The 1977 mayoral race ended Ralph J. Perk’s tenure as mayor in Cleveland. And boy, what a tenure it was. Perk started his time in politics in 1953, serving on 10 years on Cleveland City Council, representing Ward 13 before being elected to Cuyahoga County auditor in 1962, becoming the first Republican elected in Cuyahoga County office since 1930. In 1971, Perk defeated James M. Carney and Arnold Pinkney in the mayoral election despite winning only 38.7% of the vote.
As mayor, Perk worked with the city of Akron to try to build a Cleveland Akron International Airport, an unsuccessful attempt. In 1974, Perk worked with Cleveland City Council and Cuyahoga County to establish the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, the public transit system that is still in place today. Perk’s biggest moment of infamy came in 1972 when his hair caught on fire at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Cleveland Convention Center.
While Perk wasn’t seriously hurt — and subsequently reelected the next year — the moment was heard around the country. In 1977, Perk came in third in the nonpartisan mayoral race, finishing behind Edward F. Feighan and Dennis Kucinich. After leaving politics, Perk set up a small consulting business, Ralph Perk & Associates. He died on April 21, 1999.