News: At Odds Over Issue 4

NAACP says it will empower black voters while ministers say it will hurt the poor

Apr 22, 1999 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

The Rev. Aaron Greenlea, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, says he does not understand the thinking of the local NAACP, headed by Milton Hinton, in its decision to endorse Issue 4.

The line between supporters and opponents in the Issue 4 campaign for the direct election of Cincinnati's mayor is crossing the lines of political party, race and civic involvement.

While the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) supports it, the Baptist Minister's Conference of Greater Cincinnati opposes it.

Though two Hamilton County Democratic leaders endorsed it from the start, the local Democratic Party officially opposes it. And an array of influential civic groups are jumping on the anti-Issue 4 bandwagon.

"I don't think all groups can stand together on every issue," said the Rev. Aaron Greenlea, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference. "But this is not going to divide the black community. We do not know the thinking of the NAACP. They were at the table when this was being created so maybe that's why they feel obligated."

The Baptist Ministers Conference came forward early oppose the issue, which will be decided at the polls May 4. That opposition was well-known before the issue was approved for the ballot by Cincinnati City Council.

Democratic Council Members Minette Cooper, Paul Booth and Tyrone Yates opposed the measure.

Other groups opposing the measure include the Cincinnati National Organization of Women, League of Women Voters, the Urban League and the Sentinel Police Association, which represents black police officers.

Earlier this month, the Cincinnati Democratic Committee voted 77 to 62 to oppose Issue 4, although Democratic Party leaders including party co-chairman Tim Burke support it.

"The situation we are in is a little unusual," Burke said. "But it's not unusual for Democrats to have differing opinions."

Greenlea also thinks that it is not unusual for the Baptist Ministers Conference to stand on the opposite side of the fence from the NAACP.

"We have always worked together in the past, but we have also had different opinions in the past, too," Greenlea said.

An example he points to is when the NAACP endorsed the new superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools. The Baptist Ministers Conference thought there could be a better choice, he said.

As a group that represents a large segment of the African-American community, the ministers have been courted many times for election-time support.

The group supported the half-cent sales hike in 1996 in exchange for an agreement with the Hamilton County Commissioners that set a goal to award 15 percent of all stadium construction contracts to firms owned by minorities.

It also supported other political issues such as the 1997 charter amendment that would allow the city manager to hire police and fire chiefs. The ministers said that the change would help promote blacks into those positions.

But on that issue, the NAACP and the ministers were on the same side of the fence.

Now, the two groups are seeing Issue 4 from different viewpoints.

Milton Hinton, president of the local NAACP, said the group supported the change in the city government because it would provide a more clearly stated platform.

"The result of the form of government we have now is a lack of leadership and that has an affect on us," Hinton said. "I think this change will make progress through the larger community and benefit all of us."

The NAACP also views the charter amendment as having an affect on the African-American community.

"From the African-American perspective, we see Issue 4 reeking with empowerment for the community," he said. "African-Americans can compete under Issue 4."

And with more than 40 percent of the voting population being African-American, Hinton said that population potentially would be able to chose the mayor.

Hinton said the lack of black voter turnout was a problem but not one that should stand in the way of this change.

"We don't want to say that we won't take advantage of this opportunity because there is a low voter turnout," he said. "We will take care of that and maybe this will be the time that we can come together and realize the potential."

As for the Baptist Ministers Conference opposing the issue, Hinton said the NAACP respects the opinion of any other group and is "glad they are involved."

Greenlea said that he felt the same way about the NAACP's position but "wished they were on our side."

Three out of the four African-Americans on Cincinnati City Council — Booth, Cooper and Yates — are on the ministers' side.

They voted against the charter amendment, saying it would put too much power into one position.

"They can't have it both ways with a powerful mayor and a city manager," Greenlea said.

The ministers, he said, are not making this into a "black and white" issue with one group getting ahead and the other losing out. Instead, he said, the one group that stands to lose the most is the group made up of people with lower incomes.

"Money stands a chance of having a lot of control, and the people will not be heard," Greenlea said. "The poor will not have a voice. So, I don't care if it is a black mayor or white mayor in that position. It is just too much power."

Powers the change would give to the mayor such as vetoing legislation and appointing committee chairs would tip the balance in City Hall, he said.

Right now, Greenlea said the ministers were not concerned with what group was taking what side. Their goal is to get more people to the polls.

"They were in such a rush to get this through that people are confused about what is going on," he said.

What happens on May 4, he said, will depend on how much information is available to the public.

"If people keep up on what is happening and read about this issue, then it will go down," Greenlea said.

But that might not happen.

Council has approved $46,590 to mail copies of the proposed amendment to every registered voter in the city. ©