Cover Story: Change Is Coming

City council race offers plenty of choices for new leadership

Sep 6, 2001 at 2:06 pm
David Crowley

Maybe what Cincinnati needs is the kind of person who has the nerve to fire a nun. Or perhaps a music conductor could better handle the cacophony of city government.

With 26 candidates on the city council ballot, voters face a broad choice of experience and political philosophy.

City council will have at least two newcomers after the Nov. 6 election. Term limits prohibit Councilman Phil Heimlich from reelection, creating one vacancy. The second vacancy is Charlie Luken's seat, which he's leaving to run for mayor.

The new city council faces an imposing list of problems: racial conflict, dozens of lawsuits over police violence, a federal investigation of the police division and a steady decline in the city's population.

Seven incumbents are on the ballot this year, including Democrats Alicia Reece, Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and John Cranley; Republicans Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel; and Charterite Jim Tarbell. Cranley and Monzel, appointed to city council this year to fill vacant seats, have never been elected to public office.

Nor have most of the 19 new candidates on the ballot.

In fact, this race marks the first time many of them have even run. The tumultuous spring motivated many of the new candidates to enter the race, and the riots are the context for many of their proposals.

But all of the new candidates — from the former talk-show host who is free on bond to the corporate CEO's son — see the need for Cincinnati to act on problems both pressing and persistent.

The Democrats
David Crowley knows about the need for decisive action in tense situations. From 1993 to 1995 he coordinated an international relief effort by Catholic Relief Services in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo.

"Even there, there were people who were able to try to bridge gaps across cultural lines," he says. "I've been in tough situations and I've been in war situations where I was a non-combatant."

Although operated by the Catholic Church, everyone — Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim — was supposed to be able to get aid. Crowley's staff included people from three ethnic groups at war with each other, but he was able to succeed because he proved his integrity.

"We did it because the staff knew I respected each of them individually for the contributions they could make," he says.

One nun was directing aid mostly to the Croats, who are largely Catholic, something Crowley could not allow. In the end, he had to fire her.

"I do know you can do things with integrity and honor, and people can criticize your actions, but they can't criticize your motivations," he says.

At age 64, Crowley is the oldest candidate for council, but the intriguing variety of his experiences are what sets him apart. He served in the Navy and the Peace Corps. As an advocate for senior citizens, Crowley testified many times before Congress on issues that affect the elderly.

A father of four, including a lesbian daughter working as a fund-raiser for the Human Rights Campaign, Crowley wants to see the repeal of Article 12 of the city charter, which prohibits laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

"(Article 12) discriminates against a whole group of humankind," he says.

Crowley, who supports labor unions, says he is proud that all of his children are members of unions. He says the city should praise police and other city workers when they do something well. But he says the city should act when they do such things as go on an unofficial slowdown, as police did after the riots, complaining about public criticism.

"I can understand that they feel under-appreciated, but they still swore an oath to do their job," Crowley says.

The time has come for accountability, according to Democratic candidate Akiva Freeman. On the matter of police conduct, Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. should "face the music," Freeman says.

"People feel like Streicher has isolated himself to the point where he is above contact," he says.

That does not mean Freeman is unsupportive of police. He backs a proposal to hire 75 additional officers. One of the most promising new candidates, Freeman does not easily fit into a single category.

A jock who ran track and played football in high school, he originally wanted to attend a big school on an athletic scholarship. Instead he ended up at Wittenberg University, where he was chosen to be a campus representative to address diversity issues in small private universities in Ohio.

Born and raised in Avondale, Freeman attended Catholic grade school first at St. Mark School in Evanston and later at Annunciation School in Clifton. He went to Purcell Marian High School. He remembers being one of only five African-American students in the fourth through sixth grades.

"That taught me early on how to deal with things from another perspective," he says.

Although he doesn't always agree with the things some people say, Freeman says he can still understand where they are coming from.

"I'm not patronizing when I say I understand it," he says. "The true measure of leadership is being able to look someone in the eye and say, 'I'm going to go to bat for this, but —' " and then explaining what must be added, removed or changed in order to get it done.

Freeman, who works in property leasing and management for Duke-weeks Realty Corporation, believes that in order to foster redevelopment, the city must invest on the front end and demolish old buildings. If this were done, he says the city would not need to give tax abatements to buyers.

"As a developer, you want available land," he says.

Why do developers go outside of the city looking for land? Because that's where the land is.

"The reason we don't buy other buildings is because we want to build our own," he says. "I may be one of the few people that doesn't believe gentrification is a bad word. It may not be good for you individually, but it's good in general to have a community that can sustain itself."

Freeman says his business experience will benefit the city if he is elected.

"I'm used to working with a budget because we have budgets for all of my buildings," he says. "My job is very conducive with the office I'm running for."

Freeman was a part of Build Cincinnati, a bipartisan group that successfully worked for direct election of the mayor. He believes the stronger mayor system will benefit Cincinnati, but only if the right candidate wins. Freeman backs Luken, saying Charter candidate Courtis Fuller lacks experience. Fuller quit his job as a TV news anchor to run against Luken.

Fuller might have done better to enter a different race, Freeman says.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Courtis Fuller could have run for city council and would have been the top vote-getter," he says.

Freeman sometimes sounds a bit like Fuller, whose speeches have been infused with religious overtones.

"Being an elected official means you are a servant-leader," Freeman says.

"Servant" is not the first word that comes to mind when Democratic candidate David Pepper visits. When he sits for an interview in an editor's office, he sees a paper on the desk and asks a reporter to make a copy for him. Then he says he wants a soft drink.

Pepper is the son of John Pepper, chairman of the board of Procter & Gamble Co. He attended Yale University for both his bachelor's degree and law school. He spent his first summer during law school as a clerk for the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. He has worked with the mayor and city leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia, helping obtain private development and foreign trade and investment for the area.

But Pepper does not entirely lack the common touch. At a campaign rally featuring Elisabeth Filarski, from the cast of Survivor: The Australian Outback, he talked about the role basic services play in a neighborhood's quality of life.

"You look back at the last several years, and there have been cuts made to things like litter and building inspections," Pepper says. "The cities that have started to take care of these things well, they're seeing the secondary effect of crime moving elsewhere."

Pepper says he would like to see Cincinnati become known again as a great place for families by offering help in getting GEDs, putting more effort into schools and cleaning up blight.

"I think the best goal would be to say we are a great place for children to grow up," he says.

City councilmembers need to grow up, according to some of Jane Anderson's students. Anderson, another Democratic candidate for city council, has a doctoral degree in political science and teaches classes in state and local government at the University of Cincinnati.

Anderson assigns her students to attend a local government meeting and report back on what they see. The students who go to Cincinnati City Council come back with stories about councilmembers talking and walking around the room when other members are talking, bickering during meetings, making fun of each other.

"(The students) just go on and on in a state of shock at what they observe," Anderson says.

Although she owns a farm in Central Ohio, where she raises Highland cattle — big, hairy creatures — Anderson is committed to the city. She raised three kids in Clifton and East Walnut Hills and wants Cincinnati to be a place where children can have opportunities.

Anderson wants a city liaison with the Cincinnati Public Schools, better programs to address the health needs of children in poverty, preservation of affordable and mid-level priced housing in the city and tax incentives for people who rehab older houses.

Anderson is vehement about banning discrimination against gays and lesbians. She's on the steering committee of Citizens to Restore Fairness.

"There's a moral and economic imperative for us to remove Article 12 from the charter," she says. "It's not about special rights, it's about equal rights."

Findlay Market is what captures the passion of Lawra Baumann, another Democratic candidate for council. Complimented on her jewelry, she proudly says she bought it at the market.

Baumann is treasurer of the Corporation for Findlay Market, a nonprofit agency working with the city to revitalize the market and the area surrounding it.

"I'm passionate about the market," she says. "I walk to the market on a regular basis."

The efforts to revitalize Findlay Market hold lessons the city could try elsewhere, according to Baumann.

"This plan represents a model for what we should be doing in all of our neighborhoods," she says. "What we need are people who can get in there, roll up their sleeves immediately and tackle things head on."

A resident of Cincinnati for nearly 20 years who is originally from Peoria, Ill., Baumann sees the city at a turning point.

"If we don't make substantive progress in the next three to five years, we're going to be Detroit," she says.

As vice president of the Fifth Third Bank Foundation Office, she oversees the philanthropic activities of the bank. She is also a member of the Cincinnatus Association and president of the board of trustees of the Greater Cincinnati Housing Alliance.

Lately Baumann has been spending her spare time riding with police officers, learning about the community and how law enforcement works.

"The community at large — everybody wants the same thing," she says. "They want safety and crime reduced in their neighborhoods."

Baumann says police are afraid to do their jobs because of the threat of legal action.

"The fear of a Ken Lawson lawsuit is having a greater mitigating impact on our police force than the disturbances in April," she says.

But she believes civil service reform, opening the job of police chief to applicants from outside the city, is be a good idea.

"I do feel we need to make some changes to the culture within the police force particularly," she says.

The Republicans
Contact with police has usually been positive for Sam Malone, a Republican candidate for city council. As a youth, he received encouragement from Cincinnati Police Lt. M. Aaron Taylor, who took him to a gym to hone his boxing skills and who helped him conquer a speech impediment.

Malone went on to serve in the Navy, where he was a member of the all-Navy boxing team.

Malone realizes, however, that other African Americans have not always had positive experiences with police.

"In Cincinnati, we have the community outraged at the current method in which they apprehend suspects," he says.

Ironically Taylor, the officer who helped Malone as a youth, is himself now under indictment on 10 charges related to the alleged theft of $10,000.

Malone would like to see police operations reevaluated, with an emphasis on safety for all involved.

"If we have heightened tension, we can expect worse things to come," he says.

Instead of supporting the boycott called by the Black United Front, Malone says the city should work to solve the problems that led to the boycott.

"I think we need to be careful with the boycott, because my greatest fear is ending up like a Toledo or a Detroit," he says.

Malone is a business development officer for Westwood Homestead Savings Bank, and part of his job is working with the community by supporting local schools and organizing community festivals.

Malone says only 24 neighborhoods in the city have small business districts, something he wishes they all had.

Fellow Republican candidate Todd Ward shares Malone's interest in the city's business climate.

"The progress of a city turns on its economy," Ward says. "The best thing we can do from an economic standpoint is to aggressively pursue new buildings."

Ward, a tax consultant for Ernst & Young, says one of the problems with bringing new business to Cincinnati is the amount of time it takes to get through all the red tape. He says the building and inspections process adds 10 to 15 weeks onto a project.

"If you take care of the companies you already have, you don't have to spend so much chasing new ones," he says. "There are many cities where you can turn new construction projects around in three to four weeks. In governments throughout this region, economic development attempts to move at the speed of business. In the city of Cincinnati, we attempt to make business move at the speed of government."

Ward says he has experienced racial profiling firsthand. When he was 18 years old, a United Dairy Farmers store in Pleasant Ridge was robbed. The clerk told police the robbers were two black men, 6 feet tall, driving a gold Volkswagen Beetle.

Ward, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, was driving a green car with his white friend. Police pulled them over and took them to the store to see if the clerk could identify them as the robbers.

"The clerk started laughing and said, 'I told you 6 feet tall — two black guys,' " Ward says.

Ward can laugh at the situation, but he knows this kind of policing can lead to problems.

"Do the procedures have a bias?" he says. "I believe that they do. That does not mean every Cincinnati police officer is out to arrest every black person because they are driving at 2 o'clock in the morning in Hyde Park."

Ward is reluctant to compare discrimination against blacks to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Article 12 of the city charter is in place because of a vote by the people and will have to be repealed the same way, he argues.

"If it were to be repealed, I don't know what affect that would ultimately have," he says. "As a black man who has experienced and lived with discrimination and other ill effects based on the color of my skin, it shouldn't necessarily be compared to what you do in the privacy of your own home, because I can't tell. I think the notion of perceived discrimination versus actual discrimination is important to deal with in these issues."

Discussion — about race, sexual identity and other issues — is key to Cincinnati's future, Ward says.

"We're obviously known as a polite society," he says. "We spent so much time being polite that we forgot to talk to each other."

The Charter Committee
The way we talk to each other is important to John Schlagetter, a Charter Committee candidate for council. He talks to the people who show up week after week at council meetings — the people some wish would just go away.

Schlagetter thinks councilmembers should quit making sarcastic comments about the people who get up to speak. He says council should listen to what people are saying and do something about it.

"When 500 of your customers show up and want to talk about a defect in your product or service, you don't put them on hold," he says.

Schlagetter came to Cincinnati from Sidney, Ohio, in 1982 to attend the University of Cincinnati. He obtained a master's degree in business administration in Miami, Fla., then made his way back to the Queen City. Today he is an architect, a profession that might prove helpful in planning what to do with abandoned buildings in the city.

"We talk about what they used to be and we obsess about what they are and ignore what they could be," Schlagetter says.

The city has an opportunity to create some nifty housing, he says.

"It's not going to look like what you get in the 'burbs, but that's why you live there, because you can't get it in the 'burbs," he says.

Schlagetter is a list maker, a person who developed a 100-day plan and a more efficient calendar for city council. He wants public records, such as committee minutes and contracts administered by Neighborhood Services, available on the Internet. He also wants proposals published on the Internet, and he wants to take some council meetings into the neighborhoods.

Schlagetter suggests the city employ kids and teach them how to fix donated computer systems in the summer, then give those systems to low-income families.

Concern for the poor is also important to fellow Charter candidate Dawn Denno. She is the president of the Cincinnati chapter of Operation Smile, a non-profit agency that delivers doctors to Third World countries to perform reconstructive surgery on disfigured children.

Denno says she has worked with people who have to take two buses every day — one to get their children to child care and another to get to work. The city needs more programs such as MetroMoves "so that the people in our neighborhoods can get to work and get to the places they need to go," she says.

Denno calls for the redevelopment of brownfield sites, transportation and child care help for the working poor and efforts to make housing rehabilitation easier.

Denno also supports repeal of Article 12.

"I want it gone," she says. "I think it's immoral. I think it's hurting the city. We are partitioning ourselves in every way possible."

The Green Party
The Green Party has endorsed candidate Wes Flinn, a teacher at Northern Kentucky University, for city council.

Flinn is a composer, conductor, arranger and trombonist who grew up on a farm in Indiana, where he was always a "political junkie."

He sees potential in the arts in Cincinnati, from the major organizations to small Jazz clubs.

"The arts don't cure cancer," he says. "The arts don't pave roads. But they don't brutalize people, either. They don't shoot people in an alley."

Flinn has visited Paris, where working people frequented Jazz clubs and pedestrians from all walks of life hummed melodies from an opera. Flinn envisions this sort of thing for the United States as well — bringing the arts to everyone.

A teacher at Northern Kentucky University, Flinn is working on his doctoral degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

"If more people from different walks of life would run for office, you would see a government that was more representative on all levels," he says. "Every two years in every small town in America there should be a boatload of people running for council."

The Independents
Civil rights are more important to Laketa Cole than votes, as she demonstrated while recently campaigning as an independent candidate for city council.

A woman who accepted a campaign sticker asked Cole how she feels about the gay community. Cole said she supports them, and the woman became upset, ripping off the sticker and changing her mind. As a black woman, Cole says, she can't understand how someone who has been discriminated against can turn around and discriminate against others. Repealing Article 12 is very important for the city, according to Cole.

"I won't tolerate discrimination in any form," she says. "I'm not going to sell myself out and sell my morals and my values out for a vote."

Cole, who has a degree in political science, is a former aide to Councilmember Paul Booth. She also used to work in the office of former Councilmember Dwight Tillery. From an insider's perspective, Cole wasn't always happy with what she saw: different rules for different speakers at meetings, citizens who don't feel they are listened to and councilmembers who don't always relate to people.

"Meet people where they're at," she says. "That's your job — to give respect at all times and at all levels. You're supposed to be the bigger person. It's a privilege for council members to be able to hear from the citizens. Citizens don't feel like they're being listened to."

Cole quit her job in Booth's office to run for council as an independent, although she's worked with the Democrats for a long time.

Council races are a nonpartisan election and Cole thinks people should vote based on what they believe a candidate will do for them and the city.

"Are they going to stand up and be a voice or are they going to sit down and let things be the way they are?" she says.

One person who seems incapable of sitting down is Nate Livingston Jr., a local activist who is a Democrat running as an independent for city council. Livingston is free on bond while he appeals a conviction and 60-day sentence for interrupting Luken last year during the opening Oktoberfest ceremony.

Livingston was earlier investigated, and cleared of criminal wrongdoing, after suggesting on a radio talk show that someone should kill the Hamilton County Prosecutor.

"I think that city government is out of control," Livingston says. "I think councilmembers have lost their way. They've forgotten what government is for, which is to serve the people. The city is too focused on pleasing a handful of powerful special interest groups."

The civil unrest in April was a long time coming, according to Livingston.

"I know for years people have tried to say to the city and to the city council that we're tired," he says. "We're tired of the killings and the general disrespect that's shown by the police to the community, and I think it was ignored for years."

But the city's eventual response to the causes of the riot — Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), commissioned by Luken — is also unacceptable, Livingston says.

"They are a hand-picked group of individuals that don't have to answer to the citizens," he says. "What they're charged with doing is something that elected officials should be doing."

Livingston thinks Luken should have seen to it that Streicher was fired for his actions before and after the civil unrest. He questions Streicher's decision to pull officers off joint task forces with the FBI after it started investigating officers accused of firing beanbag missiles into a peaceful crowd in Over-the-Rhine.

"All of that, I believe, led to the outrageous violence that you've seen since April, and yet the mayor continues to say that Streicher is his friend and has done a good job," Livingston says.

Livingston believes the Citizens Police Review Panel should be granted subpoena power and authority to independently investigate police.

More public education by activists is needed before putting the repeal of Article 12 on the ballot, to ensure success, Livingston says.

"I don't think Issue 3 should have ever been passed," he says.

Editor's note: Attempts to interview candidates Ken Anderson, Toni Andrews, Theo Barnes, Tom Jones, Clarence Williams, Eric Wilson and William Kirkland were unsuccessful. ©