SWEENEY, ROBERT E. (November 4, 1924 - June 30, 2007) was a Democratic Party politician and lawyer who served as a U.S. Congressman and Cuyahoga County Commissioner. He was born in Cleveland’s WEST PARK neighborhood to Irish immigrant mother Marie (Carlin) Sweeney and father MARTIN L. SWEENEY, who was a former Cleveland Municipal Court Judge and U.S. Congressman as well as national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Robert Sweeney was the fourth of their five children.
After graduating from SAINT IGNATIUS HIGH SCHOOL, he attended Georgetown University. Before graduating, he joined the army in 1943 during WORLD WAR II. He stayed in the military until 1946, a year after the war’s conclusion. Upon returning home to Cleveland, he graduated from BALDWIN-WALLACE UNIVERSITY and CLEVELAND-MARSHALL LAW SCHOOL.
Sweeney was admitted to the bar in 1951, joining his father in private practice until 1958. He then served as special counsel to the Attorney General of Ohio from 1958-1962. In 1962, and later in 1966, he ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General of the state, losing both times to Republican William Saxbe, who later became US Attorney General under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
In 1964, Sweeney followed in his father’s footsteps when he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He served one term in the Eighty-ninth Congress from January 3, 1965 - January 3, 1967. During his tenure, he voted on numerous historic measures such as the Voting Rights Act and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society measures. He had the distinction of being the last at-large representative in the US Congress from Ohio.
After his “at-large” seat was eliminated in 1967, Sweeney went back into private law practice. He defended many working men and women in the building trades as a trial attorney. He was one of the first to file an asbestos lawsuit, doing so on behalf of many clients who were pipe coverers of IRISH descent. In 1976, he was appointed to an unexpired term on the Cuyahoga County Commission. He was subsequently elected to a full term as County Commissioner in 1977, but lost his seat in a failed re-election bid in 1980. As commissioner, he was instrumental in preserving the PLAYHOUSE SQUARE theater district, creating the county’s solid-waste district, and starting the country’s first public defender’s office.
Like his father, Sweeney also served as national director of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic organization. He was a dedicated champion of civil and human rights in Ireland, representing a dozen national Irish organizations before the Democratic Party Platform Committee in 1992. His advocacy assisted the adoption of the Platform’s “Irish Plank” concerning peace and justice in Northern Ireland, which became a foundation for President Bill Clinton’s historic Good Friday Accord. Sweeney was a supporter of Northern Ireland’s nationalist Sinn Fein party, hosting party leader Gerry Adams when Adams came to Cleveland. In 2006, Sweeney was honored with the Irish American Archives Society’s WALKS OF LIFE AWARD.
Sweeney was married to Patricia (Barrett) Sweeney and subsequently to Kathryn (Shultis Lavelle) Sweeney. He had 13 children with his first wife: Robert P., Daniel E., William A., Martin L., John B., James M., Thomas F., Mary Brigid (Sweeney) Fredieu, Alice Mary (Sweeney) Laverdiere, Edward D., Patricia A. (Sweeney) Kerns, Eileen T., Catherine P. (Sweeney) Thompson; and was step-father to three children: Nancy Jeanne, Robert William, and Mary Ellen Lavelle. He died on June 30, 2007, in his home in GATES MILLS, OH, and is buried in CALVARY CEMETERY on the East Side of Cleveland.
Daniel Brennan and David Patrick Ryan