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Jerome Cavanagh

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Jerome Cavanagh

Jerome P. Cavanagh
64th Mayor of Detroit, Michigan
In office
January 2, 1962 – January 5, 1970
Preceded by Louis Miriani
Succeeded by Roman Gribbs
Personal details
Born (1928-06-16)June 16, 1928
Detroit, Michigan
Died November 27, 1979(1979-11-27) (aged 51)
Lexington, Kentucky
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Helen Martin
Religion Roman Catholic

Jerome Patrick Cavanagh (June 16, 1928 – November 27, 1979) was the mayor of Detroit, Michigan from 1962 to 1970. Initially seen as another John F. Kennedy, his reputation was doomed by the 1967 riots. He was the first mayor to reside at Manoogian Mansion, donated to the city by the industrial baron Alex Manoogian.


  • Early life and family 1
  • Mayoral campaign 2
  • 1967 riots 3
  • Later career 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Early life and family

Jerome P. Cavanagh was born on June 16, 1928, the son of a boilermaker at Ford Motor Company.[1] He attended the University of Detroit, earning an undergraduate degree in 1950 and a law degree in 1954, and practiced law in Detroit after graduation.[1] He was active in Democratic Party politics while attending school, and afterward served in low-level appointed positions as an administrative assistant at the Michigan State Fair Authority and as a member of the Metropolitan Airport Board of Zoning Appeals.[1] He is the father of Mark Cavanagh, a judge on the Michigan Second District Court of Appeals, and Phillip Cavanaugh a member of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Mayoral campaign

In his first campaign ever, the 33-year-old Cavanagh entered the 1961 Detroit mayoral race, one of eleven candidates in the nonpartisan primary opposing incumbent Louis Miriani.[1] None of these candidates was seen as serious opposition to Miriani, who had an enormous amount of institutional support and had easily won the mayoral race four years earlier.[1] Cavanagh ran second to Miriani in the primary, earning a slot in the general election, but received less than half the primary votes Miriani did.[1] However, Cavanagh campaigned relentlessly, criticizing Miriani's handling of Detroit's financial affairs and race relations with the city's African-American community.[1] And indeed, many in the black community believed Miriani condoned police brutality.[1] On election day, black voters turned out in force, and Cavanagh stunned political observers by defeating incumbent Miriani.[1]

Cavanagh got off to a popular start as mayor, appointing a reformer to be chief of police and implementing an affirmative action program for most city agencies.[1] Unlike Richard J. Daley, who resisted forced implementation of the American civil rights movement, Jerry Cavanagh welcomed Martin Luther King, Jr. to Detroit, and marched with him in June 1963 down Woodward Avenue in the 100,000 strong March for Freedom.[2]

Cavanagh was successful in receiving money from the U.S. federal government through the

  • Jerome Cavanagh Personal Papers at the Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit. This collection includes over 300 linear feet of correspondence, reports, studies, speeches, minutes, and other materials of the mayor's office and commissions and departments of the city.
  • Fine, Sidney. Violence in the Model City: The Cavanaugh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967 (1989)
  • Turrini, Joseph. "Phooie on Louie: African American Detroit and the Election of Jerry Cavanagh", Michigan History, Nov./Dec. 1999. online

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Joseph Turrini (Nov–Dec 1999). "Phooie on Louie: African American Detroit and the Election of Jerry Cavanagh" (PDF). Michigan History. 
  2. ^ a b c "Former Detroit Mayor Cavanaugh Dies". The Windsor Star. Nov 28, 1979. 
  3. ^ Sidney Fine, Violence in the Model City: The Cavanaugh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967 (1989)
  4. ^ a b B. J. Widick (1989), Detroit: City of Race and Class Violence (revised ed.), Wayne State University Press, pp. 156–159,  
  5. ^ "Cavanaghs File to Separate". Lawrence Journal-World. Jul 19, 1967. 
  6. ^ "Detroit's Mayor Seeking Divorce". Lawrence Journal-World. Oct 26, 1967. 
  7. ^ "Cavanaghs Fight it out in Public". The Windsor Star. Jul 17, 1968. 


Political offices
Preceded by
Louis Miriani
Mayor of Detroit
January 2, 1962 – January 5, 1970
Succeeded by
Roman Gribbs

Cavanagh died of an apparent heart attack on November 27, 1979 at St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. He is buried in Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit.

After Cavanagh left office, he returned to his private law practice in Detroit and taught law at the University of Michigan.[1] In 1974, Cavanagh again ran for office, this time for Governor, but lost in the primary election to Democrat Sander Levin, who later lost in the general election to Republican William Milliken.[1] It was Cavanagh's last attempt at political office.

The latter part of Cavanagh's second term was also difficult for him personally, in addition to the pressure from the aftermath of the riots. Cavanagh ran for the United States Senate in 1966 but lost in the Democratic primary to former governor G. Mennen Williams.[1] In July 1967, Cavanagh's wife Mary Helen filed for separation, and the couple split the custody of their eight children.[5] In October, Cavanagh counter-sued,[6] and in 1968 the couple went through an embarrassing public divorce trial.[7]

Later career

Cavanaugh was severely criticized for his handling on the riots, and his last two years in office were difficult.[1] He declined to run for reelection in 1969.[1]

On July 23, 1967, a police attempt to break up an illegal party escalated into what would be known as the 12th Street Riot. Feeling a large police presence would make things worse, Cavanagh acted slowly to stop the riots. They lasted for five days, killed 43 people, made over 5,000 people homeless, and required two divisions of federal paratroopers to be put down; they were the worst of the four hundred or so riots that American cities experienced in the 1960s. Cavanagh himself had to admit in July 1967, "Today we stand amidst the ashes of our hopes. We hoped against hope that what we had been doing was enough to prevent a riot. It was not enough."

Detroit faced serious financial trouble. Cavanagh had inherited a $28 million budget gap in 1962. To close the gap, and to pay for the new programs he wanted to implement, Cavanagh had pushed through the legislature income and commuter taxes for Detroit, but these proved unpopular with residents and businesses.

After World War II, the automobile industry, requiring more lateral space than was available in a city, and desiring to avoid city taxes, decentralized its operations. As with other cities, Detroiters were leaving Detroit for its suburbs by the thousands by 1967. Some 22,000 residents, mostly white, moved to the suburbs in 1966 alone, following new auto plants and new housing, or using the newly constructed Interstate system to commute into Detroit.

However, deeper problems existed under the surface.

1967 riots

In the face of this optimism, Cavanaugh was reelected overwhelmingly in 1965.[2] In 1966, Cavanagh was elected president of both the United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities, the only mayor to hold both posts at the same time.[1]

"Accustomed to years of adversity, to decades of drabness and civil immobility, Detroiters are naturally exhilarated. They note with particular pride that Detroit has been removed from the Federal Bureau of Employment Security's classification of 'an area with substantial and persistent unemployment.'
"Some people are forsaking the suburbs and returning to the city. Physically Detroit has acquired freshness and vitality. Acres of slums have been razed, and steel and glass apartments, angular and lonely in the vacated landscape, have sprung up in their place. In the central business district, hard by the Detroit River, severely rectangular skyscrapers—none more than 5 years old—jostle uncomfortably with the gilded behemoths of another age.
"The evidence, both statistical and visual, is everywhere. Retail sales are up dramatically. Earnings are higher. Unemployment is lower. People are putting new aluminum sidings on their homes, new carpets on the floor, new cars in the garage.

Nor was Detroit doing so badly economically. The National Observer commented:[4]

"Negroes in Detroit have deep roots in the community, compared with the more transient population of Negro ghettos in Harlem and elsewhere in the North. ... more than 40% of the negro population own their own houses.
"the most significant is the progress Detroit has made in race relations. The grim specter of the 1943 riots never quite fades from the minds of city leaders. As much as anything else, that specter has enabled the power structure to overcome tenacious prejudice and give the Negro community a role in the consensus probably unparalleled in any major American city.

For example, Fortune magazine commented:[4]

Well-informed observers believed that Detroit had extinguished the embers of resentment left over from the 1943 Detroit Race Riot.


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