a reduction of council and a change of power in Cleveland as the city continues to be dominated by the Black community.

The regrettable truth is they haven’t proven him wrong as all the “Black” advancements Walker’s years of encouraging Black people to “take” were wiped out when Blacks returned to the Democratic Party after his death in 1981.  Walker was a Republican and didn’t apologize for describing himself as a “Militant Negro.” What else would anyone expect from a strong-minded Black newspaper owner?  He would have seen Louis Stokes “Black Elected Democrats of Cuyahoga County” for its divisiveness.  

Walker knew the entire city was majority Black and that seats held today by councilmen like Slovenian American Michael Polensek, Armenian American Dona Brady, Italian American Anthony Brancatelli, half Italian American Matt Zone and even Puerto Rican American Jazmine Santana could be taken by Black candidates.  Even Irish American Kevin Kelley is an easy challenge for a Black west side candidate. 

Kelly’s group of Irish Americans number about 12,000 inside the city of Cleveland where Blacks number around 226,000 out of 378,000.  East side Black councilmen still think areas of the city that “were” majority ethnic are the same when they’re not.   

Slavic Village hasn’t been Slavic in years.  All the White ethnic groups combined represent less than 28 percent of the city’s population. If councilmembers were elected at large the city’s Black majority could take them all. 

Cleveland under the consciousness that Walker promoted to get Stokes elected would have a Black mayor, Black council president and 14 out of 17 council seats would be Black.  All 13 of the city’s municipal judgeships would be American Negro as well as the Clerk of Court’s office.

It’s the lack of political advancements the city’s American Negro politicians have made that now threatens their existence and the current reduction.  Had they continued to grow as a dying and disappointed Walker expected in 1980, there’d be more government-connected and employed Black voters to support them politically and economically. 

American Negro demolition contractors today complain that an American Negro building department director under an American Negro mayor doesn’t award large contracts to Black contractors councilmen needing donations to keep council the same can’t go to them to for the money to get. 

I exposed how William Baumann violated terms and conditions of his agreement on a $500,000 demolition job and placed the lives and health of American Negro residents walking near the project at risk.

William O. Walker is turning over in his grave over so-called Black people like Ayonna McDonald who make no effort to balance the demolition scales for Black Cleveland contractors former Black mayors wanted working and growing their businesses to employ Black people. McDonald’s not from Cleveland and has no respect for the struggles of this town’s existing and long time residents with family histories of more than 100 years. Now that Black Cleveland councilman are begging for donations to keep council from shrinking, she hasn’t provided them with a potential contributor base as Black political progress should bring with it. Not just a job for her ungrateful azz.

Ayonna Donald not only kept him on the job she advanced him half the money before it was completed while she held up a Black contractor’s money who’d already finished her part of the Victoreen project.  That contractor was so disgusted with being treated so disrespectfully by Black people she supported she sent the city a letter saying she wanted no  more business from the Jackson administration.

Her “Black” rage as well as the Black rage of other Clevelanders is what’s curiously motivating American Negroes who would otherwise see a reduction as a racial threat not to see it.  As Walker predicted, the current Black members of council are considered “do nothings” who now mimick the Eastern Europeans their predecessors worked to remove from office.

The 1974 Cleveland city council that passed a civil rights “ordinance” hasn’t seen it ever updated, discussed or used by the councilmen and mayors who followed in the 1980s and beyond.  While 8 out of 17 members of council are American Negro, they’ve become “Eastern European oppressive” against other Americans and seem to have forgotten they live in a democracy and the struggles of their acnestors.

Imagine a predominantly American Negro community where residents can’t speak at council meetings to address the violations of law public employees and officials are engaged in against them.  They can’t comment on laws before they’re passed. 

Kelly leads council to enact illegal emergency legislation to obstruct voters from having a referendum on it within 30 days.  Without any authority this politician whose Irish Catholic ancestors sided with the Nazis during World War II rejected the signatures of 22,000 majority American Negro registered voters whose ancestors fought Nazis and said “fuck you” to their demand that council not spend $88 million of their money to renovate the Quicken Loans Arena for Russian American Dan Gilbert.  Consider lying-azz Jeff Johnson serving illegally on council for two years while a Twinsburg resident; and didn’t return to the home he told the board of elections he was returning to when he ran for Cleveland mayor from the suburb.

Walker would be disgusted that a Black president had to send a Black U.S. Attorney General to a predominantly Black city to tell a Black mayor, council, court and police chief that racists were terrorizing their people.  What’s Basheer Jones got to sell as a former South Euclid resident who lived on Belvoir who moved to Orchard Avenue in Cleveland Heights while holding a seat on Cleveland city council?  If they kill my seat you’ll lose my illegal suburban representation.

Unlike Stokes this group of Black elected officials has not brought any sense of “racial pride” to Cleveland politics as most of their “curve-graded” conduct has been disgracefully low-performing.  Today their own people see no benefit in their presence and it’s why the likelihood of them reducing the council is great.

Another “American” of foreign ancestry, Syrian Tony George of Westlake, has enough money to buy off a few “activists” who have no “ethnic loyalty” to the Black community nor any appreciation for the legacies of its leaders.  George can’t vote in Cleveland and the argument his supporters are pushing was heard in 1934, 1953, 1971, 1978, 1981 and every other year they trotted out the word “reform.”  Regardless of the “stated” reasons the behind the scenes reasons are racial. 

The trouble American Negro councilmembers face today is that instead of pushing a “Black political agenda” they pushed a “Democratic Party political agenda” that the majority of American Negro people in this town rejected.  They didn’t study our past before they moved forward. 

They also didn’t look out for the voters who would naturally look out for them as Democrats who happened to be American Negroes.  Pushing party loyalty over ethnic loyalty leaves them without a protective ethnic base.  Back in my day Black families joined both parties to make sure American Negro families benefited no matter which party was in power. 

Walker was an American Negro who just happened to be a Republican.  The words “Uncle Tom” or “Sellout” better not come out of any person’s mouth about him.  The man told me out of his own mouth the word Negro means Black in Spanish; and he saw no reason to change just because everyone else did.  That I already knew as a Negro born in 1953.

Eric Jonathan Brewer

Cleveland's most influential journalist and East Cleveland's most successful mayor is an East Saint Louis, Illinois native whose father led the city's petition drive in 1969 to elect the first black mayor in 1971. Eric is an old-school investigative reporter whose 40-year body of editorial work has been demonstrably effective. No local journalist is feared or respected more.

Trained in newspaper publishing by the legendary Call & Post Publisher William Otis Walker in 1978 when it was the nation's 5th largest Black-owned publication, Eric has published and edited 13 local, regional and statewide publications across Ohio. Adding to his publishing and reporting resume is Eric's career in government. Eric served as the city's highest paid part-time Special Assistant to ex-Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White. He served as Chief of Staff to ex-East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor; and Chief of Communications to the late George James in his capacity as the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's first Black executive director. Eric was appointed to serve as a member of the state's Financial Planning & Supervision Commission to guide the East Cleveland school district out of fiscal emergency and $20 million deficit. Former U.S. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson told Eric in his D.C. office he was the only mayor in the nation simultaneously-managing a municipal block grant program. Eric wrote the city's $2.2 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant application. A HUD Inspector General audit of his management of the block grant program resulted in "zero" audit findings.

As a newspaper publisher, Eric has used his insider's detailed knowledge of government and his publications to lead the FBI and state prosecutors to investigations that resulted in criminal prosecutions of well-known elected officials in Ohio; and have helped realign Cleveland's political landscape with the defeat of candidates and issues he's exposed. Eric's stories led to the indictments of the late Governor George Voinovich's brother, Paul Voinovich of the V Group, and four associates. He asked the FBI to investigate the mayor he'd served as chief of staff for public corruption; and testified in three federal trials for the prosecution. He forced former Cuyahoga County Coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj to admit her investigations of police killings were fraudulent; and to issue notices to local police that her investigators would control police killing investigations. Eric's current work has resulted in Cuyahoga County Judge John Russo accepting the criminal complaint he guided an activist to file against 24 civil rights-violating police officers in the city he once led for operating without valid peace officer credentials. USA Today reporters picked up on Eric's police credentials reporting from his social media page and made it national.

Eric is the author of of his first book, "Fight Police License Plate Spying," which examines the FBI and local police misuse of the National Crime Information Center criminal records history database. An accomplished trumpet player and singer whose friendship with Duke Fakir of the Four Tops resulted in his singing the show's closing song, "Can't Help Myself": Curtis Sliwa of New York's Guardian Angels counts Eric among his founding chapter leaders from the early 1980's role as an Ohio organizer of over 300 volunteer crime fighters in Cleveland, Columbus and Youngstown, Ohio. For his work as a young man Eric was recognized by Cleveland's Urban League as it's 1983 Young Man of the Year.

Known in Cleveland for his encyclopedic knowledge of government and history, and intimately-connected with the region's players, every local major media outlet in Cleveland has picked up on one of Eric's stories since 1979. There is no mainstream newspaper, television or radio outlet in Cleveland that does not include an interview with Eric Jonathan Brewer in its archives over the past 40 years.


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