Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Eliot Ness: The Man Behind the Myth

Ness for Mayor

For Eliot Ness, increasing age did not bring better judgement. At the age of 44 he listened to some of his old friends and declared himself an independent candidate for mayor of Cleveland in the 1947 election. Had Ness heeded the Republican overtures in the 1941 election, he would have stood an excellent chance of defeating Frank Lausche because in 1941 Ness was at the height of his career and his popularity in Cleveland.

Building with Eliot Ness for mayor on the side
Building with Eliot Ness for
mayor on the side

In the 1947 election, even though Ness ran as a non-partisan, powerful financial interests within the GOP and the Republican county committee endorsed him and gave him financial support. He vowed that he would follow the policies that his former boss Harold Burton used in his campaigns. Transportation would be a vital campaign issue, he said as he launched an attack on the Cleveland transit system for failure to sell its bond issue.

Congressman Bender said that Ness would assure a real effort to cut down on the assaults on women on the city streets, stop purse-snatchers and rebuild the morale of the police department.

Ness did not really have much of a chance of winning. He was running against the very popular Democratic Mayor Thomas A. Burke. While the powerful businessmen of the city welcomed Ness, the rest of the voting populace remembered the anti-labor image that had stuck with him from the 1937 strikes until the end of his tenure as safety director. Worse, Ness did not make a good campaigner. His youthful good looks and fitness had slipped away forever. Nor was he a charismatic speaker.

Ness lost the election in a major upset, getting less than half the votes cast. But he lost much more than just the election: his savings were gone to pay off campaign debts and his will to win had completely dissipated. This embarrassing disappointment set him on a downhill course from which he never recovered.

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