History of the Party
The Cuyahoga County Democratic party, dominant in Cleveland since the New Deal, gradually grew and organized as the national Democratic Party began to take shape in the late 1790s and the early 1800s. The first recorded Cuyahoga County Democratic Party meeting was held September 18, 1818, at the Commercial Coffee House, in Cleveland, to nominate candidates for the Ohio state legislature. The early party, a spontaneous group of township delegates, assembled in convention several weeks before the October elections to select nominees for county and state offices and the federal Congress.
Nominations were published in the local newspaper and most residents knew the local candidates personally. Elections were usually held in the courthouse or schoolhouse until the city was incorporated in 1836, when voting places were designated in each of the three wards. In the 1830s and 1840s, the Democratic and Whig parties divided the city's governing between them.
After the Civil War, Cleveland politics became a year-round endeavor, as Democratic Clubs were formed to maintain party activities between elections. The party regained strength in the late 1880s and 1890s, sending Martin Foran and then Tom L. Johnson to Congress. The Democrats made the party dominant with the 1901 election of Tom Johnson to Mayor, who controlled city council as well as the city and county party committees. Newton D. Baker succeeded Johnson as head of the Cuyahoga County Democratic party in 1910, relinquishing active party leadership to his chief lieutenant, W. Burr Gongwer, in 1924.
The Democrats were a minority party during the years of the city manager plan. However, with the plan's demise in 1931, Democrat Ray T. Miller was elected mayor. In the 1930s, the party split into factions as Miller and Martin L. Sweeney fought for control. Ultimately, Miller was declared party Chair in 1940, and aided by the success of the New Deal, he made Cleveland a Democratic stronghold by securing the political allegiance of African Americans and other nationality groups while consolidating the party's organization.
As more Democrats moved to the suburbs in the early 1960s, the party began to organize its latent strength there. Party unity was challenged when the 21st Congressional District Caucus was organized by a group of black Democrats in 1970 to provide unified backing for the candidates of their choice. The caucus' name and membership derived from the congressional district of Louis Stokes, who was elected Chair.
In an effort to reestablish party unity, the Cuyahoga County Democratic party named three co-chairmen in 1972: George Forbes, Anthony Garofoli, and Hugh Corrigan. When Corrigan resigned in 1976, Forbes and Garofoli ran the party until Timothy Hagan was elected Chair in 1978. In 1982, John M. Coyne succeeded him as party Chair and resigned in December 1993. Jimmy Dimora was then elected in 1994 followed by Stuart J. Garson in 2010.
Who We Are
The Cuyahoga County Democratic Party consists of precinct committee members elected in the primaries by the registered Democrats of each precinct in the county. Committee members make up the County Central Committee, who in turn elected the party Chair and 400 of the 750-member Executive Committee; the remaining 350 members of the Executive Committee are appointed by the Chair. The Executive Committee is the decision-making body of the party and formally meets twice a year to conduct official business.