Video from “The Mike White Years by the Journalists Who Covered Him” Wednesday, October 21, 2020 7pm

The Mike White Years by the Journalists Who Covered Him
Wednesday, October 21, 7pm via Zoom
with panelists:
Brent Larkin, The Plain Dealer
Tom Beres WKYC-TV (retired)
Moderated by Mark Naymik, WKYC Channel 3 – Cleveland

The recording is here:

The 1990s in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio were molded by 3-term Mayor Michael R. White (1990-2002). Changes to the Cleveland Public Schools, Gateway stadium (and stadiums in general), the Browns, the airport, and many other decisions were made that are impacting the region to this day. Hear from the journalists who covered Mayor White as they look back 20 years later.

Sponsored by Cleveland History Center, Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland

Photo: Plain Dealer

Mayor Michael R. White Interview, Parts One – Five (video)

white-celebrates-gateway  mike-white-1989

Part One Link is Here

Part Two Link is Here

Part Three Link is here

Part Four Link is here

Part Five Link is here

Michael R. White was Mayor of Cleveland from 1990-2002. He was interviewed for Teaching Cleveland Digital on July 24, 2013. Cameras by Jerry Mann and Meagan Lawton, Edited by Jerry Mann, Interviewed by Michael Baron. © 2013 Jerry Mann and Teaching Cleveland Digital.

Part one covers Mayor White’s formative years in the Cleveland neighborhood of Glenville, living in Cleveland during the election of Carl Stokes in 1967 and White’s election as the first African-American Student Union President at The Ohio State University in 1973.

Part two covers his work with Columbus Republican Mayor Tom Moody, his return to Cleveland, working with and learning from Council President George Forbes and his election to Cleveland City Council.

Part three covers the 1980’s in Cleveland when Mayor George Voinovich and Council President George Forbes were in power. White then speaks about being elected Mayor of Cleveland, and his first challenge as Mayor: the baseball team wants a new ballpark, so White spearheads the Gateway development.

From Wikipedia:

White, who grew up in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, began his political career early on during his college years at Ohio State University, when he protested against the discriminatory policies of the Columbus public bus system and was subsequently arrested. White then ran the following year for Student Union President and won, becoming the college’s first black student body leader. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973 and a Master of Public Administration degree in 1974.

After college, White returned to Cleveland. He served on Cleveland City Council as an administrative assistant from 1976 to 1977 and later served as city councilman from the Glenville area from 1978 to 1984. During his time in city council, White became a prominent protégé of councilman George L. Forbes. White then represented the area’s 21st District in the Ohio Senate, serving as a Democratic assistant minority whip.

In 1989, White entered the heavily-contested race for mayor of Cleveland, along with several other notable candidates including Forbes, Ralph J. Perk Jr. (the son of former Cleveland mayor, Ralph J. Perk), Benny Bonanno (Clerk of the Cleveland Municipal Court), and Tim Hagan (Cuyahoga County commissioner). Out of all the candidates Forbes and White made it to the general election. It was the first time two Black candidates would emerge as the number one and two contenders in a primary election in Cleveland history.

In Cleveland, incumbent Mike White won re-election against council president George Forbes, who ran as the candidate of black power and the public sector unions. Angering the unions by eliminating some of the city’s exotic work rules, White presented himself as pro-business, pro-police and an effective manager above all, arguing that “jobs were the cure for the ‘addiction to the mailbox,'” referring to welfare checks. [1]

White ended up winning the race receiving 81 percent of the vote in predominantly white wards and 30 percent in the predominantly black wards.


The Shark: Mary Anne Sharkey by John Ettore Cleveland Magazine November 1994

The Shark: Mary Anne Sharkey by John Ettore
Cleveland Magazine November 1994
The link is here
The time is the late ’80s, the venue a dilapidated comedy club in the Warehouse District. The guest, Plain Dealer editorial-page editor Mary Anne Sharkey, perches almost coquettishly on a bar stool, crosses her legs and produces her signature toothy grin. A group of earnest young suburbanites who call themselves the Young Democrats eagerly await her thoughts. The Plain Dealer for many has served as the embodiment of their antipathy for Cleveland — so stodgy, so deeply unimaginative, so very … well, Cleveland. Now, however, they’re forced to factor in this latest spectacle.Tonight, Sharkey has already begun to win some tentative confidence by admitting, in very un-PD fashion, that the paper’s harshest critics have some valid criticisms. When the question-and-answer session begins, the tenor of most of the questions suggests the audience believes the newspaper to be the instigator of dozens of ongoing civic conspiracies. A theme also runs through many of Sharkey’s patient answers. Cmon, she teases, think about every other large, bumbling bureaucracy with which you have intimate knowledge. Are any of these institutions remotely capable of mustering enough coordinated intelligence tofoment evil, even if so inclined?More than her words, it’s her manner that seems appealing and so very unusual. Sharkey enjoys the thrust and parry of ideas, reacting to criticism and palpable hostility for her employer with a sense of humor. Those who know her best find her bulldog print persona hilarious: Even though she can summon deep moral outrage formed by her Catholic upbringing (her mother used to drop her off at the convent so the nuns could baby-sit), she is in many soft, almost fragile, though with described “low tolerance for bOne former colleague from her in Dayton, Mickey Davis, still a writer at the Dayton Daily News, she “was always a hustler, a game one who would go after the stoq aggressively. But she also had thi Irish wit, this ebullient personali about her that made her a delig work with. You miss those kind 0 people with that kind of charact Political consultant Gerry Austin her “kind of a throwback to the reporter with sources among the coatcheck girls.”

Her charming openness and irreverence similarly pose at least a subliminal challenge to conspiracy theorists: Why would such a place as formidable as you imagine the PD to be
ever invite someone so full of the dickens as Mary Anne Sharkey to the table of senior management?It was an excellent question at the time, and all the more appropriate today. But the answer remains as elusive as Sharkey’s complicated internal role at the paper. After raising hell in Ohio politics for more than two decades — putting misogynist pols on the record to disastrous (for them) effect, helping install an improbable former street kid in Cleveland City Hall, and even helping snuff out an Ohio governor’s Oval Office ambition — Sharkey now finds herself in something of a state of internal limbo at “Ohio’s largest.” According to sources at the PD and among political communications people, she’s been stripped of her role as politics editor in all but name (a deve opment she’s not eager to discuss, but she doesn’t dispute). She’s an editor to whom no one answers. But she’s vowed to win the internal test of wills.

She’s prominent in nationa jiournalism circles: Village Voiceand Washington Post columnist Nat Henthoff singled her out for praise recently, and she serves on the board of the International Women’s Media Foundation, which is populated with nationally known media heavyweights. Because of her institutional memory and her wide name recognition throughout the state, “A Sharkey column mailed to 50 people around the state is a very, very powerful thing,” says Cleveland political consultant Bill Burges. “I mean, that is a Scud missile, or at least a
Patriot missile.” All of this surely provides her some internal leverage.

A MILD WORKAHOLIC whose schedule calls for frequent after-hours events and public appearances (including an occasional panel show on WVIZ-TV Channel 25), Sharkey does all her writing in her cramped office just off the newsroom. She shares a secretary with Metro editor Ted Diadiun and often has the television tuned to CNN. Colleagues with a weakness for practical jokes find her an easy mark: They have been known to hide her Rolodex and even her office sofa, waiting to see how long their absence will go unnoticed. She has a fiery temper that quickly blows over, and an impulsiveness that manifests itself in manic fits of shopping: She once bought a used Cadillac on a whim.

In early August, Sharkey arrives for an interview after attending a stormy press conference at Cleveland City Hall in which all of Mike White’s shortcomings finally broke into full public view. The woman who proved so instrumental to his election by engineering the PD’s endorsement must admit she’s concerned about White’s unsteady behavior: abrupt staff changes, almost comic micromanagement, and reports about general emotional instability following his effortless re-election last year.

“I’m starting to have my doubts,” she says about the mayor, which seems remarkably restrained after the months of mounting reports. Weeks later, after being pressed some more about her indulgent attitude toward White, Sharkey gets to the crux of her affection for the mayor: “I like overachievers,” she says, sitting in her brick, Lakewood home with one leg slung over her sofa arm. “And I think of myself as an overachiever. When I look at White, I just laugh. Other people think he’s arrogant, but he just amuses me. I see him as a ghetto kid … whose mother died at an early age.”

At a time in which many journalists — intimidated by their low public regard or perhaps by the doleful state of American libel law — have sought refuge in the euphemism, Sharkey continues to go for the political jugular. She can be delightfully caustic, at least if you’re not on the receiving end. She has referred to the prim members of the League of Women Voters as “the Democratic wives of Republican businessmen” and once likened a pair of arguing state representatives to a couple of skunks in a spraying match. “I never seemed to have learned the art of subtlety,” she once observed of herself in a column.

“[Sharkey] has the keenest news sense I’ve ever seen,” says former PD publisher Tom Vail. Even the people she criticizes, if not her more serious targets, voice genuine admiration. Ohio state Rep. and majority whip Jane Campbell says that Sharkey “has enough hope about the process to really make a difference.” U.S. Rep. Eric Fingerhut, who has also been batted around mildly but who on the whole has been well-treated in Sharkey’s columns, offers: “There’s no question that she’s sharp and caustic, but she doesn’t just go for the cheap shot; she puts it in context. Even though it always stings to be on the receiving end, I always get a sense that it’s coming from somebody with a little bigger picture, so it’s a little easier to take.”

Sharkey was raised in a reasonably prosperous Dayton family, the only daughter of a serially published Catholic writer who inhaled books until the day he died — writing at least two dozen himself (Norman Sharkey’s personal bestseller was a 1944 book about the papalselection process, “White Smoke Over the Vatican.”) Sharkey’s mother prayed to the Virgin Mary that she might deliver a girl after the first four attempts yielded all boys. She signaled her thanks by dressing Mary Anne in blue and white (the colors of the Virgin) until the age of 7.

The family was steeped in their father’s work: It became second nature for the older kids to issue opinions on the piles of manuscripts authors sent for his consideration while he was still on staff at a Catholic youth magazine. Most members of the family were even familiar with the symbols used in editing.

Though she’s had asthma all her life, Sharkey grew up a happy, energetic child who eagerly plunged into dance and piano lessons. Growing up second-youngest in a family with all brothers (one of her six brothers died recently; another, born with Down’s Syndrome, died before she was born), Mary Anne learned early how to get along amicably with the opposite sex. “I’ve never found men much of a mystery,” she says. It’s been a boon ever since to her formidable reporting skills, allowing her to coax information from male officials and propelling her into formerly all-male environments.

Her older brother Nick remembers that 3-year-old Mary Anne would walk around the house during Eisenhower’s first campaign saying, “I like Ike, I like Ike” (she even repeated it at her grandmother’s funeral). Her occasional child-modeling assignments through her Aunt Norma’s agency turned into more substantial teenage appearances in print and television ads for the Bob Evans restaurant chain.

Sharkey admits to having been “a very bad student” through her 16 years of Catholic schooling, terminating with an English degree from the University of Dayton. “I got out of college by the skin of my teeth,” she says. “That’s why I love newspapers, because you don’t need an attention span.”

Many years later, however, she learned that she suffered from dyslexia, a mild learning disability. “I sometimes reverse numbers, I mix metaphors, I could never learn foreign languages, and I absolutely don’t have any sense of direction. And I can’t do computers. Other than that, it hasn’t handicapped me.”

Yet it did leave her with a deep sense of having beaten the odds. “I was always in trouble for being an underachiever, and no one could understand why, including me.” Experts on the malady note that while dyslcxics do have trouble performing certain tasks, in other ways they often process information better, sorting through individual facts to identify patterns not readily apparent to others.

While still in college, she began her professional career as a copydesk clerk at Dayton’s old Journal Herald, an overachieving paper, largely Republican in editorial outlook though quite liberal in spirit, staffed by young journalists who were encouraged to report aggressively. Colleagues from her Dayton days uniformly remember Sharkey as a “live wire.”

“She had a phenomenal knack for getting politicians and policemen and judges to talk to her,” says Bill Flanagan, an editor who was perhaps her earliest mentor. Sharkey was so taken with the job that her brother Nick had to almost force her to complete school. At 24, she married Bill Worth, eight years her senior, twice previously married, and the paper’s city editor at the time. The pair tooled around town in a black Studebaker, which colleagues remember as being halfway between classic and junker. After four years, however, the couple divorced.

“Believe it or not, I was a tad naive in those days,” Sharkey says. “I was totally sheltered … I was the only one in my entire family to go through a divorce — cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers.”

Sharkey’s first taste of prominence grew out of an extraordinary event in the fall of 1974. She was covering the Dayton court system when two federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms got into a shootout in the Federal courthouse, killing one of the men. The following February, after having interviewed court sources and federal officials, Sharkey wrote a frontpage article describing how the suriving agent had refused his now-dead colleague’s offer to participate in an illegal chain-letter scheme and in selling confiscated guns, which led to their deadly encounter.

Separately, Sharkey’s Freedom of Information request had produced a court transcript in which the surviving agent described the events in chilling detail, full of rough language not ordinarily seen in any family newspaper, much less those in conservative, Southern Ohio towns. It included the key words: “Gibson, God damn it, you are fucking with my family. You are fucking with my future. I am not going to let you do it. I’ll kill you first.”

Unknown to Journal Herald editor Charles Alexander, the paper’s promotions department had arranged to distribute free copies of the paper that day to Dayton schoolchildren. In the ensuing uproar, Alexander was fired by the Cox chain, and his managing editor quit in protest. “That’s the story that people around here “I remember [Sharkey] for,” says former colleague Mickey Davis. “She proved her mettle.”

If the story inflicted collateral damage upon her superiors, Sharkey’s own career received quite a boost. The unique controversy became fodder for national journalism trade journals, and by 1977 she had been made an investigative reporter. A year later, with an opening in the paper’s one-person Columbus bureau, she moved to the capital, where her energy and charm quickly won her admission to the mostly male “Capital Square Gang,” a collection of politicians, journalists and lobbyists who would often gather at the Galleria, a bar a across from the Statehouse.

“TheJournal Herald clearly got a lot of stories because she would go to where these people did business,” says one PDreporter. “And to a [House Speaker] Vern Riffe, cutting part of the deal at the Galleria was just as important as finishing the deal at the Statehouse.”

In 1980, she remarried, to Joe Dirck, who today is a PDcolumnist himself At the time, he was a fellow Daytonian who’d played rock ‘n’ roll in area nightclubs. Sharkey and Dirck shared an obsession for politics and, one colleague jokes, questionable fashion sense. Old photos from the Dayton newspaper archives show Sharkey dressed in blouses with enormous period-piece
lapels, her hair worn in cascading bluffs framing her face. One office intern from that time remembers the effect her appearance left from their initial meeting. “Here I was this scared
college student, and she was wearing purple gaucho pants and a puffy cap. I thought I was about to be employed by Petula Clark.” Dirck still had in his possession a pair of skin-tight, leopard spot pants from his days as a rocker.

Characteristically, they met during the heat of a reporting battle: It was the mid-’70s. Dirck was reporting for a small daily in Springfield. He and another reporter were investigating a bookkeeper for a federal, anti-poverty agency who had a gambling problem. When the case landed in a federal grand jury, Dirck thought he’d go down to wait outside the closed session to see who came and went. “This assistant U.S. attorney — who I don’t know — they called him Crimefighter, [he was a] spit and polish, kind of hard-nosed type — started giving me a hard time, told me I couldn’t stand in the hallway,” Dirck recalls. “I said, ‘Well, this is a public building.’ He said, ‘Well, you can’t stand here, you have to go down in the lobby.'”

So Dirck went downstairs to a pay phone and called Sharkey, whom he knew only by reputation. “She was kind of a legend in Dayton at the time I said, ‘hey, this guy told me I couldn’t stand in the hallway.’ And she said, ‘WHAT? I’ll be right over.'”

Sharkey showed up after having scooped up a handful of other print reporters and a couple of television crews. “The Crimefighter came out, and he knew he couldn’t buffalo them,” says Dirck. “So he just went back in the room.”

During the early years of their marriage, Sharkey was continuing to produce powerful reporting. But as the Reagan era dawned, it was her role as feminist pathbreaker that was gaining the most attention. In 1981, she was sitting in the Secretary of State’s office after an election when an official of the Ohio Democratic Party, Pat Leahy, began to brag about beating Issue 2 and its proponent, Joan Lawrence (then head of the state League of Women Voters and now a state representative from Galena) and “her fat, ugly tits.” When Sharkey reported the comment (“I didn’t get the word tits in, but I think readers could tell what I meant,” she says), Leahy was fired, and Sharkey became something of an instant feminist poster girl.

“That was sort of a watershed for me,” Sharkey says. “I sort of once in a while feel like there is something to this diversity. There were six guys sitting around laughing. And it didn’t occur to any of them to report it.”

“She’s the one who said, ‘Now wait a minute: there’s this loudmouth with the Democratic Party, and nobody’s doing anything about it. I’m going to do something about it,'” recalls Gerry Austin, who cut his political teeth in George McGovern’s 1972 Ohio campaign and later ran campaigns for Dick Celeste, George Forbes and Jesse Jackson.

Curiously, she became a lightning rod for feminists even when she didn’t intend to. During the ’82 gubernatorial election, Sharkey arrived for an interview with Republican Clarence J. “Bud” Brown and was greeted with the suggestion that she “step into my parlor and take off your clothes.” Having grown up with plenty of verbal abuse from her brothers, she says, she never took it seriously and wrote it off as a grossly awkward attempt at humor by a normally buttoned-down man. She later mentioned it in passing to press colleagues, and a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter used it as a small item. “And Lord, it started from there,” recalls Dirck.

The New York Times picked up on it, which led a biting press release from the National Organization for Women, which prompted feminist picketing of Brown. The libertarian candidate seized on the remark, demanding an apology on behalf of women, and the Celeste campaign privately enjoyed the problems it was causing its rival. Brown later asked if he should apologize to Sharkey’s husband.

At the center of it all was Sharkey, the congenitally amiable Catholic girl with impeccable manners tempered by a bawdy sense of humor — highlighted by her endearing “horsey laugh,” as one friend puts it — who once again was thrust into the role of “feminist hero.” “Everyone assumes I’m going to come from this liberal-Democrat, feminist point of view,” she says today. In truth, she contends, she’s a feminist “when I need to be.”

In 1983, partly as a result of the attention from the controversy but also due to her warm conviviality with friend and foe alike, she was elected president of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents’ Association, the first woman so named in the group’s nearly 100 years of existence.

That same year, she was hired by the PD to join the paper’s Columbus bureau. Her days of real prominence were at hand. By one account, it was a 1981 series where she wrote about racial tensions at the Lucasville prison that got her noticed in Cleveland and later hired at the Plain Dealer.

Richard F Celeste, the 64th governor of Ohio, and Mary Anne Sharkey, then-Plain Dealer reporter and later Columbus bureau chief, began on friendly enough terms. Like many reporters who covered Celeste in his early years, Sharkey was filled with high expectations formed by the candidate’s own soaring campaign rhetoric as well as the fact that he was following eight years of antics by boorish Jim Rhodes. After that, much of the capital press pool was easy prey for the jarring contrast provided by the earnest Yalie governor with ethnic roots and an Oxford pedigree. The stage seemed set for a four-year run of Camelot By the Scioto. What developed followed quite another script.

Eventually the Celeste administration came under a steady and perhaps well-deserved working-over by the PD bureau. Sharkey’s tips, reporter Gary Webb’s bulldog tenacity and the PD’s willingness to print the results were turning up a Niagara of administration sleaze that cried out for coverage, especially considering the rest of the state’s papers were so timid about taking on a sitting governor. “Once people know you’ll go with that stuff, it becomes self-generating. It began coming in over the transom,” one reporter explains.

Sharkey readily concedes that the PD’s Columbus bureau under her direction didn’t cover the legislature very critically. She could hardly argue otherwise. It would be up to the Akron Beacon Journal to devote resources later in the decade to document Riffe’s questionable fundraising methods in its so-called “pay~for-play” series.

In the spring of 1987, after Democratic front-runner Gary Hart was forced to drop out of the presidential race because of his extramarital affairs, Sharkey turned her attention to the rumors about Celeste’s similar activities. She pulled the personnel files of two aides he was said to be sleeping with. Two other Columbus reporters were working on the story, but Sharkey had personal knowledge of Celeste’s peccadilloes with a woman she knew.

“We just thought it was incredible that Celeste would run for president when he had the same womanizing problem as Hart,” says Jim Underwood, at the time a Columbus-based reporter for the Horvitz newspapers, who later joined the PD.

In early June ’87, Underwood entered a Celeste press conference and sat between Sharkey and the Dayton Daily News‘ Tim Miller, who was also digging around the edges of the story. ” I just kind of grinned and said, ‘One of us is gonna have to ask the question.’ And we all knew what I was talking about,” says Underwood. Miller pulled out a dollar and challenged Underwood. Sharkey added a quarter. And Underwood got up, still clinging to the $1.25, and asked the question that would soon reverberate around the country. “Governor, is
there anything in your personal life that would preclude you from being president, as it has Gary Hart?” When Celeste surprised everyone, including his aides, by choosing outright denial
over dodge, Sharkey had a hook for her story. Media people would later say that Underwood held Celeste’s jaw while Sharkey slugged it.

In a copyrighted, front-page article on June 3 written by Mary Anne Sharkey and Brent Larkin, the PD reported that Celeste had been “romantically linked to at least three women” in the last decade, and called into question his credentials to be president. Says Larkin: “We knew it wouldn’t be ignored by the national media, coming on the heels of the Gary Hart incident.”

He was right. The Celeste story quickly became national news. And even though much of the coverage was harshly critical of the PD, the damage had nevertheless been done: Celeste never quite recovered his prior stature as a regional politician at the threshold of national prominence. (Celeste’s office didn’t return calls for comment.) And the legal saber-rattling of Stan Chesley — a well-connected Cincinnati personal-injury attorney and major Celeste donor who, former Celeste aides confirm, was aggressively encouraging the governor to file a libel suit — eventually sputtered out. Sharkey’s reputation received yet another high-octane boost.

Months after the Celeste story, the Plain Dealer promoted Sharkey to the deputy editorial page director, and Sharkey moved to Cleveland. Dirck, who had spent some time working at a Columbus television station after the Columbus Citizens Journal closed, eventually followed his wife 120 miles north to write a much-coveted column, sparking more than a little internal bitterness over the perceived two-for-one deal. Sharkey’s new position seemed an unlikely fit for many who knew her, given her interests and her well-known impatience with both the nonpolitical aspects of government and with sitting behind a desk. “I thought it was strange,” says her Dayton editor Bill Flanagan. “Well, I thought she was getting older and wanted something different. But it didn’t fit the Mary Anne that I knew.”

Nevertheless, she thrived. The page, significantly enlivened under her predecessor, continued to be relatively bold and unpredictable, at least for the traditionally cautious Plain Dealer. It took several brave stabs at the polarizing issue of abortion, an issue on which Sharkey shares Mario Cuomo’s position: She is personally opposed to it, though she refuses to impose her personal beliefs on the rest of society. It also denied Lee Fisher the paper’s endorsement in his initial run for Ohio Attorney General because of his embrace of the death penalty. Internally, Sharkey employed her people skills to defuse potential ideological conflict.

But her tenure on the editorial page will be best remembered for the paper’s endorsement of Mike White during the 1989 mayoral race. Sharkey persuaded publisher Tom Vail to ignore the near-unanimous pleas of Cleveland’s establishment on behalf of George Forbes, and instead anoint a smoothly articulate black state representative and former Cleveland city councilman from Glenville, whom Sharkey had observed with some admiration while in Columbus. “Vail, in his last days, tended to defer to Mary Ann’s good judgment,” recalls one editorial board member at the time. “She was the mover in it, and Vail largely blessed it.”

The insurgent White campaign, running third at the time behind both Forbes and Benny Bonnano, learned of the endorsement the day before it ran, and immediately understood its importance. “The Plain Dealer likes to take credit for shaping the course of the city,” says White’s ’89 campaign manager Eric Fingerhut, “and that’s a case where they did.”

But at the PD, where the saying goes “The closer you are to the top, the closer you are to the edge,” no one is ever surprised by frequent management shakeups. And Sharkey’s internal stock ebbed after Vail retired. Her legendary shouting matches, during the ’89 mayoral race, with editor (and Forbes partisan) Thom Greer didn’t help. Of her high-decibel confrontations with Greer, she says: “I knew I would be hurt by that, and I was.”

The shift from Vail’s moderate, Rockefeller-style, noblesse oblige brand of Republicanism to Machaskee’s harsher, in-your-face, Pat Buchanan style demanded a less-unpredictable editorial voice for the paper. So Sharkey was replaced on the editofial page by Brent Larkin, a lawyer and a former Cleveland Press political writer with a deeper knowledge of Cleveland and a far more pleasing posture toward management.

Sharkey was given what most of the world would consider an equally prominent assignment. She was made assistant Metro editor just as the paper began its expensive and oft-chronicled move to the suburbs with the opening of several exurban news bureaus. While she was now responsible for directing nearly 100 reporters, at least one colleague calls that position a form of “internal exile,” with only modest direct impact on the news product but lots of time spent overseeing budgets and making sure that slots were covered when copy editors called in sick — hardly her strength.

At about this same time, Sharkey was dealing with a series of personal setbacks that were disrupting her emotional equilibrium. As she and Dirck (who has a college-age daughter by a previous marriage) moved into their 40s, their efforts to adopt a child met with frustration. Once, an adoption was scotched at the last moment when the pregnant woman’s boyfriend called their attorney from the delivery room. They were set to adopt a second time, this time a biracial child, but that, too, fell apart at the last minute. By 1991 Dirck had a mild stroke, which put things off again, and by the time he recovered, the couple, then nearing their mid-40s, were informed they would have to abandon their adoption plans.

“What can I say?” Sharkey says, her eyes misting. “After awhile, you just say to yourself, ‘It’s not meant to be.’ Her brother Nick calls it “the tragedy of her life. She’s told me a million times that you can have a million [newspaper] clippings over in the corner, but giving life to a child…”

Sharkey eventually asked to be replaced in the Metro editor’s position, which seemed too much to handle with all the other noise going on in her life. “Metro editor was the most miserable job I ever had in my life. It had everything to do with management and nothing to do with news.” She learned that she was born to report and write, not oversee others. Hall immediately carved out her current “politics editor” role, which defies standard organizational-chart description. Meanwhile, her personal losses have continued. After losing one brother before she was born and then her mother to brain cancer in 1976, Sharkey’s father and another brother died last year. “Those losses have been finding their way into her writing,” her husband says. Earlier this year, for instance, she wrote an emotional column about her brother’s death, briefly confessing to her own spiritual shortcomings as she described the loving community that enveloped her brother with care in the final days of his life.

Despite all the tensions, Sharkey has been given considerable breathing space and wide latitude to roam at the PD. And her “feminist” accomplishments have continued. Sharkey’s most immediate project has been encouraging more management openings for women. She and an informal assortment of female editors and managers have been gathering over occasional lunches and dinners to discuss the issue. “Immediately people became threatened by it, like we were holding a civil rights rally,” she says. And women are increasingly being added to the paper’s management ranks (one female editor of 17 years, Marge Piscola, has recently been promoted to the new position of news editor, where she’s now centrally responsible for planning Page One; and nearly everyone in a position to judge thinks PD editor David Hall has a genuine commitment to addressing documented complaints about gender inequities.)

Sharkey herself sits in editorial planning meetings when her ambitious reporting schedule allows, and she still has a place on the paper’s executive council. She also has the ear of PDeditor David Hall, according to Hall himself.

“She has unique skills and insights that were especially important for me, coming into Ohio from outside the state to edit the state’s largest newspaper,” Hall says.

Fred Nance has crossed boundaries both real and symbolic Oct 12, 2008 profile of Cleveland attorney Fred Nance October 12, 2008

Fred Nance has crossed boundaries both real and symbolic

“See those boys on bicycles?”

Fred Nance, one of the region’s most powerful and influential citizens, eased his tan Escalade to a stop. He pointed at the trio of black boys pedaling furiously through an intersection near the Cleveland-Shaker Heights border.

Nance grinned and waved at the passing parade. They looked like city kids, not yet teenagers, racing home after a suburban adventure.

He didn’t know them, but he recognized them.

“There was me when I was their age,” Nance said. “That’s exactly what we used to do.”

His eyes followed as the boys disappeared into the streetscape, taking with them any chance to learn their past or witness their future.

“I used to ride my bicycle from East 135th Street and Kinsman, where we lived, to Shaker Heights,” he said. “I knew there was a different world than the one I saw every day in my neighborhood. I caught a glimpse of it, through the trees and across the lawns as I pedaled along South Park Boulevard, just like them.

“And I’d say to myself,” he continued in a low voice from a long-gone time, ” ‘Someday, I’m going to be a part of that world, too.’ “

Let the record show: Fred Nance has arrived.

Regional managing partner at Cleveland-based Squire Sanders & Dempsey, one of the globe’s whitest-shoed law firms, Nance, 55, is a confidante to mayors and the go-to guy for nearly every civic project that’s come Cleveland’s way during the past two decades. He is one of this region’s most recognized and influential citizens.

That’s the public side. In private, Nance is one half of a civic-minded couple. His wife, the former Jacqueline Jones, heads the LeBron James Family Foundation, an Akron-based group that helps children and families in Northeast Ohio. Both husband and wife are high-profile attorneys.

Fred’s working-class childhood shaped his life. Jakki, as everyone calls her, grew up in comparative affluence. As a married couple, they complement each other. She’s the playful, outgoing and social counterpart to his more serious, studied and practical personality. Both are committed to improving the region.

Venturing beyond racial borders

Nance was set on his path during the long, violent summer of 1966.

In a social experiment that preceded Cleveland’s failed school-desegregation efforts, Jesuit priests recruited 12-year-old Nance to attend St. Ignatius High School on the near West Side.

“Even though I was far and away the best student at my inner-city grade school, I wasn’t deemed to be quite up to their standards,” Nance said. “So after I applied and was accepted to St. Ignatius, I had to take remedial classes that summer to get into the school in the fall.”

This was years before busing became the long-running court case that Nance would argue against on behalf of the Cleveland School District in federal courts. No, at this moment, Nance found himself waiting at the intersection of East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue for a bus to take him across the Cuyahoga River and the city’s racial borders of east and west, black and white.

For six days during that summer, rioters burned and looted in the Hough neighborhood after racially charged clashes between a white business owner and black customers. Young Fred watched in awe as National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets rode past in military halftracks on their way to engage the rioters.

“I watched guys come out of stores and smash the windshields of cars with sledgehammers and throw bricks through store windows,” Nance recalled. “I’m just a 12-year-old kid, standing on the corner and thinking: ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ I wanted to empower myself so that this wasn’t what I or the people I loved have to resort to.”

Right then, Nance made a promise to himself.

“I figured out, standing on that corner, that the advantages in life must go to the people who understand the rules of the game and who are in a position to manipulate them,” he said. “I decided then I wasn’t going to be a powerless victim, and I figured that being a lawyer was the way to go.”

He entered St. Ignatius that fall at the bottom of his academic class. Four years later, he graduated with an A average and rejected full scholarships to Princeton and Yale for one to Harvard.

“A lot of what followed for me happened as the result of the transition from one world to another that took place at St. Ignatius,” Nance said. “It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t especially easy socially.”

After graduating from Harvard and the University of Michigan Law School, Nance returned to Cleveland in 1978, joining Squire Sanders & Dempsey as one of the few black associates at the firm. In 1987, he became a partner.

His life and career took a dramatic turn in 1991 when Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White needed a lawyer to represent him in a grand jury investigation. White wanted Charlie Clarke, then the dean of Squire Sanders trial attorneys.

White settled on Nance only after Clarke canceled appointments with the mayor and sent the young and promising black lawyer in his place. As Nance recalled, Clarke’s motive was to give him an opportunity that would promote his career. It worked to perfection.

“At first Mike wasn’t all that impressed with me,” Nance said. “But in time it clicked. He started asking me to work on different legal matters for him.”

Two years after that rocky start, White called Nance to ask him to negotiate a lease for him.

“I told him the only experience I had with that was signing a lease on an apartment when I was in law school,” Nance said, laughing at the memory. “He said just take care of this for me.”

The lease turned out to be the contract between the city and Art Modell, who wanted to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. When the legal wrangling ended, the team had moved, but the city kept the Browns’ names and colors and the promise of a new team in 1999.

That legal work thrust Nance into the big time, and he bloomed as the go-to lawyer in Cleveland.

In the early 1990s, he was working on the busing case when he met Jakki. His first marriage had ended after 10 years. Jakki, too, was divorced and working for another law firm.

Their courtship is the stuff of family lore. Thrust together on the legal project, the two lawyers huddled over one-on-one lunches. Following each meeting, she billed him for her time. She was completely unaware that Nance scheduled the get-togethers to get to know her better.

Eventually, Nance came clean.

“Jakki,” he told her, “I keep asking you to lunch because I like you. And, would you please stop sending me these bills afterwards?”

Determination born of adversityJakki had a more privileged childhood than Nance, but a more stressful and dangerous one as well.

Her father is Dr. Jefferson Jones, a nationally recognized oral surgeon, who wanted nothing but the best for his two adopted children: Jeff and Jakki. The family lived in affluent white communities where they weren’t always welcome.

Jakki Nance, 42, remembers racial attacks and social ostracism that dogged her and her family as they integrated predominantly white neighborhoods and schools.

Vandals struck their home repeatedly when they moved into Pepper Pike. Someone broke the tops off three driveway light poles. The house was egged. Eventually, the night marauders fired shots into the house.

Jakki said it scared her, but not her father, who armed himself and refused to leave.

“He had been in the Army and was determined to protect his family,” she said. “As a child, I felt protected by my father even though I hated we had to go through all that.”

Her father wanted her to become a doctor, but she pursued dance before deciding to become a lawyer.

Her years at Orange High School were filled with confrontations with white teachers who doubted her intelligence and black and white classmates who shunned her. Only after leaving Ohio in 1984 to attend Spelman College, the predominantly black women’s school in Atlanta, did she find a sense of self and acceptance.

“At Spelman I was happy,” she said during a recent interview as she picked at a green salad on the patio of a suburban East Side restaurant. “It was the first time in my life I was judged on my work instead of who I was.”

Jones, now retired, said his daughter’s childhood experiences made her determined to succeed.

“She had the attitude that nothing would stop her from what she wanted, that she would show everybody what she was made of,” he said.

She returned to Cleveland after college and entered law school at Case Western Reserve University. By the early 1980s, she was working in a family friend’s law office and seeking ways to make a mark in the city.

She and Nance were married by White in 1999.

Jakki Nance has been instrumental in turning around the disorganized LeBron James Family Foundation. Under her direction, the foundation has formed closer ties with local businesses and created profitable projects like an annual bike ride for charity.

The couple agree that their lives far exceed anything they ever imagined as youngsters.

“I’m one of the luckiest people I know,” Fred Nance said. “But I believe you make your own luck. I always wanted to be successful, but I didn’t know what success would be or look like.”

When the National Football League needed a new commissioner a year ago, Nance’s name was on the short list.

John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for greater diversity in professional football, said the organization recommended Nance for the job because of his role in bringing a new team to Cleveland after Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore.

“Fred Nance was a guy who’s a great lawyer and we felt helped us save Cleveland and save the Browns for Cleveland,” said Wooten, who played on the Browns’ 1964 championship team.

While the couple toyed with the idea and enjoyed the attention, neither Fred nor Jakki was eager to leave their comfortable lives in Cleveland.

Currently, Nance is neck deep in negotiations to secure a Medical Mart/convention center as the curative to an ailing downtown.

Why is Nance the go-to guy on so many civic projects?

Tom Stanton, chairman of Squire Sanders & Dempsey, thinks it’s something simple, elemental and rare. “People trust him,” he said.

“It’s a chemical thing,” Stanton said, over coffee and dessert at a dinner party in Nance’s home for the firm’s summer associates. “I don’t know how to explain it, except to say he has this natural sense of empathy that compels people, and I mean everyone, blacks and whites, young and old, to be comfortable around him.”

<class=”caption”>The Fred Nance File

For nearly 30 years, Fred Nance has been involved in a battery of legal matters at Squire Sanders & Dempsey that defined and shaped Greater Cleveland. Here’s a partial list of some of his highest-profile cases and negotiations:

• 1979 — Carnival kickbacks — As a first-year associate, Nance joined the trial team that successfully represented George Forbes against accusations that the then-Cleveland city council president had accepted payoffs from a local carnival operator.

• 1991 — Doan and Beehive school projects — A county grand jury investigated whether then-Mayor Michael White had, as a councilman eight years earlier, used his position as a city councilman to aid the development of real estate projects in which he was an investor. White wanted the top trial lawyer in the city to represent him. Instead, the law firm sent Nance. The grand jury never charged White, and the two men became friends. For Nance, it was the start of a relationship and an entree to a series of lucrative legal contracts with the city.

• 1995 — Cleveland Browns — Nance represented the city in a lease dispute with Browns owner Art Modell, who was in the process of moving the team to Baltimore. The Browns were forced to delay their move and to leave all team colors, names and trademarks in Cleveland.

• 1991-96 — Busing — Nance represented the Cleveland School District, on behalf of White and a group of black community leaders, seeking to release the schools from court-ordered busing. After years of legal wrangling, a federal court ruled in 1996 to allow the district to assign pupils “with its best judgment rather than complying with a court-ordered mathematical formula for racial balance.”

• 1997 — Concourse D — Nance negotiated a 30-year lease of the new concourse with Continental Airlines, a $100 million investment that ensures Cleveland Hopkins International Airport remains a Continental hub.

• 2001– Brook Park land swap — Though many other attorneys were involved in the decade-long litigation over the controversial decision to swap land and municipal boundaries between Cleveland and Brook Park, Nance claims credit for settling the matter. The deal allowed construction of an extended runway at Hopkins.

• 2003 — The throwback jerseys — Nance had no clue who LeBron James was, but agreed to help the high school basketball player at the request of a friend. James faced suspension from the state championships because he accepted two vintage basketball jerseys worth about $845 from a clothing store. Nance won in court, allowing James to lead his team to the state title in his senior year. Nance’s wife now heads James’ foundation.

• 2005-2006 — DFAS — Nance led the successful effort to retain 1,100 jobs at the Defense Finance Accounting Services Center in Cleveland.

• 2007-present — Medical Mart — Nance spearheads the ongoing talks to develop a new convention center and medical mart in downtown Cleveland.

Plain Dealer News Researcher JoEllen Corrigan contributed to this report


Comfort zone without boundariesThis is no small feat and, in large measure, is the real secret to Nance’s success. In a hyper-segregated, class-stratified city, where East rarely meets West and wary tribes mingle at arm’s length, Nance is expert at crossing boundaries.

Or, to put it another way, Nance never lost the feeling of freedom, just like the carefree boys on bicycles, that comes with racing across the sharp and bright lines dividing one part of Cleveland from another.

To that end, he added, it’s important that he and other black professionals hold themselves up as examples.

“If you don’t see people who look like you, people who started out where you started out, it is not an irrational conclusion to draw that it is impossible to try and work within the system,” Nance said. “That’s why it’s very important to show African-Americans who have done things right and are enjoying the benefits.”

Nance makes crossing boundaries appear effortless and perfectly natural. To watch him work a room — whether at an all-black social gathering, a racially mixed civic meeting or formal presentation where he’s the only African-American — is like watching a skilled athlete going through practiced repetitions.

“My forte is dealing with difficult people in stressful circumstances to come out with a positive result,” he said.

None of this is easy. Years of preparation and practice — along with setbacks and miscues — precede the performances that make fans cheer and detractors jeer.

And he does have detractors. Though few of them are willing to say so out loud or in public.

“I’m so sick of hearing about him,” said one black Cleveland attorney, who admitted to being more than a little envious of the glowing media attention that sticks like cellophane to Nance. “He’s a good lawyer, but there are so few of us out here and he’s like the only one that everybody knows and talks about. That can get to be old and a bit too much to swallow.”

Nance has heard such talk.

“People don’t say that to my face, but they say it around mutual friends, and it gets back to me,” he said, adding there are others who say even worse. “Then, there’s a group that says I’m a tool of the establishment, just like every other fat cat profiteering off the backs of the people.”

After recounting these critical comments, Nance laughed and said there might be a bit of truth to them.

“It’s obviously ironic to me, given where I started,” he said, still chuckling. “Maybe, it’s deserved because I certainly have benefited from being a part of the system. But I honestly believe I’ve had the opportunity to do the public good that I’ve always dreamed of and I have a good life, too. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Nance recently joined a dozen professional black men on a stage at Audubon School, a public elementary school not far from his old neighborhood. One by one, the men — doctors, engineers, college professors and lawyers — described their occupations to the kids, who sat in wide-eyed wonder at the idea of people who look like them doing unimaginable things.

When his turn arrived, Nance spoke without a microphone, projecting his deep voice to the back of the auditorium.

“I was raised right around the corner from here, at 135th and Kinsman, and I’m a lawyer,” Nance said. “I represent a young man you all know named LeBron James . . . “

Nance paused for dramatic effect, as the kids perked up at the name of the famous basketball star.

“I’m here today because I need one of you to come and take my place one day.”

The auditorium exploded in cheers as the kids stood to applaud. And Nance, beaming just as he had when the boys on the bicycles crossed his path, crossed yet another boundary, pressing his own childhood dreams onto the next generation.  

Michael R. White Era as Mayor aggregation

1 The Michael R White Interview (video)

2 Mayoral Administration of Michael R. White from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

3 Michael R. White From Wikipedia

4 Cleveland Reacts to Call For Unity (Philadelphia Inquirer 10/26/89)

5 Stepping Down – from Cleveland Magazine

“The private side of a public man: Michael White” 1990 Cleveland Magazine by James Neff

“State of the City” Address Delivered by Mayor Michael White at Cleveland City Club Feb. 7, 1997 (Audio)

Why Mike White Shouldn’t Be Forgiven The Scene January 10, 2002

Why Mike White Shouldn’t Be Forgiven
The Scene January 10, 2002 The link to original is here
He built a lot of stuff. He’ll be remembered as a great mayor. He’s still an S.O.B.

The resurrection started before the burial. On May 23, Mayor Michael White announced that he would not seek a fourth term. After serving 12 years — longer than any mayor in Cleveland history — it was over. He was going to spend more time with his children. He was going to be a “full-time husband.” He had done what he came to do.Who could argue with the man? Consider the school system, the crime, poverty, the unemployment that ravaged Cleveland in 1989.

Consider downtown: No Rock Hall. No Gund. No Jacobs Field.

Consider the Warehouse District: It actually had warehouses.

Cleveland wasn’t so much a city in 1989 as it was a post-industrial approximation of one, a rusted-out hulk of its mid-century self.

Then along came White, more genetic aberration than career politician, a pure shot of single-minded will, a control freak of Napoleonic proportions. Hell, it seems silly to even talk about a “White administration.” It felt like he was running the place by himself, or at least trying to. This is a man who called his staff together at 1:30 a.m. on the night he was first elected. Not to celebrate. To start working.

“The mayor gave his life during those 12 years,” says Bill Denihan, who worked for White for almost a decade. “Good, bad, or indifferent, he gave all of himself.”

And there is much for which he can be proud: the stadiums, thousands of new homes, the resurrection of the Browns, the hope of a resuscitated school system, the passage of the bond levy. “History will look upon him more than graciously,” says Tom Andrzejewski, a consultant who worked on White’s first campaign. “The facts speak for themselves. Just take a look at what he’s done.”

Yet the darkness was never far from the light. White had to take credit for every triumph, avoid blame for every misstep. Vindictive as a second-rate crime boss, cruel as the weather, he went out of his way to retaliate against his enemies, to silence his detractors, to shut out anyone who wasn’t sufficiently loyal. Even friends weren’t immune to his churlish tactics. More than a few times, allies found themselves suddenly cut off, without word or explanation, wondering what they had done to incur his ire. “There’s just a whole generation of people who need counseling because of him,” says Councilman Joe Cimperman.

During the last two years of his tenure, White’s meanness became his calling card, the cloud he could never get out from under. Airport expansion, relations with the police union, tussles with city council — everything, it seemed, was about him. He had evolved into the city’s most reliable asshole, a designation he seemed intent on keeping to the end. Just 10 days before he left office, he forced the city’s top two prosecutors to resign. Their apparent crime: speaking of the mayor in less-than-glowing terms to Jane Campbell’s transition team.

But the nasty reputation never tempered the mayor. If anything, it fueled his sense of persecution, widened his blind spots. In an interview with Scene in June 2000, White responded to critics who said he managed by intimidation and fear: “Aha! Let’s distort his personality. Let’s put in an element of intrigue about how he treats people, because then you don’t have to have the facts, and you don’t have to have the record. You can just slash and burn a person.”

No doubt Mike White’s reputation will not suffer very long. Over time, the depth of his cruelty will fade into the soft focus of history. It won’t be long before he’s described as driven, dynamic, and uncompromising, rather than petty, despotic, and spiteful.

In some ways, the resurrection has already begun, starting on that day in late May when he said he’d never run for office again. “He is leaving the same way he governed, with the courage of his convictions and individuality of a true leader,” beamed former congressman Dennis Eckart in The Plain Dealer.

With his tenure ending this week, it is now the season for Mike White retrospectives, those exhaustive, exquisitely boring stories on the complexities of man and office. Overlooked is the fact that Mike White isn’t all that complex. He was elected. He built a lot of stuff. He wasn’t very nice. But there are reasons he should never be forgotten — or forgiven.

Reason I: Unyielding Loyalty Shown to Longtime Employees

Mike White has given much to the people of Cleveland, but perhaps his most important contribution came in the field of human resources. For 12 years, White ruled City Hall with such tyranny that he could write his own self-help manual: The 7 Habits of Highly Malevolent People.

“Those that leave city government ought to be his strongest supporters . . . jumping up and down, saying, ‘You know, I worked for White, and I know what he can do,” says Denihan, who served nine years as safety director. “Just the opposite is happening. He’s got a couple of hundred people out there who had executive positions saying, ‘I know what Mike White is like, and believe me, you don’t want to see that kind of management occur in this city again.'”

Denihan recalls the feeling of dread that would fall on members of White’s cabinet each Wednesday, when they would gather for their weekly meeting. “Folks would be thinking, well, whose turn in the barrel is it this time?” Directors would be singled out and torn apart for any reason. In May 2000, Joseph Nolan, the mayor’s former personnel director, told The Plain Dealer he decided to resign after watching White belittle and then fire the two highest-ranking employees in the Health Department in front of their stunned co-workers.

But leaving White’s employ didn’t necessarily mean people were free. Denihan and Nolan discovered that in the spring of 2000, when White’s HR acumen was at its zenith. Controversy had erupted over the police entrance exam. Eighteen months earlier, more than 2,000 people took the test in the hopes of eventually joining the Cleveland police. By March of 2000, however, the city was still unable to hire a single candidate, because Coleman & Associates, the company hired to grade the tests, had muffed the job so thoroughly.

Coleman was the most expensive, least experienced company to bid on the job, and council wanted answers as to why it had been selected. When council announced an investigation and complained that the mayor’s office was stonewalling, White held a press conference. Yet rather than take responsibility, the mayor promptly turned into a version of Hogan’s Heroes‘ Sgt. Schulz. He knew nothing, nothing about how Coleman was chosen for the grading.

Instead, he pointed the finger elsewhere: at Nolan, Denihan, and former Civil Service Commission Secretary Cynthia Sullivan, none of whom worked for him anymore. “People I believed in, people I trusted, made errors,” said White. “Ask them the questions.”

White’s attempt to evade responsibility was as revealing as it was depressing. Nolan and Denihan had been two of the mayor’s most loyal and competent employees. Each thought he had parted company with White on decent terms. And neither had a significant role in the fiasco.

Yet White wasn’t satisfied with simply impugning reputations. After Denihan fired back, speaking openly about the way White treated staffers, White offered a simple explanation: Denihan was a liar. “It’s unfortunate that someone of Mr. Denihan’s caliber now has to stoop to out-and-out lying to get his name in the newspaper,” he told Scene.

To critics, White’s treatment of Denihan was only the most glaring example of his vindictiveness. “That’s his demeanor,” says Councilwoman Fannie Lewis. “That man destroyed a lot of people around him. He don’t take no prisoners.”

Reason II: Extraordinary Efforts to Help the Homeless

In politics, even more so than in life, one is defined by one’s enemies, a maxim that’s never been more applicable than in the case of the mayor. In November 1999, Mike White met the enemy. And the enemy was homeless.

In an effort to protect citizens as they shopped the mean streets of Tower City or roamed the wilds of the Flats, White ordered stepped-up police patrols during the holiday season. The target: shoplifters, muggers, and “other criminals,” whose nefarious deeds seemed to consist of sleeping on the sidewalk.

“Basically,” says Brian Davis, executive director for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, “he wanted to criminalize homelessness.”

Cops were ordered to tell homeless people to move. If they refused, they could be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Since it was the season of giving and sharing, police were kind enough to hand out information cards telling the homeless where they could find shelter. The information turned out to be highly useful for those lucky enough to snag one of the city’s few emergency shelter beds — less so for the thousands of others for whom no beds were available.

The policy was a far cry from White’s campaign posture in 1989, when he promised he would “not settle for Cleveland having one person on its streets without a place to stay.” But it was hardly the first time his policies toward the poor were more punitive than progressive. In 1994, the ACLU sued the city in federal court on behalf of four homeless men who said police picked them up around Public Square and dumped them miles away. (The city denied this was official policy, but eventually settled the case.) That same year, police charged a man for distributing The Homeless Grapevine because he did not have a $50 peddler’s license. The city soon stopped enforcing the policy, and a federal judge eventually ruled that requiring a fee was an unconstitutional restraint on speech.

To no one’s surprise, the controversy over the police sweeps was also settled in court. Just before Christmas, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Matia issued a restraining order barring police from ordering homeless people to move. The following February, the city and the ACLU reached a settlement. The cops wouldn’t remove people unless they were actually disturbing the peace.

By that time, however, city attorneys were in full revision mode, denying there ever was a policy to remove the homeless from sidewalks — though three months before, the mayor said one of his goals was “curtailing the practice of sleeping on sidewalks.”

Reason III: Wise Use of Lakefront Property

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if city leaders notice, but Cleveland is on a lake. A pretty big one. Residents seem to enjoy this. They like to look at the lake, walk along its shores, watch the sun set over its horizon. And, crazy as it may seem, some people even use the damn thing — for fishing, boating, swimming, dumping old tires.

The concept that citizens might actually want access to the region’s most valuable natural resource wasn’t a priority during White’s tenure. During the last 10 years, the city has plopped down the Rock Hall, the Great Lakes Science Center, and Browns Stadium along North Coast Harbor “like so many pieces of unrelated urban furniture,” in Plain Dealer architecture critic Steven Litt’s memorable phrase.

Granted, White didn’t have a lot of help in this department. For decades the lakefront has been seen as a tool to harness industrial muscle and not much else. In Chicago, 85 percent of the lakefront is publicly accessible; in Toronto, it’s 75 percent. Cleveland, by comparison, has just 40 percent open to the public, much of which is at Edgewater Park. Only recently have city leaders awakened to the idea that our most valuable land might have better uses.

Still, if there is one unpardonable sin in recent lakefront development, it’s Browns Stadium. In 1996, when the NFL promised White that Cleveland would get a new franchise, White promised the NFL a new stadium.

From the beginning, White preferred the site of the old stadium, saying that it had served football fans well for 64 years. The NFL, of course, got what it wanted: a steel-and-glass marvel mostly paid for with public money (originally slated at $247 million, the current price tag is well over $300 million), and Cleveland got stuck with a beautiful stadium on some of the city’s most valuable property. It’s used fewer than 15 days a year.

“He was the great planner, and we all know every planning decision was his decision,” says Councilman Mike Polensek. “And we’re going to pay the price for it. We’re going to pay a price, severely. I look down upon a stadium that’s only used for eight games a year from my office — on a piece of land that should have never been used for a stadium.”

Reason IV: The Ghengis Khan Theory of Public Relations

It has long since been forgotten, but there was a time when Mike White didn’t think The Plain Dealer was run by beady-eyed jackasses bent on his destruction. He just thought it was run by beady-eyed jackasses.

During his first term, coverage was largely positive. The PD‘s editorial page cheered his every move. “He got a free ride,” says Polensek.

The tide began to turn in the mid-’90s, after White won his second term. The PD wrote stories about city contracts awarded to mayoral cronies. It looked at his role in Art Modell’s decision to leave town. It scrutinized stadium costs.

Then, in May of 1999, new editor Doug Clifton arrived from The Miami Herald. A gruff former Marine, Clifton clashed almost immediately with White over access to public records. The mayor took Clifton’s insolence as a sign: The paper was out to get him. He began publicly denouncing its stories. He refused to talk to PD reporters. He had his press office tip off other media to the paper’s records requests.

The PD hammered White over the city’s troubled Finance Department, over his autocratic management style. But it didn’t always conduct itself as a beacon of dignity. Early last year, it reported that the diminutive White was having foot surgery for a condition called “hammertoes.” Reporter Christopher Quinn couldn’t help but remind readers — twice in one story — that the malady usually affects middle-aged women after a life of wearing high heels.

It mattered little by that point anyway. White had already decided to “phase out” The Plain Dealer, going so far as to throw a PD reporter out of his May 23 press conference announcing that he wouldn’t run again.

Politicians bitching about newspapers is nothing new, of course, and White has skin thin enough to be offered at communion. Even so, his decision to cut off The Plain Dealer should go down as one of the more lead-headed moves in mayoral history. “He’s a public official, and the emphasis is on public, not on official,” says Andrzejewski, who worked as a PD reporter before hooking up with White in 1989. “I think he always has not had a good understanding of that, or a good understanding of the responsibilities that go along with that.”

Whether White likes it or not, The Plain Dealer is the chief conduit to the public’s understanding of what’s happening in town. In many ways, it decides what is and isn’t news. The television stations follow its lead, and public policy often treads in its wake. While it may have scored him easy points with those who distrust or resent the paper, for White to stop talking meant he essentially stopped talking to his constituents.

“I don’t think it was ever possible for him to think of our coverage as fair,” Clifton told Scene last year. “What he perceives as fair is totally without a critical component. That’s not fair to me; that’s not fair to our readers.”

Maybe that’s what White wanted all along — to be mayor in a lab, to run a city without critics, without dissent, without citizens. Judging by the latest census numbers, it seemed to be working.

Reason V: Willingness to Share Credit

Sometimes, it takes drama for a leader’s innate qualities to emerge. When the St. Michael Hospital crisis called, White’s ability to alienate everyone around him came shining through.

In February 2000, Cleveland Clinic announced its intent to purchase the Mt. Sinai Integrated Medical Campus in Beachwood from the bankrupt Primary Health Systems for more than $60 million. As part of the deal, the Clinic also planned to purchase Mt. Sinai Medical Center-East in Richmond Heights and St. Michael Hospital in Slavic Village, and shut them down.

The plan effectively locked out other buyers who might have kept the two facilities open and drew howls from patients, activists, and city council members. “We’re talking about people’s lives and their neighborhoods and primary health care for the working poor and moderate-income people,” Polensek railed at the time.

It’s the kind of fight tailor-made for politicians: a faceless corporate behemoth vs. residents desperate to maintain community hospitals — the kind of thing Dennis Kucinich drools over in his sleep.

Yet when the deal was announced, White said he could do nothing to stop it and that the city shouldn’t be in the hospital business. At the same time, he was privately negotiating with the Clinic to keep some limited services at St. Michael.

White’s subsequent agreement was assailed for not going far enough to save the facilities, and it was eventually thrown out in bankruptcy court. The only thing it did was confuse critics and fans alike, who found it hard to understand how a master pol could be so clumsy. Whatever his intent, White was pushed into a corner by Kucinich & Co., who made it look as if he was siding with the Clinic over the neighborhood. Says Lewis: “Look how far he went out for the Browns. Why couldn’t he have done that for Mt. Sinai and St. Michael Hospital?”

In retrospect, the whole thing seems a bit silly. White and his critics wanted the same thing — to keep the hospitals open. But White’s inability to share credit, his unparalleled skill at alienating all those who could help, doomed him. He was a victim of his own personality — a situation captured with stunning clarity at a council meeting during the battle.

“The chambers are filled,” recalls Cimperman. “Council members are making speeches. It was intense. Congressman Kucinich was back, making a speech for one of the first times since he was mayor. Mayor White can’t stand down from a fight. He’s got to be there, even if he’s not saying anything. He walks over to the lawyer who was representing us, who was sitting inside the well, taps him on the shoulder, and says, ‘Get out of here. You can’t sit inside the well,’ and goes back to his seat . . . To me, that just captures the lost potential. You’re in the middle of a situation that you can be a hero on, and your personality won’t let you do that. Instead, you tell our attorney to get the heck out of there. What, are you absurd? It’s ridiculous.”

Reason VI: Saving the World From Cleveland Cops

The low point for White’s administration may have come in July 1999, when the mayor held a press conference to address what he called the most serious crisis he faced since taking office: allegations of white-supremacist groups operating inside the Cleveland Police Department. The proof was as vague as the charge was incendiary: racist graffiti in district stations, white officers wearing star-shaped pins, others sporting Elvis tattoos.

The Warren Report, it wasn’t.

At the time, White was being ravaged by the police union and black leaders for accommodating the Ku Klux Klan’s wish to hold a rally here. The investigation into police racism was seen by cynics as a ploy to shore up support in the black community.

Though the inquiry was completed within weeks, it was eight months before White released the results. In a 92-page account, the Internal Affairs Division found nothing more than hearsay and gossip. Though the report was sandwiched within a stack of arrest statistics, complaint reports, and other data that implied bias on the part of individual officers, the conclusion was clear: There were no organized hate groups inside the CPD.

Such news would normally be embraced. Instead, White called a press conference to bash reporters for suggesting he was the source of the initial racism charges. When asked in retrospect if he’d have done anything differently, he responded in triplicate: “Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Absolutely not.”

Normally, such tactics could be chalked up to rank opportunism — hardly an uncommon sin in city politics — and easily forgotten, except for one reason: Gerald Goode. In mid-July 1999, Goode, a no-nonsense, by-the-book sergeant in the Fourth District, asked fellow black supervisors about a pin he’d seen on a white officer. Thinking it might signify an anti-government group, Goode asked if anyone else had seen one like it.

Yet his simple curiosity was soon blown beyond recognition. Days later, when White held his bizarre press conference, he cited, among other things, racist pins as evidence of organized hate groups operating within the CPD.

Though the IA report yielded nothing, White made no effort to atone for the damage he had unleashed eight months earlier. “It’s the one piece of unfinished business,” says Bob Beck, president of the Patrolmen’s Association. “Never once, even after he was proved wrong, did he apologize.”

By that point, it was too late for Gerald Goode. At the end of October, he killed himself.

Stepping Down – from Cleveland Magazine

Article about the Mayor Mike White era from Cleveland Magazine December 10, 2007

This link is here

Stepping Down

Nearly 12 ears ago, Mike White rose to power in an upset victory as his supporters chanted, “Long live the king! Long live Mike!” White stunned Cleveland once again this May 23 by announcing he would not seek a fourth term as mayor. The day


The mayor wakes at 5 a.m., without an alarm clock, on the day he will announce the end of his reign in Cleveland.Instantly alert, he turns to wake his wife JoAnn. They have planned the day, practically down to the minute, and Mike White wants them to start it together. He’s surprised at how calm he feels. Neither nervous nor emotional, just prepared. Battling a bit of a cold, he showers, dresses and has a cup of coffee.

Today’s the day, he thinks. Let’s do this. At 5:30 a.m.. White calls his press secretary, Brian Rothenberg, telling him to be at White’s East Boulevard home at 7 a.m. Other key staff members are told to arrive at the same time. None of them know what to expect. Whenever Rothenberg has pressed White about running again, the mayor has flashed his wide smile, but said nothing.

By necessity, the mayor’s family knows more. So that they could make plans to attend the announcement. White and his wife began calling relatives two days earlier. Other than family, only three people know of White’s decision: his “guardian angel,” Sam Miller of Forest City Enterprises; his “other sister,” Carole Hoover, former president of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association; and his chief of staff, Judith Zimomra.

Nobody else expects the day that will follow.

After 12 years as mayor, five as a state senator and eight as a Cleveland city councilman, White plans to announce that he will never again seek elected office. The man who began his career campaigning for Carl Stokes as the age of 13 — passing out literature and cleaning bathrooms in campaign headquarters — has spent three terms in the same office Stokes occupied as Cleveland’s first black mayor. Despite his power and self-professed love of the job, White claims he’s ready to leave.

Brilliant. Tyrannical. Compassionate. Vindictive. Nurturing. Aloof. Each of these adjectives has been used to describe White. In reality, he is a cocktail of them all-— a blend of both good and bad that is reflected in his emerging legacy. He’s considered by many to be the energy that fueled Cleveland’s decade of progress. More recently, he’s helped pass a levy to repair the city’s public schools and has battled to jump-start the expansion of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. But he’s also been accused of failing to deliver to the city a new convention center, bungling plans for the lakefront and frustrating business and community leaders with a leadership style that leaves no room for second opinions.

in his past and said little about his future. Most of all, he surprised just about everyone, shaking Cleveland’s political landscape in nine words: “I will not seek re-election to a fourth term.”


The telephone rings just as Cleveland schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett steps out of the shower. It’s the mayor, saying he needs to speak with her.

“Well, when?” she asks.

“I’m at your front door.”

Byrd-Bennett looks out the upstairs window and sees the mayor on her front steps, holding her newspaper. Her hair uncombed and wearing no makeup, the CEO of Cleveland schools comes downstairs to let him in. He’s wearing a double-breasted suit and white shirt. She has on a robe and slippers.

The two sit down at the kitchen table, a vase of yellow roses between them. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately,” the mayor tells her. “You know how I feel about you personally and professionally. You know the respect I have for your work. But I’ve come to a decision. I’ve decided I will not seek a fourth term.”

Byrd-Bennett looks out the window into the sunny morning, then turns to the mayor.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he assures her. “And I wanted you to know and I wanted you to know why. Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” she answers.

“You know that we’ll continue to talk and I’m not going to leave you hanging.”

“I know that.”

The two sit for a moment longer before White stands up. She gives him a hug and he leaves the house.

White’s children do not attend Cleveland Public Schools, which, though improving since White took control of the school board in 1998, still rank 545th out of the 549 school districts in Ohio (Dayton is the only big city that fared worse), according to 1999-2000 performance standards released by the Ohio Department of Education. The hope is to gain momentum, especially with the infusion of $380 million from the bond issue that s passed May 8 and with the continued leadership of Byrd-Bennett.

But nothing is a given. Byrd-Bennett’s contract expires in 2002, with an option to extend it to 2004. Whether she renews in 2002 will be depend, to some extent, on who the next mayor of Cleveland is. “It’s such a partnership ” she explains, “such a strong relationship that you have to have.” There is much at stake. According to the agreement that gave Cleveland’s mayor power to appoint the school board, voters will have an opportunity in 2002 to either axe the arrangement or approve it indefinitely. Byrd-Bennett, who strongly supports appointed, not elected, school boards, says White’s successor will play a big part in the 2002 vote.

“Whoever is the next mayor will have to clearly make some decisions about whether they support this system of governance,” she says.

White’s faith in Byrd-Bennett has always been absolute. Later that day, he tells a room packed full of people at his announcement: “If this is not Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s last job, something is wrong with us.” From the driveway of Byrd-Bennett’s house, White calls his two youngest children from an earlier marriage at home — 8-year-old Joshua and 11-year-old Brieanna. His fourth wife, JoAnn, has two children from a previous marriage — 22-year-old Katy and 24-year-old Christopher — whom White considers his own. The older children were told about the announcement the night before, but White decided to wait till the morning to tell the little ones.

The news, he says later, “Didn’t really sink in.”

“When you’re 8 and 11, you don’t quite really know what it means when your father’s the mayor. For all their life, I’ve been the mayor.”

Back home shortly after 7 a.m., White joins his staff and continues to execute his plan. With a list of 45 names and phone numbers in front of him — all people he wants to tell himself before his 10 a.m. announcement — he starts dialing.

Using his home phone and two cell phones, he works the lines with help from his staff, ending one conversation and immediately beginning the next. He calls former staffers who have remained on good terms, the few council members he still counts as allies, old friends and the loyal few who helped him win in •89.

One of his friends is on his tractor when White calls. Another hears wrong and begins to congratulate him. Others scream into the phone, begging him to reconsider. On the way to make his announcement at Glenville’s Miles Stan-dish Elementary School — his former grade school — he’s still making calls,

“I had used a fairly laborious, time-consuming and complex process of getting to my decision,” White explains in an interview held three weeks later at Voinovich Park. “I’m the kind of person … when I get to my decision, I’m very relaxed and calm about the decision.”

After graduating from The Ohio State University, White got a job working as a housing aid for then-Columbus mayor Tom Moody. He used the experience as a learning tool, not a steppingstone to a better job in a city that wasn’t his own. “Some people are willing to succeed anywhere,” says Jerry Gafford, then chief of staff for Moody. “Mike wanted his achievements to be in Cleveland.

“He always kept telling me that sooner or later he was going to have to go home to Cleveland. It was very much on his mind,” remembers Gafford, who tried to convince the young man to stay in Columbus. “He came in one day and said, •I’m leaving now. Don’t try to stop me. I’ve got to go, Jerry. I’ve got to go home.’ ”

White returned to Cleveland in 1976, serving first as an assistant to then-council president George Forbes, then winning a council seat himself. In 1988, he decided to chase what he calls “the only job I ever wanted.”

The mayoral campaign started out promisingly — White’s East Boulevard home was packed full of supporters during strategy sessions — but when then-mayor George Voinovich announced he would not run for re-election, a slate of strong contenders joined the race, including Forbes.

“All of a sudden, Mike’s support disappeared,” remembers state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, White’s campaign manager at the time. “It went from people being jammed in his basement to four or five of us.” By the time he made his official announcement, his supporters were so few that one of White’s staffers recruited her father and some of her friends to create the illusion of an audience.

But White has always been deft at dodging the odds. As an underdog for student-body president at Ohio State University, his campaigning cut short by a serious case of the chicken pox, he nonetheless won the election — with the slogan “Give a shit.” (He followed his own advice, becoming so enraged at one meeting that he allegedly threw a gavel across the room.)

That same doggedness propelled White above the pack in 1989. He went door to door, hosted teas and got up early to ride buses all morning with commuters — whatever it took. If he had a free minute, he’d find a grocery store and campaign there. “His one-on-one connection with people is just excellent,” Fingerhut says. “It was one of the great grass-root campaigns. You just knew he was going to be the next mayor.”

It’s almost 10 a.m. and a room full of people wait in the auditorium of Miles Standish. White’s father and wife are in the first row and the audience is packed with directors, cabinet members and staffers. A few Cleveland powerhouses — Greater Cleveland Growth Association CEO Dennis Eckart, Byrd-Bennett and former Rep. Louis Stokes — dot the audience, but elected officials are scarce; councilman Zachary Reed suspects he is the only office-holding politician in attendance.

Outside the school, Plain Dealer politics reporter Mark Naymik tries to enter, but the door is locked. He bangs on the door; no one answers. Finally, he makes his way inside through an unlocked classroom, taking a place among members of White’s administration sitting in the seventh row. But White’s scorn for the PD infects even this occasion.

“You can’t be here,” one of White’s people tells Naymik. “This is a private affair.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Naymik responds. “Do what you have to do.”

Naymik eventually agrees to go outside to talk and is never let back in, despite the fact that it’s a public building and every other media outlet has been invited by the mayor’s office. (Naymik found out about the meeting from metro editor Mark Russell, who heard the news on the radio while driving to work.)

Naymik is outside the building when White takes the podium, following an introduction by Louis Stokes. White tells the audience he is “a child of Cleveland” and thanks a long list of people for their support over the years.

“I want you to know I love you all,” White tells the group. “I thank you for hat you have given me. I have given you Far less than you have given me. If I live to be 150 years old, I could never repay you t for what you have given me. You have given me an opportunity to serve. You have given me an understanding of life. You have given me a belief in humankind beyond what any of you could realize.”

White is scheduled to be at a Convention & Visitors Bureau lunch honoring him for his tourism efforts. Instead, he spends his lunch hour and early afternoon in the library behind the auditorium at Miles Standish, meeting first with family, then staff members.

A half-hour later, somewhere downtown, a separate meeting begins. (Dennis Eckart, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, explains later that the group included a “very interesting collection of business and community leaders,” but he won’t say who and declines to say where.) The group had planned to discuss an economic-development initiative, but the agenda changed — without a single word or phone call exchanged — as soon as White made his announcement.

No one is late today; the gossip’s too good, the opportunity to speculate too tempting. “Were you there?” people ask each other. “What did you hear? Who’s running?”

For the past several months, Cleveland’s unofficial pundits — a loose alliance of business and community leaders — have been lamenting the breakdown of the public-private partnership in Cleveland. Chances are good that some of them are the same people in this room. The same people who were desperately searching for another candidate when it was assumed White would run again.

The same people White says he doesn’t much care to have as allies.

“My world may not be the Union Club and it may not be a golf course,” White explains later. “I may not be kissing every businessman’s ass who thinks I ought to kiss his ass. •Cause that’s not of my ilk. That’s not what I aspire to.”

Though White sometimes talks like a political lone ranger, Eckart says he’s found the mayor to be cooperative and accommodating. “I have asked, on behalf of the business community, a variety of things to move [airport negotiations] forward — a dozen difficult things for the city to do,” says Eckart, who describes his duty as being an “honest broker” between politicians and business leaders. “There is not one instance that the mayor said no.”

In fact, Eckart says he hasn’t seen White do anything to jeopardize the spirit of cooperation that led to Cleveland’s comeback. “I have no objective evidence at all of that in my personal relationship with the mayor,” he states.

But that doesn’t mean Eckart hasn’t heard the complaints. “I have talked to any number of other business folks who, 11 seconds into the conversation, would say, •Let me tell you about 1993,’ and recount some story about the mayor.” He even arranged to meet with one man, who had publicly complained about the mayor, to see if he could understand his perspective.

“I said, •When the mayor turned you down, what did you do?’ ” Eckart remembers.

“What was there for me to do?” the man shot back.

Plenty, is the answer Eckart most I commonly gives. Lobby City Council. Air your complaints to The Plain Dealer’s editorial board. Call the Growth Association. “The reality is that one entity — even if it is a very powerful entity — told you no and you quit. What does that tell me about your idea or about yourself?”

County commissioner Tim McCormack offers a more piercing assessment of what’s happened in Cleveland during the last few years. “People just left,” he says. “They just decided that it was not worth the aggravation.”

White seems untroubled by accusations that he has alienated people. “In my business, when things are going well, everybody is your friend,” he says. “But when things don’t go well, it’s an empty ballroom for one.”

He will not, however, divulge any names of those he feels have betrayed him. “I wouldn’t answer that question if you put a gun in my mouth,” he says.


At 4 p.m., editors from The Plain Dealer meet to discuss what will fill the front page of the next day’s paper — an easy task today, though the specifics must be hammered out.

“The field of candidates grows, I’m not kidding, by the minute,” city editor Jean Dubail tells the group.

In the hours following White’s announcement, a half-dozen potential candidates express interest in taking his place, including former Cuyahoga County child welfare director William Denihan; county commissioner Jane Campbell; councilmen Joe Cimperman, Bill Patmon and Mike O’Malley; and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who will ultimately decide in early July not to run.

In order to show “maximum strength,” county commissioner Tim McCormack goes a step further. Just hours after the announcement, he stops by the board of elections to file petitions, followed by a visit to Plain Dealer editor Douglas Clifton. “McCormack clawed his way into Doug’s office to get a heads-up,” Dubail reports.

When another editor asks what White’s post-office plans are, Dubail replies: “He’s going to open a PR firm and be our adviser on public records.”

The joke provokes a few laughs, but White’s battle with the PD is a serious one, pitting First Amendment rights against allegations of libelous coverage. The paper has sued White over delayed — or nonexistent — access to public records. White claims the paper has intentionally tried to defame him.

The epic feud was played out in a single act earlier today: Incited by what he saw as a calculated attempt to annihilate his influence, the mayor of Cleveland banned a reporter from the city’s only daily paper from attending an announcement — held in a public building will change the course of the city.

The mayor does not dispute these facts. When asked if he believes it was a violation of Ohio’s open-meeting laws to kick Naymik out, he replies: “It doesn’t matter.”

He then launches into Mike White logic, which says that once you’ve been wronged, you have just cause to bend the rules. ” The Plain Dealer has willfully, purposely and premeditatedly tried to destroy the most important thing to me, which is my name and my integrity,” White says, gaining momentum. “They’ve done it with forethought and they’ve done it without an absence of malice. On the day I was announcing my retirement, they were not going to be in the room. I don’t apologize for it. I don’t believe I made an error. And if I had to do it again at this very moment, I’d throw him out again.”

Clifton, the PD’s editor, says his paper never targeted White. “My approach to editing a newspaper is that you give strong, assertive coverage of bodies of government,” he explains. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Though White’s office reportedly asked for extra copies of the May 24 newspaper. White will not say whether he was pleased or displeased with the article that ran. “They covered me,” he says stoically.

But was it fair coverage? “They covered me,” he repeats. White’s contempt for the paper is so intense that, later in the interview, he casually refers to Clifton as “Bushman.” Asked to clarify, he responds that anyone who hides in the bushes spying on people deserves such a name, topping his accusation off with, “And that’s for the record.”

Clifton explains that the reference stems from his days covering one time presidential hopeful Gary Hart. For the record, he adds, “There were no bushes,” and he has no nickname for the mayor.

White says he never had a problem with any other newspaper, but cannot provide an explanation as to why he’s having such a hard time with The Plain Dealer.

“This is a special case,” White says slowly, relishing the word “special” in a way that definitely suggests there’s some element of this combat he enjoys.


White sits in his office, turning his attention to the more mundane duties of the day. It’s past 5 p.m., but there are papers to sign, phone calls to return and legislative agreements to hammer out — seven months of work left to do.

The rest of City Hall is quiet. A few people stand talking just inside the main entrance, but the halls are largely deserted. Councilman Zachary Reed is the exception, moving silently through the building as he walks to his car to retrieve a briefcase.

It was seven hours ago that White announced his retirement, but the junior councilman is still dazed. “For me, not only is he a mentor of mine,” Reed says, then pauses as if struggling to regain his train of thought. “I’m still in shock … that’s why I can’t seem to get my words together. He’s not only a mentor of mine, but a friend.”

Reed was one of only four council members out of 21 whom White thanked during his speech earlier in the day. Council used to be much cozier with the mayor when Jay Westbrook was its leader, but a 1999 coup catapulted Mike Polensek to the position of council president. With the change in leadership, White’s control began to crumble, as did his relationship with Polensek.

Elected to council in the same year, 1977, Polensek and White once enjoyed the camaraderie that sprang from that connection. In fact, when White first ran for mayor in 1989, not only did Polensek work the polls, he also recruited his mother to help.

Two decades of politics devoured that friendship. In his retirement speech, White specifically thanked a total of 26 people — plus God — and acknowledged nearly a dozen others. Polensek was not mentioned. All of which makes the council president wonder if he made a mistake by campaigning for White so many years ago. “There have been times I asked myself, •Did I do the right thing?’ ” Polensek says.

He notes that the relationship has become “more cordial” since White announced he’ll be stepping down. “We’ve talked more in personal terms about our families,” Polensek says. “I have a little bit more insight into his perspective, which we had not talked about in the past.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he adds. “You never really get to know [politicians] on a personal level. You always try to wear a hardened shell. You build up this reflective shield. You try to come across like you’re indestructible.”

But that doesn’t mean one can shed their armor completely before the battle is over. After talking about how he wishes White well and how “we are all God’s creatures,” Polensek sounds a subtle warning.

“My message has been: We have an opportunity to really focus in on the neighborhood projects, the reinvestment projects in our neighborhoods,” Polensek explains. “As I said to him in the mayor’s office as late as last week, this has got to be the priority. The next six months will tell the real story on Mike White.”

And if White doesn’t cooperate? “There could be some…” Polensek pauses, searching for the right words, “…differences of opinion.”


In his life after politics, White, who turns 50 this month, may be a consultant, a gentleman farmer, a professor or an author. He may raise llamas, help children or do nothing. He may live in Glenville or in Newcomers-town, where he and JoAnn have built a second home. He may travel to places his wife has recently visited, such as Israel and Thailand, or he may stay in Ohio.

All of the above have been speculated, but they are nothing more than guesses. The mayor’s not saying.

When asked what he plans to do next, he cuts the question short: “Haven’t the foggiest idea.”

What are the possibilities?

“There’s a period behind that,” he says, referring to his previous answer.

How does he think he’ll adapt to a slower pace?

“There’s a period behind that,” he snips. “I said, •Haven’t the foggiest idea and there’s a period behind that.’ ”

Will he still make Cleveland his primary residence?

“There’s a period behind that.”

A safe question: gardening. Does he see himself spending more time growing tomatoes? “There’s a period behind that.”

He will say not one word about his future. His voice rolls with passion, however, when talking about his past, especially about how he never sold the city or its residents out and how he feels he can leave office with a clear conscience.

“It’s not about just running till you die,” he explains. “The only thing I wanted to do was serve as mayor, and I’ve done that. And I’ve tried to do it as best I know how. I’ve tried to be as honest as I know how and I’ve always told the truth about it. Even when people didn’t want to hear the truth.

“This isn’t the real world,” he says, glancing at the Rock Hall and Browns Stadium from his perch in Voinovich Park. “The real world was at Luke Easter [Park] yesterday when I cut that ribbon and those little kids could get in a brand-new pool and they had a wading pool just like the suburbanites. The real world is being able to cut a ribbon at a new housing development. The real world is when kids are able to go to school and the glass isn’t falling and the heat isn’t off and a child in the 11th grade doesn’t have to put a coat on to take a test. That’s my world.”

On the night of May 23, White returns to his world at about 8 p.m. to spend a night like any other. On the way there, he passes his old elementary school; his father lives just a half mile away. By 11 p.m., the day has worn on him; his voice is hoarse and his objective accomplished.

The mayor closes his eyes and quickly falls asleep, ending his last day as a man with a political future. Or so he says.

Whether there’s a period behind that remains to be seen.


Cleveland Politician Interview Series

Cleveland Politician Interview Series

Click on each to view

George Forbes Interview

James Rokakis Interview

Louis Stokes Interview

George Voinoch Interview

Michael R White Interview

The Michael R White Interview (video)

mike-white-1989   white-celebrates-gateway  white_michael_1978

Part One Link is Here

Part Two Link is Here

Part Three Link is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Michael R. White was Mayor of Cleveland from 1990-2002. He was interviewed for Teaching Cleveland Digital on July 24, 2013. Cameras by Jerry Mann and Meagan Lawton, Edited by Jerry Mann, Interviewed by Michael Baron. © 2013 Jerry Mann and Teaching Cleveland Digital.

From Wikipedia:

White, who grew up in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, began his political career early on during his college years at Ohio State University, when he protested against the discriminatory policies of the Columbus public bus system and was subsequently arrested. White then ran the following year for Student Union President and won, becoming the college’s first black student body leader. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973 and a Master of Public Administration degree in 1974.

After college, White returned to Cleveland. He served on Cleveland City Council as an administrative assistant from 1976 to 1977 and later served as city councilman from the Glenville area from 1978 to 1984. During his time in city council, White became a prominent protégé of councilman George L. Forbes. White then represented the area’s 21st District in the Ohio Senate, serving as a Democratic assistant minority whip.

In 1989, White entered the heavily-contested race for mayor of Cleveland, along with several other notable candidates including Forbes, Ralph J. Perk Jr. (the son of former Cleveland mayor, Ralph J. Perk), Benny Bonanno (Clerk of the Cleveland Municipal Court), and Tim Hagan (Cuyahoga County commissioner). Out of all the candidates Forbes and White made it to the general election. It was the first time two Black candidates would emerge as the number one and two contenders in a primary election in Cleveland history.

In Cleveland, incumbent Mike White won re-election against council president George Forbes, who ran as the candidate of black power and the public sector unions. Angering the unions by eliminating some of the city’s exotic work rules, White presented himself as pro-business, pro-police and an effective manager above all, arguing that “jobs were the cure for the ‘addiction to the mailbox,'” referring to welfare checks. [1]

White ended up winning the race receiving 81 percent of the vote in predominantly white wards and 30 percent in the predominantly black wards.

© 2013 Jerry Mann and Teaching Cleveland Digital.


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