Carl Stokes' Other Legacy: Creating the Model for All Show and No Go

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The PD ran an interesting package of stories yesterday to mark the 40-year anniversary of Carl Stokes’ election as mayor of Cleveland. When he won in 1967, Stokes became the first black to hold the mayor’s office in a major American city, pioneering what would become commonplace 40 years later. Unwittingly, he may also have given birth to the shambles we now call modern Cleveland politics. The piles of stories lovingly recount Stokes’ charm, intelligence, political savvy and keen understanding of the ‘60s voter. Noticeably absent are an equally impressive list of accomplishments. Stokes did have some success integrating the municipal workforce, but his reign largely short on concrete achievement. Whether intentional or not, this recipe for public service would be replicated for the next 40 years – only by far less talented practitioners, who didn't understand that his style was supposed to be a means to a higher pursuit. Today, Cleveland has no shortage of elected officials with a great deal of personal charm, from Zach Reed to Stephanie Tubbs Jones to Jimmy DiMora to Dennis Kucinich. It also has no shortage of charming politicians whose records of accomplishment are apparently written in invisible ink (see all the people mentioned above). Perhaps the most prescient line came in a story headlined The New Mayor Brought Hope, But Did the Dreams Die. “Cleveland had had several mayors in a row, all of whom were extremely honest, intelligent, and dedicated, but these men were not men of vision,” former Judge Thomas Matia is quoted as saying. Take out the parts about “honest” and “intelligent,” and you’re describing to a T the county’s Democratic Party 40 years later. This, unfortunately, is also Stokes’ legacy. – Pete Kotz

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