Mike White enters the Wyndham Hotel meeting room in jeans and blazer, the uniform of the retired statesman, and offers a forced hello. The assembled media returns his greeting with the enthusiasm of a court-ordered drunk-driving class.
"C'mon, you haven't seen me in a month," White responds, disappointed by the lack of electricity for this, the last press conference of his public life. "Jesus Christ."
For the next hour, he will reprise his role as the hard-charging leader who made the tough calls, took the heat, moved the city ahead despite all that blocked his way. Working title of his speech: "Mike White, 100 Percent Man."
We, the media, dressed to kill in our JC Penney suits, courteously listen to Mike dance around the truth. It's all very polite and fraudulently respectful.
But the undertone is clear: Mike despises us. We see him as big game. Let the hunt begin.
No reporter will ever admit this, of course. We bray about our ethics as if we have Mahatma Gandhi on retainer. Ply us with Jameson, however, and we'll boast of trophy catches the same way Big Larry from Ashtabula talks about bagging a 12-point buck. Besides, Mike White is good hunting.
It's not just that he's a cruel, arrogant, petty SOB whose gravestone will likely read, "Here lies a huge prick." It's that Mike, despite his aversion to the media, leaves so much to keep us on his trail.
Though he's been gone for but a month, revelations of his buffoonery seem to mount by the day. There's the fake $11 million budget surplus. The dimwitted finance director who didn't know she needed to balance the books. The alleged kickback scheme with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
And this, says Councilman Mike Polensek, is just the start. Former White aides say the mayor banned crews from plowing residential streets and held up children's programs in the wards of council members he disliked. Now that the wolf is just a toothless "private citizen," his minions are no longer afraid to speak.
"It's like the place has been liberated by the 82nd Airborne -- people smiling, saying you don't know what it's like to live like this," says Polensek of City Hall. "I can understand how the people in Afghanistan feel now that the Taliban have been kicked out. I've had grown men say that 'Now, I can finally talk to you.' What is that? I think you're going to see some revelations."
White, a brilliant man with the social skills of a Serbian war criminal, will only fuel the hunt. At his press conference, he magnanimously took the blame for his administration's errors while making it clear that others messed up. He talked about wanting Jane Campbell to succeed, though he fired city workers who aided her transition. He spoke of how everything he did was for the city of Cleveland, though he didn't hesitate to screw its children to smite an enemy.
The wolf was trying his best to sound noble, but he came off like Frank Gruttadauria, the broker who swiped more than $100 million, then blamed it on Lehman Brothers' greed. Both saw their scams expire. Both are left with just one option: to run away and hide.
White says he's a private citizen now. Don't call him. Don't visit his house. He's going "to be a father, a husband," insert additional clichés of your choice.
But the rules of engagement don't allow him to simply walk away. Not when you've "decimated department after department," as Polensek says. Not when you've run City Hall as if it were North Korea by the Lake, and former aides now speak without fear of revenge. The revelations will turn into a hit series, and Mike, as he showed at his press conference, just can't dance fast enough to explain it all away. Which is why he's trying to hide.
Jeeves, call out the hounds.