Fake civil rights award to Budish blasted by Euclid NAACP leader

CLEVELAND, OH – Armond Budish didn’t show up to receive the humanitarian award from Rev. E. Theophilis Caviness’ local Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) chapter that it cost him $5000 in campaign donations to buy. Caviness’ “award for cash” civil rights honor to Budish was seen as a political move and wrong by Euclid NAACP chapter President Cassandra McDonald so she wrote him a polite letter with a request that he reconsider. 

The humanitarian award SCLC President Rev. E. Theophilus Caviness gave to an absent County Executive Armond Budish was seen as an insult by civil rights activists who are in the streets, in council chambers and meeting behind-the-scenes looking at filing criminal complaints, civil rights claims and other legal steps to take to stop the abuses of civil rights occurring in Cuyahoga County government under the awardee.

Caviness wrote back a two-page indignant response.  The first page identified his own biography and inserted his sole connection to Rev. King.  He met the younger pastor in East Saint Louis, Illinois before this writer’s uncle, the late Beatrice Wilson, interviewed him in 1961 for the job he now holds as pastor of Greater Abysinnia Baptist Church.   

The second page was a “word for word” list of accomplishments lifted from Budish’s campaign website and cynically inserted in his response as the “homework” he’d done to support his reason for the award. 

This is the letter that set-off Rev. E.T. Caviness when Euclid NAACP president Cassandra McDonald sent it to him.

Caviness then took issue with being called out by McDonald.  He shared that he had served as the Cleveland NAACP chapter’s vice president and promised to complain to the NAACP national organization’s headquarters about her letter. 

It wasn’t the first time the younger civil rights leader had been threatened with a complaint for being more hard core about civil rights by an older civil rights leader.  Ever since she sought to open the Euclid NAACP chapter she’s been attacked for daring to challenge the Cleveland NAACP chapter’s existence as the only one in Cuyahoga County.  Unlike every other county in the nation where the chapters in larger cities, suburbs and on college campuses operate separate from each other; Cleveland’s NAACP chapter “bosses” think they should operate the only NAACP.

Caviness called himself instructing McDonald on how Rev. King negotiated without realizing it was exactly what she had done.  She alerted him to a problem.  She offered a reconciliation in the form of a reconsideration.  When Caviness rejected her reconsideration request McDonald and activists representing 16 other organizations staged a protest at the church to publicly express their displeasure with Budish’s paid humanitarian award from the Cleveland chapter of the organization Rev. King once led.  

Rev. E. Theophilus Caviness led a group of black male ministers to endorse Jewish lawyer and State Representative Armond Budish over better-qualified State Senator Shirley Smith who had also served as a state representative. The 2014 endorsement was seen as an example of Caviness’ “divide the black vote” strategies that have come with his self-enriching “black plans.” It was a strategy he started backstabbing Rev. John T. Weeden on before he finally divided the Black Ministers Conference enough to take over in 1977. It’s the same cutthroat strategies he used to take over the NAACP to control with his Cleveland SCLC chapter.

Budish is the county executive whose administration has come under a federal corruption investigation and whose appointees over the county’s jails have managed them to the point they’re now seen as deadly.  Former Cleveland NAACP chapter President Michael Nelson, now a municipal court judge, last year refused to send defendants he sentenced to the facility.

McDonald and other other activists at the public information sharing session on a sidewalk in front of Greater Abysinnia made note of how children in county custody are dying under Budish; and how his administration is engaging in neighborhood busting foreclosure practices for back taxes owed to third party tax lien buyers.  The practices have stripped thousands of homeowners, predominantly black, of their homes.  McDonald and other civil rights activists didn’t think the word “humanitarian” was appropriately associated with Jewish county politician Caviness had backed, twice. 

Rev. E. T. Caviness’ response letter to Euclid NAACP President Cassandra McDonald identified accomplishments that were lifted directly from Armond Budish’s campaign website.

Caviness led a group of fur-hatted black male preachers in 2014 to oppose former State Senator Shirley Smith’s campaign to replace disgraced ex-county executive Ed Fitzgerald with Budish.  It wasn’t the first time the so-called “civil rights” leader led black clergy and the civil rights organizations he controlled to support white over better-qualified black candidates like Smith.

For the last nearly 20 years Caviness led the SCLC and simultaneously served on the Cleveland NAACP chapter’s board.  He served as the NAACP’s vice president while his associate pastor, Hilton Smith, led that organization as president and he controlled the SCLC.  Both civil rights organizations were heavily-under Caviness’ influence.  He used them for his political advantage to get “jobs, contracts and board appointments” from the politicians he endorsed for family, friends and congregation members. 

It was the “black plan” he got a chance to begin promoting hard core back in 1977 when he beat Rev. John T. Weeden to takeover the Baptist Ministerial Alliance.  Caviness wanted to give white politicians access to black churches and voters in exchange for deals he and other clergy negotiated that they thought “the black community” wanted.

Rev. E.T. Caviness was originally named as one of the targets of John T. Corrigan’s “carnival kickback” indictments until his name was withdrawn and he became a challenger to George Forbes for the council presidency with Dennis Kucinich’s backing.

Weeden and the city’s longer-established black clergy saw the Caviness “inferiority” deals as begging and weakening the black vote.  Black people wouldn’t know who to support when they competed against black candidates; and those lessons had been learned from the mistakes made during the 1973 mayor’s race that pitted Arnold Pinkney and Rev. Alfred Waller against each other to replace Carl Stokes.   In that campaign Caviness supported Pinkney because he claimed members of the clergy didn’t belong in politics.  At the time he was serving a 5-year term on the zoning board he’d been politically-appointed to chair by Stokes in 1970.

The next year in 1974 Caviness lobbied members of Cleveland city council to let him replace Sidney Frost who’d quit to accept a job with the newly-created Ohio Lottery Commission.  Politics was okay for preachers as long as it was Caviness.

Caviness got the appointment to complete Frost’s two year term and then ran for the job in 1975 and won against Andrew Munford.   Munford described Caviness as not having time for the ward.  Caviness served a single elected term between 1978 and 1979 after his 1974 appointment and lost to Andrew Wright.

Rev. E.T. Caviness’ response included Armond Budish’s campaign website data as his proof of the awardee’s acomplishments.

Caviness’ years on council resulted in his being identified among 9 members of council who a Plain Dealer reporter hounded over allegations they were getting $100 each to sign a carnival operator’s permits.   Mayor Dennis Kucinich back then assigned 26 Cleveland cops to investigate George Forbes, who’d become council president in 1974, along with 9 others including Caviness.

Caviness’ name was dropped from the investigation in 1977 and he emerged in 1978 as a potential Forbes challenger after the Plain Dealer’s “Ken Johnson-like” hit pieces were thought to have demoralized him to the point of resigning.  Basil Russo was openly campaigning to replace Forbes as council president and he wasn’t a Kucinich team player.  Caviness was seen as more controllable so once he got five councilmen to back him Kucinich threw councilmen he controlled behind him.  Their plans blew up when Judge Edward McGettrick dismissed the charges against Forbes and the others and he returned to lead council.

A 1978 recall targeted Kucinich for retaliation and Caviness was forced to back it for “black solidarity.”  His voice, however, wasn’t as loud because his daughter-in-law worked for Kucinich as an aide.  This writer was a Call & Post employee at the time and was assigned the task by William O. Walker of laying out the “hit piece” he created to attack Kucinich.  The 50,000 circulation tabloid newspaper distributed throughout the city featured a sneering picture of Kucinich’s head over a skull and crossbones.

After losing to Wright, Caviness was given a $20,000 a year job as a liaison to George Voinovich who beat the politically-weakened Kucinich in the 1979 mayoral primary a year after he survived the damaging 1978 recall.

Through the years the civil rights issues McDonald and other younger activsts are now addressing were never addressed by either organization if they conflicted with Caviness’ political agenda.   The effect of Voinovich’s years over the Cleveland police department while Caviness worked as his council liaison are only now starting to surface. 

Legendary dancer and world traveler Katherine Dunham was an omnipresent figure in East Saint Louis, Illinois politics as her living in majority black Haiti and Jamaica taught her lessons she brought back home about leaders like Toussaint L’Overture and others who implemented black majority rule by defeating colonialislts. Dunham’s thinking along with the other leading black political strategists of the time was “majority rule” and did not accept the dealmaking strategies Rev. E.T. Caviness embraces that come from the perspective of black inferiority. His thinking didn’t take root in East Saint Louis where black political strategists sought to control all government offices.

Black men are being released from prison after decades for crimes they did not commit after the Cleveland cops Caviness’ boss supervised worked with racist prosecutor John T. Corrigan’s racist lawyers to fabricate evidence against them.  Caviness was a Voinovich employee when he allowed chief of police Howard Rudolph to control drug dealers Arthur Fecker and Leonard Brooks while they distributed more than $600,000 worth of crack to poor black CMHA residents near Woodhill Estates to raise money for a drug buy in Florida.  All for bragging rights at a police convention.

As Voinovich, an opponent of fair housing, sought to fund the housing court in 1980 that Kucinich envisioned would single-handedly prosecute the housing violations council had criminalized, Caviness couldn’t criticize his boss even while wearing a civil rights leader’s “titles.”   It was the same when he followed Voinovich to Columbus and got an appointment to chair Ohio’s Civil Rights Commission.

The type of civil rights policy changes King sought to implement in Cleveland with his trips to the North never materialized here in part because of Caviness’ style and emerging political voice.  In East Saint Louis, Caviness was a young pastor trying to make a name for himself with a brand of politics that didn’t fit the consciousness of that city’s black community.

Former State Senator and parole board member Shirley Smith had an excellent opportunity to take the county executive’s job had so-called “civil rights leaders” like SCLC President Rev. E. Theophilus Caviness sought to unite rather than divide the black vote while cutting side deals for themselves.

East Saint Louis’ leading black political families, like the Nash’s who’d lived through the 1917 anti-black riots, were operating along the same political dynamics as the “majority rule” Haitians led by Toussaint L’Ouverture.  Caviness’ black plan is conceived in racial inferiority and fails to consider that Cleveland’s nearly 400,000 black residents voting in solidarity could elect any candidate they wanted in a county with a 1.1 million population.  East Saint Louis’ black population in the 1960’s had exceeded 50 percent and the long-time families realized all of the city’s elected offices were within their reach.

The city’s black residents had been guided in part by information legendary dancer Katherine Dunham would bring back from her frequent trips to Haiti where she also lived.   East Saint Louis residents were also influenced heavily by Dr. Leroy Bundy, a dentist who lived between there and Cleveland.  Bundy was prosecuted in Cleveland for “allegedly” delivering weapons to black East Saint Louis men to protect themselves during the city’s 1917 anti-black riots.  Caviness consciousness of racial inferiority and cutting deals with white politicians didn’t fit in with East Saint Louis’ black politicians.  It’s an attitude that has weakened Cleveland’s civil rights movement and black political progress.

The NAACP “brand” Caviness referenced in his letter to McDonald was one his political deal-making has helped destroy.   Serious people walked away from the Cleveland NAACP chapter after George Forbes left as president and “the preachers took over” as he called them.  The organization’s already-tattered image grew worse as Caviness used it to back his “black plans.”  It was the same failed game he’d been pushing since he ousted Rev. John T. Weeden as head of the Baptist Ministers Conference in 1977.   

The Cleveland NAACP, like the chapters in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit and other big U.S. cities were used by chapter leaders to accept cash from corporate civil rights offenders who wanted to create the illusion they were okay with black people by paying off their civil rights organizations.  It was a tactic that made them irrelevant and distrusted.

The Plain Dealer has a pattern and practice of smearing black politicians that were constantly exposed by Call & Post Publisher & Editor William O. Walker when he led the nation’s 5th largest black-owned newspaper.

As an example, the Cleveland NAACP chapter endorsed Dan Gilbert’s request for $280 million to renovate the Quicken Loans Arena, but exacted no guarantee from Quicken Loans that it would stop redlining black homebuyers seeking homes in predominantly black neighborhoods.  The organization accepted a $25,000 check from Gilbert for its Freedom Fund Dinner.  The Detroit NAACP chapter was paid $250,000 and like Cleveland got no anti-redlining commitment from Gilbert. 

Nationally, the NAACP has never sought to file a class action complaint against any mortgage lender for an obvious racist practice.

McDonald by focusing on civil rights is challenging and looking to break up the selfish dealmaking Caviness’ civil rights tactics has used to enrich himself and others at the expense of “the black community” whose rights he should have been defending.

Two years after Caviness took over the Baptist Ministers Conference Artha Woods, the late Ward 6 councilwoman, complained about the number of politicians stomping through the churches and disrupting services in 1979.  She complained to the Call & Post’s W.O. Walker that the practice was disrespectful and diluting the black vote.

Caviness has no justifiable reason to submit a letter of complaint to the national NAACP about McDonald’s decision to join with other civil rights leaders who stood outside his church and questioned his judgement and award to Budish.

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.