Michael R. White

Michael R. White
55th Mayor of Cleveland
In office
1990  January 1, 2002
Preceded by George V. Voinovich
Succeeded by Jane L. Campbell
Member of the Ohio Senate
from the 21st district
In office
May 17, 1984-December 31, 1989
Preceded by Morris Jackson
Succeeded by Jeff Johnson
Personal details
Born (1951-08-13) August 13, 1951
Cleveland, Ohio
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Ohio State University

Michael White (born August 13, 1951) is an American politician of the Democratic party and was the 55th and longest-serving mayor of Cleveland, Ohio encompassing three four-year terms, from 1990 to 2002. He was Cleveland's second African American mayor as well as the city's second youngest mayor.

Early career

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 from 1976 to 1977 as an administrative assistant to the Cleveland City Council and then served as city councilman from the Glenville area from 1978 to 1984. During his time on the 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. He was subsequently re-elected mayor in 1993 and again in 1997.

White is credited with continuing the work of his predecessor George Voinovich in revitalizing the city. Some of his accomplishments include passing legislation making banks dispel lending policies that were restrictive to minorities, providing leadership for retaining a Cleveland Browns team in the NFL (after then-Browns team owner Art Modell moved to Baltimore with all former Browns players and personnel to form the Baltimore Ravens) as well as building a new stadium for the Cleveland Browns, and construction of the Gateway stadium development. He also declared October 30, 1994 "Bone Thugs~N~Harmony Day" in the city of Cleveland to honor the hometown rappers.[2]

White is also credited in saving Continental Airlines Cleveland Hub. In 1999, Clevelanders and Northeast Ohioans celebrated direct access to London, England with a non-stop air service from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport CLE to London's Gatwick LGW. This flight is popular with Cleveland's business community and helps Clevelanders bypass the traditional Cleveland-NYC-London connections. Continental Airlines in 1997 opened a new Gate D at Hopkins Airport.

Under Mayor White's tenure, Cleveland became a tourist spot with the openings of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1995) and the Great Lakes Science Center (1996).

White announced at an informal appearance at Miles Standish Elementary School on April 23, 2001 that he would not seek a fourth term. When White's successor, Jane L. Campbell assumed office in January 2002, the former mayor retired to an alpaca farm near Newcomerstown, Ohio. In 2012 he was also running the Yellow Butterfly Winery near the same town.[3]


The White administration was criticized for ignoring or at least underachieving in its aid to residents of the predominantly black neighborhoods. For instance, there was lackluster job training efforts and it directed none of the enterprise zone development projects to the Hough neighborhood.[4]

In July 2005, it was revealed by the FBI that two of White's closest associates, Nate Gray and Ricardo Teamor, admitted to bribery of public officials. When asked by Cleveland news reporters about the incident White stated: "For public consumption, I have not made a comment and I’ve seen no reason to change my position. It’s a Nate Gray matter, not a Mike White matter." [5]

However, it was revealed that White may have traded construction and parking contracts at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for bribes that were paid through Gray. Federal prosecutors reportedly investigated these corruption charges. [6] He is often blamed for the steep economic decline the city saw under his term and time after, Cleveland Browns leaving the city, and Progressive Insurance locating to the suburbs.


  1. Siegel, Fred (2005). The Prince of the City. San Francisco: Encounter Books.
  2. "October 30th: Bone Thugs~N~Harmony Day".
  3. Smith, Robert L. (August 20, 2012). "Former Cleveland Mayor Michael White Chases, and Catches, a New Dream in the Country". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
  4. Jordan, George E. Two cities offer a blueprint in image-building The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), July 20, 1997 (accessed July 25, 2010)
  5. Larkin, Brent (August 19, 2005). "A Legacy of White Lies". The Plain Dealer.
  6. Tobin, Mike (July 21, 2005). "White Was Target Of Investigation: White Was Target Of Federal Probe; FBI Affidavit Says Bribes Secured City Contracts". The Plain Dealer.
Political offices
Preceded by
George V. Voinovich
Mayor of Cleveland
Succeeded by
Jane L. Campbell
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