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CSU remembers former Cleveland Mayor Ralph J. Perk

The late Ralph J. Perk, former mayor of Cleveland, occasionally found himself in the news for unfortunate reasons.

But he deserves to be remembered as a quintessential 20th-century politician, according to Dr. Richard Klein, instructor and researcher at Cleveland State University.

From 1971 to 1977, Perk – pictured above at left with President Gerald Ford at the White House in 1974 – served as the 52nd mayor of Cleveland. Perk made national headlines when he accidentally set his hair on fire with a blowtorch during a ceremonial appearance at a 1972 American Society of Metals convention.

Perk was born January 19, 1914. During his three terms in Cleveland City Hall, the Republican mayor – a favorite of blue-collar voters – rose to meet a variety of economic, political and social challenges. He died April 21, 1999.

“Mayor Ralph J. Perk got more federal money for Cleveland programs than any other Cleveland mayor who came before him or after him,” said Dr. Klein, the driving force behind two new projects dedicated to Perk.

The Life & Times of Ralph Perk is a virtual archive within the Cleveland Memory Project of CSU’s Michael Schwartz Library. The online repository includes a rundown of Perk’s major achievements, an extensive timeline and video interviews with colleagues and friends of the mayor.

Perk is also the subject of Cleveland Mayor Ralph J. Perk: Strong Leadership During Troubled Times, an e-book by Dr. Klein, published by MSL Academic Endeavors. The e-book focuses on three key Perk initiatives: the Impact Cities Crime Fighting Program, workforce training with federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) funds and the creation of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

On Friday, January 17, the Michael Schwartz Library will host a centennial birthday celebration in honor of Perk. Among the speakers at the invitation-only event will be his son Judge Ralph J. Perk Jr., as well as several of Mayor Perk’s closest advisors and political allies, including Mary Rose Oakar, Taras Szmagala, Dr. Vladimir Rus, Judge Raymond Pianka, Irene Morrow and Robert Bennett.

photo courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project