Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Cavanagh, Jerome

Born in Detroit on June 16, 1928, Jerome Cavanagh was the youngest person elected Mayor of Detroit when he took office at 33 years old in 1962. Despite a tough race against incumbent mayor Louis Miriani, Cavanagh won the election by criticizing Miriani’s handling of race relations in the city, whose reputation was still stinging from the aftermath of the 1943 race riots.

Cavanagh’s early policies endeared him to the city residents.  He appointed a reformer as chief of police to curtail brutality and implemented an affirmative action program for most city agencies.  In 1963, he welcomed Martin Luther King, Jr. to Detroit and marched with him down Woodward Avenue in the March for Freedom.

Cavanagh was successful in securing federal funding for Detroit through the Model Cities Program. He built new skyscrapers downtown and worked to improve the economy.  The National Observer commented, "Retail sales are up dramatically. Earnings are higher. Unemployment is lower. … Physically Detroit has acquired freshness and vitality. Acres of slums have been razed, and steel and glass apartments … have sprung up in their place.”

Cavanagh was recognized nationally for his success with urban affairs work.  He was featured in Time, Life and Newsweek magazines, as well as on the television program Meet the Press. He was named as one of the “Outstanding 100 People in the US” and was compared with John F. Kennedy. 

Cavanagh was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in 1965. However, his positive impact on the city was overshadowed by the race riots in 1967.  After his two terms as mayor, Cavanagh worked as a lawyer in Detroit.  In 1974 he made an unsuccessful attempt at running for governor.  Cavanagh died of a heart attack in 1979. The North Wing of the Detroit Institute of Arts is named after him.



Jerome Cavanagh Photograph, 1966

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