Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Tillery establishes black PAC




By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Former Mayor Dwight Tillery believes African-American voters in Cincinnati should have what labor unions, business groups, gays, feminists, conservative “family values” activists and other interest groups already have — their own political action committee.

        So Mr. Tillery, who became the city's first popularly elected black mayor when he finished first in the Cincinnati City Council race 10 years ago, has formed the African-American Political Caucus. The group will screen and endorse candidates for mayor, council, school board and other local offices.

        And, Mr. Tillery said, he will not be one of those candidates. The Democrat is adamant about that, despite persistent rumors in political circles that he might challenge Mayor Charlie Luken, a fellow Democrat, in this year's mayoral election.

Tillery
Tillery
        While Mr. Tillery says that African-Americans in Cincinnati have historically favored Democrats, the caucus will endorse candidates of any party, “as long as they are in tune with issues the African-American community is interested in.”

        “No political party should be able to take any group of voters for granted,” said Mr. Tillery, who left council in 1999.

        Mr. Tillery has put together a large steering committee that includes black clergy, business people, political leaders and neighborhood activists.

        The group includes Dr. O'dell Owens, a physician and former health board chairman; Shirley Colbert, a longtime housing activist; Cincinnati school board member Florence Newell; and former school board member Howard Bond.

        At noon Saturday, the caucus will hold a kickoff rally at Allen AME Church, 7181 Reading Road, in Roselawn. It will feature comedian and activist Dick Gregory and nationally syndicated radio talk show host Bev Smith.

        African-Americans make up 43 percent of the population in Cincinnati, but black voter turnout has historically lagged behind white turnout in city elections.

        “We want to show people that there is power in voting,” said Mr. Tillery.

        Mr. Tillery said the caucus is born of “frustration with city hall.”

        “It is clear to me now, looking at it from the outside, that council has failed to pay attention to issues important to the African-American community,” Mr. Tillery said, “issues like police-community relations, economic development, discrimination in city employment. We want to hear candidates addressing these issues.”

        The racial unrest and riots that erupted in April “made it even more clear that we have to organize politically,” Mr. Tillery said.

        The violence came after the fatal April 7 shooting of Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old unarmed African-American, in Over-the-Rhine. He was shot by Officer Stephen Roach, now under indictment in the death.

        This year, Mr. Tillery said, the caucus is likely to endorse a slate of Cincinnati City Council candidates, a candidate for mayor and a slate for the four seats up for election on the Cincinnati Board of Education.

        With a month to go before the filing deadline, there are only two candidates for mayor — Mr. Luken and independent Bill Brodberger.

        The Charter and Republican parties have yet to endorse mayoral candidates, although the Republicans have a five-member council slate which includes three African-Americans — Tom Jones, Sam Malone and Todd Ward.

        A candidate's race, Mr. Tillery said, will not be the determining factor in an endorsement.

        “Just because you're black doesn't mean you're in,” Mr. Tillery said. “This has to do with where people are on the issues.”

        Nor does it have to do with the candidates' party affiliation.

        “Democrats target black voters, but they can no longer take them for granted,” said Mr. Tillery, who has had vocal disagreements with local Democrats.

        Hamilton County Democratic Party Co-chairman Tim Burke said Mr. Tillery has “a perfect right to do what he is doing.”

        “But it is simply not true to say that we as Democrats take black voters for granted,” Mr. Burke said. “We work very hard to attract African-American voters. That is why we have their support.”

        Mr. Tillery said his group will form a political action committee (PAC) to raise money to promote its endorsed candidates.

        “We'll get the word out,” Mr. Tillery said. “And the word is that there is real political power in the black community.”

       



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