Interview with Seth Taft
QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

We're going to jump to the second debate. It was the one at, at John Marshall High School on the east side. Louis Seltzer is the moderator. Carl Stokes comes up to the platform. What does he say? What happened that night?

SETH TAFT:

Well, it started off fairly routine manner where each one is sort of saying why we should, uh, saying why he should be mayor. Then at, at some, at one point in the, in the, uh, well he was on the floor. He turned to me and said, pointed his finger at me and said, "If this man is elected mayor it will be because his skin is White." The whole place went kablooey. You couldn't, you couldn't hear a thing for five minutes. And Carl was s- trying, trying to say, "Hey, hey, hey," to get attention and so forth. But he'd, he lost the audience. Ah, now that audience was a west side audience and it was ninety percent White**. So, uh, he, uh, he really, uh, stuck his head in the buzz saw, uh, at, at that event. Now there've been explanations later as to why he did it and that, uh, you can ask him about that. Ah, but it, it had an electrifying effect on that particular audience and through him pretty o--uh, I don't think he expected quite such a horribly adverse rea--it was the first time there'd been a mention of anything by either us of, of that kind of directly racial character. So when I got up, I started off, said, "Well, well, well. So the race issue is with us. Let me tell you about it." So I pulled out a full-page ad from the Cleveland Plain Dealer which had in, in words--all you could read was great big Black words that said "Don't vote for a Negro," exclamation point. "Vote for a man. Vote for a good candidate. Vote for somebody with confidence. Vote for Carl Stokes." Ah, then he, then uh, I pulled out another one, uh, which said, um, same, same thing. Just those few words you could read. "Let's do Cleveland proud." And then it said, "Do Cleveland proud by overcoming your prejudice and vote for the most competent person. Vote for Carl Stokes." So he had been, he had been playing this issue just barely off to the, uh, the most direct way of doing it. Ah, and, uh, this time he really, he got in, got into the middle of it. Ah, and when that debate was over, uh, that was clearly a potential turning point. If I had won that would have been the turning point. Ah, the, uh, after that he did, he did better. But that particular debate he was, uh, really, uh, walked into a, uh, a bad situation. Now his, uh, later explanations, least as I heard them and you'll have to ask him directly, was that he felt this was important to consolidate his own support. Ah, which was important because, uh, as you've probably figured out in the final result he got 95 percent of the Black vote in the city which was about forty percent of the total vote. And I got 80 percent of the White vote. And that was a dead tie mathematically, which is about the way it came out.