News: State of the Mayor

It's a good thing Mallory likes to talk

Mar 22, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Matt Borgerding

Mayor Mark Mallory gives his first State of the City speechto a crowd at the Freedom Center.

More than 100 days into his new day job, Mayor Mark Mallory is having fun. That alone is a significant change from the past few years of complaints, accusations and whining that emanated from the mayor's office.

While it's nice to know someone enjoys being mayor, the bigger issue is what Mallory is doing and why.

During the campaign, Cincinnati's first directly elected African-American mayor suggested "ending the chaos" at City Hall, partnering with the media to keep the public informed and discussing problems and successes as a way to bring about change. Delivering on those proposals has resulted in a few surprises for the career politician, who spent 11 years in the Ohio General Assembly.

Not going nuclear
Mallory says the amount of media attention he's received is unlike anything he's ever experienced. That attention makes him so recognizable that he can't just pop into a store to rent a video or pick up a few things; it becomes a 20-minute visit because people want to say hello or talk about their views. Mallory says he's no longer a private citizen, but he's OK with that.

"I'm trying to be as many places as I can possibly be, to have as much impact as I possibly can, a positive impact, talking about the hope and the enthusiasm that's in this area — and there's a lot — and capitalizing on that," he says. "People want to be a part of a success story.

They want to be a part of the rebuilding of Cincinnati."

That personal touch is what he credits with restoring a citizen-friendly mood at City Hall.

"Citizens should feel that they have access to city government," Mallory said March 16 in his State of the City address at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. "So my first act was to unlock the front door to the mayor's office and allow the public access once again. I took the next step of removing the security barriers from the front door of City Hall to welcome people back to their city government. I have re-initiated Mayor's Night to hear directly from citizens about their concerns and to receive their input about how the city should move forward."

Mallory also welcomes the media to City Hall. A weekly briefing with all journalists, including alternative media such as bloggers, is a regular Tuesday occurrence. Calling that kind of access "unprecedented," Mallory says he's still surprised by the number of public-records requests his office receives. Unwilling to cast previously elected officials in a negative light, he acknowledges that he's dealing with a legacy of poor city/media relations.

"When I got like three or four public-records requests for a bunch of things, I was like, 'In the 11 years I was in the senate, I got two public-records requests,' " Mallory says. "But I realized apparently because the way things happened in the past, that was the only way you could get it. I've tried to establish, before you go to the public-records level — that's the nuclear option — just ask for it. We'll most likely give it to you."

'Rekindling passion'
Sharing good news is what Mallory does best. In his State of the City speech, he talked about the awards the city has received and how those successes are being parlayed into new programs.

"Cincinnati's Urban Forestry program is considered a national leader in its field," Mallory told the crowd of over 300. "Willie Carden, Director of Parks, does a phenomenal job, and it's under his leadership that readers of CityBeat voted to recognize that money spent on Cincinnati Parks was 'The Best Use of Public Funds' for the past three consecutive years. In addition to that, last year marks the 25th year in a row that Cincinnati has been awarded the Tree City USA award...

"We will launch the City Green Initiative, a program coordinated by the Cincinnati Parks Department designed to enhance city services through green technologies. The Green Initiative will use creative strategies and innovative technologies such as solar and wind energy, community gateways and environmental education."

An open style of communication is more than an approach to PR; it's Mallory's strategy for bringing about change. As the fifth anniversary of the 2001 riots approaches next month, he'll keep talking about differences while highlighting changes.

"One of the keys to dealing with the issues of race is to talk about it, the differences, to talk about the different perceptions that we have and to begin to deal with those things," Mallory says. "It is very clear that different races of people in this community view different issues in different ways. That's just absolutely clear."

Telling the community that crime "did not develop overnight, and we won't solve it overnight," he also used the speech to talk about a new program to help gunshot victims.

"We will add to our efforts to increase public safety by partnering with the Cincinnati Bar Foundation and the University Hospital Trauma Center to develop a program called Out of the Crossfire," Mallory said. "The program will deal with gun violence by directing services to gunshot victims. Often the victims of gun violence will seek revenge against their attackers instead of giving information to the police." (See "Future Crime," issue of March 8-14.)

Regularly characterizing negative occurrences as "opportunities," Mallory believes his approach will bring about the change the Queen City needs.

"The possibilities for our future are limitless," he said last week. "But the promise begins with every one of us rekindling our passion for Cincinnati." ©