Sunday, June 17, 2001

Lincoln Heights

Women in charge of the village

        I've always wondered what would happen if women ran things. I don't mean in England or India or Canada or Ireland or Sri Lanka or Finland or New Zealand or Latvia any of the other 28 nations who have elected female heads of state. But here in this country. Or even in this city.

        Those anointed to run the various panels and commissions dedicated to “racial healing” after the April riots here are men. The announced candidates for mayor of Cincinnati are male. Right now, only two council members are female.

        So, if you want to see what might happen if women were in charge, you have to watch Lincoln Heights. There's Mayor Shirley Salter, by day an ergonomics coordinator at the Ford plant in Sharonville.

        And since January, Carole Cornelison has been the village manager. She resigned under pressure after three years as manager of Woodlawn. Council members said she conducted business without council approval. “Politics,” Mrs. Cornelison says shortly.

        Well, of course, we here in the city of Cincinnati would know nothing of a situation like this.

Vision in sync

        In any case, while she was not communicating her every move to Woodlawn council members, the manager brought an office complex, a Kroger store and lots of apartments to that community. Andrew Radin of Neyer Properties, who worked with Mrs. Cornelison, said “she had a vision, and she pursued it.”

        The vision she has now is in sync with the one outlined by the council. They work together on the maps and push-pins, plans for new housing and plans for development. It will be an uphill battle. These women were not exactly handed a kingdom with a royal mint.

        Median household income is estimated at $18,565, and when the village was incorporated in 1946, General Electric was gerrymandered out of its tax base. The village is down to 4,113 residents. And 99.1 percent of them are nonwhite, one of the highest percentages in Ohio.        

A refuge

        Nikki Giovanni, the nationally acclaimed poet who grew up in Lincoln Heights, spoke eloquently of her hometown during a visit this month.

        “When all the world was cheating us out of our land, when we were being cheated out of our history, we stood, we made a haven — a refuge — and it has got to mean something.”

        The “something” this community has going for it, according to its mayor, is community.

        “People here know each other, look out for each other, when they can,” she says.

        Miz Mayor, as she is known to residents, swoops through the village in her dark blue Corsica, pointing out the sights. A yard that has been cleaned up, another that needs it. A site for future development. Churches, 24 of them. A bar, a trouble spot. A beautiful lawn, a patch of weeds.

        She and “the girls,” as she calls them, see plenty of bright spots. Lincoln Heights is in Princeton School District, and a new elementary school is on the drawing board. Mrs. Cornelison is working on a retail/housing “focal point ” and the possibility of a metro hub.

        The challenge in Lincoln Heights for these women is huge, not a fair test, perhaps. Still, it will be worth watching to see what they will do with the chance.


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