City native Pinkney remembered as political genius



The man behind the election of Cleveland’s first black mayor and who was the national chairman for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s run for the White House in 1984 was from Youngstown.

One of the political stalwarts who should be included for recognition during Black History Month is Arnold R. Pinkney.

Pinkney, 83, also a civil-rights activist who grew up on the city’s South Side, died Jan. 13 at David Simpson Hospice House-Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland.

Those who knew him hailed him as a political genius, the mastermind of successful campaigns for Carl Stokes of Cleveland, the first black mayor of a major metropolitan city in the late 1960s; Stokes’ brother, U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, the first black member of Congress from Ohio; and former Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste.

But what Pinkney put on the national political map was his work as chairman for the 1984 Democratic Party presidential campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson was the first black man to run for president.

Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition brought together blacks, Hispanics, women, Asians, American Indians, poor whites and young people to get them involved in the political system and to spur positive change in this nation.

Jackson gave this comment to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland after Pinkney’s death: “He could manage in the background or lead from the forefront. He was forever blessed with a good mind and courage and could be trusted. His legacy of service will be with us a long time.”

Jackson and Pinkney first met in 1967, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Cleveland, according to a Vindicator article in 1983.

“I thought Arnold Pinkney was the foremost political strategist of our time,” said Percy Squire of Columbus, a Youngstown native and lawyer, who met Pinkney several times. “He was a tremendous genius, and he was so incisive about the way he viewed things. His mental capacity was without equal. He was well-grounded, and he never forgot about his Youngstown roots.”

Arlette Gatewood of Youngstown, retired staff representative of the United Steelworkers of America, recalled that Pinkney was a tremendous athlete while he lived in Youngstown.

“He was a very bright guy,” Gatewood said. “He was very conscientious in what he was doing and showed a great determination to achieve whatever he wanted to do. He was a tactful politician.”

Gatewood also recalled that Pinkney came to Youngstown to provide political strategic advice when Edna Pincham ran for mayor of Youngstown in the 1997 Democratic primary. Pincham, the city’s first black woman elected to the Youngstown school board, died in 2009 at age 72.

Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, 87, formerly of Youngstown, who retired from 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and former general counsel for the NAACP, grew up with Pinkney and knew the family well.

“Arnold Pinkney came from a family that showed what strong parenting can do,” Judge Jones said in an email.

“Arnold’s older brother, Tom, was an outstanding student and athlete at Chaney High School. Arnold followed in his footsteps. Their father, David Pinkney, was an outstanding civic leader in the community,” the judge said, adding that Pinkney was “a great businessman” as well as a strong educational leader.

The judge said Pinkney’s life demonstrates the “brain drain” that Youngstown suffered as it failed to offer opportunities back in the mid-20th century to those it birthed.

“Ironically, on the same day Arnold died, death also came in Minneapolis to Dr. Edward Posey, his Youngstown next-door neighbor. Both of these men truly were outstanding Youngstown success stories,” Judge Jones said.

According to the Minnesota Star-Tribune website, Dr. Posey, valedictorian of his South High graduating class, went on to become the first black licensed psychiatrist in Minnesota.

Pinkney was raised on the city’s South Side and earned seven letters in football, basketball and track at South High School. He earned an athletic scholarship to Albion College in Michigan, where he won 12 sports letters.

After earning his degree, he served 18 months in the Army. He came to Cleveland in 1955 when he enrolled at Case Western Reserve University to study law but later had to drop out for lack of money.

Pinkney was co-founder of Pinkney-Perry Insurance Agency, Ohio’s oldest and largest minority-owned insurance company.

He was named to the Cleveland school board in 1967 and was board chairman from 1971 to 1978.

He returned to Youngs-town to speak on several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s.

His career did have a few failures.

He unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1971 and 1975.

He also was convicted in May 1985 for having an illegal interest in a public contract while serving on the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority. He was placed on one year’s probation and fined $2,500. He appealed, but the Ohio Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 1988. The state parole board unanimously recommended Pinkney for pardon, and Celeste pardoned him in 1989.

He was a special adviser to the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, which plans a special recognition in his honor Wednesday.

His leaves his wife, the former Betty Thompson, and a daughter, Traci.

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