BOSTON - Kevin H. White, who was mayor of Boston for 16 years including racially turbulent times in the 1970s and was credited with putting the city on a path to prosperity, died Friday, a family spokesman said. He was 82.
White, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003, died peacefully at his Boston home surrounded by his family, spokesman and friend George Regan said.
"He was a man who built Boston into the world-class city it is today," said Regan, who called his loss "devastating."
White, a white Irish Catholic from a family of politicians, is credited with revitalizing Boston's downtown and seeing the city through court-ordered desegregation of schools, but he ended his four-term tenure in 1983 under a cloud of ethics suspicions.
White, a Democrat, was elected Massachusetts secretary of state three times before running for mayor for the first time in 1967. He was re-elected in 1971, 1975 and 1979.
White was considered as a vice-presidential running mate to South Dakota U.S. Sen. George McGovern in 1972 but was passed over for Missouri U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, who was later shunted aside for R. Sargent Shriver Jr.
After U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered some pupils to be bused to other areas of the city to ensure racially mixed public schools in 1974, White protected schoolchildren from violence with federal and state assistance during the period of crisis and in 1976 led a march of 30,000 to protest racial violence.
Massachusetts' U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a fellow Democrat, said White "knew how to wisely wield the power of the mayor's office for the public good."
"For 16 years," Kerry said in a statement, "the mayor shepherded the city through the turbulence of the late '60s and mid-'70s and in the process ushered in the remarkable city we know today."
Current Mayor Thomas Menino, also a Democrat, praised White for his contributions to the city.
"Mayor Kevin White was a great friend and a great leader who left a lasting mark of hope and inspiration on the City of Boston," he said in a statement. "He will be sorely missed."
White's first two terms were known for his Little City Halls in the city's far-flung neighbourhoods that gave power to ethnic and racial minorities, but he consolidated his power in his latter two terms.
White closed the Little City Halls and instead used a network of ward lieutenants who rewarded the mayor's supporters with city jobs and contracts.
Seven mayoral aides were eventually indicted on fraud and extortion charges. His one-time budget director and an official of the Boston Redevelopment Authority were convicted of fraudulently obtaining city pensions. A deputy commissioner was convicted of tax evasion for failing to report money prosecutors said he gained from bribes.
White was never implicated. The State Ethics Commission, however, conducted a 10-month investigation that found "reasonable cause" that White had violated conflict-of-interest laws.
The city also wallowed in a financial crisis in the latter years of his tenure that led to layoffs of police officers and firefighters and the shutdown of some stations.
A liberal reformer, White appealed to a cross-section of society, including the young.
Once, when the Rolling Stones were arrested on the way to Boston, the mayor released them into his own custody.
"The Stones have been busted, but I have sprung them!" he told an audience at Boston Garden.
White is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kathryn Galvin White, five children and several grandchildren.
Associated Press writer Sylvia Wingfield contributed to this report.