Puttin' Out the Bone

Black Voting Can Change Cincinnati

Oct 18, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Broken glass has been brushed into piles and scooped into garbage cans.Windows, once boarded in defense, are clear again. A miracle mile of window boxes line streets that for a time were hazed by smoke and tear gas. The dust of racial unrest has settled back just as it did 33 years ago during my youth — and with about the same political results: not much.

So now what?

Well, now it's go time. Time to get busy for real. Busy in a way that would truly scare the blue suits down on Fourth Street. Scare the suburbs. Scare the cops. It's time for political revolution in Cincinnati.

If it can be done, it won't have the sound of rocks crashing through glass or screaming sirens in the night or people weeping from injuries. It will sound like doors unlocking. Shoes moving down steps. Leather clicking on sidewalks. Car motors starting. Some paper passing through fingers.

There won't necessarily be much talking. Maybe some quiet greetings. There could be some last-minute chats. But the biggest sound will be metal styluses punching through card stock. The sound of voting. Thousands of sounds of voting.

On Nov. 6, Cincinnati for the first time in its history could have an African American mayor with an African American majority on city council. That would scare the sleep out of this boring river city and bring true change that would make the history books.

Look. Courtis Fuller easily won the mayoral primary with a large African-American turnout and is poised to become Cincinnati's first "stronger" mayor. With two seats open on city council, because of Phil Heimlich's being barred by term limits and Charlie Luken running for mayor, a racial shift in political power lurks.

But it all hinges on African Americans strategically voting in historic percentages while Caucasian voters remain politically blasé.

Clearly, the events of last April caused African Americans to look for alternatives to advance their political interests. The acquittal of Police Officer Stephen Roach only added urgency.

With the African American Political Caucus, the NAACP and the J. Phillip Randolph Institute all conducting voter registration drives this year, a large number of newly registered African Americans were added to last year's giant surge for the Cincinnati Public Schools levy and the presidential campaign.

So the math is there. If African Americans vote with a unified plan and if Luken's campaign remains uninspiring, an African-American political power blast could put in Fuller and African American incumbents Minette Cooper, Paul Booth and Alicia Reece. If blacks rallied around two particularly strong non-incumbent African Americans, we get our revolution.

But there's the hard part. African American voters have to settle on two from the many African Americans running, which won't be easy. Additionally, they would have to vote for only five candidates. Unarguably this statistical short voting is effective and not new.

Caucasian voters, largely from the west side and east side 'hoods like Hyde Park, Mount Washington and Mount Lookout, rarely vote for nine candidates. Many ignore all the black candidates. So "racial voting" isn't new. In fact, only since the 1970s has the local Republican Party consistently endorsed African-American council candidates.

Also, this form of black-unity voting is actually discouraged by advocacy groups. Democrats, for example, are begging their large African-American base to vote for its entire slate of nine, four of whom are black.

Republicans, though encouraging short voting that includes three African-American candidates, are running three relative unknowns and then doing very little to help them win.

The Charter Party didn't even endorse a black candidate for city council. The African American Political Caucus left Reece off their short endorsement list.

But if African-American voters on their own, joined by progressive Caucasian voters, coalesce around five African Americans, the power shift is on.

Who could argue with its justice? I mean, where's it written that white people should dominate the government of Cincinnati? Couldn't it be time for a black political majority to have a whack at governing? Politicians, police officials, ministers, editorial writers and corporate bosses have all been saying that violence resolves nothing, that political change can only come from peaceful, democratic strategies.

So what is more peaceful than thousands of African-American voters going to the polls Nov. 6, in unprecedented numbers, voting with a unified plan, voting with a philosophy that thousands of Caucasian voters have used for years, voting first for sure-winners like Booth, Reece and Cooper, then voting for several more agreed-upon African-American candidates to bring about Cincinnati's first African-American majority?

Would it change Cincinnati? Not completely. Would a new black majority drive whites away from Cincinnati? Of course not, no more than the years of white-majority governing drove blacks out of Cincinnati. The fact is good African-American public servants, the same as good Caucasian ones, care about this entire city without regard for race.

But with the red-hot Roach case still on many minds and others like it on the horizon, with controversial Police Chief Thomas Streicher in place for as long as he chooses to serve, with African Americans seething every time someone like Phil Heimlich leans into his microphone to attack what is dear to them, African Americans would have added trust knowing some of their issues will be screened by people who share their life experiences.

It could happen. It would take a plan. It would take unity. Dude. Bring it on.