Former Mayor Kevin H. White, who led the city for 16 years including racially turbulent times in the 1970s and was credited with putting it 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 busing, 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 against antibusing activist Louise Day Hicks. He defeated her with support from the black community and liberals.
After losing a 1970 bid for governor, White was re-elected mayor in 1971, again defeating Hicks. He won again narrowly in 1975 and 1979.
White was considered as a vice presidential running mate to U.S. Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota in 1972 but was passed over for U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, who was later shunted aside for R. Sargent Shriver Jr.
After U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered busing to desegregate 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.
White was never totally comfortable with busing, however, and called Garrity's plan "too severe."
"I wish I knew a way to have taught Garrity or convinced Garrity to be more generous ... or softer in his implementation of that order," White said after his time as mayor.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, 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 neighborhoods that gave power to ethnic and racial minorities, but he consolidated his power in his final 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 that 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 later years of his tenure that led to layoffs of police officers and firefighters and the shutdown of some stations.
The crises were exploited by his critics, who called him King Kevin, and he dropped out of the 1983 mayoral race, eventually won by Raymond Flynn.
"It's no secret that Kevin and I were rivals for many years," Flynn said. "But underneath that sometimes heated rivalry, rooted in different priorities, was a mutual respect. Kevin and I shared a deep love for this complex, fascinating city of Boston."
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.
While the busing crisis brought a stain to the city, White was also credited with revitalizing the city's downtown, especially the shops and restaurants of Quincy Market, which remains one of the city's top tourist attractions. He thought the downtown renaissance would make Boston a "world-class city."
A statue of White was unveiled near Quincy Market in 2006.
Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, said White's stewardship created "a path to prosperity for the city."
White's father and maternal grandfather had been Boston City Council presidents. In 1956, he married Kathryn Galvin, the daughter of another City Council president. He was educated at Tabor Academy, Williams College, Boston College Law School and the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration.
After handing over the office to Flynn in 1984, White accepted a position at Boston University as a professor of communications and public management.
While mayor in 1970, White had major surgery to remove two-thirds of his stomach. He suffered a heart attack in 2001 while at a Florida restaurant and spent several days in a hospital when he had a pacemaker implanted.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kathyrn Galvin White, five children and several grandchildren.