arch 25 would have been David Crowley’s 75th birthday, and his family is planning an event that day which would bring a smile to his face.
For those who didn’t know Crowley, he served on Cincinnati City Council for eight years, from 2001-09, the maximum allowed by term limits. During the last two years with the group, he was vice mayor, filling in for Mayor Mark Mallory when he was absent and presiding over council’s meetings.
During his time in public office, Crowley, a Democrat, championed many progressive causes and — despite Cincinnati’s conservative reputation — often helped marshal them to victory. He was active in the effort to overturn Article 12, the notorious charter amendment that prohibited the passage of any laws to protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination. Once it was repealed in 2004, Crowley successfully pushed to add sexual orientation and transgender status to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.
Also, he lobbied for an Environmental Justice Ordinance that was approved in 2009 after more than three years of hard work and negotiations with the business community. The law is designed to protect poor neighborhoods from pollution. It requires that an environmental assessment be done for certain types of projects proposed in neighborhoods that are deemed already affected by bad stuff in their air or water.
But Crowley’s time at City Hall was only a fraction of the public service he accomplished over the years.
A U.S. Navy veteran and a professional social worker, Crowley was chosen by then-Gov. John Gilligan in the 1970s to serve as the first executive director of the Ohio Commission on Aging. Later, Crowley became executive vice president of the American Association of Homes for the Aging, in Washington, D.C., from 1975-82.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Crowley joined the Peace Corps for awhile, then directed international relief and development projects in West Africa, South America, Thailand, Bosnia and elsewhere, before returning to his native Cincinnati in 1995.
At age 64, he decided to run for council; he won during his first campaign, which is something of a rarity.
During all that activity, he still managed to find time to raise four children and, later, dote on six grandchildren.
That’s an impressive record, by anyone’s standards.
After Crowley passed away in January 2011 at age 73 following a long struggle with cancer, his family quietly established the Crowley Legacy Fund that spring. The project raises money to support the causes and issues that were important to Crowley including the labor movement, protecting the environment, ensuring fair treatment for all people and helping those in need.
The fund’s motto is “eternus virtus” which is Latin for “eternal virtue” — a quality that Crowley had in abundance.
“David’s death was an overwhelming loss for me,” said Sherri Crowley, his widow. “Creating the fund and carrying on his work allows me to move forward.”
During its first year, the Legacy Fund raised $20,100. About $15,000 of that amount went to the Hamilton County Democratic Party to help its slate of City Council candidates. It proved to be a good investment: Three Republicans and a conservative Charterite all lost their council seats in November’s election. Three Democrats and an independent replaced them.
One of the newcomers was Chris Seelbach, a longtime aide and campaign worker for Crowley. He became the first openly gay man elected to the group.
In all, three first-time candidates were successful and voters elected the first council where a majority of members are African-American. Some party insiders have taken to calling the group “Mr. Crowley’s kids.”
Of the remaining money during the first year, some went toward printing and distributing fliers in the lobbying effort to get City Council to reverse its decision in August and let the Health Department accept a $650,000 federal grant so it could expand a dental clinic in Avondale into a full-service health center.
Cash also was spent to post bail for the roughly 45 Occupy Cincinnati protestors who were arrested on trespassing charges for camping overnight in downtown’s Piatt Park.
Now entering its first full year in existence, the Legacy Fund wants to move away from giving money to the party or individual candidates — for the most part — and focus on projects that will achieve broader goals.
The fund is overseen by Sherri Crowley; one of David’s sons, Kevin; and a nephew, Patrick. They are helped by an advisory group of people that David knew well including attorney Tom Beridon, activist Brewster Rhoads and political consultant Alyson Steele Beridon, among others.
The Legacy Fund, which is registered as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt, nonprofit group with the IRS, will hold a fundraiser marking David’s birthday at Crowley’s Highland House Café in Mount Adams, the bar that his family has owned for generations. The event will be held 1-6 p.m. on March 25.
Projects that the Legacy Fund likely will help this year include “get out the vote” (GOTV) efforts during the presidential election and possibly to defeat a so-called “right to work” constitutional amendment that’s been promised by some Ohio Republicans, depending on how it’s worded. The amendment would ban workers from being required to join a union or pay dues, like a law recently enacted in Indiana.
Critics contend the true intent of such measures is to undermine the bargaining strength of unions.
Further, the Legacy Fund will support a referendum on the November ballot that seeks to overturn House Bill No. 194, an Ohio election law. The law, passed by Republicans, reduces the period for mail-in absentee voting and reduces the time allowed for early voting.
“It’s clear that it’s voter suppression,” Kevin Crowley said.
There is no minimum contribution for the March event and people who just want to come and share remembrances of Crowley are welcome, too.
“Even if they don’t want to write a check, I want people who knew him to show up and share their stories with us,” Sherri Crowley said. “David always liked it when people had a good time.”