Monday, June 11, 2001

Black caucus is Tillery's passion

        For someone who swears he's not running for mayor, Dwight Tillery sure sounds like a man wearing sneakers. He insists he has more important things on his mind than City Hall. Persuading more blacks to vote in Cincinnati tops his list.

        Still, an election's coming up in November. And he's Dwight Tillery — Cincinnati's first popularly elected black mayor. So, he must be mindful of appearances.

        Such as:

        At lunch late last week, he ran through a list of his life's passions.

        Most had political overtones: Getting out the vote. Grass-roots involvement in politics. Teaching people how to present their concerns to City Hall. Holding City Council accountable.

        As we talked, he linked his passions to the African-American Political Caucus, a non-partisan political action committee he's formed and given its mouthful of a name.

        Rumors abound that the AAPC, as its founder calls the caucus, is a launching pad for a “Tillery for Mayor” campaign.

        “I'm getting a lot of pressure to run, a lot of pressure,” he said repeating himself and shaking his head.

He rolled his eyes and squinted as if the pressure were a vise squeezing his temples.

        People he meets on the street tell him: “We need you. Run!”

        He's honored. But, bottom line: “It's not going to happen.”

        Duty calls with the caucus.

        “It's more important,” he said.

        “I'm helping educate and mobilize the African-American community around the power of voting.”

        He's got my vote. Social change and power come from the ballot box.

        To make a difference, the Tillery caucus has many obstacles to overcome. Witness the number of visits to the voting booth in Cincinnati's predominantly black wards.

        “I've seen the voting trends,” said the former mayor. “Our numbers are down.”

        Way down. The number of registered voters in eight mostly black Cincinnati wards increased 6 percent from 1991 to 1999. Yet, over the same span, the number of votes cast in those wards decreased 28 percent.

        To turn those numbers around, the caucus must overcome complacency, indifference and misplaced trust, three traits common to many Cincinnatians, regardless of race.

        “We either don't care to get involved and don't vote. Or, if we do go to vote, we just go home afterward,” said the confirmed non-candidate.

        “We never bother to make sure the people we elect do their job. We trust them to do the right thing, to act in our best interest. And they don't.”

        He's dedicated to breaking that cycle.

        That won't be easy. Unrest seethes in Cincinnati. Dwight Tillery knows people are still mad and still marching.

        “Let's take advantage of the frustration and anger,” he said. “Let's turn it into something positive.

        “That's the real challenge the caucus faces between now and November.”

        If the caucus can meet this challenge, the lasting importance of its accomplishment would outweigh anything Dwight Tillery could do by running for mayor.

        This is a campaign where everyone wins.

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