Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Walking to work


Mayor is new kid on block

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        Charlie Luken obeyed every traffic light as he walked briskly to work Tuesday.

        The mayor of Cincinnati wanted to set a good example. He's the new kid on his block. And, he had just spent his first night at the town house he bought in the gentrified Betts-Longworth section of the West End.

        During his walk, he greeted fellow pedestrians — “Hi, how you doin'?” — and talked with me about the future.

        The city will get beyond the April riots. “In the short run, serious injury was done, but nothing was permanent.”

        Beleaguered City Manager John Shirey will survive this week's plan to oust him, the mayor predicted. “But I wouldn't wager more than a buck on it.”

        The mayor looked and sounded well-rested.

        “Slept great,” he announced from his front porch before our walk began.

        Kids trudged by on their way to school as he slowly sipped a cup of coffee. He had plenty of time. His morning commute takes 6 minutes.

        Ahead of schedule on Tuesday, he took an 11-minute time out to wait in line for doughnuts for his staff — jelly-filled for the boss — at the Busken Bakery near City Hall.

        Before leaving for the office and the corner bakery, the mayor showed me around his new digs.

        “It's a mess,” he warned. “No furniture. Just a bed.”

        Stacks of cardboard boxes decorated the living room. Golf clubs rested against one wall. Upstairs, the master bedroom contained the occupant's bed, with rumped covers wrapped around a pillow.

        “It's small. But it beats the efficiency apartment I lived in downtown for four years,” said the divorced mayor. “That was like a dorm room.”

        After fumbling with the lock, he made it out the door and down the street.

        En route, he discussed the planned showdown at today's City Council meeting. Charterite Jim Tarbell and three Republicans hope to get one more vote to fire the city manager.

        Welcome to the continuing saga of “City Hall Survivor.” Will this be the episode where John Shirey gets his flame snuffed? Who will send him packing from the Plum Street Outback?

        “They go after the city manager every few weeks whether he needs it or not,” said Mayor Luken. “Everyone needs someone to blame. But it's not going to be very productive.”

        The mayor knew he would spend his day defending John Shirey while wondering what other city managers think of Cincinnati.

        “They must be aghast,” the mayor grumped. “When the city's system changes in November, we're not going to get anybody decent to manage the city.”

        Bags of doughnuts in hand, the mayor breezed into his office and kept talking. He's “banging away” at the notion that the riots made Cincinnati unsafe.

        “It's all perception. Not reality.”

        Some Cincinnatians, he noted, tend to be segregated by place as well as income and race. He grew up in Deer Park and O'Bryonville. Hung out in Walnut Hills. Lived as an adult in Price Hill, Westwood, Mount Airy, downtown and, now, the West End.

        “I'm no urban pioneer,” he insisted. “I just own a little place that's comfortable and convenient.”

        He considers himself lucky. He is. The mayor has found a place he calls home.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

       



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