When Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste summoned his father from Florida Thursday night, the stage was set for the nation's most sweeping shutdown of thrift institutions since President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "bank holiday" of 1933.
Throughout the week, the financial crisis of Ohio's state-chartered banks and savings and loan institutions had gained momentum. By the close of business Thursday, as thousands of Ohioans scrambled to withdraw millions of dollars from thrifts whose deposits are not federally insured, Celeste believed that only drastic action could fend off disaster.
The Democratic governor had assembled about a half-dozen trusted aides to seek a way to stem the flood of withdrawals and restore confidence in the thrifts.
Already, the Ohio legislature in a single day had rammed through laws setting up a new combined private-state pool of $90 million to help shore up state-backed deposits.
About $130 million in state deposit insurance is already available for thrift institutions under pressure from depositors trying to withdraw their funds.
And the governor had accepted the resignation of his friend, Marvin Warner, from the Ohio Building Authority.
Warner is the controversial multimillionaire who owns the Home State Savings Bank of Cincinnati, which closed last Saturday after losing $150 million through its ties to the bankrupt ESM Government Securities Inc. of Florida.
But nothing had worked. And upon hearing that a popular Cincinnati radio talk-show host was telling listeners Thursday night to camp out in front of state-chartered thrifts so they could withdraw their money before the doors were shut, the governor knew his next step would be the most important of all.
The call went out as the governor's 78-year-old father, Frank Celeste, was deep in a gin rummy game with a buddy in Lake Worth, Fla. "I like to have him around in situations like this. I like to have people I can bounce ideas off," the governor said.
His father, Democratic mayor of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood for eight years before becoming a housing consultant, grabbed a plane and arrived here just after midnight.
At the statehouse, the senior Celeste stayed up through the night with his son, 46, and the aides, winnowing alternatives.
"There were three ways to go," the governor said. "The first was to just let the runs continue through Friday. If a bank had to close, well, it would be Friday anyway." Perhaps things would improve over the weekend.
But as the group learned of the number of institutions (71), the millions of dollars, and the near-panic sweeping communities, Celesete realized that this alternative spelled disaster.
A number of lenders phoned to say they doubted that they could survive the day without closing. "One or more might not make it through, or might not even open," Celeste recalled today during a flight here from Cleveland.
Next, the officials considered announcing a partial ban on withdrawals, limiting depositors to 35 percent of their money.
For hours, state bank officials, lawyers and others argued among themselves and by phone with officials elsewhere in the state.
As late as 3 a.m. today, Celeste said, he still was pondering such a move. But so many questions arose that Celeste finally discarded it.
The talks focused on stronger measures. "I asked under what authority do we close some or all of the institutions?" Celeste recalled. For a time, the officials weighed the idea of ordering several of the lenders to close. This appealed to Celeste, because it would limit the impact.
"But there just was no good place to amputate. There was always the risk of closing some and leaving others open that were more vulnerable. We would try to keep the action as limited as possible. It was my judgment that the difference between one and 71 was insignificant. If we were to protect the depositors, I had to act now."
The order was drawn up and Celeste headed home to the governor's residence, a pleasant Tudor-style house not far from the capitol, at 5:30 a.m. He shaved and showered, then flew to Cincinnati for this morning's news conference to announce his action.
Later, he flew to Cleveland to confer with Karen Horn, governor of the Cleveland Federal Reserve, and numerous other state and federal banking and financial authorities. That session lasted 90 minutes, followed by an airport news conference at which Celeste voiced assurances that federal and state officials are devising a solid plan to back the institutions he closed.
But he declined to promise that his moratorium will end Monday. "I've learned not to try to predict the future," he said with a rueful smile.
Then he flew back to Columbus for the night, where he delivered a brief televised address restating his assurances to depositors.
During the flight, he stood with reporters in the rear of the plane, mulling the situation. He is confident that the Federal Reserve will guarantee a deposit insurance plan. But that may be days away. For now, he, like many other Ohioans, is scrambling to comprehend the magnitude and complexity of their banking crisis.
"In eight days, I've had to start from kindergarten on this," he said.