Ask anyone who knows the Rev. Charlie Winburn, and they’re sure to have one or two favorite anecdotes about the bombastic, fast-talking former Cincinnati city councilman.
Equally well known for his flamboyant oratorical style and his conservative views on issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control, Winburn served for seven eventful years on council. He’s the rarest of political animals, an African American who is a Republican.
During his council tenure, Winburn kept busy by pushing for massive cuts in city spending, suing his fellow council members to block a lawsuit they had filed against handgun manufacturers and often working behind-the-scenes to convince his colleagues to fire then-City Manager John Shirey.
My most memorable Winburn moment occurred in late 2000, while I was the City Hall reporter for The Cincinnati Post. During a heated council meeting about whether to give $700,000 to the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky African-American Chamber of Commerce, Winburn changed his vote three times in the nearly five-hour session, the final vote occurring after a break was called so Winburn could talk to another council member privately in his office.
The strange scene left observers wondering what, exactly, occurred behind closed doors. Oh, well: That’s just Charlie, king of the dealmakers.
Facing term limits, Winburn finally left council in February 2001 after the local GOP helped him get appointed to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
Winburn popped up again in 2005, when he was the Republican Party’s mayoral candidate. He finished a distant third in the primary, capturing 21 percent of the vote.
It was revealed then that Winburn, a preacher, had written religious-oriented books with titles such as Ruling and Reigning in the ’90s and Releasing the Money Anointing: You Are Anointed to Receive Money! In the first tome, he wrote, “We Christians must clean up politics. It is our job to elect only born-again believers to public office … if officeholders are not Christian and refuse to obey the laws of God, we must work hard, under the law, to unseat them.”
In yet another infamous passage, Charlie wrote that a wife “must be taught what her boundaries are.”
It was also during that campaign four years ago that Winburn was caught using a photograph taken by CityBeat on his campaign Web site without permission or compensation. Worse, the photo — showing Charlie at a podium in council chambers — had been altered without our permission to remove then-police union President Keith Fangman, a pal standing at Winburn’s side.
Winburn has long touted his strong support of police, so it’s odd that Fangman was removed while numerous other people were left in the photo. When contacted, Winburn claimed he didn’t know the photo was being used or that it had been doctored.
Winburn attempted yet another political comeback in 2007, when he ran for City Council. With all incumbents available for reelection that year, though, he placed 10th in voting — just missing getting a seat on the nine-member group by about 1,200 votes.
Now, Winburn is hoping the third time is the charm. With one City Council incumbent unable to run for reelection, he senses a prime opportunity to return to City Hall and is running again for council. Yard signs with Winburn’s name have popped up throughout the city.
Winburn’s day job is pastor at The Encampment, a church he leads in College Hill. There, Winburn describes himself as a devout man of faith.
His duties have included performing exorcisms in which he’s allegedly purged demons from possessed people and then — perhaps prophesizing the need beforehand — produced photocopied biography sheets describing each demon he just cast out. One alleged purging, for example, involved “Malakos,” a demon that is an “ancient spirit of female sexual perversion.” For good measure, he’s also advertised for a “prophecy school” at the church.
Also, Winburn is paid to do work for Citizens for Community Values, like conduct marriage seminars and push certain issues.
Winburn’s antics over the years have been memorable but the latest incident crosses over from the political to the personal and involves serious, ugly allegations against the good reverend made by George Jerome Barber.
Barber was hired by Winburn in early 2008 to be music minister at The Encampment. A musician, Barber’s duties were to lead the choir and band as well as recruit other performers to the church.
His time at Winburn’s church lasted until February of this year, when Barber was fired for allegedly being insubordinate and not meeting recruitment quotas. The real reason, Barber said, is because he rebuffed Winburn’s sexual advances several times. After that, Winburn became angry toward him and eventually filed a criminal trespassing charge against Barber.
The dispute began when Winburn claimed he had an employee, Sam Malone, send a text message to Barber’s cell phone, informing him he was fired. But Barber, who said he didn’t get the message, showed up at church on a Sunday morning to lead the band. When told he was fired and had to leave, Barber tried to collect his musical equipment. Eventually, police were called to the scene, but no one was arrested and no charge was filed at the time.
Barber, a Woodlawn resident who is married and has children, believes the charge was filed later only because Winburn used his influence and called a District 5 police captain and Assistant City Prosecutor Melanie Reising. Criminal trespassing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
Eventually, the case was tried in June before Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Bernie Bouchard, who threw it out.
“You have to tell somebody for criminal trespass that they can’t come there unless there’s a sign,” Bouchard said in court. “And it’s just not something I think you can do over text messaging. If they would have sent you a letter or a request to talk to you, it’s a different story.”
Asked whether the incident was strong enough to pursue charges in the first place, city spokeswoman Meg Olberding said, “Yes, because police substantiated it. … There was a restraining order against him, there was probable cause.”
Barber said no such restraining order exists. Regardless, he’s filed a complaint against Winburn with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.
A letter with Barber’s complaint states, “My family and I were subjected to a pattern and practice of incessant homosexual conversations, suggestions, advances and innuendos. When I refused to comply or join what Mr. Winburn referred to as his ‘inner circle,’ Mr. Winburn retaliated with inflammatory remarks, threats, intimidation, (and) constant invasion of my personal and family life.”
Winburn didn’t return calls seeking comment. If true, all of this reminds me of a quote from Winburn’s favorite book, the Bible.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites,” states the Gospel of Matthew. “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
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