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Obituaries

Ralph J. Perk; Former Cleveland Mayor

April 25, 1999

Ralph J. Perk, 85, former Cleveland mayor known for his disastrous fiscal policies and incendiary style. Perk was a Depression-era ice peddler whose support from blue collar, ethnic voters boosted him from the Cleveland City Council to the mayor's office in 1971. A Republican, he was reelected twice, in 1973 and 1975. He was defeated by Democrat John Glenn in a 1974 U.S. Senate race. In 1977, he lost his third bid for mayor, coming in third in a nonpolitical primary behind then-state Rep. Edward F. Feighan and Dennis J. Kucinich, who won the runoff. Not long after Perk left office, Cleveland drifted into default. His hometown paper, the Plain Dealer, eulogized him as "the mayor with the flaming hair," a reference to the welcoming ceremony at a 1972 convention of the American Society of Metals, when Perk accidentally burned his hair with an acetylene torch while cutting a steel ribbon. A quick-thinking convention official slapped Perk on the head and extinguished the flames. Perk was not seriously harmed but ended up replacing his hair through a transplant. Not long after the hair-burning incident, his wife, Lucille, made international headlines when she turned down an invitation to the Nixon White House because it was her bowling night. Many Cleveland residents applauded her decision. After leaving the mayor's office, Perk ran a consulting business, advising small business and governmental bodies about federal grants. On Wednesday of complications from prostate cancer in a hospice near Cleveland.

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