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Former Cleveland Mayor Carl B. Stokes (right) "passes the torch" to Mayor-Elect Ralph J. Perk (left) in 1971.
|52nd Mayor of Cleveland|
|Preceded by||Carl B. Stokes|
|Succeeded by||Dennis J. Kucinich|
|Born||Ralph Joseph Perk
January 19, 1914
|Died||April 21, 1999
|Children||Ralph J. Perk, Jr., Thomas Perk, Kenneth Perk, Allen G. Perk, Richard Perk, Michael Perk, Virginia Perk|
Perk dropped out of high school at age 15, later taking correspondence courses to earn his high-school diploma. He studied history, political science and mathematics at the Cleveland College of Case Western Reserve University and St. John's College in Cleveland. During the Great Depression he worked as a patternmaker, then joined his brother George in operating the Perk Coal & Ice Company. He went on to work in real estate, but returned to patternmaking during World War II to aid in the war effort, after each branch of the military rejected him because of past problems with kidney stones.
Beginning in 1953, Perk was elected to five two-year terms on the Cleveland City Council from the city's Ward 13. In 1962, he was elected auditor of Cuyahoga County, the first Republican to win countywide office since the mid-1930s; he was re-elected in 1966 and 1970. In 1965 and 1969, Perk ran for mayor of Cleveland and was defeated both times in the general election. In 1971, Perk won the Republican nomination for mayor for the third time. He defeated future mayor, governor, and U.S. Senator George Voinovich, then a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, in the primary. Perk went on to win the general election and was reelected in 1973 and 1975. In 1977, however, Perk suffered an upset defeat in the non-partisan primary for mayor, finishing third behind Dennis Kucinich and Edward F. Feighan. (Kucinich prevailed over Feighan in the general election).
As mayor, Perk became the subject of national ridicule on October 16, 1972, when he accidentally set his hair on fire while he attempted to use a welder's torch for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a convention in Cleveland 
Perk was again publicly humiliated after suggesting that a study on pornography ought to be conducted by municipal sanitation workers. Perk also banned the sale of Playboy Magazine at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, causing even more ridicule to fall upon him. Perk's wife, Lucille, achieved notoriety when she rejected an invitation from First Lady Pat Nixon to an event at the White House in order to attend her regular bowling night. Later, Perk explained his wife's comment to mean that she was unable to attend because the invitation had come too late and she was unable to prepare for travel. Perk was rumored to say, "tell them it's your bowling night." Though the remark brought howls of laughter, it endeared the Perks to their ethnic base.
As Mayor, Perk started to think about regional Cleveland-Cuyahoga County governmental structure and agencies. In 1972, three years after the Cuyahoga River caught fire and pressures from the EPA, Perk formed the NEORSD-or the North East Ohio Regional Sewer District. Perk recommended the Cleveland Police to move to the Justice Center after years of battles between Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland. In 1973, Mayor Perk and his Akron Counterpart met and proposed building Project CAIA-or Cleveland Akron International Airport on 5,000 acres (20 km2) in Richfield, Ohio. Had CAIA been built, CAIA would have rivaled New York JFK, or Chicago's O'Hare. Hopkins Airport would have become like Chicago's Midway Airport. This plan was opposed by nature lovers, who petitioned the US Government to create the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 1974. In 1974 Mayor Perk proposed merging the CTS-or Cleveland Transit System with suburban transit systems. In 1975, voters passed a 1% sales tax to create the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
As mayor, Perk had a reputation of being tough with city employee labor unions. One time, the fire fighters union instigated a protest by closing City Hall one day by standing on the front steps of the building and allowing only the mail and their political allies to gain access. The ploy worked, and the fire fighters received what they were negotiating.
In 1974, Perk won the Republican nomination for the United States Senate seat formerly held by William B. Saxbe, who had resigned to accept the appointment to the office of United States Attorney General. Perk, however, was defeated soundly by Democrat John Herschel Glenn, Jr. Perk had stated that he was counting on running against the incumbent senator, Howard M. Metzenbaum, who had been recently appointed to the seat by then Governor John J. Gilligan. When Metzenbaum lost the primary to Glenn (The two were later Senate colleagues for many years.), Perk expressed doubt that he could win the election, particularly in the Democrats year of Watergate.
In 1972, Perk was a part of the opening ceremonies for the American Society for Metals at the Cleveland Convention Center. He symbolically "cut the ribbon" at the Convention, where the ribbon was titanium (which makes sparks when hit with a welding torch) and the scissors were a welding torch. A spark hit his head and his hair caught on fire because of a certain substance put in his hair when he was at the barber's earlier that day. There were surprisingly around 300 engineers watching, and none of them bothered to mention there was nothing protecting his head before they started. Cameras were rolling all while this was taking place and the most famous picture of Perk was taken that day. Newspapers from Australia and Israel even pictured the mayor with his hair ablaze.
Perk also appointed Richard Eberling in 1973 to chair a committee to redecorate the mayor's office in City Hall, a move that proved unpopular with numerous sources. In 1974, The Plain Dealer exposed Eberling's record as a petty criminal in a front-page story; Perk defended Eberling, and approved the financing of project until the amount significantly over-reached the budgeted amount. Eberling's lover, Obie Henderson was hired as Perk's personal secretary. Eberling was later found guilty in the death of Ethel M. Durkin, a Cleveland area widow; he also linked himself to the Marilyn Sheppard murder in Bay Village, in 1954. Circumstantial evidence also links Eberling to at least four other murders committed over a period from 1946 to 1970 that involved his stepfather, his purported girlfriend, and both of Mrs. Durkin's sisters.
Perk was diagnosed with prostate cancer some time in the 1990s, and underwent treatments for the disease. The treatment was thought to have been successful, but in early 1998 Perk and his family learned that the cancer had not only returned by had spread. Perk's children spent a year caring for their father at home. Five days before his death, Perk was admitted to the Corinthian Skilled Nursing Center in Westlake, Ohio. He died there on April 21, 1999. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brook Park, Ohio.
Perk's son, Ralph J. Perk, Jr., served as a municipal court judge in Cleveland from 1989 to 2003. Another son, Thomas Perk, is a council member in the village of Valley View in addition to being a fire fighter. Yet another son, Kenneth Perk, is a member of the Cuyahoga Heights Board of Education. His second youngest son, Allen G. Perk, is the President and CEO of XLNsystems Inc. in Columbus, Ohio.
- The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (online): Perk, Ralph J.; The Cleveland Memory Project (online).
- "Cleveland Mayor Gets Hot-Headed", AP report in Amarillo Globe-Times, October 17, 1972, p.1. Mayor Perk was at opening ceremonies for the 1972 "Metal Show and Materials Engineering Congress", and the ribbon-cutting was with an acetylene torch and a metal strip. Sparks from the cutting landed in Perk's hair, and the flames were quickly extinguished. Perk joked later, "There are more hazards to this job than I expected."
- Larkin, Brent (June 28, 1998). "Twilight Overtaking Mayor Emeritus". The Plain Dealer. p. D1.
- Crump, Sarah (April 23, 1999). "Family Was Close in Perk's Last Year". The Plain Dealer. p. B5.
- Baranick, Alana (April 22, 1999). "Former Mayor Ralph Perk Dies of Cancer". The Plain Dealer. p. B1.
- Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6
- The Encyclopedia Of Cleveland History by Cleveland Bicentennial Commission (Cleveland, Ohio), David D. Van Tassel (Editor), and John J. Grabowski (Editor) ISBN 0-253-33056-4
Carl B. Stokes
|Mayor of Cleveland
Dennis J. Kucinich