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Monday, February 16, 2015

Sex, Buffalo, and the White House

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I was delighted to see that Buffalo's gift to the White House was honored on a very prestigious list.
Okay, it was a list of the top Presidential Sex Scandals.
But at least on one list, Grover Cleveland is in some pretty prestigious company.
Thomas Jefferson.
Let’s face it, a sex scandal list is the only top-10 list Grover Cleveland would be on.
He wasn’t exactly considered one of our better presidents.  Not a bad one either….just kind of average.
But he was certainly interesting.
And not just because of the sex thing.
Although….that was really interesting.
After all, he was elected president despite the fact that he had fathered an illegitimate child.  One of the greatest campaign slogans ever was used against him.  “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”  Then after he won, his supporters added a second line.  “Gone to the White House.  Ha! Ha! Ha!”
He also had a little cradle-robbing thing.  When his best friend died, he promised he would take care of the man’s daughter.  He did.  He married her.  He was 49, she was 21.
They say Bill Clinton was a great student of history.  Clearly he studied Grover Cleveland.
Who, by the way, had quite the meteoric rise.  In three years he went from mayor of Buffalo to governor of New York to president of the United States.
Unlike our elected officials today, he got things done.
Even if he had to do them himself.
Before he was mayor of Buffalo, he was Erie County Sheriff.  Back then, the sheriff was responsible for carrying out executions or paying a deputy $10 to do it.  So Cleveland did it himself.  Twice.  Both were hangings.
Can you imagine a presidential candidate today doing that?  Even Rick Perry never flipped the switch himself….and we all know that man loves to kill prisoners.
On the political front, Cleveland was known as a reformer. 
He cleaned up corruption in Buffalo.  (at least for a while)  That got him elected governor.  Where he cleaned up Albany.  (at least for a while)
And that got him elected president in 1884.  Where he cleaned up Washington.  (at least for a while)
But he wasn’t re-elected in 1888.  Even though he won the election.  How did that happen?  Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.  (So he was the 19th century version of both Bill Clinton and Al Gore)
But he wasn’t finished.  He came back.  He was elected again in 1892.  The only president to serve non-consecutive terms.  (I have this Arnold Schwarzenegger image of him leaving the White House and saying “I’ll be back”.  He didn’t.But the First Lady did tell a staff member to keep the furniture the way it was, because they’d be back in four years.
But Cleveland didn’t do so well in his second term, so not only was he not re-elected in 1896, he wasn’t even nominated as the Democratic candidate.
That year, the Republican was elected.  William McKinley.  And we all know how well his trip to Buffalo turned out.
But think about that for a minute.  The former mayor of Buffalo was replaced in the White House by the man who would be assassinated in Buffalo.  And honored with a monument in front of Buffalo City Hall.
And think about this.  If McKinley hadn’t been assassinated, would Teddy Roosevelt have become president?
So one of our greatest presidents became president because of Buffalo.  Replacing the man who replaced the president from Buffalo. 
Who wasn’t a great president. 
But he’s a great story.

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