Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Sometime in the mid-seventies I emerged from a theater following a mid-afternoon civic event of some sort in the company of Rev. John Riley, a rotund man with an avuncular demeanor that belied his keen political mind.
As we headed east on Euclid Avenue we encountered Arnold Pinkney heading west after leaving the event from a different exit. Still in my twenties, I was astonished when Arnold greeted me by name. I knew of him of course — he was an established political figure whose activities were regularly reported — but we had never met.
When I asked Riley how Pinkney could know me when we had never met, Riley was characteristically succinct: “He’s a politician. You are a young professional. It’s his business to know who you are.”
I would encounter Pinkney many times over the next few decades. Arnold almost always was affable, easy to approach, especially if you wanted to talk politics. Though I was often not in agreement with his politics, I nonetheless respected his considerable achievements. He was in the vanguard both locally and nationally as the struggles for political representation became more salient than protests as Cleveland and the nation wrestled with how to achieve racial equity in the post-civil rights era.
I considered Arnold in some ways the embodiment of Cleveland black politics, more even than either Carl or Lou Stokes or George Forbes — men with whom his political biography will always be associated. Perhaps it’s because he was a nuts-and-bolts politician, focused more often, or so it seemed, on the process than the policy.
Not that he was indifferent to policy issues. His work with and for Hubert Humphrey and Jesse Jackson attest to his early progressive leanings. But closer to home, his love of the political process — rooted in personal relationships, organization, analysis — drew him more to the pragmatic side of the political axis.
Arnold Pinkney was a role model for how to be a serious politician. His skill set was tested by time and refined over many campaigns. It’s hard to imagine his successor.
* Funeral services will be at the Olivet institutional Baptist Church located at 89th & Quincy in Cleveland on Saturday January 18th. The wake is at 9 am and the funeral starts at 11 am.