Office of Citizen
Rest in Peace,
JEFF JOHNSON - A FUTURE MAYOR?
Submitted by Roldo on Sat, 04/18/2009 - 17:19.
The retirement of Glenville Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott should mean a return to city hall of Jeff Johnson. With a bit of humility Johnson becomes a strong future possibility for Mayor of Cleveland.
He’s got the guts for the job.
Some believe Scott now will run Mayor Frank Jackson’s campaign, and then take a position in the administration that will mean more pay, less work and a better pension. What a bargain!
Her decision, however, may mean a lot more to the city. It could be a big positive for the future. Scott, a bright woman, fit unfortunately the norm for Council members: play it safe, go along to get along. A tragic character for Cleveland politicians. All too familiar.
Johnson allowed his arrogance to throw him off the path of political stardom here when he was videotaped seeming to ask for campaign contributions for political favors. It was sleazy stuff to watch.
It was a familiar Johnson I saw on the video. A bit brash and seemingly a political wheeler-dealer. I don’t think that’s the real Johnson and I believe he was set up for that fall. Now, it would be fitting if we saw a more mature Johnson. Hopefully, age and knocks have helped him.
I remember taking Councilman Johnson to lunch at the old Otto Mosher’s when it was a restaurant on E. 4th Street with history leaking off its dark wall filled with photos of past celebrities. It told of an age when Cleveland was a real big city. An old African-American man always controlled the seating. He would slowly usher you down the narrow isle, past the long bar, to seat you in an old chair at an old table.
Johnson, a life-long Clevelander, had never been to the renowned downtown restaurant. It indicated to me his limited sophistication.
He’s traveled a long way from those days.
Mayor Frank Jackson decided not to keep Johnson at City Hall when he became mayor. Johnson had been given a second-chance by former Mayor Jane Campbell. Johnson returned the favor by backing Campbell over Jackson. Jackson, however, may live to regret that short-sighted decision.
Johnson has the resolve to forge ahead with his new political plans. Johnson isn’t one to back away from a fight.
Indeed, I wrote in the 1980s that Johnson was the principal reason Council President George Forbes decided to leave Council and run for mayor, where he was defeated by Michael White. Johnson replaced White when White left Council and also when White left the state senate. They were uneasy partners. Johnson could – not this time – but in the near future replace White’s mayoral candidate Jackson.
Here’s what I wrote in 1989 in an article in the Cleveland Edition:
“A year ago in an election eve TV interview Council President George Forbes promised a certain politician that he’d “kick his ass” and run him straight out of politics.
“Forbes was talking about Glenville Councilman Jeff Johnson.”
I continued: “One year later, Johnson – more than any single individual – had laid the conditions and tested the strategy adopted by Michael White to retire one of the city’s most powerful politicians in its history.
“You might say Jeff kicked his (Forbes) ass.”
Johnson challenged Forbes when no Council member, especially an African-American, would stand up to the dictatorial leader. Forbes was too powerful for challenges. At least that’s what all seemed to believe.
However, Johnson, challenged Forbes over and over, demanding that Forbes “respect” him. Forbes became so enraged at one point that he tossed a chair at the young Johnson. It was a glancing blow at a private meeting but it got plenty of press coverage.
Ostracized by Forbes and his fellow toadies in Council, Johnson ran against Virgil Brown, the first African-American County Commissioner. He lost. However, Johnson used a cross-over strategy, appealing to white West Side voters. It was the strategy that White was to repeat. He used most it effectively against Forbes in the mayoral race, defeating him handily.
Johnson showed fortitude I rarely saw in Cleveland politics.
He even filed ethics charges against Forbes who had been holding up the building of a Burger King in his ward. Forbes wanted it built on land he owned.
Unable to break Johnson, Forbes organized a brutal attack on the Glenville Councilman. It took place at the end of a Council meeting. African-American legislative members, one after another, took turns personally attacking Johnson.
Here’s veteran Councilman Ken Johnson: “You have been a disgrace to me, to my people, and to this Council,” Ken Johnson attacked his colleague. He complained, he said, because they had the same last name.
Fannie Lewis pleaded with Johnson to give in to Forbes: “You’re too young to get killed… so please sit down and talk.”
Johnson didn’t back off. Here was Jeff’s emotional response:
“You talk about respect for the Chair. I have never across this table called him a name, disrespected him, unless you consider a disagreement disrespect, which I don’t.
“How about respect for me? How about respect for fellow Councilmen. Because we gave him authority to be President, we didn’t give him authority to disrespect. And that’s the bottom line – a human being to a human being. He has disrespected me… I have not been brought up to accept that from anyone,” said Johnson.
I said at the time that it was Johnson’s refusal to buckle under that forced Forbes to make political mistakes that undermined his position as the city’s leading black politician. Forbes had worn out his welcome by his abusive acts.
Forbes, Arnold Pinkney, Lou Stokes and even White have blocked the development of black political advancement here for many years. This is another of the sad legacies that have thwarted and discourage the development of leadership that Cleveland so seriously lacks.
I’m hoping that Jeff Johnson can show the maturity to end the city’s political leadership drought, at least.