Sunday, May 13, 2001

Despite unrest, Luken is no loser

        The week after the riots in Cincinnati, Time magazine chose Mayor Charlie Luken to be in its weekly “Winners & Losers” feature. As one of the latter.

        The Cincinnati mayor achieved “Loser” status because Time editors said he let rioting “go on for three days without acting,” which was not really the case.

        “Hope unemployment office didn't burn,” the wags from Time said, their words joined with a photo of the mayor with an untypically hang-dog expression.

        Now, we would not be surprised to learn
that many Time editors have changed planes in Cincinnati (or what they thought was Cincinnati, the airport being in Northern Kentucky), but we would be surprised to learn that Cincinnati politics is their strong suit.

        Lumping Charlie Luken with Brigade 2506, the Bay of Pigs veterans' group, and Angie Harmon of NBC's Law and Order for leaving the show to pursue a movie career as “losers of the week” does not make it so.

        One can understand how they might think so — having parts of your city destroyed by rioting as racial tensions reach a flash point is not a good way for a mayoral candidate to begin his election campaign.

        And “mayoral candidate” is what he is.

        Two years ago, Mr. Luken returned to City Hall after a nine-year stint as a congressman and TV news anchor to become the top vote-getter in what was, thankfully, the last election Cincinnati will have in which the council candidate with the most votes becomes mayor.

        This year, mayoral candidates will have to run in a Sept. 11 primary if more than two candidates file. The top two finishers will face off in the November election for a mayor's office that will have considerably more power than it has had in the past.

        Right now, though, riots or no riots, Mr. Luken doesn't have much to worry about.

        The only other discernible candidate is one Bill Brodberger, who runs a private security business in Roselawn and lives in Madisonville. He has never even smelled a political campaign before, much less been in one.

        Mr. Brodberger may turn out to be Abe Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Richard Daley all rolled into one. But at this point — with no money and no name recognition — he doesn't appear to be much of a threat to an incumbent mayor with plenty of both.

        Charlie Luken might be in a world of trouble now if it weren't for one simple truth: You can't beat something with nothing.

        Some thought that two African-American men Mr. Luken named to head a race relations panel — broadcasting executive Ross Love and the Rev. Damon Lynch, head of the civil rights group Black United Front — might end up as his rivals in a mayor's race, but that is not going to happen.

        And the Republican Party, which is spending thousands on polling in Cincinnati to see if the riots left a chink in Mr. Luken's armor, is no closer to finding someone willing to take on a well-known, well-funded opponent.

        They may find someone willing to shove that boulder up the hill, but time is wasting — the deadline for mayoral candidates to file is June 28.

        Maybe Time put Charlie Luken on the wrong side of the page.

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