The MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF MICHAEL R. WHITE (1990-2001) was the longest in the history of Cleveland, encompassing three four-year terms. White's period in office was marked by his desire to balance downtown development initiatives with an equal concern for the needs of the urban poor, and especially the youth. White attended Ohio State Univ., receiving a B.A. degree in 1973 and a M.P.A in 1974. He began his political career in Cleveland as an administrative assistant for the city council 1976-77 and was elected city councilman from the Glenville area 1978-84. From 1984-89 he represented the area's 21st District in the Ohio Senate, serving as assistant minority whip for the Democrats. White became Cleveland's second black mayor in 1989, receiving 81% of the vote in predominately white wards and 30% in the predominately black wards where his opponent, George Forbes, was the strongest. He was reelected mayor in 1993 and again in 1997. In an effort to improve the quality of life for Cleveland's diverse population, White, together with the city council, furthered neighborhood-based policing programs, persuaded local banks to commit $500 million to neighborhood development, supported a reform-minded school board he helped to elect, and promoted downtown improvement, including the $365 million Gateway sports complex, home of both JACOBS FIELD and the GUND ARENA, and the completion of the $92 million ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM. Cleveland's economy, however, remained weak as the city continued to lose population and jobs, and school levies were rejected by voters twice in 1994. Faced with dwindling city revenues, the mayor took a leading role in securing $90 million in federal funds to establish a supplemental empowerment zone on Cleveland's east side to stimulate the economy.
Considering himself a "pragmatic idealist," White sometimes pursued policies, such as his efforts to rid PUBLIC SQUARE of criminals and vagrants, which were criticized as inconsistent with the humanitarian spirit of his campaign promises. However, White was also praised for his beautification efforts which included removing graffiti from hundreds of structures, over 840 by 1997 for a national record. As a response to the worsening crisis of the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS, the Ohio State government made the extraordinary decision in 1997 to vest Mayor White with direct control of the school district and the authority to appoint a 9-member, non-elected school board; White also appointed Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a respected New York educator and school system turnaround expert, as CEO of the Cleveland public schools in 1998. In the Spring of 2001, White successfully completed negotiations with Eller Media, the advertising firm which controls most of Cleveland's billboards, to reduce the number of alcohol ads and ensure that one billboard in each ward would display anti-drinking messages geared toward minors. On April 23, 2001, during an informal appearance at Miles Standish Elementary School, White announced his decision not to run for reelection to a possible fourth term.