News: A Fuller Perspective

Mayoral candidate pushes positive thinking

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Jymi Bolden

Courtis Fuller says he wants to help Cincinnati be positive.

When Courtis Fuller thinks of a model for leadership, Angela Leisure comes to mind.

After a Cincinnati Police officer shot and killed her 19-year-old son — which led to rioting and the indictment of the officer — Leisure appealed to the public for calm and announced she has forgiven the cop.

"That's what true leadership is about, in the toughest moments being able to show your compassion and your human side," Fuller says. "She has risen above her own personal pain to say to this city, 'Unite and come together."

Fuller is not the type of person to offer much criticism, but he does have a couple of things to say about his opponent in the race for mayor of Cincinnati, incumbent Charlie Luken.

Two days after the death of Timothy Thomas, nearly 200 people attended a meeting of city council's Law and Public Safety Committee, demanding answers. Among them was Leisure, Thomas' mother.

Fuller cites Luken's departure from the volatile committee meeting that day as the event that sparked his interest in running for mayor.

"Mrs. Leisure was asking some questions and needed someone to assure her that they would find the answers for her," Fuller says.

But Luken left the meeting, which had been effectively taken over by the crowd. Later that night came the first violent confrontation with police in Over-the-Rhine, the first of three days of rioting.

Criticized for leaving the meeting, Luken gave several explanations: He had other obligations, he wasn't a member of the committee and he actually returned to the meeting but couldn't find a seat (See "Slinking Away," April 12-18, 2001).

"He has his reasons, and I don't know if anyone has accepted those as credible reasons," Fuller says.

Leisure, by contrast, has been an inspiration, according to Fuller. A message of togetherness is one Fuller says he wants to advance as a candidate for mayor — and one he says Luken has failed to deliver.

He points to Luken's first campaign ad, in which the mayor vows to fight a boycott of Cincinnati organized by Black United Front. Luken's tone — "The boycott is the last thing we need, and I'll fight it with every ounce of energy I have" — does little to foster reconciliation, Fuller says.

Instead, he prefers Leisure's approach.

"Here you have a woman who can forgive the person who shot and killed her son — and we have the mayor who sounds combative," Fuller says.

Will the walls come tumbling down?
No one would call Fuller combative. In fact, the Charter Committee candidate sometimes sounds more like a preacher than a politician. When he announced he was planning to run for mayor of Cincinnati, Fuller says, his sister and his minister both sent him to the same place in the Bible, the book of Joshua.

"Moses was able to only get people so far, and it was Joshua who led them into the promised land, if you will," Fuller says. "Probably everybody else might not have chosen Joshua. They might have picked someone else. But if God picks someone for a particular assignment, you better watch out."

If God — or, more to the point, the electorate — doesn't pick Fuller for the mayor's post, he could easily get a job as a motivational speaker. Asked tough question after tough question, he keeps going back to the importance of positive thinking.

"I just am not going to do anything short of it," he says.

Fuller's message is pretty simple: Come out of your comfort zone and think in ways you've never thought before.

"Everybody — no matter who you are, what your nationality is or where you may have been raised — we're all taught that golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," he says. "You just have to treat people better. It doesn't come in the way of any fancy proposal. It begins with you."

When the Hamilton County Republican Party announced it would not field a candidate to challenge Luken, Fuller quit his job as news anchor the same day and entered the race. Giving up the job security he enjoyed in a field he'd worked in for 21 years, Fuller says Cincinnati has to take risks, too.

"As I talk about tolerance and acceptance and inclusion — that means everybody," he says. "We have to move forward, and change means moving forward."

Fuller says he's happy to see a study being done on the impact of Issue 3, the referendum that amended the city charter to ban equal protection for gays and lesbians. Fuller says he would support a proposal to repeal the charter amendment.

Since Thomas' death, protest signs, chanting in the streets and marching to City Hall have become familiar events.

Fuller says he does not support the boycott of Cincinnati, and hopes the city can find another solution for its racial problems. But he says the city needs to understand the reasons for the boycott.

"The call for this boycott was borne out of frustration and a call for change," he says. "While I seek a different solution, I understand the premise of any boycott or of any protest."

Fuller says we are a country built on protests. He has been reading Faith Works, a book about a movement bringing together politics and spirituality to lead to social change.

"It reminded me that change has occurred as a result of a few individuals protesting something that they thought was not right," he says. "Protests are part of our society and we should never, ever dismiss people who don't have the same opinions."

Emphasizing the positive
Respecting other people is something Fuller believes Cincinnati needs to do better.

"The city should be like a family, and in any family you're going to have some disagreements," he says. "It takes a lot of will to love someone who has differing opinions than what you do."

It would be hard to find a person in Cincinnati without an opinion on the police department. Fuller's assessment is not likely to offend — or inspire — anyone.

"There are some great police officers," he says. "Let us not forget there are so many wonderful police officers. I think we need to do a better job of working together. You won't find anyone in this city who is not behind good policing. This city does not want bad cops, but I'm certain neither does the police department."

Fuller remembers the riots of the 1960s. During news broadcasts earlier this year, he chose to describe what happened in April as a "disturbance."

"I saw a riot," he says. "I lived through a riot, and this didn't compare to that. There was no comparison to what took place here and what took place in my hometown of Pittsburgh."

He's quick to add the unrest in Cincinnati demands attention.

"For this time and this space, April was just as upsetting," he says.

But even in the midst of some of the tensest moments in the city's recent history, according to Fuller, people can find a way to be more positive.

"I recognize everyone is allowed freedom of speech, but you hope that there is restraint on both sides of any tense moment like that," he says. "Even in the midst of demonstrations, people need to seek higher ground; and I know that's difficult in the heat of the moment."

Fuller says it's not right to shout at a police officer, just as it's wrong for police to shoot beanbag missiles at someone for voicing an opinion.

"You have a classic example of two wrongs don't make a right," he says.

Fuller says he wants more officers walking beats or riding bicycles, in order to make them more accessible to the public.

He wants to make City Hall more user-friendly, and wants to help restore Cincinnati's sense of itself as the best city around.

"You know people love this town," Fuller says. "We have to remind them of how wonderful this town really is."

If elected mayor, Fuller says, he will look for a city manager who is efficient — but not so efficient that he doesn't take time to talk to people.

"You want someone who is likeminded," he says. "You want someone who can share his vision of making Cincinnati the best place in the world."

Fuller says that, even as a news anchor, he tried to work toward that very goal, for example lobbying city council to name a street in honor of Derrick Turnbow, a high school honor student shot and killed after being caught in the crossfire of someone else's fight.

"It shows one person can make a difference," Fuller says. ©

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