As part of Cleveland Magazine's 30th anniversary celebration, the editors have chosen 52 of their favorite stories from the magazine's archives, and wish to share them with you.
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From Cleveland Magazine, January 1990
Late on election night, the Mike White for Mayor headquarters steamed from crowd heat and was choked with cigarette smoke. The din crescendoed as supporters, friends and hangerson swarmed inside the Cleveland Centre auditorium to get a glimpse of the winner.
Suddenly, about a quarter after I I p.m., the image of George Forbes flickered on a big screen television set. Forbes, proud and seemingly omnipotent, quietly conceded defeat.
"Caesar is dead! Caesar is dead! Caesar is dead!" cheered several burly young men in campaign tee-shirts, pumping fists in the air. "Long live the king! Long live Mike! Long live the king!"
People climbed on chairs and started to dance. Others pressed toward the stage.
Shortly before midnight, Mike White, the mayor elect, pushed through the tangle
on the stage Where his city council supporters had stood packed like cards in
a deck for more than a half hour, waiting for his victory speech. Only 5 feet,
7 inches, Whitejuked through the crowd, with his petite wife, Tamera, still
recovering from surgery, just behind him.
In hoarse, moving tones, White painted his vision of the city's future for the assembled, building emotion carefully. After 10 minutes of stemwinding, he proclaimed, "I extend my hand to all of Cleveland whether they were with me or not" Cheers. "The healing begins in the morning!" A controlled roar. "We ... shall ... be... ONE ... CITY!" The crowd erupted, drowning out his thanks.
After a long, exhausting, bitter uphill election struggle, Mike White had fulfilled his boyhood dream. His advisors were weary but exhilarated. Then the mayor elect said, "We're going to meet at the hotel in an hour."
No celebration. No late night dancing, drinking or carrying on, as victors are wont to do. In sharp co,ntrast to his emotional, moving rhetoric moments earlier, Mike White offstage was cool, precise, organized, almost machinelike in approach.
I "He's not like a drill sergeant, but if he needs you, he wants you there," Tom (Tom A) AndrezJewski, his media adviser, later explained. So Whites inner circle met at the Lakeside Holiday Inn at 1:30 a.m. and discussed the transition team, office space, even who would write thank-you notes.
Why not celebrate after a tremendous victory? "That had not been the style of the campaign," Andrezjewski simply says.
For many Cleveland citizens, suburbanites and business leaders, Mike White is a mystery. He seemed to come from obscurity, a telegenic, tireless campaigner whose speeches could soar, exhort, touch, and move. But for much of the town, it was like waking up one morning and finding yourself married to a stranger. Take away the rhetoric and the careful campaign demeanor: Who is Mike White, really? How will he govern and how long will the honeymoon last?
The answers don't come easily because White is a shy, private person. Complicating community attitudes, White has been accused of physical abuse by two former wives in divorce court proceedings. Furthermore, Whites old friends are now enemies and his old enemies are now allies. What is going on?
To understand the new mayor, you have to understand his upbringing. Michael Reed White was born August 13, 1951, the firstborn of Audrey White and her husband, Robert Reed White Sr., who had a 7-year-old son, RobertJr., by a previous wife. Michael was a small, shy, serious child who loved gardening and bringing home stray animals. His mother, active in animal rights before it became a popular cause, helped him patch the broken legs of pigeons and feed stray cats. Young Michael won school ribbons for the vegetables he grew in a community plot at Miles Standish Elementary School, two blocks from his Kempton Avenue home. He lived with his two sisters Marsha, four years younger, and Denise, eight years younger, in a four-bedroom home.
Robert White Sr. worked for several years as a machinist at Chase Brass and Copper Company and was active in his union. He was strict, setting clear rules and regulations for his children. For instance, they had to have read The Cleveland Press before dinner, where current events were discussed at the table. Even as teens, the White children had to be back in their yard before the streetlights came on.
"If not for the discipline at home, we'd be lost:' says White's sister, Marsha Hayes. "There are so many lost adults" Indeed, when Mike returned home from college, his father told him to cut his hair. Mike had let it grow longer so he could fluff it out into an Afro.
The secular white world of Ohio State University rattled White, who enrolled in fall 1969 to study agriculture. Most of his fellow agriculture majors had never met a black before. "The only thing black they ever saw was a bull," White says.
By the same token, White had had absolutely no contact with whites in his secular working-class Glenville neighborhood -- other than an occasional schoolteacher. He found the Ohio State experience oppressive, hostile and bigoted. Fanning his anger, White had a run-in with a campus bus driver who wouldn't pick up black students.
Another time, coming back from bowling with friends, White did not have his student bus pass. The driver wouldn7t let him board, and White and the driver had an argument. Later, the driver called campus police and accused White of pulling out a knife and threatening him. OSU police grabbed White from his dorm room and threw him in a lineup. The driver said he couldn't identify his assailant. "I think he had second thoughts," White recalls, "because there were 20 witnesses on the bus."
By 1970, White was an angry young man who said he hated whites so much that he couldn't sleep at night. "I hated the sheets -- they were white," he says.
He got involved in Afro-Am, the black student organization. His politics, radical by today's standards, were not unusual for a young black man coming of age during the days of the Reverend Martin Luther King assassination, the Vietnam war and the Kent State killings. Later that year, he was arrested on disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting arrest charges at a civil rights protest he helped lead. He was convicted of a misdemeanor resisting arrest count. A year later, he was convicted of petty larceny, a misdemeanor, after shoplifting a 59-cent dog collar from a campus supermarket. He said he learned from his mistake.
Only one of 2,600 black students on a campus of 50,000 students, White knew by hisjunior year he wanted to be undergraduate student body president. His plan was to run on a ticket with a white candidate for vice president, making it the first black-white slate, a move that foreshadowed his West Side-East Side strategy in the recent mayor's race White selected sophomore Matt Dowling, an economics major from tiny Perrysburg, Ohio, and they called themselves the Student Coalition.
"Mike was interviewing people for a potential running mate," recalls Dowling, now a mail sorter in Columbus. "We sat and talked for a couple of hours. We basically liked each other. Wejust kind of went from there. I didn't desire to be the president. He pretty much was the driving force"
Their campaign leaflets sported a drawing of two hands, one clenched into a fist, the other flashing a peace sign, and the slogan, "If you really give a shit, elect Student Coaltion"
In the campaign, White pushed himself near the physical breaking point, as he did in his recent successful mayor's race, neglecting to sleep and eat. He contracted chicken pox and had to be isolated in the student infirmary for several days.
Who's in and who's out in the city's big power shift
|The Rev. Otis Moss
|The Rev. Earl Preston Jr.
|Mary Ann Sharkey
|The black machine
Despite 1972 being the height of student protest and social involvement, little more than one-quarter of the OSU students bothered to vote. White and Dowling snagged 31 percent, beating out eight other slates.
Once in office, White worked on improving relations between students and the campus police and on getting students a 5-percent discount on books at the OSU Bookstore, noting that faculty unfairly received a 15-percent discount. Typically, he labored long hours.
"He'd enjoy having a beer, sitting around, bs-ing as much as anyone else," Matt Dowling says. "He had a girlfriend and he'd relax. But I'd get calls at three in the morning and we'd have a strategy session."
White's next election battle came in 1977. He had returned to Cleveland and worked as an aide to council President George Forbes. White challenged Mildred Madison, the incumbent Glenville councilwoman who had Forbes's backing. Through hard work and relentless campaigning that has become his signature, White won.
In city council, White quickly established himself as a bright, brash, intensely ambitious leader who eagerly walked the point for Forbes on tough issues such as the attempted forced sale of the city's municipal light plant. White also fought for his Glenville constituents, working unceasingly to improve the ward's safety and to bring in business.
Forbes was his mentor. White adopted his slashing intimidation tactics, earning himself the nickname of "Mike the Knife' from Councilman Jim Rokakis. "He was an angry young man," Rokakis says. "Bright, articulate. Maybe (he was angry) because he was so capable, and he knew he'd have to wait to assume the position of responsibility he desperately wanted."
A community leader who has known White for years and runs in the same circles says, "Mike believes in his heart he has to be like George -- kick ass and take names. Lotta guys think unless you're cursing, you might as well have a dress on."
White's father, Robert R. White Sr., says his son is a loner like himself. "A person said to me, 'Bob, when people want to get close to you, you go away and you don't come back or give reasons. You go in your shell.' Michael is like that."
One of White's sharpest attacks was unleashed on Councilman Lonnie Burten,
who in 1981 threw in with freshman Councilman Larry Jones (now a municipal judge)
and West Side council members to get Burten elected council president while
Forbes was out of town. White helped bring intense pressure from the black community
and its ministers to change Jones's vote and to attack Burten, accusing him
of being the tool of white racists. "Black people will not allow someone else
to choose their leaders and have those leaders go in with racists," White said
at the time. Burten replied, "Mike White really got into high-voltage racism."
White persevered. On another occasion a year later, Councilman Tyrone Bolden
charged into White in council chambers and punched him, sending White's glasses
and papers flying. The emotional Bolden was irate that White had instigated
the arrest of his nephew for drinking in public. As burly Bolden, about 50 pounds
heavier than White, closed in for the kill, Councilman John Lawson pulled him
off. Colleagues ribbed Lawson: "What did you do that for? Why didn't you let
Tyrone finish him off?"
By 1984, White felt his ambition being stymied in the Forbes-controlled city council. He got himself appointed to the vacant 21st District Ohio senate seat. It was an astute move. He broadened his voter base to include several wards and eastern suburbs. "I think the senate, more than anything, helped him be a more statesmanlike individual," former Glenville Councilman Jeff Johnson says. "There was a much higher quality of debate."
White's mayoral game plan was working perfectly. By late 1987, Forbes was introducing White around town as the man who was going to be the next mayor of Cleveland, in particular at city supervisor Chuck Ramsey's going-away dinner in late 1987. Forbes promised to raise several hundred thousand dollars for the race, and his daughter, Helen, joined the White campaign committee.
But by summer 1988, Forbes, sniffing the crossover mood just starting to sweep the country, took a poll and decided to run himself. "Mike felt betrayed," Johnson says. "He thought he was going to be the Establishment candidate."On a shelf in the Whites' big, yellow brick home on East Boulevard rests a football trophy for the Academes, a Glenville team that won a division championship 25 years ago. White was a third-string cornerback who played only 10 minutes all season, but he cherishes the trophy because it is inscribed: "For the Most Perseverance."
"I believe what it is says more than anything else," he says. "I wasn't supposed to be on that team. I was the tackling dummy, 98 pounds soaking wet. That's what the (mayor's) campaign was all about. Perseverance against everything and everybody ... I wasn' t supposed to be here. No polls, no money."
He surmounted campaign obstacles such as being asked by influential men to drop out of the race. For instance, in midsummer, before his big surge in the polls, White made a campaign visit to Plain Dealer publisher Tom Vail, who two months later would endorse him.
Executive editor Thom Greer, who is supposed to be nonpartisan since he oversees the paper's news coverage, asked White to see him before leaving the paper.
Greer, a Forbes supporter, asked the candidate right offthe bat, "Why don't you drop out?"
"Tell George to drop out, I'm going to win," White recalls saying. He chuckles at the encounter. "Greer looked at me like I was crazy."
White's troubles really started the day he survived the primary election in October. A Forbes fundraiser privately predicted that White would have problems with his real estate and with his former wives charging abuse.
Their accusations, contained in court pleadings, have a ring of truth. The statements were filed during a period of several years by more than one woman and suggest a pattern of behavior in a man said to have a temper. As late as 1983, four years after their divorce, the former Linda White wrote to their divorce judge, describing "a violent marriage with Mr. White (his confessions are on tape and on file with my divorce attorney) and his extramarital affairs."
When they were finally divorced, Linda White was four months pregnant. After the child was born, White saw the infant several times, but his wife soon tried to halt his visits. For the next three months, he was only able to see the baby three times, causing him great anguish, White wrote to the judge.
Just when the court enforced a visitation schedule, White's ex-wife told her husband he was not the baby's father. White was stunned. He took a blood test that proved, conclusively, someone else fathered the child.
"It's not like that was a scratch," White says of the wrenching divorce. "Just put a Band-Aid on or stitch it up. It took a lot longer than I thought it would to recover."
White married his second wife, Karen, in July 1984 and they were divorced in December 1986. The woman's mother took it upon herself to call television and radio stations after White won the October primary, accusing him of hitting her daughter. The former Karen White produced medical records for minor treatment she said she needed after her husband's attacks. White denies being a wife abuser and instead claims his second wife was a drug abuser, which she vehemently denies.Newspaper and television accounts of the allegations were a blow to White's current wife, the former Tamera K. Norris of Zanesville, a stunning, soft-spoken woman whose quiet strength suggests the phrase "steel magnolia." She's been through a lot lately, miscarrying after 10 weeks last spring, then undergoing surgery this fall for a tubal pregnancy.
She says her husband warned her, accurately, that the campaign could get nasty. But reports of wife-abuse charges caught her by surprise. "I didn't expect it," she says. "A lot of people were hurt by that ... I didn' t know Mike back then. I know how he is with me, and I thought those stories were very unfair."
White was knocked for a loop. "They aren't out to beat me, they're out to kill me," he said. Though Forbes didn't personally attack White over the abuse allegations, White blames him for the exposure on television newscasts. "I'm not sure we'd ever be friends again," White says. "It's not what he did, but how he did it. It's how he conducted himself during the race, to allow this to go on."
Even so, White asked Forbes to speak at his inauguration. Forbes turned him down.
After WJW-TV 8 broke the story about his first wife charging abuse in their divorce pleadings, White called his staff together. He had plenty of dirt on Forbes. "I've got a good file on George," he told Cleveland Magazine. "It could keep you people busy for a long time. I made a commitment to myself no matter how bad it got, I wouldn't use it. I got my staff together. I said the first person who does a dirty trick, I will fire them."
White adds, "If I can keep my people in line, if I can set the moral tone, he (Forbes) could if he wanted to."How will he govern? White says he is a conciliator, no longer a hatchet man. And his former city council colleagues tend to agree, saying he's lost his hostile edge. "He's not
the same guy," Rokakis states. "He appears to be at peace. He wanted this position his whole life. He seems to have achieved this inner peace by reaching this lifelong dream."
Others point to the influence of his wife. "She's the best thing he's got
going," says a friend. "She's warm and open. He needs that."
Tamera White first met her husband when he hired her as a senate aide in Columbus. She was trained as a speech pathologist at Capitol University and has worked for two years for the county, teaching severely retarded adults to talk, use a spoon, dress, and go to the bathroom by themselves. It's frustrating work, requiring enormous patience and dedication for relatively low wages.
"I like giving and sharing," she explained at an interview in her home. "I get fulfillment out of it."
She calls her adult charges "trainees," and often has to massage and cuddle them just to make them receptive to her lessons. Similarly, she is said to have changed her husband. "He's more relaxed," Tamera revealed. "He's more careful, sensitive and thoughtful of my needs. He's more open."
The interviews took place in the Whites' 61-year-old house as workmen moved about, sizing up plans for rebuilding the kitchen and for shelves in dining room china cabinets. Later, the mayor-elect answered questions. "I want to use the time most efficiently," he said, conducting the interview while standing in the kitchen, opening and reading mail.
White agreed that his wife has changed him. "Here was a person I could come to and say things to that I couldn't say to anybody else." He told a story:
"A friend of mine in politics told me how his wife had added a new dimension to his life. Frankly, I think I was one-dimensional for a long time. My representation was everything that I had. When I got my (first) divorce, I went back to my office and went to work. No matter what happened, I never skipped a beat."
Tamera and the contractor interrupted, seeking direction on what materials Mike wanted to use in remodeling the old kitchen. "Anything within reason," White told her.
After she left, he smiled and said, "I'm giving my wife a new kitchen. After putting up with me all these months, I should give her 10 new kitchens."
Then Mike White turned cool and precise. "I've got five more minutes," he said.