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Chapter XX. How Privilege Fights

The effort to “get Cleveland” by means of the new municipal code was a dismal failure. The next move of our political foes was to abolish spring elections. For a long time there had been a growing tendency in Ohio towards something akin to independent voting in the municipal elections which were held in the spring. Privilege seemed to have its best hold on the State elections, which occurred in the fall. Early in Governor Herrick’s administration this question came up. The governor asked me what I thought of it. I told him I thought it was a good thing, that one regular election a year was enough. He looked a bit surprised and I said, “You didn’t expect me to say that, did you, Myron?” I did not discuss the motives for the proposed legislation with him or any of the other advocates of it, but it seemed passing strange that any of them should think us so stupid as not to see just why they were throwing the municipal elections in which the state elections. They reasoned that on a long ticket headed by the candidates for governor and other state offices they could surely count upon the head of the ticket carrying with it the names at the bottom – the candidates for municipal offices. Ohio, staunchly Republication in State and national elections, would finally rid itself of those two pestilential creatures, Jones and Johnson, who somehow kept getting elected as mayors of Toledo and Cleveland, one as a non-partisan and the other as a Democrat.

Early in 1904 the State legislature abolished the spring election and because of this the terms of the principal municipal officers in Ohio cities instead of expiring in the spring of 1905 held over until January 1, 1906, the officers for that year being elected in November, 1905. This first biennial state election resulted in a practically clean sweep, but for the Democrats instead of the Republicans. The verdict of the last State election was reversed. For the first time in many years and for one of the few times in the whole history of the State, Ohio elected a Democratic governor. Mayor Jones had died but the non-partisan movement in Toledo was stronger than ever and not only was Brand Whitlock elected to succeed Jones but he carried with him into office the other municipal candidates on the non-partisan ticket – a result never achieved in Mayor Jones’s lifetime. In Cleveland we elected our whole ticket including our legislative candidates, a fine body of democratic Democrats.

Shortly thereafter it was provided by constitutional amendment that State officers should be elected at one election and municipal officers at another, so this election of 1905 was the only one which combined a State with a municipal election.

My own plurality was the largest I had ever received, being double that of either of my previous elections. In that campaign my opponent was William H. Boyd, the only Republican candidate who ever consented to debate with me, and the one who put up the most manly fight of any who ever ran against me. For some reason Mr. Boyd did not have the undivided support of the business and privileged interests, a rather significant fact in the face of his willingness to debate campaign issues. When I suggested the debates I asked Mr. Boyd to join with me in arranging for them without the formality of a challenge from either side. He agreed and it was part of the arrangement that he should make the rules for one meeting, I for the next and so on. When the plans were completed I said to him,

“You are a trained speaker in daily practice before courts and juries and have an immense advantage of me, but I am going to beat you in these debates.” This nettled him a little and he asked me why. I said,

“Because I know this case better than it is possible for you to equip yourself to understand it between now and election day.”

We had six enormous meetings in halls, the last four in Central Armory, the largest auditorium in the city. We preserved good order in spite of bad blood on both sides and the tremendous interest of our respective partisans. I had taken the precaution to have the floor covered with sawdust, for I had often seen meetings practically broken up by someone who could not hear, perhaps, rising to go out and making such a noise on the floor that immediately everyone else who had difficulty in hearing felt encouraged to do the same things. So the sawdust prevented a lot of noise and ensured most of the people staying through the meetings. Large-faced clocks were placed in full view of the audience and by these our time was divided. It was one of the rules that any eruption or disturbance on the part of the audience was to be deducted from the time of the party supposed to benefit by it , and I have frequently seen wild demonstrations almost instantly quelled by a mere gesture of the timekeeper toward the clock. As I got to know Mr. Boyd better I appreciated that his motives were more sincere and much nearer the public good that they were credited with being by his enemies. There is no doubt that the debates helped our side.

There had been fifteen injunctions against the low fare movement by this time but we were patiently hammering away on our original proposition. The Cleveland Street Railway Company had made various experiments in the matter of fares. After abandoning the six tickets for a quarter and universal transfers they tried three-cent fares, then four-cent fares for stated short periods, none of the trials being made in really good faith, and yet all showing the weakness of the company’s case. The city was consistently pursuing its policy of granting no renewals of franchises and the question of expiring franchises was constantly coming up.

The best street railway grant from the standpoint of the public interest is one that had already expired. The public had no interest in a franchise being for any specific length of time. The time limit serves private interests and affords an excuse for tying the public’s hands. For three or four years short lines and part of other lines were permitted by the city to operate without specific grants. I recall one case where it was absolutely necessary to connect up a big public park with a new line. The street railway and the city couldn’t agree on a grant, so I said to the company, “Go ahead and build the line. The city won’t bother you. Some taxpayer may, but if you are quick enough I don’t believe you will meet any opposition in that direction.”

That line, one-half mile long, was built and put into operation very quickly. A great hue and cry was raised in council because the line had been built without a grant. Councilmen not friendly to our movement raised the objection. I explained the danger of making a grant as compared to the safety of what had been done but they were not satisfied. I then suggested that if council would pass an order to tear up the tracks I would see that it was done. No one was willing to make such a move and the mere suggestion of it cooled the ardor of the critics. They said they were in the minority and hadn’t votes enough for such action. Finally I said to them,

“If you will offer a resolution protesting against this and argue it in council, I’ll see that the line it taken up even if the resolution doesn’t pass.”

This took away their last argument as I knew it would. No one was willing to interfere with so obviously necessary an improvement. I was criticized for this and accused of disregarding the law, but the only sensible thing to do was to build. It is a great pity that more street railroad grants are not made on such terms, for this avoids the necessity of giving away a lot of public rights or tying them up for a definite period, for any grant however safe-guarded might be interpreted by the courts as giving some rights and prolonged litigation would certainly follow in which the company would gain time if nothing more. It got to be one of the features of our controversy that the street railroad could build lines, but couldn’t get grants.

Here is a specific case in point which illustrates the wisdom of such a course: A street railway line was needed around the new postoffice building. Everybody wanted it, but in this instance the street railway company didn’t want to build it. Nothing short of an act of Congress could bestow the property owners’ consents necessary to a valid grant, for the federal government owned a majority of the feet front on each of the four sides of the building. The city therefore, without power from council or any other legal authority, and even without funds for this specific purpose, did construct this piece of railroad and owned it. Any property owner in the city, any taxpayer could have prevented it by applying to the courts, but in all this big city of Cleveland there wasn’t one person with sufficient hardihood to interfere. It only shows what can be done when everybody is willing and what obstacles can be thrown in the way when some private interest in trying to balk a public enterprise. There is hardly a city in the country where there are not a lot of unused grants which street railway companies preserve very carefully, running cars over them once a month or at some other regular interval.

Municipal ownership would save all this. Without the private interest street railroads would be built with the same care and operated with the same considerations of public utility that obtain in fire lines and police stations. A careful study of all we did in the long street railroad war in Cleveland furnishes the best arguments I know in favor of public ownership and operation of this kind of property.

Grant for the sake of argument that a municipally owned street railroad will not be as economically managed in some directions as one privately owned, but there are a great many credits to this account. There wouldn’t be the foolish and expensive litigation that private companies indulge it. There wouldn’t be the laying down of routes to prevent competition. To be sure, cars might be kept extravagantly neat and clean, and passengers might receive wasteful consideration, the pay of the men might not be put down to the lowest possible notch and strikes to enable the payment of dividends wouldn’t exist at all.

The opponents of municipal ownership would bring all these objections which you now hear against street railroads as readily against the municipal operation of the fire department if they had any idea they could make them pay. But arguments for fire departments in private hands have almost passed away. Fire departments operated by private interests and protected by public franchises are said to exist in China now, and as a matter of history did exist in the time of the Caesars. The franchise for putting out fires was considered a very valuable right by the plutocratic public service corporations of ancient Rome.

Our fights were not always with Privilege from the outside. When councilmen could be reached and made to oppose measures for the public good, the representatives of Privilege were probably happiest. They knew what happens to a house divided against itself and some of the hardest contests we had was to keep the council in line for the city. I think I never lost sight of the fact that we were working for the city. Accustomed to think in business terms, I regarded Cleveland as a great corporation – the biggest in the State of Ohio – its inhabitants as the stockholders and the city officers as the directors.

Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of councilmen, just as there are three kinds of congressmen and three kinds of State legislators. There is the earnest, intelligent man working for better things, there is the crook working for better pay, there is the painstaking good fellow working for he doesn’t know what. He wants to be right, tries to be right, thinks he is right, but is conscientiously wrong on almost every subject. A combination of any two of these classes in any legislative body always wins. The least hopeful, the hardest to move because of his imaginary virtues is the one who belongs to the third class. I always got the best results from combinations of the first and second classes, for the second, whatever his other shortcomings may be, is usually wise – too wise to be fooled – and between right things and wrong things, unless the price is high enough, he will be for the right. He won’t go wrong just for the fun of it. Left to his natural bent and usual good judgment he will go right. My experience in this direction has impressed two things very strongly upon me-one, that the intelligent crook may be relied upon many times when the perfectly good, well-intentioned man will fail; two, that legislative bodies left to themselves will go as nearly right as the native honesty and intelligence of the members make possible, for the corruption of such bodies comes from without, not from within.

We had some experience in this direction when the East Ohio Gas Company was negotiating with the city for a franchise. The application for a franchise was made in a tentative sort of way. The whole thing had an air of mystery about it at first and I didn’t understand what the hesitation was about until I met a friend who asked me whether the fact that the Standard Oil people owned the natural gas wells would handicap a company seeking the franchise. I answered that it would have the other effect. It would inspire me with confidence that they wanted to build a gas plant and not get a franchise to sell out. I learned then that this idea that I would be antagonistic because of the connection of Standard Oil Company people was what held them back. John O’Day, head of that branch of investment, came to Cleveland to see me then and asked frankly whether the East Ohio could get a franchise. I told him I would use my influence to that end if they didn’t attempt to tamper with the council. I told him that whatever trade was made must be for the benefit of gas users and when we had agreed on the price he must take his people away, leaving everything else to the council and to me.

Matters progressed smoothly at first, but it wasn’t long before opposition to the proposition sprang up among the coal dealers and the artificial gas people. After a long fight, in which I made some offensive charges against members of council in connection with these last named interests, we got to a place where the measure was to be finally passed or defeated on a certain night. On the afternoon of that day Councilman Kohl came to me and said that a man named Dr. Daykin had offered him five thousand dollars in cash for his vote and asked me what he should do about it.

“If you were really a game man I would suggest a line of action,” I answered, “but I don’t think you would carry it out, so there’s no use in my advising you.”

This appealed to his vanity and he begged me to advise him. He said he would do anything I suggested except go to jail, and he’d even do that if I would promise to protect him. I therefore advised him to keep his appointment with Dr. Daykin and take whatever money was offered to him. In less than two hours he came back with two thousand dollars.


That night a dramatic scene occurred in the council chamber. I was speaking, Dr. Daykin was among the spectators sitting outside the railing. I charged that attempts had been made to bribe some of the councilmen in order to prevent the passage of the ordinance. The charge created a sensation, for bribery wasn’t taken lightly in that body, or in that community. The councilmen and the lobby were giving the closest attention to what I was saying. The interest was intense. At a certain point in my speech and by pre-arrangement with Kohl he threw the two thousand dollars on the table before me, and no other proof of my charges was necessary. In the excitement Dr. Daykin hurried for the door, but I was watching him and called out, “You won’t get very far, Doctor. Some of my friends are waiting for you outside.” The ordinance passed without a dissenting vote. Whether it would have been possible to carry it out without this incident I do not know.

Dr. Daykin was arrested and after a long trial in which many persons testified he was acquitted. We thought he was acting for a combination of coal dealers and the artificial gas people, but did not know positively, and weren’t able to prove it.

The reason I wanted the franchise passed to the Standard Oil people was that I was eager to get for the people of Cleveland cleaner and cheaper fuel and light than the coal companies or the artificial gas people could furnish them. I believed the Standard Ohio people had a monopoly of the natural gas field – there was no one else from whom to buy – the city could not compete with them.

Whatever the fault of the Standard monopoly it wasn’t due to Cleveland or to Ohio; neither the city nor the State was responsible for it. At bottom it was a land monopoly. Our friends the Socialists hold that such monopolies should be taken over by the government and operated for the benefit of the people. I contend that they can be taxed out of existence. It really doesn’t make a great deal of difference, so far as I can see, however, whether the community owns and operates a monopoly, or whether it takes in taxes the value to which it is rightfully entitled. That the people should get the benefit is the important thing – the method is secondary.

One of our liveliest fights – the one on which the final success of our municipal lighting plant was based – has already been alluded to along with the activity of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and its success in preventing the repassage of the ordinance by council and the special bond issue election. In the fall of 1903 we lost the bond issues which were submitted, along with everything else, so our municipal lighting project was still a thing of the future. In the 1904 election the citizens of Cleveland voted eight to one and those of the village of South Brooklyn three to one in favor of annexing South Brooklyn to the city. The city council appointed City Solicitor Newton D. Baker, Frederic C. Howe and James P. Madigan, annexation commissioners. Now south Brooklyn owned a small electric lighting plant and for this reason Privilege was opposed to annexation. To have Cleveland acquire a municipal lighting plant in this way was as obnoxious to the Cleveland Electric Illuminating company as the city’s other plan had been, and its fight was now directed against annexation. The first move was to have council reconsider its action on the appointment of the annexation commission and appoint another friendly to the lighting company. I refused to confirm the appointment of this second commission and publicly charged fifteen Republican councilmen with misfeasance and two Democrats with bribery. A councilmanic investigation was started. The city solicitor ordered the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company to open its books for examination by council. The company got out a temporary injunction restraining the city from enforcing this demand, which order was made permanent a few days later by Judge Beacom, whom I had appointed director of law at the beginning of my first administration. The city carried the case to the circuit court, which sustained the decision of the lower court, and so the investigation was effectually blocked. I made the unfriendly councilmen very angry by maintaining that the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company seemed to have more power than forty thousand voters, but it was true that the expressed will of the people in the 1904 election had to wait more than a year before it could be put into effect. Before the next election I went into the wards of the two Democratic councilmen, above referred to, and defeated their re-nomination.

After the pronounced victory in the 1905 election when we carried twenty-five of the twenty-six wards of the city, the councilmen got together and voted to accept the report of the annexation commissioners, which provided for the immediate annexation of South Brooklyn. The councils of both city and village passed the necessary ordinances, December 11, 1905.

Under the law, annexation would not be complete until a record was filed with the county recorder and a copy forwarded to the Secretary of State. The work involved in preparing these papers prevented the completion of the annexation until the Thursday following the Monday night council meeting, but in the meantime, on Tuesday morning, the mayor and the solicitor of the village of South Brooklyn called at the City Hall, and told Peter Witt, the city clerk, that an ordinance granting a renewal of street car rights on certain streets to the Cleveland Electric Street Railway Company had had two readings and that they feared it might be given a third reading and passed, thereby further entangling the street car situation. Without consulting anybody Witt called up Chief Kohler and asked for an officer. His request was at once complied with and he hustled one of his deputies and the policeman off in a municipal automobile with instructions to bring back the town clerk and all the records of the village of South Brooklyn. The automobile got back to the City Hall about noon with the cargo it had gone after. The village clerk turned over all the records, but Witt was taking no chances and at his request three policemen were detailed to watch the town hall in South Brooklyn, the village policemen (three in number) were also given instructions to keep a sharp lookout and to break up any attempt to hold a council meeting. No such attempt was made and by Thursday annexation was finally accomplished, and Cleveland was in possession of a small municipal lighting plant.

The city later acquired another such plant in the annexation of Collinwood.

When Newbury was in process of being annexed to Cleveland a twenty-five-year franchise to the Cleveland Electric Street Railway Company was hurried through the village council, the signature of the mayor only being required to complete the ordinance. The newspapers all said that the mayor had announced that he would sign it, and that was the general expectation. The last meeting of the village council was held the last night that the village had legal existence as such, and it certainly looked as if our problems were to be complicated by a village grant to the street railway company. But at the last moment the mayor vetoed the ordinance. The newspapers said that he first intimation anybody had that he was not going to sign was when he called up his wife that night and told her he had changed his mind. Our whole movement seemed to be constantly beset with incidents fraught with the greatest possibilities of defeat or success. There was something doing all the time.

It was early in my third term that Chief Kohler found it necessary to take drastic steps to stamp out an effort to revive public gambling. In a rapidly growing city with a numerically inadequate police force, it is almost impossible to keep this vice within bounds. Kohler did it, though, but he did not hesitate to employ heroic measures on occasion. He seized the gambling paraphernalia from a hotel and smashed it with an ax, destroying two mahogany tables, cards, markers and chips. After his third raid on this hotel the chief appealed to John D. Rockefeller as owner of the property to cooperate with him in his efforts to stop gambling there. Kohler has a way of holding the owners of property responsible for the uses to which it is put instead of placing all the blame upon the tenants, which is sometimes very disconcerting to big landlords.

At the very time when gamblers were inveighing against the administration on one hand, the ministerial association of the city was complaining about it on the other. Personal representatives of both called upon me. The gamblers admitted that I had “played no favorites,” but had treated them all alike, and the ministers gave me credit for not making promises and then breaking them. I really took some pains to explain to these last named gentlemen that I was quite as much interested in the welfare of society as they were, but that I was trying to reach the root cause of the conditions of which they complained, whereas they seemed to be concerned with symptoms only.

But whatever the other matters that engaged our attention they were small compared to the street railroad question which was always up. It was this that engaged most of our time, used up our energy and taxed our ingenuity. The chief reason why this was such a big question was that it involved the largest financial problem, for the receipts from the street railroad were about equal to the receipts of the city government from all sources.


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