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Pride Grows With Progress

By Robert O. Boorstin

A light wet snow fell on Cuyahoga County, Ohio, early this October morning, long before the clouds obscured the sunrise, and the recently patched asphalt on Highway 90 east is, as the signs promise, "slippery when wet." Nothing more than a small white-on-green sign that the heavy winds bent out of shape announces your arrival in the county of Lorain, pop. 250,000.

The town of Lorain--county seat of Lorain--lies about six-and-a-half miles north of Highway 90, past Elyria, where the students from Oberlin College got their 3-per-cent beer when the Women's Christian Temperance Union threw them out of town, and then past tiny Clearview.

They call Lorain (pop. 80,000 plus, depending on whether you believe the U.S. Census Bureau) a "steel town," like scores of small towns in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania--the industrial heartland. The ships come in from the lake to dock, but most travellers drive straight through, headed for Cleveland or Toledo and maybe Detroit. The biggest steel pipe plant in the country--"U.S. Steel. The Real Threat is From Foreign Steel" say the signs at the Grove St. entrance--dominates the southern half of town, stretching across the shores of Lake Erie in a spot close to where an old man invented the steam shovel.

Following Highway 57 as it winds to the north and west and then turns south, you can see the shipyard across the bend of the lake, its giant cranes silent. The business district comes before the bridge, and if you can see through the yellow and white smoke which the steel plant belches 24 hours a day, you can recognize the main street. In Lorain they call it Broadway, and some of the stores have been here 50 years or more, residents of the town long before Ford built the giant plant in 1966. Ford makes its "midsize" Thunderbird in Lorain--"ugliest cars they've ever built," says the mayor of Lorain as he sits atop the town's city hall, a white stucco and glass Emerald City in the midst of chipping brick and decaying concrete.

Towns like Lorain put Jimmy Carter in the White House in 1976, giving the nuclear-engineer-turned-governor the 11,116 votes he needed to beat Gerald Ford and secure Ohio's electoral votes. In Lorain city, Carter took 18,214 votes, Ford 7,224. The local politicos weren't too surprised: there are five Democrats for every Republican in Lorain. Voting Democratic was a tradition long before John Kennedy discovered that his California tan beat the 5 o'clock shadow in the first debate of 1960. Kennedy made a beeline to Lorain from Philadelphia the morning after, and thousands of steel workers turned out to greet the Democratic candidate despite the damp of a September morning.

Twenty years later, it is still cold and windy. And there are still five Democrats to every Republican. And the steelworkers on the 3-11 shift still have one too many on Saturday night, and the town police send the squad cars down to the Rhapsody Cafe and the Orchid Lounge to clean up the mess.

But something is different in Lorain this year. The 7000 union men who normally paint the T-birds "forest green" and "Montana blue" haven't been doing much painting. The commercial side of the plant has been down more than half the year--one week on, one week off--and the prefab corrugated steel low-rise that houses Local 425 of the United Auto Workers has been more crowded than usual. At the steel plant, they've been a little luckier; pipe orders have come in from Youngstown, Ohio, and Indiana. But the half of the mill where 2000 people, sons of the Puerto Ricans they trucked in to keep the plant running during World War II, make steel bars hasn't been running much at all. Nearly one of six employable people in Lorain is looking for a job, and News Center 8 is running a 32-part series on how to save your money.

On the streets one week before election day, there are as many "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs in front of the houses as there are pickets pushing "Stringer for Prosecutor" and "Mertz for Sheriff." In the past couple of years, almost one-third of the city's 1500 real estate agents have decided not to renew their licenses. Houses sell for $50,000 to $65,000; people working fulltime are making $20,000 at Ford, $17,500 at U.S. Steel. Even the U.S. Armed Forces has been forced to lease its Broadway recruiting center to the local Republican backers. It is, most definitely, a buyer's market.

The Lorain-Elyria Journal, "A Great Newspaper You Can Depend On," endorsed Ronald Reagan in its Sunday edition. "Forget who belongs to which party and all that. Forget the campaign cliches that play on our emotions. Let's face it. The country is in sad economic shape."

Betty Wilson (not her real name) is the secretary to the president of Local 425 and she agrees with The Lorain-Elyria Journal. In 1976, when Jimmy Carter came to the shores of Lake Erie, she shook hands with him, "looked him right in the eye," and liked what looked back. Betty worked hard for Jimmy in 1976, but now she says she's "ashamed" of what she did. This year, she's hiding a Reagan button in her unionbought drawer. If the boss saw it, she whispers, he'd be awfully mad.

"I'm sick of lies in a Southern accent," Betty says. "I want them in a California account." She shakes her head. "I'm sorry we don't have a 'none of the above' category on the ballot. It's a shame that such a big country as ours has nothing better to offer." She shakes her head. "We're crying for leadership. We're like a bunch of children. We're ripe for someone like Hitler--and that really scares me."

Betty's boss, Pete Paulich, spends most of his day on the phone that sits next to the plexiglass photo cube displaying the pictures of the wife and kids. Next to the Carter-Mondale poster ("Warning: Our Future Is at Stake") sits a sign scrawled in Pavlich's own hand that announces the "Office Rules."

1. The Boss is always right.

2. If the Boss is wrong, see rule #1.

The Boss wants the boys to vote for Carter this year. But the boys are looking for rule #3. Pavlich knows that the days of a straight union vote are over. Crosstown in the Lorain Country Board of Elections, a woman who's watched the town for years knows, too. "At one time, the unions could deliver a block vote--but that doesn't work anymore. If the economy were up and they had a full pocket, they would vote Democratic."

But the ifs are big this year, and some of the workers driving in the long line of Fords waiting to leave the plant are unhappy. John--undecided--has worked in paint for 11 years and identified himself as a Christian with a wife and two kids. "I was kind of prepared for the economic disaster," he says as he wipes the grease on his sweatshirt. "I have faith that God will take care of my family." David, 21 years in the commercial division, is less sure about God and more sure about the election. "I want big guns," he says half-jokingly and smiles to reveal the dentures he has worn since the errant bumper from the Ford van knocked most of his teeth onto the plant's concrete floor. "Carter doesn't have nothing going for him. I voted for him the last time, but he's made a mess of the economic situation."

John and David are the kind of people that make Joseph Zieba, attorney at law and Republican county chairman, stop chewing his gum for just a minute and smile his Hoover smile. Zieba's been getting a lot of calls this year from Democrats, giving the gray inflatable elephant perched atop his law files a lot to smile about. "Even Eisenhower didn't carry Lorain," Zieba says, but things are looking up this year. The Puerto Ricans (almost 18 per cent of Lorain) and the Blacks are "lackadaisical voters who've put all their eggs in Carter's basket."

He chews the gum furiously, spitting into the office carpet that will never show the stain, the words coming out in a lightly salivated rinse. "Couple of weeks ago (chomp) Carter goes into the plant up in Avon Lake (chomp) and says he'll give them a billion dollars (chomp, chomp, chomp). That's a lot of (chomp) bullshit...Reagan (chomp) can only cite the record (chomp). You talk about hostages (chomp), they're still hostages (chomp)..." The smile gets larger as the daughter of the waitress at the Czech grill downtown mechanically answers that mom will vote for Reagan. "Those people are normally 95 per cent Democrats," he says when the girl leaves to buy saddle shoes with his daughter. His second chin waddles as he sifts through the desk for evidence. "Can't find it, but the poll they took out at the Community College--only five more votes for Carter than Reagan, 286 to 281."

Joseph A. Ujhely Esq., Lorain County Democratic chieftain, head of Ohio's 1976 delegation to the Electoral College, son of a steelworker and a running guard for Ohio State, dismisses the poll as a lot of crap. The purple-and-yellow tie with the silver sheen ripples as Ujhelyi conducts an experiment to see just how far he can lean back in his chair and still see the visitor over the paunch. Each word is an effort, a patented statement issued forth from the right side of his mouth. The left seems almost hermetically sealed.

Ujhelyi figures that, in Lorain, he's just about seen it all. And he knows who's going to win. "Seventy-five per cent of the auto workers will vote for Carter." Long pause to let the tongue and teeth regroup. "We've got the edge on the Republicans because there's more of us than there are of them. It's not who's for you. It's how many." There are no windows in Ujhelyi's legal den, just a lot of pseudo-wood panelling and a deep red carpet. But Ujhelyi says he doesn't need to go out in the streets to know what's happening. The Democrats will win.

William "You cannot trust a Communist. Period." Parker, 18 years a city councilman and newly elected mayor of Lorain, does not agree. Parker tells his third visitor on Citizens Day that he "did not win" the election in Lorain but that the "other guy lost it." In Lorain, where "Pride Grows With Progress" at 572 feet above sea level, the Democratic mayor ran into a little trouble toward the end of his term. Some of his appointees, it seems, took a Department of Housing and Urban Development Federal Block Grant program and turned it into a "geared to the greedy, not to the needy" campaign to remodel their friends' homes. They put oak panelling in bedrooms and took bribes from contractors. The indictments--naming 17 men in all--came down two weeks ago. But in this election, Parker says, Reagan doesn't need a scandal to win.CrimsonRobert O. Boorstin

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