I grew up hearing that he was one of the best mayors Youngstown ever had up to that point. He was the grandson of William Henderson, an iron worker at Brown-Bonnell Iron Works. Charles P. Henderson was born March 3, 1911. He graduated from Princeton in the class of ’32. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of Michigan and returned to practice law. He was elected a municipal court judge in 1941. His political career was interrupted by World War 2. He served four years in the army then returned to Youngstown.
He found a city rife with crime and racketeering and decided to run for Mayor on an anti-corruption platform. In 1947, he defeated incumbent Ralph O’Neill by 3671 votes. Some think he won because voters were fed up with three City Council members who stayed away from meetings to block appointment of a councilman for the third ward. One of his first acts was to appoint FBI trained J. Edward Allen as police chief with a mission to clear out organized vice and crime. He appointed a new, ten man vice squad. Operators of the “bug,” and bookies were arrested. Much of the action shifted over the county line centered on the Jungle Inn, in Liberty Township.
Henderson worked to reduce smoke and smog, eliminate dumps, and improve housing. His efforts won him national attention and in 1950 he won the American All-City award for progressive attention. He won his 1951 campaign by 7,000 votes. However, resistance to his anti-corruption measures was growing and he was defeated in 1953 in his attempt to win a fourth term by Frank X. Kryzan. Meanwhile, Henderson was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a member of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an effort to coordinate federal and state government efforts.
In 1965, he was appointed by Governor James Rhodes as a Probate Court judge. He participated in a number of organizations related to the practice of law: Mahoning County. and Ohio State Bar Associations, Ohio State Municipal League, the Association of Probate judges the Judicial Conference, and Judicial College. He also participated on the boards of the Public Library of Youngstown, and the county Boards of Mental Health and Elections. In the late 1960’s, after a series of failed school levies threatened to, Henderson headed up a citizens committee spearhead an effort for the levy passage. It failed but the seventh try finally passed.
Henderson retired in 1985 and passed after a sudden heart attack on September 15, 1990. He was survived by his wife, the former Margaret Arms. Henderson was probably one of the most trusted people in Youngstown. While the city didn’t always want its politicians to be good, Henderson was one of those people came to when the public trust was important. I’ll leave others to decide who was Youngstown’s best mayor. But it’s clear to me he was one of the good ones.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!