The 1989 White – Forbes race for Cleveland mayor showed the Caucasian political power structure that American Negro voters controlled the city

CLEVELAND, OH – For some odd reason political thinkers have attempted to compare Cleveland’s 2021 campaigns for mayor to the 1989 campaign that featured veteran Council President George Lawrence Forbes against his protege, State Senator Michael Reed White, in the general election.  That year two American Negroes prevailed in the mayoral primary election for the first time in the city’s history.  From my perspective it was a campaign which clearly affirmed that American Negroes living in Cleveland no longer had to call themselves “minorities” as the city’s largest ethnic demographic.

The Forbes-White matchup was the first dramatic display of the political power of Cleveland’s nearly 200,000 strong overwhelmingly majority American Negro ethnic group.  American Negroes are the largest ethnic demographic in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.  Over 400,000 in Cuyahoga County and German Americans are a distant second at 225,000.  American Negroes and German Americans are also the nation’s two largest ethnic demographics.

I was behind the scenes on Team White while employed as chief of communications for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) in the late George James’ cabinet.  He was the first American Negro to lead the once segregated public housing authority Ernest J. Bohn created in 1933. I’d watched Mr. White’s career on council and appreciated the way he stayed in Mr. Kucinich’s azz as mayor.  It was a given that Mr. Forbes would prevail in 1989 and it’s what Mr. White believed as they approached the primary election.

At Mr. White’s first campaign organizational meeting in his home, when he asked me to stay behind, he understood that my help would have to be behind-the-scenes.  He wanted to know what I had done to become the first American Negro candidate to earn more west side than east side votes in my 1983 campaign for a seat on the Cleveland school board.

The trust that Zachary Reed has earned from Cleveland’s American Negro community can be compared to the trust the Negro community had for George Forbes. The 1989 campaign between Mr. Forbes and then state senator Michael White shocked Clevelanders who didn’t realize the city was majority Negro. For the first time two American Negro men of high political achievements for their respective lengths of service were competing for mayor. While both men were known in the American Negro community, Mr. Forbes was known longer, better and had demonstrated he could be trusted longer. Word on the streets is that Mr. Reed will grab the lion’s share of the American Negro vote just on trust … alone.

In 1983 I was fresh off all the Ohio and national exposure I’d received from my statewide Guardian Angel organizing.  Stories about my activities were appearing on the front pages of two daily newspapers totalling more than 800,000 copies combined on the city’s streets.   The stories appeared in all of the zoned editions.  That’s 2.8 million readers combined in just one media  market.  I had the equivalent exposure in Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron and Youngstown-Warren.  In the early 1980’s I had far more local and statewide news coverage, as an example, than Nina Turner.  It wasn’t even close.  My organizational meetings and activities appeared on the front pages of every major daily in the state in addition to those on the college campuses where I was speaking and in the “community” newspapers.

I had sold my car when I announced my campaign to run for the Cleveland school board on January 1, 1983 and bought bus passes for six months.  My goal was to talk to the transit passengers Guardian Angel safety patrol volunteers had helped feel safer over the past two years.  My campaign consisted of riding a full bus from downtown Public Square until I’d passed out all my literature and talked to the passengers; and then getting off and riding another bus back to Public Square and doing the same thing.  Mr. White used a variation of that strategy in his campaign.

What I learned in my 1983 campaign for a seat on the Cleveland school board, that Mr. White also found valuable, was the perceptions of the west side were false.  St. John’s Episcopal Church – where Rev. William Ellis was gracious enough to allow Guardian Angels to train – was an Underground Railroad stop for Harriet Tubman. Berea is the site of the first settlement of American Negroes who worked the rock quarry.

The west side is where the first American Negro brought his family to this free state in 1809.  George Peake.  He was a signifcant land owner in what is now Rocky River and Fairview Park that was once called Fairport.  WEWS featured a story about children who found his burial site but didn’t know his name or history.  My family has “over” a 100 year presence in Cleveland and I’ve studied and written about it since 1978.  It’s apparent WEWS’s news team didn’t know where to look.  As soon as I watched the clip I knew the story referenced Mr. Peake.   Some of his descendants are still here and don’t even know their own family history.

George Peake was the first American Negro to relocate to the Cleveland area in 1809 with his wife and two sons. He owned 103 acres in Rockport; which is now Rocky River.  Cleveland was founded as a free state in 1801.  American Negroes prospered here until the arrival of the non-English speaking Eastern Europeans.

Since I had visited all the public housing estates to organize Curtis Sliwa’s first Ohio Guardian Angel chapter in Cleveland in 1981, I knew the families leaving them moved to the surrounding west side neighborhoods.  From Rocky River Drive near Hopkins International Airport back to West 25th Street the city of Cleveland’s American Negro presence and population is visually more larger on the west side than perceived.  I also knew American Negro Lorain County residents living around Lorain and Elyria; and wanting a more “urban” environment saw Cleveland’s west side as their “east” side.

Call & Post Publisher & Editor William Otis Walker told me he thought it was long past time for American Negro candidates to win west side political offices.  That conversation was in 1980.  The American Negro presence throughout every Cleveland west side suburban community is even more pronounced today.  An American Negro candidate who doesn’t spend his time on the west side is ignoring huge political opportunities.

When Carl Stokes was supported twice for mayor of Cleveland in 1967 and 1969 the American Negro population was approximately 37 percent.  It was recorded as 46.6 percent in 1989 when White sought to become the city’s second American Negro mayor.  It’s 49 percent of 372,000 residents today as Mr. Reed, Mr. Bibb and Mr. Jones seek to become the city’s third American Negro mayor.  Like in 1989 the top two competitors for mayor could be American Negroes.

Visually it’s been my estimate that the American Negro population on the west side is between 25 and 33 percent since 1990, but with a political nuance.  Just because they’re “Black,” an American Negro west side Cleveland resident would have no automatic affiliation with the east side politicians whose names are now appearing on their ballots since all voting is hyperlocal down to the precinct.  Voters only get to see the names of the candidates seeking elected office in their own political districts and precincts.  Mr. Reed and Mr. Kucinich are the only two candidates in the current campaign for Cleveland mayor to have had their names appear on the ballot in every precinct.

For American Negro Clevelanders living on the west side, Mary Rose Oakar and not Louis Stokes was their Congressional Representative in the 20th Congressional District.  I was surprised to see few familiar names when I resided in Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway during the 1980’s.  Unless they’d relocated from the east side to the west side, American Negroes raised on Cleveland’s west side had never voted for an American Negro candidate for council, state representative, state senator or Congress.

King Kennedy manager Al Mohorn was helping Mr. White with some of his perspectives about resident living conditions at CMHA.  Mr. White was allowed to temporarily reside in an apartment unit to dramatize the problems.  Since I was handling CMHA’s public relations, I convinced Mr. James as a member of his cabinet not to send chief of police Darlice Ogletree to arrest and remove him. I arranged a meeting between the two men.

Afterwards Mr. White and I met at his favorite E. 105th Street restaurant and I advised him not to become a “one issue” candidate with CMHA.  The publicity had expanded him beyond the Plain Dealer’s zones, since it was the only surviving newspaper, but he was too intellectually expansive to be viewed in such a limited intellectual light.  A woman walked in while we ate and talked; and said she loved what he was doing with CMHA. She’d proved my point.

When I suggested to Mr. White he was going to place second behind Mr. Forbes his mind was leaning towards Italian American Benny Bonnano or Irish American Tim Hagan.  Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chairman Robert Hughes and I were both former Cleveland Press reporters and friendly; so he asked me to produce a tabloid newspaper for “Rocky” or Mr. Perk, Jr. to distribute in the Eastern European wards.  He’d arranged for Mr. White to support Mr. Perk for a municipal court judgeship.  Mr. Perk drew the Eastern European Catholic vote away from Mr. Hagan and Mr. Bonnano.

What I saw at the beginning of the 1989 Cleveland mayoral campaign was three different Eastern European Catholic ethnics splitting the Catholic vote and capturing only the vote that reflected their religious and ethnic affiliation.  It’s the same today for Mr. Kelley, Mr. Kucinich and Ross DiBello as they are all Catholics.  Catholic voters are taught to vote for members of their own ethnic group first and then the Catholic.  Political affiliation is third and they’re taught to vote for Democratic candidates.  An Associated Press poll taken during ex-President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign for re-election revealed that 30 percent of Caucasian Democratic voters would not ever vote for an American Negro or “Black” candidate.

Cleveland has a White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) protestant community that’s large and ethnically quiet.  Like American Negroes they’re just “Americans” with pre-Civil War roots to our shared nation.  Between Cleveland’s WASP and Hispanics populations, they had no ethnic horse in the city’s mayor’s race in 1989 and I saw them as being attuned to Mr. White.  Think people like former Ohio Senator Charles Butts.

In 1989 Municipal Court Judge Carl Burton Stokes, an ex-Cleveland mayor like Dennis Kucinich, was also thinking about jumping in the campaign with Mr. White and before Mr. Forbes announced.  That upped the pressure on Mr. White’s campaign.  The Plain Dealer destroyed the city’s first American Negro mayor’s thoughts about competing by making a big editorial deal over Mr. Stokes walking out of a Bedford store with dog food and a $2.39 screw driver in his pocket.  He’d forgotten to pay. Mr. Stokes would have only another six years to live before dying of a slow growing esophageal cancer on April 3, 1996.  For Mr. White the Plain Dealer had a story about an allegation of domestic violence.

There’ll be no such stories about Mr. Reed since his 2013 “set-up” arrest by Cleveland police.  He’s already been through “the fire.”  Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Bibb have highy exploitable “issues” that will surface in a general election war if either of them makes it through the primary.  So does State Senator Sandra Williams and her “all woman” campaign and First Energy background drama.

Ms. Williams appears to have built a political marketing campaign around her hope of becoming the first “African American Woman” elected as mayor.  Attorney and then ex-councilwoman Eugenia Marie Capers tried to achieve that goal in 1969 against Mr. Stokes during his re-election.  Gender isn’t a qualifying characteristic for a municipal chief law enforcement officer.

The vote totals of current candidates for elected office are disgracefully low. They don’t know how to get out the vote. They’re lazy and on social media. The votes are in the streets. If candidate are not in the streets seeking votes they’re not campaigning. The Arnold Pinkney campaign model centered on four words. High touch. High visibility. 28 to 35 percent of Cleveland residents are not online. Especially the older voters. Google is not the only search engine and Facebook ads don’t cut it.

Comparing the careers  of Mr. Reed, Mr. Jones, Ms. Williams and Mr. Bibb; and Mr. Reed more closely fits the “council background” characteristics of Mr. White and Mr. Forbes without the public corruption investigations around them.  Mr. Kelley is on record as being a chronic lawbreaker and an election thief.  There’s nothing “activist” about Mr. Kelley except his wanting to feed corporate Cleveland’s thirst for tax supported stadium renovations when fully-private sources are available.  Mr. Kucinich’s single two year term as Cleveland’s mayor was a disaster because of his incompetence.  There’s no “public office” dirt on Mr. Reed.

Mr. Forbes was elected to Cleveland city council in 1962 and sworn in on January 1, 1963.  He’d served 26 years before seeking the mayor’s job.  Mr. White was elected in 1977 and sworn in on January 1, 1978.  He served three two-year terms on council for six years; and a four year-term in the Ohio Senate after replacing State Senator Morris Jackson in 1984 and completing his term in office.

Mr. Reed follows Mr. Forbes for his length of time on city council at 16 years. From an experience perspective it means he’s voted annually to approve general, enterprise and grant funded budgets exceeding $1.5 billion 16 times. That’s more than $24 billion.

When the “oversight” control council has over the appointees to the Cleveland Municipal School District, GCRTA, CMHA, the Cleveland Public Library, the sewer district and other boards and commissions are added to the $24 billion; that’s another more than $2.5 billion in annual oversight authority or another $40 billion over 16 years.  Mr. Reed can righteously claim to have exercised legislative oversight authority over $64 billion, successfully, during his 16 years in office.

Like Mr. Forbes, Mr. Reed provided the residents he served with a stable presence on council before he sought the job of mayor.  What his 16 years also exposed him to were weekly meetings 52 times a year with department heads and city attorneys about the municipal government’s inefficiencies in delivering services to residents and legal matters.  He’s also evaluated three mayors beginning with Mr. White.  Mr. Reed had a front row seat at Jane Campbell’s collosal failure as the city’s mayor.  A lot of learning occurs with repetition and observation.  He also has existing relationships with city workers who have been and continue to share internal information about Mr. Jackson’s administrative shortcomings, missed deadlines and federally-mandated block grant spending goals.

There was no social media in 1989 when Mr. White defeated all his extremely worthy opponents. Russian Mark Zuckerberg was only 5.  Cleveland’s cable franchise had just been built so there were no 800 “market diluting” television channels for people to watch.  The Plain Dealer was circulating 450,000 copies a day for 25 cents a copy.

Clevelanders, including the poorest residents in the city, didn’t have to be “wired” to read news that actually covered the area’s local institutions. If they didn’t have a quarter or 35 cents there were always copies of newspapers to be found left on buses, in restrooms or on the streets at a bus stop.  Information in 2021 is everywhere but it’s availability is limited to online.  Credible, locally-packaged news with dense door-to-door penetration is not.  Nearly 30 percent of the city’s households are not cable or internet wired.

The local radio stations were not corporate owned in 1989.  This meant we didn’t have Katherine Hughes’ Radio One, and now Urban One, owning 54 radio urban stations in the nation’s largest cities and consolidating news under a “national” umbrella to save money.  She didn’t want to hire local reporters to report local news in 54 radio markets even though she started off her career as a newspaper reporter.

In Cleveland’s American Negro community we were still listening to WJMO and WABQ on the AM frequency.  Under the FM frequency FM108 and 93FM were competing for “urban” listeners.  Public affairs programming and news was “top of the hour” reliable.  News when White campaigned in 1989 was more locally dense with fewer talk show hosts who had larger audiences than local podcasters.  The Call & Post was still living off the editorial strength of the foundation Mr. William Otis Walker had laid for it; but it had been severely weakened by his death on October 29, 1981 and Harry Alexander’s on August 24, 1988.

Today, the Call & Post is not widely-read and there’s no 21st Congressional District Caucus, Operation Alert or Operation Big Vote connecting American Negro voters to the polls.  In a conversation with Owl’s Nest resident Dana Johnson about the aftermath of the August 3, 2021 primary election, she said residents in the East Cleveland senior high-rise didn’t know there was an election. This underscores the difference in the type of media in existence in 1989 in contrast to 2021.

182,280 of Cleveland’s 372,000 residents are American Negroes and still the overwhelmingly largest “ethnic voting bloc.” There’s nothing “minority” about Cleveland’s American Negro population and the word should be viewed as offensive when referring to us.  America is a “mixed” nation and the Negro bloodline in it is dominant.

There is a statistical anamoly former United States Department of Commerce UnderSecretary Everett Ehrlich shared with me during an interview for my Political Reporter newspaper and magazine in 1996.  Ehrlich shared that the 1940 census revealed how American Negroes had been undercounted by no less than 11 percent in every census.  Adding 11 percent to 182,280 gives Reed, Williams, Bibb and Jones a potential voting base of 202,330 as the statistical anamoly would make the American Negro population 54.3 percent.

The ethnic composition of Cleveland hasn’t changed much since 1950.  #1 has been American Negroes from the perspective of a homogenous community.  Of the “White’s” German Americans are the second largest ethnic group at 50,000 and then it goes down from there to the Irish (Catholics and Protestants), Italians, English, French, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai and every other “ethnic” from a nation I left out.  It’s the same in the county with nearly 400,000 American Negro residents out of 1.1 million.

Eastern Europeans make up about 33 percent of the city’s Caucasian population, but they’re so balkanized they hate each other.  There’s no such thing as “white unity” in Cleveland.  Look at how Irish Catholic Mr. Kelley’s been almost single-handedly trying to destroy Roman Catholic Mr. Kucinich for the Catholic vote.

By 1960 Call & Post publisher Mr. Walker had watched once “Caucasian” wards turn “Negro” since 1929 when he arrived to a city with a population of 900,000.  What he observed was when the number of American Negroes living in a ward reached 37 percent they had the voting strength to politically take it over.  It was the same model he’d seen the Eastern European ethnics using to take over their cluster of council seats among the city’s 33 wards.

In the 1989 campaign for Cleveland mayor, I recall Mr. Hagan raising over $500,000 for his 11,000 votes. Mr. Bonnano ended up with 28,000 votes for his approximately $300,000.  He placed third behind Mr. White  Mr. Bonanno misperceived the American Negro community support he’d received for mayor against Dennis Kucinich in 1979 would transfer to support 10 years later in a mayoral campaign with Mr. Forbes and Mr. White in it.  Mr. Perk ended up with 5000.

When the mayoral baton passed between American Negro Mayor Carl Burton Stokes and Czechoslovakian Mayor Ralph Perk, Sr. partisan primary elections were voted out to prevent another American Negro candidate from running in a 3-party primary and general election and winning. From 1973 until 1989 there were no American winning mayoral candidates until Michael Reed White. If Cleveland’s American Negro community wants another American Negro mayor they only have to show up at the polls and vote in solidarity for Zachary Reed. 

None of the Caucasian candidates were competitive in the American Negro wards as the vote was split between Mr. Forbes and Mr. White.  Mr. Forbes ended up with around 80 percent of the American Negro and Mr. White had the lion’s share of the rest.  The American Negro vote for the Caucasian candidates was negligible.

Since Mr. White’s Caucasian opponents were all Eastern European ethnics, he was able to capture the WASP vote and some of the Catholic ethnics who saw the writing on the wall. Puerto Ricans and West Indians whose African ancestors were also enslaved like those of American Negroes make-up another 10 percent of Cleveland’s population.

In all Mr. White’s west side vote exceeded 30 percent in the primary election. The west side was his against Forbes in the general election; which earned him the very unfair nickname of White Mike.   We may have our disagreements but I worked for him up close.   I was so impressed with the number of American Negroes he’d empowered I created a Christmas card for him with the pictures of his cabinet so our folk could see what he’d done.  More than half.  He’d even placed enough American Negroes as “seconds and thirds in charge” to guarantee the city would always have a class of citizens with the administrative training to manage a political bureaucracy.

From my recollection, White got through the primary election in 1989 with less than $40,000.  Mr. Reed already has a quarter of a million dollar investment in marketing his name from the 2017 campaign we competed in as candidates; and he launched his campaign with 75 percent name recognition.  Every dime he’s spent since then has narrowed an already close gap to 100 percent name recognition with only one 8-year old negative. Right after losing to Jackson in 2017, Reed reached out and said he was seeking the job, again, in 2021.  I completely understood.  I felt the same way after losing to Emmanuel Onunwor in 2001 for mayor of East Cleveland.  I won with 84 percent in 2005.

Mr. Kucinich has 100 percent name recognition as well but it’s as being the city’s most notorious perennial candidate.  Every election season it’s like “Run Dennis Run.”  The other candidates are well-funded but not well-known.

Mr. Jones’ Ward 7 constituents voted at a rate of 7 percent in the August 3rd primary election.  If that’s his primary election base coming from the ward he serves then Mr. Jones’ candidacy is already doomed.  He’s got to split Ward 7 with his other Cleveland opponents and it’s one of the wards Reed already drew votes from against Jackson in 2017.

I know “of” but I don’t know the others.  I filed a criminal complaint against Kevin Kelley.  The council seat he now holds should be the last elected office he ever holds.

Kelley deserves absolutely no trust from Cleveland or Cuyahoga County voters if he has future political plans.  The people supporting him as a public official who has the duty to uphold our Constitutions and obey our laws should feel nothing less than abject shame for their own hypocrisy if they call themselves loyal Americans.  When it comes down to “self” or “us” it’s “self-interests” they choose.  That’s the problem with “selling out.”  Kelley isn’t worthy and it’s an unrecoverable betrayal that isn’t worth the long term political risk.  Even their users know not to trust them; and don’t.   Kelley is no “John Brown.”

Kelley reeks of Communist and Fascist influences and he doesn’t deserve to play an “official” role where defense of America, Americans and our values are expected.  He’s a traitor to the Constitution and an example of an elected anarchist.  It’s offensive that he’s even on the ballot instead of in jail.

GOTV.  Get out the vote.  Nostalgia aside.  This is 2021.  1989 is gone with the wind.

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.