Let's recruit non-politician as next mayor

Sunday, May 24, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This McAlpin's thing wasn't our fault, was it? We can't be blamed if a company just gets sold right out from under our deal, can we? Of course not.

But it might be worth noticing that securing a location in downtown Cincinnati for a retail outlet is not exactly considered a selling point. An asset. If it were, then Mercantile would have moved faster to sign a lease with the city.

Dillard's Inc. agreed to buy Mercantile Stores Co. Inc., parent company of McAlpin's and Maison Blanche, the up-market store scheduled to be built at the northwest corner of Fifth and Race streets. Dillard's paid $2.9 billion, and it has no interest in spending a penny more to locate in our downtown.

The foot-dragging makes sense now. Mercantile didn't want to "stick" a new owner with a commitment in our downtown, even in a location we persist in calling "prime." We are in very deep denial.

Groveling for retail

If Cincinnati is such a prime location for a retailer, why don't we ever have the upper hand? Lazarus wasn't worried about losing its downtown spot or city concessions when it relocated 750 employees to Atlanta. Nordstrom's must be laughing up its monogrammed sleeves as it watches us grovel to get it to come to our prime location.

What are we doing wrong? Well, for one thing, word may have leaked out that nobody is in charge here. We need a mayor. A real one. A strong one.

The thing that makes a lot of people squirm when they consider changing our charter is the spectre of a city run by the politicians we already have. So why not ignore the ghost of politicians present and remember some of our other human resources?

Let me just toss some names out to get the ball rolling:

  • L. Thomas Wilburn, who recently stepped down as CEO of the TriHealth hospital group. A rare manager who enjoyed the respect of both docs and administration, he forged the alliance between Good Samaritan and the Bethesda hospitals. He moved quickly and decisively, staying ahead of the curve in health care. And he never forgot that a hospital is supposed to help sick people. Only 68, he has boundless energy. Hey, Tom, how about helping us cure an ailing downtown?

  • M.J. Klyn, who retired last year as the University of Cincinnati's chief lobbyist. Responsible for bringing about $2 billion to Cincinnati over the past 22 years, she is fearless, direct, funny and completely brilliant. She has the knack of stepping on toes without breaking any bones.

    This is the mayor who could wring every last dollar out of Columbus and Washington.

  • Oscar Robertson, the UC basketball great, has presence and discipline. We could probably count on him to use his elbows a little under the net when he's negotiating with outsiders, and he understands race relations and team play in the same way Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp do. Family values? He gave his daughter a kidney, for pete's sake.

    He is accustomed to winning.

  • William LaWarre, thoroughly urban advertising executive who plays in a bluegrass band. Only 58, he handed over the reins of Cincinnati's largest agency at the beginning of the year. Northlich Stolley LaWarre doubled its size in the past five years.

    Growth? Bill, we like the sound of that, and you are waaaaay too young just to fiddle around.

    These are just a few ideas. I also wonder what might happen if the bright and likable former mayor Arn Bortz, now of Towne Properties, would return to public life. Or if attorney H.C. "Buck" Niehoff, the redoubtable master puppeteer of so many other politicians, would enter the arena under his own flag. Downtown Cincinnati Inc.'s impatient genius David Phillips?

    Maybe you have some better ideas. Let me know. It's not too early to begin making noise about this. In fact, it may almost be too late.

    Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com