CLEVELAND, OH – Attorney Darryl Eugene Pittman was elected on September 27, 1985 as East Cleveland’s first Mayor since 1904; and he died on July 10, 2021 the day before his 72nd birthday. Darryl was a Columbia educated attorney born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. He was an older brother, a husband, a father, grandfather and one of the smartest men I knew. Geek smart. So is his brother … Ron.
To his peers in Cleveland’s legal community Darryl was known as a good lawyer and partner in Pittman, Buchanan, Alexander, Hardiman & Wade. Two of his partners, Dean Buchanan and Ed Wade, would go on to serve as municipal court judges in Cleveland Heights and Cleveland.
During my four years as East Cleveland’s mayor I asked Darryl to serve as the hearing officer for red light camera citation appeals. After I left East Cleveland city hall on December 31, 2009 Darryl represented the council. We both agreed that the contract Gary Norton signed with Cleveland Clinic’s Delos Cosgrove to close Huron Hospital was unlawful. There were no resolutions from council authorizing him to negotiate, sign the contract or to receive the $8 million he spent.
I was always impressed by Darryl’s civil rights lawsuit against National City Bank that resulted in the elevation of the late Danny Cameron to the presidency of its community development bank. He’d dug into upper management hiring practices and exposed a glass ceiling for American Negroes in local banking.
Mr. Cameron was the first American Negro to hold the “presidency” title at one of the Caucasian-owned banks. During segregation Eugenia Murrell Capers’ uncle was the president of an American Negro owned bank. The last “Black” bank in Cleveland was operated by the late attorney John Bustamente. Mr. Cameron died in 2012.
It was through Darryl I learned about the FBI’s “CEO Shoots” and how at one a Ravenna bank board hired a retiring Special Agent who secured approval to investigate one of its partners before he joined the organization as head of security. He also had a compelling case that involved a client whose son had been busted with a Russian Israeli alien at his kosher Subway restaurant inside the Mandel Jewish Community Center. That’s when I learned about the Cleveland area’s Kosher Mafia and met the son of noted rabbi who founded a Hebrew school.
They were selling drugs to “Orthodox” Russian Jews out of the kosher Subwayrestaurant and the court fixes to get Judge Janet Burnside to sentence the dealers to 18 months or less in probation would shred everyone’s confidence in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Asset forfeiture? Cops didn’t get to keep the Mustang.
Darryl picked up the case as the restaurant owner’s local attorney for New York franchise lawyer Gerald Marks after the conviction; and when the father was pursuing legal actions against Subway founder Kenneth DeLuca. Marks had sued Subway for $147 million as a class action for claiming a 10.5 sandwich was a “foot long” at 17 restaurants.
When one of Darryl’s Gateway clients wanted to talk to a reporter the story resulted in me covering the mysterious suicide of a contractor who had blown the whistle on structural defects at the Cleveland Indians stadium. His neighbor in the two-family home they lived side-by-side in at W. 115th and Clifton Avenue didn’t hear the gunshot. She only saw his dead body and the men removing records from his home after police and coroners left. Another contractor working on the project said the suicide victim’s whistle-blowing had made him fearful.
I didn’t know Darryl prior to his campaign in 1985, but I ended up with a front row seat to the administration of East Cleveland’s first elected mayor and council when voters on May 27, 1985 elected to change the charter to reform the government. I wrote about the mayoral and council campaigns for the Call & Post. After the charter change and mayoral campaigns I published 5000 copies of The Independent newspaper every two weeks in East Cleveland during his two, two-year terms in office.
The Independent provided East Cleveland residents with news about city hall, the school district, library board, the courts and everything else I thought they needed to know. As publisher of East Cleveland’s only newspaper I was in the position to talk to everyone in leadership in the city’s political circles even when they were beefing and weren’t talking to each other. I recognized the difficulty of the job Darryl had to do in East Cleveland since I’d watched the city’s politics from my first job at the Call & Post beginning in 1978.
Darryl didn’t know East Cleveland or its politics; and he didn’t know the “relationships” between the “players.” That’s the problem with seeking election to a town to which you just relocated.
Darryl had been recruited by Charles E. Bibb, Sr. as a fresh 37-year-old political face who’d never held an elected office; and who barely met the residency requirements in the charter. Mr. Bibb sold him to the voters – and Darryl sold himself – as a break from the people who had already served the city into a financial crisis. Even before Darryl’s election Auditor of State Thomas E. Ferguson, Jr. was being prepped by his chief of staff, attorney McCullough Williams, about placing the city in fiscal emergency.
What had caused Mr. Bibb, Call & Post editor in chief John Lenear and other civic-minded concerned citizens to ask voters to abolish the commission and city manager form of government, and to adopt the “federal plan” of a mayor and council, was the commission’s decision to fire a city manager, Robert Beasley, after only a month on the job between March and April 1984. The Commission replaced him with realtor Elijah Wheeler, Sr.
Beasley had been the third city manager the Commission Mae Stewart presided over as president had hired and fired in three years. Mr. Bibb had once served on the commission with Mr. Wheeler. It was suspected that city manager Beasley was politicked out of the job by Mr. Wheeler.
Residents were pissed when the commission replaced an American Negro attorney, Warner Jackson, with a Caucasian who had little municipal law experience, Jordan Delmonte. He was the wrong person to discharge the duties of the city’ “chief prosecuting attorney” which is the dual-role of the director of law for a police department already known for its violently racist policing.
Commission members also angered residents with the appointment of Daniel Bertosa as the director of finance. Residents wanted the city’s workforce to reflect its 85 percent American Negro demographics and had voted for a residency requirement in the charter.
The Commission’s appointees and the crisis in leadership they’d created with abrupt terminations of city managers had destabilized the administration of the city and given department heads almost unquestioned control. The Commission’s acts were also costly since each termination came with a payout for the unexpired term of the city manager’s contract.
Attorney Anthony Garofoli had aided Mr. Bibb and Mr. Lenear in drafting the charter change language. Mr. Garofoli had served on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and had co-chaired the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party with attorney and Cleveland council president George Forbes during the early 70’s. All the charter sections that referenced the duties of a city manager and commission were repealed.
Duties were added for the mayor and council that generally complied with those found in Title 7 of the Ohio Revised Code. What Darryl had to fight was an 81-year-old built-in consciousness that the chief conservator of the peacecould be hired, ordered about and fired by a commission.
The council members couldn’t undo the thought that the council was not the commission and they weren’t the mayor’s boss. The only Commissioner East Cleveland voters retained in 1985 was Cummings & Davis Funeral Home founder Wallace Davis. He wanted Darryl’s job like Gary Norton wanted mine.
From a pure mayoral perspective Darryl faced the most difficult challenges of any of the city’s mayors. Me included.
The term of East Cleveland mayor was for two years and voters had changed the form of government four months before he won his first election. It meant that at the age of 37 Darryl had to build an administrative team to learn the relevant sections of the Ohio Revised Code that structured how a mayor – council form of government was supposed to operate; and implement it beginning with the very first meeting of council. In the background Darryl had to deal with a most ignorant level of politics and political players; and a years-old financial crisis. At 37 from my perspective today at 67 he was just a kid but Mr. Bibb had chosen well.
For comparative purposes prior to my election I was 52 and had worked as a Special Assistant to Mayor Michael White, Chief of Staff and Director of Community Development for Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor, Director of Communications for CMHA Executive Director George James, a construction Project Planner for Claire Freeman, managed the Miles Drive In Theatre and served as an administrative assistant or supervisor for two U.S. Air Force hospital commanders. As a journalist and newspaper publisher I’d been covering local government since 1978.
A politically-loud resident who worked as a janitor at the Ford Motor Company was one of Darryl’s most vicious critics; so I understood Darryl’s frustration. His use of “big words” was one of the ignorant attacks on him; but that was the reality of East Cleveland politics.
The non or barely-reading clerks, janitors, telephone operators and assembly-line factory workers could play “I’m the political leader” as elected officials in city hall or on the library and school board. We’re talking about people who have never read the Constitution of the United States of America or any laws arguing with a trained legal professional who was rooted in both.
Powerless in their jobs and lives they could hold great power in politics with the millions of dollars they oversaw poorly as elected officials. Their egos, however, were larger than their skillsets which made them “go personal” when confronted with the language of state audit that criticized them for misspending millions. Seriously.
Former Ameritrust vice president John Martin wanted to seek a job on council to help Darryl but opted out because he didn’t want to have his name dragged through the mud. John and I attended Shaw High School and he’s been a multi-store McDonald’s restaurant franchise owner for over 20 years.
Darryl had to go through the “he thinks he’s better than us” bullshit that came with his intellect and complexion as an American Negro. I heard it then and later as mayor. Few of the attacks on him were relevant to the official acts of his administration as his critics as sources called me in my role as The Independent’s publisher to pitch information they were hoping would damage him. Since our communication lines were open I knew the “real” from the “bullshit.”
When Darryl tried to give residents what they wanted in the form of an American Negro police or fire chief he ended up being accused of reverse discrimination by Caucasian employees. So there was always another bureaucratic or political fight for a mayor with one eye on administration and another on politics that came with every critical decision.
The council couldn’t see that keeping a two-year mayor distracted with politics also distracted him from managing some of the evil he was trying to curtail with the police. The law enforcement crew Darryl inherited was notorious for their civil rights violating violence, false arrests, planting of evidence and “drug dealing.” East Cleveland had a civil rights attorney leading it, and one in the law department, who had the legal competence to amend justice into the city’s ordinances for a diligent council to enact; and they were being impeded by ignorant politics.
Since I was publishing The Independent while Darryl was mayor we were in touch regularly. Either he was calling me for editorial help or I was calling him with questions about the shit city workers he was just getting to know, and only had two years to evaluate, were doing.
Imagine having to deal with community development employees stealing $142,000 of 5 pound blocks of cheese intended for the low-income that they sold to local merchants to resell to their customers. Cheese. The shit wasn’t funny but the ludicrousness of it was funny as I remember Darryl’s brother Ron’s humorous disgust. Stealin’ mutha fuckin’ cheese.
More than once between Mr. Ferguson’s audits and those conducted by Auditor of States James Petro were voters warned their council members were not reading or obeying state laws for enacting ordinances that appropriated funds and awarded public contracts. East Cleveland voters were entrusting millions of their tax dollars annually to their non-reading, politically popular, unskilled worker neighbors and Darryl was trying to liberate them. The same with my administration.
As a mayor Darryl had no choice but to meet with state auditors who were in the city daily while being politically undermined by members of council and loud activists. Mr. Ferguson’s chief of staff, bond attorney McCullough Williams, was also from Youngstown. The funeral home family. Wallace Davis was also from Youngstown so McCullough had a personal feel for the city and was reluctant to advise Mr. Ferguson to pull the fiscal emergency plug on Darryl’s new administration.
McCullough understood the load on Darryl’s shoulders in putting together a new government, learning the job, building a new cabinet, training a council and dealing with the politics. Whether or not Mr. Ferguson would recommend placing East Cleveland in fiscal emergency depended on how Darryl was able to control the budget. Mayor George Voinovich had spent most of his 7 years as Cleveland’s mayor in fiscal emergency.
The water department’s delinquencies as well as those in the Helen S. Brown and community development accounts were overspent. Darryl’s administration got hit with retroactive raises arbitrators awarded the city’s police, fire and EMS workers after he completed negotiations with public employee unions.
Two years prior to Darryl’s election Ohio’s General Assembly enacted sections of Title 41 of the Ohio Revised Code in 1983 giving public employee unions the rights to collectively bargain wages and benefits. Richard Frank Celeste signed this shit into law as Ohio’s governor as a promise to his organized labor backers.
To justify their own existence arbitrators interpreted sections of Title 41 in favor of the unions; giving them the money and benefits they wanted even in cities state audits could prove were struggling like East Cleveland. Darryl had to deal with demands for wages that were comparable to suburbs like Cleveland Heights, South Euclid, University Heights and Maple Heights which strained the budget even more. All the state’s local governments got “taxed” with having to find ways to fund high five and six figure pensions for public workers for life as the state’s collective bargaining law created reductions in services and more demands for taxes everywhere.
Darryl was partners in a law firm with attorneys James Alexander, Dean Buchanan, James Hardiman and Edward Wade. Both Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Wade were eventually elected to municipal courts in Cleveland Heights and Cleveland. Darryl appointed Mr. Alexander as director of law. Attorney Fred Middleton was appointed as his prosecuting attorney. I forget the specific title Mr. Buchanan held. Mr. Middleton was United States Representative Louis Stokes’ brother-in-law.
Augustus “Gus” Harper was appointed to the office of director of finance. Architect David Hughes was appointed as Darryl’s city planner. Mr. Harper and Mr. Hughes were on the faculty of Kent State University. Sharon Dumas was appointed as Darryl’s assistant director of finance. Ms. Dumas has served as Mayor Frank Jackson’s director of finance or chief of staff throughout the majority of his 16 years in office.
From my perspective as East Cleveland’s former mayor, and knowing the skill sets of Darryl’s appointees, they made sense. They were all competent people.
With a mandate of having to operate under a form of government that was alien to the consciousness of the city’s electorate from the first meeting of council, Darryl’s selection of lawyers, academics and professionals with existing government backgrounds – to help him establish the foundation of the new form of government he had to implement – was brilliant. He had the team to build statutory compliance into every corner of the municipal government and that’s the effort I witnessed him attempting.
To his critics Darryl was feeding his law firm’s partners when they all took pay cuts and suffered the damaging effects of East Cleveland’s sick brand of politics to work for a broke city. This was always the dichotomy plaguing Darryl’s ability to
One of Darryl’s challenges was that he and his team of white collar cabinet members operated intellectually far above the comprehension of the city’s civic and political leaders who’d come from the area’s blue collar workforce. He came across as arrogant to people who see excellence in others as a reminder of their own failures in life. Having to work for a year and then campaign for a year didn’t give a young mayor with a family to raise – whose image was being publicly-defined by his critics – any breathing room to learn and retrain the city’s workforce to adjust to the new form of government he was implementing.
Like some avid “readers” in leadership Darryl could not “maintain” patience with a non-reading body of legislators. He expected a council of people old enough to be his parents to have the same thirst for learning as he did because they all had the duty to implement the new form of government East Cleveland voters changed the charter to get. Only Darryl had kept the reality that voters had adopted a new form of government in the forefront of his thinking.
Think of a mayor, while he was engaged in multiple political battles, brilliant enough to contract with attorney Gerald Kisner to write an amendment to a federal law; and then using Mr. Stokes’ influence in the United States Congress to use the amendment to designate East Cleveland a “direct entitlement community.”
Darryl was pissed that Cuyahoga County’s commissioners were the pass-through entity for East Cleveland’s community development block grant allocation from the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). Instead of giving East Cleveland all the Community Development Block Grant money that had been received by the county in its name, Darryl didn’t like the county deciding the city’s annual action plan and use of the federal funds. He also didn’t like county workers earning the 15 percent to administer East Cleveland’s block grant money instead of that 15 percent being spent to hire East Cleveland residents to manage it.
When he examined the county’s distribution Darryl saw dollars earmarked for East Cleveland going to suburbs like Cleveland Heights. That’s when Darryl and his team met with Mr. Stokes whose office worked with Mr. Kisner to guide them through the process of acquiring the direct entitlement designation.
In order to receive the direct entitlement designation a municipal corporation’s population had to have a census of 50,000. East Cleveland’s census was 37,500 but it didn’t matter with Stokes’ serving on Congress’ appropriations committee. Even today with a population far less than 37,500, East Cleveland’s block grant money comes directly from HUD. Darryl’s use of Mr. Stokes’ power in Congress at the time went unappreciated by the city’s council and electorate.
With a new form of government to implement, a city in a financial crisis years before he arrived, and cops as criminally-crazed in 1986 as they are today in their terrorizing residents, the last thing a race conscience civil rights attorney elected as mayor with only two years to work needed within months of his first year in office was a recall threat and a council at war.
Within five months of his first year in office Darryl and council president Helen Williams were under “recall” attack. It took a citywide prayer meeting Rev. Beuford Terry and Burger King owner Samuel Tidmore organized to calm things down.
When Darryl sought to be re-elected in 1987 his candidacy was rejected by the East Cleveland Democratic Club. I endorsed him in The Independent. I understood his administration differently than Darryl’s critics and overlooked some of the decisions he made that others were exploiting. From my perspective residents who had formerly served on the Commission were using surrogates to disrupt his administration and the council.
Darryl won his first re-election. He lost his second in 1989 to Wallace Davis who had campaigned against him from the council in 1987. The fiscal emergency Auditor of State Ferguson had threatened came to fruition after it was requested by council vice president H. Elizabeth Omar.
Darryl served for four years or for two, two-year terms in office between January 1, 1986 and December 31, 1989. Davis’ term of office began on January 1, 1990. He was replaced by Emmanuel Onunwor on January 1, 1998 whose second term would have expired on December 31, 2005 but for his 2004 federal conviction. My term of office began on January 1, 2006 and ended on December 31, 2009. In between me and Emmanuel was Saratha Goggins who replaced him from the council after his conviction.
Darryl didn’t experience the opportunity to build the city’s community development department based on the vision he used to get the money. Davis implemented it, wrongly, by hiring Onunwor to implement what Darryl’s brilliance had brought to the table.
Darryl thought his administration could eliminate the fiscal emergency by 1989; but he overspent by more than $1 million. There are always unpredictable expenses that come with municipal government that a mayor who’s never worked in upper management in a municipal corporation with a new team won’t foresee. Because a conscientious mayor knows a family’s stability is at stake, those like Darryl and I hesitated to cut jobs when we should have lived with the math. The only difference between Darryl and my administrations is I had more time to adjust to the math.
Inheriting a city at the brink of fiscal emergency for being over $2.5 million in deficit fund balances didn’t leave Darryl with a surplus. To keep Mr. Ferguson’s state auditors off his back Darryl had to manage tightly and with no mistakes. It’s the two-year campaign cycle clock and the gap between what he knew and what he had yet to learn that resulted in his management miscalculations.
Darryl as an attorney had highlighted the need for the city’s unresolved litigation to be disposed of and settled during his campaign for the mayor’s job. As a brand new political office-seeking candidate he didn’t realize East Cleveland had no general liability insurance and that settlements were paid from the general fund.
He settled a lot of litigation that should have been settled; but didn’t have the back end insight to see its draining effect on the general fund. It was a campaign promise oversight but for the right reason. Darryl didn’t steal the city’s money. He was more than competent as East Cleveland’s mayor. Voters can see by the way he lived the rest of his life free of public corruption drama that Darryl was honest.
A memorial service is scheduled for Darryl on July 20 at 10 a.m. The location is the Mt. Zion Congregational Church at 10723 Magnolia Dr.