Tillery to Step Down As Health Gap Leader

Former Cincinnati Mayor Dwight Tillery will retire from his role leading the Center for Closing the Health Gap, which he founded in 2004.

Nov 12, 2018 at 4:06 pm
click to enlarge Former Cincinnati Mayor Dwight Tillery - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Former Cincinnati Mayor Dwight Tillery

The founder of a long-running, sometimes controversial nonprofit is moving on to other pursuits, according to a news release the organization sent out today.

Former Cincinnati Mayor Dwight Tillery, a prominent leader in Cincinnati's black community, will retire as the head of the Center for Closing the Health Gap in January. Tillery founded the Health Gap in 2004 to address disparities in health outcomes among black residents of the city.

Tillery will stay active in other organizations in which he has played a large role, including The Black Agenda Cincinnati, a political organizing group that was active in the last mayoral election.

Chief Operating Officer Renee Mahaffey Harris has been chosen by the Health Gap's board to serve as the organization's new president and CEO.

“I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to make a real difference in Cincinnati, afforded by The Health Gap ” said Tillery. “We are a trusted voice for underserved populations. We are a catalyst for policy changes to address social determinants of health. We are an innovator in the creation of community-driven preventative health strategies. And it’s been a true community collaboration, from the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to UC Health, Cincinnati Children’s and the other local health organizations who have funded our work and understood its value. The issue of health disparities is one of the most critical civil rights issues of our time. I’m a product of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, so this work has been near and dear to my heart for as long as I can remember.”

The Health Gap says it has touched more than 360,000 people through its Do Right! Campaigns and has hosted annual health expos providing more than 100,000 attendees with more than 30,000 free health screenings.

In its nearly 15 year, the Health Gap has seen its budget from the city — and scrutiny around its spending — grow. The Health Gap also found itself in the middle of a political fight between Tillery and onetime ally Mayor John Cranley beginning in late 2016. After the two had a fallout over an appointment to the Cincinnati Health Department, Tillery backed Cranley's mayoral opponent Yvette Simpson.

The fight between the two got more contentious when the budget drawn up by the city manager's office looked to cut funding for the Health Gap. That came after media reports that raised questions about the organization's spending on a program that provided fresh fruit to convenience stores and a few thousand dollars invoiced to the city by the Health Gap for Black Agenda events. The Health Gap later returned that money after the city said it represented improper spending on political events. A city audit later found less-than-ideal billing practices at the Health Gap, but laid part of the blame for those lapses at the city's feet.

Cranley has said that the Health Gap should go through the same process overseen by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati that other nonprofits apply to in order to get city funding, though under his tenure, the center's funding via the city went up multiple years in a row outside that process. The city manager sought this year to zero out funding for the Health Gap in the city budget, but a veto-proof majority of council put the money back in as part of a larger spending package.

A statement from board chair and University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Public Health Program Director Jun Ying praised Tillery and called Mahaffey Harris "an extraordinary leader, advocate and collaborator" and said she will continue to build on the Health Gap's initiatives.

“Dwight has been an amazing role model and a passionate advocate for our most under-served neighbors," Mahaffey Harris said in a statement. "He’s built a team that truly understands how to fulfill our mission and I’m honored to continue that legacy of hope and impact."