News: Curiously Strong Mayor

Charlie Luken takes a stand

 
Jon Hughes/photopresse.com


Mayor Charlie Luken says the new mayor will have the ability to dramatically change the city.



Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken looks remarkably composed for a man blamed by the head of Cincinnati's police union for inciting a riot. He can still chuckle as he's asked about being named "Loser of the Week" by Time, a magazine he says he doesn't even remember speaking to.

Luken says he had to make hundreds of decisions in a short period during the April unrest, knowing each was bound to make somebody mad. He remembers turning on the radio and hearing WDBZ (1230 AM) call for his resignation. Then he heard WLW (700 AM) call for his resignation.

"I became the face of this city, and you have to realize that you're going to get criticized," he says.

Almost overnight, the words "unrest" and "Cincinnati" became synonymous. Luken says every letter he got for about three months started with the phrase, "In light of the civil unrest ..."

But in light of the civil unrest, he feels confident of his abilities as mayor.

"At some point you just realize this isn't cutting ribbons anymore," Luken says.

"Was it perfect? I don't know, but I did the best I could."

'This is where I stand'
The immediate effects of the riot are starting to fade, according to Luken; people have been coming back downtown and business is picking up.

"I think we've turned a very important corner in the last few weeks," Luken says.

But the riot's effect on the mayoral race could be significant. A boycott of the city organized by the Black United Front was the target of Luken's first campaign commercial.

"The boycott is the last thing we need, and I'll fight it with every ounce of energy I have," he says in the ad.

Courtis Fuller, Luken's chief opponent, has criticized the ad, calling on Luken to foster reconciliation instead.

"I think the people who called for the boycott were the divisive ones," Luken says. "I think it's destructive and I think it's time for people to stand up for the city. I think people in the city need to stop running the city down."

Fuller doesn't support the boycott.

Luken says the boycott can only hurt working people.

"Who's being hurt by that?" he says. "My guess is the chairman of the board of Procter & Gamble is not being hurt by that. I don't know when we got to the point when you could victimize hard-working Cincinnatians."

Luken says the new mayor will have to be tough and stand up for the city, something he believes his campaign ad demonstrates.

"I think every once in a while you have to stand up, throw your shoulders back and say, 'This is where I stand and the other guy is wrong,' " he says. "This is an election where you have to look the voter in the eye and say, 'I think this' and 'I think that.' "

But sometimes Luken looks voters in the eye and doesn't take a stand. He declines, for example, to take a stand on repealing Article 12 of the city charter, which forbids protection against discrimination for gays and lesbians. He says he'll wait to see a study on the matter before deciding whether voters should be asked to repeal the amendment.

"I certainly would have an open mind about it," he says.

Fuller, a Charterite, has said he supports repealing the charter amendment (A Fuller Perspective issue of Aug. 9-15).

Permissive attitudes
Luken believes the new executive powers being given the mayor's office will change city government "dramatically." The charter amendment creating the stronger mayor eliminates the "firewall" between the office of mayor and city manager, he says.

"If it works the way it should, the mayor and the manager will be a team," he says.

Luken says he would look for a city manager experienced in working with communities and handling police-community relations. He'd strongly consider local candidates, someone who knows Cincinnati.

"I'm going to be looking at nontraditional city manager candidates," he says.

A new city manager, a stronger mayor's office and other changes in municipal government are coming right when they're most needed, according to Luken.

"Change in the system couldn't come at a better time," he says.

A proposed charter amendment to end civil-service protection for the police chief and other senior managers will be part of that change, if voters approve the measure (

 
Jon Hughes/photopresse.com


Mayor Charlie Luken says the new mayor will have the ability to dramatically change the city.



Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken looks remarkably composed for a man blamed by the head of Cincinnati's police union for inciting a riot. He can still chuckle as he's asked about being named "Loser of the Week" by Time, a magazine he says he doesn't even remember speaking to.

Luken says he had to make hundreds of decisions in a short period during the April unrest, knowing each was bound to make somebody mad. He remembers turning on the radio and hearing WDBZ (1230 AM) call for his resignation. Then he heard WLW (700 AM) call for his resignation.

"I became the face of this city, and you have to realize that you're going to get criticized," he says.

Almost overnight, the words "unrest" and "Cincinnati" became synonymous. Luken says every letter he got for about three months started with the phrase, "In light of the civil unrest ..."

But in light of the civil unrest, he feels confident of his abilities as mayor.

"At some point you just realize this isn't cutting ribbons anymore," Luken says.

"Was it perfect? I don't know, but I did the best I could."

'This is where I stand'
The immediate effects of the riot are starting to fade, according to Luken; people have been coming back downtown and business is picking up.

"I think we've turned a very important corner in the last few weeks," Luken says.

But the riot's effect on the mayoral race could be significant. A boycott of the city organized by the Black United Front was the target of Luken's first campaign commercial.

"The boycott is the last thing we need, and I'll fight it with every ounce of energy I have," he says in the ad.

Courtis Fuller, Luken's chief opponent, has criticized the ad, calling on Luken to foster reconciliation instead.

"I think the people who called for the boycott were the divisive ones," Luken says. "I think it's destructive and I think it's time for people to stand up for the city. I think people in the city need to stop running the city down."

Fuller doesn't support the boycott.

Luken says the boycott can only hurt working people.

"Who's being hurt by that?" he says. "My guess is the chairman of the board of Procter & Gamble is not being hurt by that. I don't know when we got to the point when you could victimize hard-working Cincinnatians."

Luken says the new mayor will have to be tough and stand up for the city, something he believes his campaign ad demonstrates.

"I think every once in a while you have to stand up, throw your shoulders back and say, 'This is where I stand and the other guy is wrong,' " he says. "This is an election where you have to look the voter in the eye and say, 'I think this' and 'I think that.' "

But sometimes Luken looks voters in the eye and doesn't take a stand. He declines, for example, to take a stand on repealing Article 12 of the city charter, which forbids protection against discrimination for gays and lesbians. He says he'll wait to see a study on the matter before deciding whether voters should be asked to repeal the amendment.

"I certainly would have an open mind about it," he says.

Fuller, a Charterite, has said he supports repealing the charter amendment (A Fuller Perspective issue of Aug. 9-15).

Permissive attitudes
Luken believes the new executive powers being given the mayor's office will change city government "dramatically." The charter amendment creating the stronger mayor eliminates the "firewall" between the office of mayor and city manager, he says.

"If it works the way it should, the mayor and the manager will be a team," he says.

Luken says he would look for a city manager experienced in working with communities and handling police-community relations. He'd strongly consider local candidates, someone who knows Cincinnati.

"I'm going to be looking at nontraditional city manager candidates," he says.

A new city manager, a stronger mayor's office and other changes in municipal government are coming right when they're most needed, according to Luken.

"Change in the system couldn't come at a better time," he says.

A proposed charter amendment to end civil-service protection for the police chief and other senior managers will be part of that change, if voters approve the measure (Making It Easier to Clean House" issue of Aug. 16-22).

"I think it's light years' change and something Cincinnati has never had before," Luken says. "Being able to select a police and fire chief from around the country, I think, is very important."

Even more change will come via Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), the race-relations task force he appointed, Luken says. He credits CAN for helping to get a unanimous vote from city council on the civil service proposal.

"Cincinnati CAN, I think, has done a remarkable job," he says. "It's taking a holistic approach to change."

Other leaders, some of them on opposite sides of police-community issues, are also engaging in discussions.

"They're not giving up their positions, they're not abandoning their constituents, but they're coming together for healthy dialogue," Luken says.

In April, Luken asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the police department. But Luken says he didn't ask for the probe because he sees fault with the police.

"I just think we need independent verification of what we're doing so the community can be satisfied," he says.

Luken says he isn't sure what accounts for the approximately 100 shootings in Cincinnati since April, but he guesses it might be related to drug activity and the possibility police were less "proactive" after the civil unrest.

"It may just be there was a permissive attitude after the April disturbances," he says.

The future of policing, Luken says, should involve more officers on bike and foot and more community-oriented policing.

Democrats have in the past been in support of subpoenas for the Citizens Police Review Panel when council has been asked to issue them, according to Luken, a Democrat.

Cincinnati might benefit from following Boston's lead on some efforts, he says, explaining that clergy there take to the street with police when bad things happen and clergy are the "first ones to tell the police where to get the bad guys."

Luken says he's walked the streets of Over-the-Rhine and people are quick to say what they want.

"They want the police to be responsible, they want their housing to be improved and they want their schools to teach their kids," he says.

Steamboats good, railroads bad
In January, Luken set a goal of 1,000 new units of market-rate housing in 2001. Some thought he meant downtown, some thought he meant downtown and Over-the-Rhine and others thought he meant anywhere in the city.

Using the latter standard, Luken says 1,000 is a goal he thinks the city will meet. But, in fact, it appears unlikely.

In downtown alone, more than 300 units of market rate housing are underway or being completed, according to Gerard Hyland, a supervisor in the Neighborhood Services Department.

"That's a lot of households," Hyland says. "That's a lot of people with purchasing power downtown."

Hyland doesn't think 1,000 new units of market-rate housing will be completed in the city this year. But the effort is well underway, he says.

"There's certainly 1,000 units at the moment completed, under construction or to be completed in the next few years," Hyland says.

Luken sees Cincinnati in a time of progress, a turning point that could affect it as deeply, he says, as when it opted to go with steamboats instead of trains.

"It's one of those periods in history where people are going to look back and say they made the right decisions or they didn't," he says. "Decisions will be made that will affect generations." ©

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