I knew of Mark Mallory when we were two nobodies very outside the arena of public opinion and scrutiny — both, I think, scrapping to escape the long shadows of overachieving older siblings to find our own footing.
When I worked with him at the Main Public Library in the early 1990s, he was then pretty much what he is now — an affable guy with an even Steven little Afro who wore nice suits and who was always the same. He was charming, funny and a Teflon don to the inter- and intra-departmental pettiness that percolated among library staffers. If, like me, he traded in gossip, innuendo and mimicry, I couldn't tell.
I use "worked with" loosely because Mallory and I never actually did that; we worked in the same building. I was a part-time evening reference assistant and, in my memory, he had an ambiguous daytime job. I had to go back and read our own cover story on Mallory ("Well-Suited," issue of May 11-17) to learn that, in addition to working in security at the library, he managed the graphics department.
During summers when I'd inevitably be offered extra hours — a windfall of extra cash to a broke college dropout — I heard for myself what the librarians sometimes whispered about: Mallory and those morning announcements.
In that mellifluous voice that sounds nearly electronic in precision and enunciation, he periodically reported the weather and relayed programming notes. Close your eyes for a second and imagine your next mayor saying: "The Children's Theater is proud to present Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang.
The forecast for today calls for winds out of the southeast and low humidity for a pleasant high of 78 degrees. "
Some of us desk jockeys joked we didn't know what Mallory's job was. I used to call him "The Brotha from the Fifth Floor" after the Martin character who was always around but who never really did anything.
Back then I vaguely knew he had some name recognition. Was his daddy a judge and his brother in the legislature, or was it the other way around?
This, of course, was before elevated profiles, before columns and Columbus, before ad naseum debates, polls, endorsements, David Pepper's passive/aggressive anti-Mallory commercials, his potshots at Mallory's endorsements and Mallory's witty retorts.
I would love a mayor with a sense of humor, a leader who, without malice, laughs naturally at fools and not with deep-seated self-loathing at himself.
I dig that Mallory's political lineage, though he denies its Ebony resemblance to the Kennedy's patriarchy, is Kennedy enough to be old-school Democrat and not postmodern centrist Democrat or Democrat-so-conservative-he-quacks-like-a-Republican.
Cutthroat, backroom politics mired in corporate panhandling have made humanism like Mallory's seem corny and unbelievable. In my lifetime, not since Jimmy Carter have I heard a politician talk openly and unabashedly about helping people, staying connected to people, always being "on the job" and acting as a managerial mediator rather than behaving as a politician.
I was just shy of voting age when Carter was president, but I knew I would've voted for him if I could have. Not because it's all my parents talked about and not because, back then, all blacks except for the evil black conservatives (who were they, anyway?) were expected and assumed to be and vote Democrat.
And in that way we (they, really) voted along race, though the Democratic Party of yore presented a succession of as many eccentric and sometimes vile, lying white men as the Republicans.
To the disdain of hordes of outspoken, wealthy and politically vigorous conservatives, Cincinnati voters have two Democrats to choose from for mayor. In my mind this leaves race, class and political ideology — problem solver or policy nerd? — as the election's three deciding factors.
Why? The religious zealots attached to the Rev. Charlie Winburn have been eliminated. Gone, too, are all those 'round-the-way, churchified supporters of Vice Mayor Alicia Reece.
This mayoral election rests on the swing vote of the well-meaning white person. Mallory and Pepper, you see, each have a bevy of guaranteed black votes.
Mallory's comprises run-of-the-mill blacks familiar with his father and the family, while Pepper's is a strange amalgamation of the Amen Corner black church ladies who follow him around and some Avondale blacks impressed with his support — financial and otherwise — of neighborhood programs.
Not to dis the Hispanics in Price Hill and the West Side or the Asians between downtown and Anderson Township, but we'll vote in the mayoral race, in a cockamamie way, along racial lines in verso. (I learned that phrase working at the library.) Blacks impressed with how seemingly normal Pepper is for a rich white kid will vote for him and whites tired of whites like Pepper will vote for Mallory.
And so will I.
After all, I knew the guy when he was doing the weather at the library.
contact Kathy y. wilson: kwilson(at)citybeat.com.