Cover Story: Well-Suited

Mark Mallory has a reputation as a conciliator -- except when he's hungry

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Sean Hughes


Well Suited



Have you heard about the standard black man's umbrella? More than 10 years ago, Mark Mallory and Tom Moorman were headed to their jobs at the downtown library after lunch. Moorman told Mallory he needed to stop off and buy a standard black man's umbrella.

"Mark looked at me and said, 'What in the hell are you talking about? Do you think there's only one kind of umbrella we carry?' " Moorman says. "I couldn't figure out what he was getting so upset about. I said, 'I just want a standard man's umbrella in black.' Mark said, 'That is not what you said.'

"Once we both realized the misunderstanding, we had a good laugh.

He's used that example a lot to point out how easily miscommunications happen."

If Mallory is elected mayor of Cincinnati this fall, he's probably going to have plenty of opportunities to use that example.

"The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that we have a problem," he says. "This is the same problem a lot of large cities have, particularly those with racial segregation like we have in Cincinnati. We're segregated in terms of where blacks are and where whites are. We have to talk about our differences and why we're different and what those differences mean."

Mallory has a reputation for being — and dressing as — a serious man. Michael Deemer, legal counsel for the Ohio Senate Minority Caucus, believes Mallory actually showers in a business suit. But he also has a whimsical side, as demonstrated by his most recent gag.

On April 1 — April Fools Day — Mallory's office in the Ohio Senate released a statement proposing to move the state capital to Cincinnati. Columbus just wasn't cutting it, according to Mallory.

"There is no LaRosa's (and) they don't know how to prepare chili," he said.

He proposed housing legislators on the waterfront along the Ohio River.

"Now when legislators sit scheming in their offices, at least they will have a nice view of the river," he said. "Plus, all three of America's favorite game-playing venues will be located side-by-side: baseball, football and politics."

'Make me proud'
A self-described "Ford man," State Sen. Mark Mallory (D-West End) drives a spotlessly clean black Cadillac. He collects model cars — 1/43 scale only; he doesn't like the few 1/45 scale cars he has. He loves Kit-Kat bars, is left-handed and, when asked if he dates, paraphrases former State Senate President Dick Finan.

"When Finan was majority leader and you'd tell him you'd want to do something, he'd say, 'Can't, no money,' " Mallory says. "When I'm asked that question (about dating), I answer, 'Can't, no time.' "

The youngest of six children, Mallory, 43, comes from one of the rarest backgrounds in Cincinnati: an African-American political dynasty. His brothers are Hamilton County Municipal Judge William Jr.; Joe, former vice mayor of Forest Park; and Dale, president of the West End Community Council.

One might assume that the Mallory siblings' civic involvement resulted from the influence of their father, William Sr., who served 28 years in the Ohio House of Representatives.

"Everybody thinks that Dad sat around and said, 'You're going do this and you're going do that,' like Joe Kennedy did," Mark Mallory says. "He didn't do any of that."

The directives he follows actually came from a different authority — his mother — starting when he was a child.

"(She said,) 'I don't care what you do in life but you have to do something, and you need to do something that's going to make me proud,' " Mallory says. " 'It doesn't have to be something major, but you have to do something to make me proud.' The point was you don't get to sit around, you don't get to loaf, you've got to work hard in this world, you've got to work hard in this life."

William Mallory Sr. concurs.

"I would not try to tell my children what they had to do," he says. "It had to be a free choice on their part. I never wanted to push them into (politics)."

The elder Mallory did what many dads do: He went home and talked over dinner about his day at work.

"Each week when I came back from Columbus, I'd discuss the stories, what happened," William Sr. says. "I gave them a sense of what I was doing when I was away."

The political discussions didn't end there, according to Joe Mallory, administrator of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

"He'd say, 'I want to talk with you for a minute.' We'd sit around the big dining room table," Joe Mallory says. "He'd set us up with a question: What do you think about such and such? We'd try to take a stab at it. Then he'd take it in another direction."

The conversations never took "a minute," and afterward the boys frequently commiserated.

"After having a talk, we'd say to each other, 'Wow, another speech. I'm not getting into it.' And later he told us, 'Don't get into (politics), it's rough,' " Joe says.

Dale Mallory also remembers their father's willingness to explain how local activity related to the state level.

"We had worked on plenty of campaigns," he recalls. "I asked Dad, 'How does all this come together?' He said, 'You have to find what the community councils are doing.' Mark has studied this stuff all his life, along with the rest of us. We've seen it firsthand."

'Pick up the gavel'
Mark Mallory was hooked at an early age.

"About age 9, I used to take him to Columbus with me," William Sr. says. "I would seat him at a committee table with the representatives and I would deliberately go out of the room and come back and I would say, 'Look, I didn't leave you here to chew gum. What'd they talk about while I was gone?' Just to make him alert. I wanted him to pay attention, saying it without saying it.

"I'd take him to the podium where the speaker presided and I would say, 'Pick up that gavel. You are now the speaker of the House of Representatives. Stand up there and pound that gavel.' I wanted him to reach for the heights — that's why I put him up there."

In addition to being drafted by his father to help with his campaign — "ignoring child labor laws," Dale says — Mark started attending events with his dad.

"I used to go to events to spend time with him," Mark says. "He wasn't home much. That's the only reason I started going."

Described by his dad as always curious, Mark did more than just hang out with his father; he observed what was going on around him.

State Rep. Jim Raussen (R-Springdale) sees that influence as beneficial.

"He's coming from a tradition of having other family members in office, especially his father," Raussen says. "There are many times that you will see second generation folks think they have all the answers. That's not the case with (Mark). He's always willing to listen, to learn more, be open."

Dale Mallory says his brother's lack of arrogance comes from the accountability of immediate and extended family.

"We have each other to answer to first," he says. "(Mark's) seen enough through the struggles and challenges of this community, he sees the public through his own constituency and through the hard work our father's done, the hard work our family has done."

The parade of people through the family's West End home — ranging from children from broken homes to a Who's Who of political leaders calling the house at all hours of the day and night — reinforced the notion that a public servant must answer to diverse groups of people, Dale says.

Some of those politicians, who ultimately became mentors for Mark when he was a young state representative, included such powerful Republicans as Finan and former State Sen. Stan Aronoff, who in turn had been mentored by William Sr. when he was House Majority Leader.

Mark credits those individuals as having an important role in his professional development but says his father is his most important role model. He points to his father's approach as the foundation for his own philosophy — "Don't forget the obvious course" — and for keeping people focused so they don't get caught up in the mechanics of getting to a resolution.

"I'm solution oriented," William Sr. says. "I'm not interested in making headlines. I want to solve problems. I grew up on one of the toughest streets in Cincinnati. I observed the things I wanted to change. You may be a Democrat or a Republican, but you're going to have to work with other people if you want to accomplish anything in the legislative. You set aside the partisanship."

'He's grassroots'
Mark Mallory also credits Moorman, his former boss at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, for his drive to keep looking for different ways to address problems.

"Tom Moorman is about continuous process improvement," Mallory says. "You can always do better, you can always improve."

Moorman recounts one of his most memorable encounters with Mallory as the reason he became interested in helping the young man. In a new supervisory position that oversaw the security department, where Mallory worked, Moorman thought fairness required that all guards rotate through the night shift.

"They grumbled about it," Moorman says. "But nobody came to me. Then Mark started bombarding me with research, medical proof that changing shifts over and over again wasn't healthy. I'd go find him and say, 'So you've been reading again.' Through Mark's efforts, I came to realize there could be another definition of fair, and we went back to the old rotation."

That style of hands-on involvement with his staff impressed Mallory and helped define his own style of leadership.

"The leader of any organization (has) a responsibility to that organization, to those individuals, to bring people together," he says. "You have a responsibility to offer help and advise wherever you can. You have to be a coach, you have to embrace people."

Coaching is something Mallory does actively. LaShawn Butler, a senior graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in political science, calls Mallory his mentor.

"When I first met him, I was taking part in the 'We Hear the Voices' celebration at the Mallory Center and I was part of the student help from UC," Butler says. "I'm walking side by side with Mark, (who) was helping us carry the plaques in. I didn't know who this cat was. After we got finished, he introduced himself, 'Hi, I'm Sen. Mark Mallory,' and my jaw dropped. I told him, 'My mom and my father will not believe I was talking with Sen. Mark Mallory. If you would, just sign a piece of paper so they believe that I actually talked to you.' He said, 'You're silly,' and he took out one of his business cards and signed the back. I still have that card to this day. And he said, 'If you need any help with school or if you need advice, just give me a call.' "

A week later Butler did just that. As the oldest in his family, he describes Mallory as a "big brother" who helps him figure things out, including choosing the political activities in which he participates.

Terry Enns, a law professor at Ohio State University, regularly invites Mallory to speak to her classes.

"I ask him to come to speak to my legislation class about the role of the minority, because he has a desire to help people understand how the minority party can operate and accomplish things," Enns says.

Like others, she points out that Mallory seems always to be in a suit.

"He's known for being a snappy dresser," she says.

But his concept of political work has more to do with practicality than with flair. Deemer began his political career as a staff member for Mallory after graduating from law school.

"When you work for Sen. Mallory, you get the charge, and the charge is to never forget why you're there and who you're working for," Deemer says. "Their job as staffers for a public representative is to be an advocate for the people of his senate district. It's the people that matter. He says, 'You're always on the job, you've got to do everything you can to help the people.' He is always on the job. He's the definition of a public servant. He takes it very, very seriously."

This principle of service has its origins with his parents, Mallory says.

"I want to find solutions to problems," he says. "I learned this from what I've learned. My father's approach is looking at how things ought to be. When he would suggest how things could be better, others would say he couldn't do things that way and he'd say, 'Why not?' My mother's approach is, 'Don't tell me I can't do something, because you're going to make me go do it.' "

Mallory maintains his primary residence in Cincinnati and commutes to Columbus, staying in a hotel while there. Butler believes his mentor stays in touch because "he's grassroots."

"To write public policy, you have to understand people," Butler says. "He does, he's around them. He rides around Cincinnati. He knows every neighborhood and the elements of each neighborhood. There's not one area of Cincinnati he's not in tune to, and if there's something he doesn't know he'll find out about it."

'A graceful guy'
If you talk to people who know Mallory and ask what he's like, his eating habits inevitably come up.

"The man has to have popcorn when he goes to a movie, even if he's just finished eating," Butler says.

David Leland, a former chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, worked closely with Mallory on local, state and national issues for several years and appointed him to the Democratic National Committee.

"I've never seen a guy eat more and gain less weight," Leland says. "It really kind of pisses me off. The guy is a machine when it comes to food."

If Mallory has a dark side, it comes out when he's hungry, according to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Youngstown).

"If he doesn't eat, he gets really grumpy," Ryan says.

But that belies a temperament that otherwise wins appreciation from colleagues. State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) says Mallory puts the political process before himself. He describes a racially motivated comment directed at Mallory.

"When Ohio was going to ratify the 14th Amendment, one of our members — who is prone to fits of rhetoric — made a dumb statement," Seitz says. "Instead of going to the press and ranting and raving, (Mallory) accepted the apology for the remark and moved on. He's a graceful guy."

Mallory considers Ohio's ratification of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution his greatest legislative achievement. When he learned Ohio had never ratified the amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, he made it a priority.

"I'm black and proud of it," he says. "People around me may forget I'm black, but those issues are always with me."

He laughs when he describes being asked by other hotel guests to call a cab and a customer at a furniture store demanding to know why he wasn't waiting on her.

"Humor helps us deal with stress and find commonality," he says.

Jeff Johnson, director of community relations for the city of Cleveland, credits Mallory for not lashing out even when given the opportunity.

"His personality and his evenness relative to his emotions serves him well when it comes to dealing with folk who stereotypically look at an African-American male and think that he's a hothead and irrational," Johnson says. "Mark dispels that when he sits in a room with you."

Johnson recalls a standoff between students and police and school administration at Central State College in 1996.

"There was a sit-in down at Central State," says Johnson, who was leader of the Minority Caucus at that time. "A call went out to all of the members from different districts across the state. I drove down from Columbus. So did Mallory and a couple of other folks. We drove to Central State to mediate. We literally got between the police and the students. Mark was with me negotiating with the student leaders and then we'd go out and negotiate with the administrators, who believed the students were illegally controlling a dorm. They were ready to go in there and carry them out, and we worked it out where the students agreed to leave.

"There was a significant movement to close (Central State), and we had to get together as an organization and lead the charge to fight against it. We negotiated a settlement with the Republicans, and now (the school) is open and alive and financially stable."

The experience showed Mallory's ability to be levelheaded and analytical in the midst of a difficult situation, according to Johnson.

"The combination of his negotiating skills in the middle of a controversy when there's tension was a great aid," he says.

'We're not leaving'
State Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Price Hill) also has observed Mallory's ability to calm tense confrontations. Both participated in a meeting in Columbus to address issues involved with tax increment finance (TIF) districts. Tempers were high and accusations flew across the table, according to Driehaus.

"There was a big brouhaha," he says. "There were many legislators on both sides of the aisle who were not happy with how the council members were pursing the TIF districts in Cincinnati. Essentially we were holding up a significant piece of legislation because of the feuding we were having in Hamilton County. Mallory called a meeting to bring all the parties together.

"It was quite the spectacle. There was all this fighting going on and people were yelling things back and forth. It was not nice. To his enormous credit, Mark made everyone sit down. We worked out the issues, we cleared up the misunderstandings, we worked out the language and (the legislation) passed. I think all parties were satisfied."

Given the sometimes raucous atmosphere of Cincinnati City Council meetings, Mallory's ability to conduct meetings in a way that gets work done could bode well for the city.

In 2003 he read an article about Saint Bernard's ongoing struggle to get a barrier built between Interstate 75 and Ross Park. He called Barbara Siegal, then mayor of the small city, and asked what was going on.

"Nobody else in Columbus was able to do anything," Siegal says. "They'd get it as far as ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) and it would just stop."

Ray Schrand, former service director of Saint Bernard, still is impressed with the way Mallory handled the situation.

"He said, 'We'll have a meeting,' " Schrand says. "He came down and had ODOT come down and we sat around and discussed it and discussed it. Sen. Mallory said, 'We're not leaving here until we get this resolved.' We agreed to split the cost, and we ended up with a real good safety barrier."

"Everyone in Saint Bernard knows who he is because he helped our community," Siegal says. "Within a year, a semi crashed into the wall. Only the front end of the truck came through the barrier."

After the wall project was completed, Mallory continued to stay in touch.

"He called up and told us to apply for grant money that might be available," Schrand recalls. "He did make the effort, he did give us a call. He treated us like gold."

Mallory's political toolbox goes beyond a knack for getting opposing parties to focus on a solution. He's unafraid to take on unpopular issues.

A few years ago he was involved in a showdown with prison officials in Youngstown over the first private prison in Ohio, according to attorney Al Gerhardstein, president of the Prison Reform Advocacy Center.

"Within a couple days of the prison opening, people were getting stabbed and it was totally out of control," he says. "I went up there and had contact with some of the inmates and started a federal lawsuit. At the same time I also turned around to the state and said, 'What's going on here? Why are we letting these venture capitalists lock people up?' "

As a member of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, Mallory and Rhine McLin, who was then committee chair, went to tour the facility.

"He went there and demanded entry into the prison and actually had a very big showdown when they refused (them) entry," Gerhardstein says. "He demanded access and put a spotlight on the problem, which eventually did attract the attention of the legislature. He was also helpful in linking us up with the city of Youngstown when we tried to get for them what they'd been promised — medium security inmates — (when) what they got was head shooters from urban D.C."

Mallory continues to keep a watchful eye on the government regulation of private prisons and other issues inmates face.

"He's remained attentive to inmates throughout Ohio, not only the private prison inmates," Gerhardstein says. "There's no political constituency for prisoners except for a few moms. That's just not much interest in protecting the rights of inmates. That doesn't bother him. He's been steadfast in his commitment to ensuring that inmates in Ohio have adequate health care and clothing and basic services, and I don't think he gets any extra votes for that. He does it because it's right."

'Better than that'
Because of painful personal experience, Johnson knows something of what Gerhardstein says.

"I was convicted of a fund-raising offense and (sentenced) to 15 months in federal prison," Johnson says. "(Mark) corresponded with me, visited me. He did not walk away from me like some other friends did. I was running for Congress when I was indicted, and I stayed in Columbus during the time I was appealing (the conviction). Mark stayed my friend, and we hung out. He was a state senator, but he didn't worry about what people may have said about him hanging out with someone who had just been dishonored. It makes you feel better, that maybe there are still some people who are out there who'll walk with you."

Loyalty is a quality seldom attributed to politicians. But perhaps Mallory learned that, too, from his close-knit family.

He makes a commitment to spend time with people he cares about. He has a standing lunch date with his best friend and fellow sunflower seed connoisseur — not just any brand will do — Andrea Rousseau. Every Monday at 11:30 a.m., except on rare occasions when others succeed in interfering with their long-standing ritual, they get together and talk about what's happening in the community.

Rousseau admits to serving as Mallory's informal sounding board, frequently asking, "Where did you get that idea?"

But perhaps a better measure of character is how a person treats those he doesn't like. Rousseau, a human resource specialist at the library, observed Mallory's management style when he was managing the graphic production department.

"He was a really good manager," Rousseau says. "Even if he disliked you, he'd give you the props. There was a lady that worked down in graphic production, and he did not like her. She was kind of a busybody and always asking questions that didn't have anything to do with her job.

"She was prompt, she was efficient, so when it was time to do her evaluation, he gave her a two-step — the highest raise possible if you're doing exceptional work. Somebody asked him, 'Why are you giving her a two-step? I thought you didn't like her.' He said, 'I don't like her. But she does a good job and she deserves a raise. She's an excellent employee and a hard worker.' He's able to separate how he feels about a person and give them what they deserve."

For the past few years, Cincinnati's image has often been unlikable, marred by deep-rooted divisions.

"I was in Somara, Russia," Mallory says, "and I met with some people there and they said, 'You're from Cincinnati. Now we've seen that on TV. That's a terrible city.' So we have this image that's been going on for years. Every time I go somewhere, we have this image that's just like the city of intolerance and this city that just doesn't get it. I know that our city is better than that.

"Well, perception is reality. OK, so if that's people's perception, then that's what people are feeling, that's what they're seeing and that causes a problem."

Dot Napoly, a retired University of Cincinnati professor of social work, expresses her concern for the health and vitality of Cincinnati and the kind of leadership she thinks the city needs.

"All you have to do is look at Columbus and Indianapolis and see what those cities have been able to do in 20 years," she says. "Why can't we do that — profit from the various natural resources we have here? We have beautiful architecture, many attractions, not just the sports, and how can people become aware of what those are if they don't participate? People I know are anxious to leave, to move anywhere else, and it's because the city has a reputation of not being the most avant-garde place in the country.

"We need each other in order to survive. Until we can reconcile that, the city is going to continue to flounder and not produce the kind of leadership that would promote that kind of vision."

That's where Mallory can help, according to Congressman Ryan.

"Cincinnati has a lot of great assets and some great corporate leadership and yet it has this underlying — and sometimes not so underlying — racial issue," Ryan says. "Mark, whom I've worked with for the past five years, (is) the kind of guy who can harness the energy of both of those worlds and bring these two worlds together."

McLin, who is now mayor of Dayton, says leading Cincinnati offers unique challenges.

"This is a town that can put pigs on the corner but yet close down a museum showing of nudes," she says. "(You) can have the artistic ability to have a purple bridge you can walk over, but when it comes to gay rights (you're) just frigid."

'Find a super-mayor'
Cincinnati's political structure poses problems that don't hamper other Ohio mayors, McLin says.

"The difference between being the mayor of Dayton and mayor of Cincinnati is that you've got all those council members," she says. "By having all those little mini-mayors, you've got to find a super-mayor that can work with the mini-mayors. If the person who gets the job isn't a conciliator, it can even make matters worse."

That, Mallory says, is why he's specially suited to lead Cincinnati for the next four years.

"My degree's in administrative management," he says. "This is what you're trained to do — you're trained to be a manager. You're trained to find consensus. You're trained to take a group of people, develop a vision and move that group and that organization in that direction."

Developing the talent on council is necessary to have a strong leadership team, Mallory says.

"If you don't develop your leadership team, you can't provide leadership, you can't be a leader," he says. "My belief is the mayor sits down with each of those council people and you find out from them what their agenda items are, what they want to do, what their vision is, and you begin to marry all that up. You have nine folks there and if you can get all nine to do a particular thing, that's great. But what you need is a majority, and you find the folks that are willing to work with you and you begin to advance an agenda. It's not just the mayor's agenda. It's also their agenda. There has to be buy-in, there has to be involvement."

Ryan says Mallory's experience and methodology will help Cincinnati in its relationship with other levels of government.

"Everything becomes so interconnected when you talk about government, whether it's funding for education or R&D or state funding or local," he says. "That ability to bring his own community together for a certain cause, a certain purpose, will benefit Mark when he to comes down to Washington to get the kind of help he'll be looking for in Cincinnati.

"Washington doesn't really want to get involved in communities that don't have their act together, who have the business community going in one direction, the labor community going in another direction and have these other problems that they need to deal with. Mark, having legislative experience at the state level, understands the process."

This year's mayoral election is pivotal, according to former mayor Roxanne Qualls, who endorsed Mallory even before the incumbent, fellow Democrat Charlie Luken, announced he wouldn't seek re-election.

"For the sake of the city, regardless of who is elected, we all hope and pray that the individual elected will be up to the task because the city cannot afford a failed mayoralty for the next four years," Qualls says. "The competition, the competitive nature of this race, is only good for the city and to the city's benefit if the (candidates) running, including Mark, are held to a standard of performance by the voters, (which) means producing a mayoral agenda that begins to lay out how this city is going to get from where it is to where it needs to be over the next 15 to 25 years." ©

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