Over the last several weeks there have been a number of incidents giving me reason to pause. The first is the death of one of my mentors, John H. Lenear
Cleveland media giant silenced
Early Friday morning July 14, 2006 John Henry Lenear the Vice President of the Call and Post Newspapers died after a lengthy bout with prostrate cancer.
In recent years John focused a good deal of his attention to increasing the advertising revenue for the Call & Post, Ohio’s largest and oldest black newspaper, but he made a name for himself as a feisty, no nonsense reporter and editor of the same newspaper over a span of 40 years.
When I first met John in 1988 he was interviewing me for a position as a reporter with the newspaper – a position I was grudginly seeking because I had a love for the written word and high expectations that I could bring something positive to a newspaper that I did not read for a number of reasons.
The interview was a success and within days I became a member of the Call & Post staff, but more importantly I began a 10 year journey of on the job training. I had studied Journalism at Ohio University and political communication at Cleveland State University. Along the way I worked on the State Senate campaign of Michael R. White and later served as press assistant to then Shaker Heights Councilman – now County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones.
The experience garnered from these positions coupled with a longstanding family friendship led to a position with the East Cleveland City Council. This began as a Communications position but led to my serving for the majority of my tenure as Acting Clerk of Council – where I served for 2 1/2 years before my inability to keep my opinions to myself led to my dismissal. What a show that was – but that’s for another posting.
This brings us to my career with the newspaper and my long friendship, albeit sometimes contentious, with John Henry as I called him. John and I both had a love for politics and the political process and its effects on the black community. We also shared a love for the City of East Cleveland leading to my assignment as the beat reporter for East Cleveland and later Cleveland City Council.
John gave me free reign but also entrenched me in the bowels of the newspaper business. There were many late – almost all nighters where I not only typed my stories for his review but later typeset them on the Verityper and then cut and paste the copy onto the page. Now when I walked into the newspaper for the first time and saw that the staff was still working with typewriters and there wasn’t a word processer to be found I was appalled! The newspaper had recently changed hands and John H. Bustamante, then President of First Bank was the publisher so in my naivete I couldn’t understand why we were still cutting and pasting.
During my tenure we would introduce computers and computer pagination, but that was a few years down the road.
Some of the most contentious debates between John and I in the early days revolved around the content of our front page. John wanted blood, guts, controversy of any kind to lead the newspaper and I fought for good, clean stories of black folk making advances in the community. I would eventually get my way, but then I had to contend with the screams from the guys in circulation – “Why isn’t the shooting on 79th the lead!” and other cries were heard loud and clear.
In 1989 the Cleveland Mayor’s race would again serve as a point of contention between John and I. As a rookie reporter I felt I had an inside track to White and set about getting an interview and preparing what I felt was a very good piece on the former City Councilman, now State Senator seeking to lead his hometown. The story ran, but on the inside on I believe page 6A. This was proving to be an interesting race because White was running against his mentor George L. Forbes as well as some big names in the white community – Ralph Perk, Jr., Tim Hagan and Benny Bonnano. Hagan, Bonnano, White and Forbes would face off in the primary election and it was predicted that Forbes would be the black candidate remaining when the dust settled.
How wrong the pundits were – during the wee hours of the morning on Primary night I wrote the lead headline for the Call & Post “It’s a Black Thang!”. White had upset everyone and he and Forbes would face off in the November election.
John and I were at odds again – he was entrenched in the Forbes camp and I was rooting for the underdog, but the negative reports on allegations of spousal abuse by White led to many harsh debates.
In the end the underdog would prevail and go on to become the longest serving Mayor in Cleveland history.
When I left the Call & Post John never quite understood my decision. He attributed to a number of factors that were far from the truth and during one of our last conversations I tried to explain to him that we had stopped being advocates for the black community and therefore my desire to stay was muted.
During his funeral service the old urges resurfaced and I longed for the days when I sought stories that would empower my community. One of the communities biggest champions has gone on to glory and I will miss him.
Rest easy John, I’m sure you Mr. Alexander and Mr. Walker are working hard at producing the angels newspaper – “Heaven’s Times”.