What if Charlie Luken Up and Called It Quits?

If we're to have a television news anchor for mayor, shouldn't we know what he believes in? You're thinking about Courtis Fuller, the WLWT anchor who has caused such excitement by announcing a run

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If we're to have a television news anchor for mayor, shouldn't we know what he believes in?

You're thinking about Courtis Fuller, the WLWT anchor who has caused such excitement by announcing a run for mayor. But what about the incumbent, a former anchor for the same station?

Does Charlie Luken stand for anything? Does mention of his name bring to mind any singular achievement or goal?

One hates to rely on the Hamilton County Republican Party in these matters — they couldn't even come up with a candidate — but Chairman Michael Barrett has a point: "Unfortunately, for years (Luken) has sailed without either an ideological compass or a philosophical anchor; and it was only recently, when called upon to make up his own mind, without the benefit of polling results or consultants, that the public has understood that he is actually adrift without philosophy or principle."

Luken is the scion of a political dynasty that once actually fought for causes. His uncle, Jim Luken, helped Bobby Kennedy take down Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. The mayor's father, Tom Luken, went to Washington on the wave of post-Watergate reform.

By contrast, Charlie Luken seems ignorant of the influence he could wield, unable to muster anything approaching moral authority.

When Cincinnati Police roughed up nonviolent demonstrators during the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue conference, Luken praised the cops for "great restraint." When the Ku Klux Klan placed a cross on Fountain Square, the best Luken could come up with was a competing rally at a park, trying to get people to ignore the Klan.

Therein lies Luken's failure. Some issues demand confrontation, but time and again he has come up short on the two most explosive issues for any major city: police conduct and racial relations. When Officer Stephen Roach shot and killed an unarmed Timothy Thomas on April 7, Luken tried to assuage all sides — saying first that cops had killed too many blacks and then, after riots erupted, calling for respect for the cops — without pleasing anyone.

When an angry crowd besieged a council committee meeting in the days between the shooting and the riot, Luken missed the opportunity it presented. Instead he left the meeting, explaining later he wasn't a member of that committee. It wasn't his job, you see.

Remember Luken's return to Cincinnati City Council in 1999? He was going to be the answer to the dysfunctional council, a body so riven by bickering and petty maneuvering that business could barely be conducted.

The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted Luken in the 1999 race: "I have never seen the kind of chaos and disorganization that you can see if you watch a council meeting on TV." Two years later, the chaos is far worse. Never mind the streets — this guy can't even control council chambers.

The events of April revealed Luken at his core. He is neither hot nor cold, a man swept into office not because of his passion for any particular cause, but because he's a likable fellow.

What then can a well-intentioned but demonstrably ineffective man do? Is there a way for Luken to foster the civic unity he says we need?

Perhaps he could take seriously his own words after the riot. Cincinnati needs fundamental change, Luken said then. That change has started neither with the police chief, who's still on the job, nor with the city manager, who's still on the job.

What if Luken went first? What if he withdrew from the race, leaving the mayor's post to Fuller?

With no Republican running, the withdrawal of the Democrat incumbent would be fundamental change indeed. Taking responsibility for the mess the incumbent city government has generated would elevate Luken's good intentions to actual statesmanship in a city that desperately needs some.

How can Luken help fundamental change in Cincinnati? Sometimes leadership means getting out of the way.

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