Carl B. Stokes, 68, the former Cleveland mayor who was the first African American elected to head a major city government, died of esophageal cancer April 3 at a Cleveland hospital.

Mr. Stokes, who later was a broadcaster, municipal judge and U.S. ambassador to the Seychelles Republic, served as mayor of the northern Ohio industrial city for four years. Elected in 1967, a time of urban riots and racial unrest, his success heralded an era of black empowerment in the cities and gained him national attention.

Mr. Stokes said then that the crisis in the cities -- which were becoming overwhelmed with housing, employment and police problems -- threatened to "strangle and destroy our entire urban civilization." He said he would try to improve life in Cleveland by mobilizing "our brainpower, our talents and our human resources without delay."

He went on to secure increased federal urban renewal money for the city, which has since seen a revitalization of its downtown. He also helped to push through a law requiring city contractors to establish minority employment programs.

Mr. Stokes's older brother, Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), who has served 14 terms in Congress, told the Associated Press that his brother "inspired black Americans to aspire to higher political office all over the country." Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, an African American who is in his second term, said that Mr. Stokes was a role model who inspired his teenage dreams of political office.

Mr. Stokes was elected the same day as Richard G. Hatcher, the first black mayor of the mid-size city of Gary, Ind. African American mayors soon were to come to power in Washington, Atlanta, Detroit, Newark and elsewhere where there were large African American populations. Hatcher was in office five consecutive terms and was at the forefront of the black political power movement, campaigning for other candidates nationwide.

By 1970, there were 48 African American mayors. By the 1990s, there were more than 350, including 34 who headed cities of more than 50,000 residents. But at the same time, black mayors had been replaced by white mayors in some major urban centers, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Mr. Stokes, who served until 1971 and then retired, was a news anchorman for WNBC-TV in New York for eight years after that. He was elected to the Cleveland Municipal Court in 1983. President Clinton appointed him two years ago as ambassador to the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Mr. Stokes returned to Cleveland last summer after learning the embassy was slated to close because of State Department budget cuts. It was then that his cancer was diagnosed.

Clinton said that Mr. Stokes was a friend and valued colleague who "brought energy and humor to every task he undertook."

Carl Burton Stokes was raised on Cleveland's impoverished east side and in Portland-Outhwaite, the city's first federally funded housing complex for the poor. His father died when he was 2. His mother supported her two sons by working as a maid, and for a time, the family was on welfare.

Mr. Stokes dropped out of high school, but after serving in the Army in Europe toward the end of World War II, he returned to get his diploma. He attended West Virginia State and Western Reserve universities and obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from Cleveland-Marshall Law School. He worked as a state liquor inspector and probation officer before entering law practice with his brother in the late 1950s. He also was an assistant prosecutor for four years.

Active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s, Carl Stokes became the first black Democrat to be elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1962, from a county that was only 14 percent black. Ohio's first African American legislator, a Republican, had been elected to the state legislature in 1880.

Cleveland, regarded as relatively progressive on racial matters during its early history, elected the first African American to the city council in 1909. But the climate for racial equality had chilled by the time of the Great Depression.

In the 1960s, when Mr. Stokes was having his first political victories, Cleveland was in an economic downturn and had about 251,000 black residents, mostly in crowded central neighborhoods. Battles were being waged over school segregation and improvement of employment opportunity. A racial riot, in the Hough neighborhood, erupted in 1966.

Mr. Stokes, regarded as a charismatic figure, had first run for mayor as an independent in 1965 and lost by 2,143 votes to the Democratic incumbent, Ralph Locher. Locher, who earlier had come under fire after his police chief made racially insensitive comments, was defeated by Mr. Stokes two years later in the Democratic primary. Mr. Stokes bypassed normal party channels to challenge the mayor, whom he accused of failing to do anything about urban renewal and the racial bias of the police department.

Mr. Stokes went on to defeat a member of Ohio's most prominent political family, the Tafts. Republican Seth Taft, grandson of President William Howard Taft, lost by 1,679 votes. Mr. Stokes won 95 percent of the black vote and 20 percent of the white vote. Cleveland, which now has a majority-black population, was 37 percent black at the time.

Mr. Stokes was credited with using humor and hard work to ease the misgivings of Cleveland's white voters. He said later that white opponents thought the city's overwhelming white majority would give them an easy time but that "Carl Stokes fooled them. I went into every white home that would let me in there and every hall that would have me. I didn't sit back. Carl Stokes doesn't sit back."

Mr. Stokes said Cleveland was a city that had "nowhere to go but up," with race relations at an all-time low. He later wrote in his autobiography that his early attempts as mayor to build a community consensus were severely damaged the night of July 23, 1968, when a shootout in the Glenville neighborhood between a group of black men and police ended in the deaths of six black citizens and three white police officers.

"The aftermath of that night was to haunt and color every aspect of my administration the next three years," Stokes said. "Glenville killed much of my public support and gave nonsupporters a chance to emerge from the woodwork."

Mr. Stokes drew the financial backing of Cleveland's business community and went on to a second two-year term in 1969. He attracted fewer votes this time in some black wards but more in the white, middle-class west side. He won by 50.5 percent, this time in a three-way race. His main opponent was Republican Ralph Perk, who later was to win election.

In his second term, Mr. Stokes attempted to expand public housing and shake up the police department. He said he had rid City Hall of "lethargic planners." He served as the first black person to head the National League of Cities.

But he decided to retire rather than to seek a third term as Cleveland's mayor, saying that he was tired of fighting "white bigotry" and that he wanted to form a broad "people's lobby" to support "responsive" presidential candidates.

He said white Clevelanders had turned down a proposed tax increase because they thought black neighborhoods were getting better services. He said some whites also were alienated by the number of black appointments he had made. Mr. Stokes had been forced to lay off 1,600 workers after his tax proposal was defeated twice. But he and his brother worked as power brokers to help James M. Carney, a white real estate tycoon, upset the regular party candidate to become mayor.

In his new career in broadcasting, Mr. Stokes won an Emmy for his work with NBC's flagship station. He returned to Cleveland to practice labor law, was elected to the Municipal Court three years later and soon was chosen by his peers to be presiding administrative judge. In 1989, he lost a close race for Housing Court judge but retained a bench in Municipal Court.

That year, he was acquitted of a petty theft charge of stealing a $17.25 bag of dog food from a pet store in Cleveland. In a separate case, he was accused of stealing a $2.39 screwdriver from a lumber store. He said he had forgotten he had the item and paid a $50 fine. He told the New York Times that both cases were honest mistakes blown out of proportion by detractors who feared he might run for office again.

Mr. Stokes's marriage to Shirley Edwards ended in divorce. They had three children, Carl Burton, Cordi and Cordell. Mr. Stokes and his second wife, Raija, adopted a daughter, Cynthia. THOMAS C. THAYER Federal Official

Thomas C. Thayer, 60, a federal official who had served in several positions in the Department of Defense and retired as assistant director of the safeguards division of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, died of respiratory failure March 15 at his home in Solomons. He had suffered from multiple sclerosis for 20 years.

Mr. Thayer began his federal career in 1958 in the executive trainee program of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In the early 1960s, he served in Saigon as the program manager for operations research in the Vietnam research and development field unit of the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Later, he directed the Southeast Asia division of systems analysis in the secretary's office. He retired in 1982 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A native of Reno, Nev., Mr. Thayer grew up in the Washington area. He graduated from Arlington's Washington-Lee High School and Stanford University, and he did graduate study in international affairs at Princeton. He received a master's degree in business administration from George Washington University.

He was author of the book "War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam."

He was active in the Multiple Sclerosis Society and was a volunteer counselor to others with multiple sclerosis.

Survivors include his wife, Virginia Thayer of Solomons; three children, James Thayer of St. Charles and John Thayer and Tina Marie Johnson, both of Mechanicsville; his father, Thomas P. Thayer of St. Petersburg Beach, Fla.; a sister, Lyn Thayer of Chevy Chase; and six grandchildren. CAPTION: CARL B. STOKES