Sunday, July 01, 2001

Despite his familiar face, Fuller's views a mystery




By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Even those who welcome Courtis Fuller's decision to run for mayor know nothing about his political views.

        To them, the 44-year-old former television anchorman is a friendly face who entered thousands of living rooms every night on WLWT-TV news, and is a willing emcee for charitable causes.

[photo] Cora Shine of Bond Hill told Courtis Fuller on Thursday, “I just had to come here to see you.” Mr. Fuller was at Swifton Commons to get signatures on ballot petitions.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        “I know nothing about Courtis' politics except to say I think he would be liberal,” said friend Marian Spencer, the longtime board member of the Charter Committee of Greater Cincinnati, which endorsed Mr. Fuller.

        Mr. Fuller offers few clues about his politics. He says it's too soon to spell out a platform for the region's most powerful political office, which for the first time in 76 years, is imbued with considerable executive powers.

        In an interview Friday, the same day that the board of elections determined he had enough petitions to qualify for the ballot, Mr. Fuller still spoke in generalities. He said he wouldn't take a stand on issues facing the city until talking first with the full Charter Committee and political advisers.

        “It's no secret what all the key issues are,” he said. “Those issues really confront many cities, issues of race, issues of economics, of neighborhood development. I don't want to dictate what I think are the major problems in our city. I want them (citizens) to dictate to me.”

        Mr. Fuller, a Democrat, said he will reach out for endorsements from the African-American Political Caucus, the Fraternal Order of Police, and others along the political spectrum.

        “What kind of politician am I?” he said. “I'm not a politician ... This city needs unity. That word just pours out of my spirit, and I'm sure that I can provide that. Commercials, slick buttons, those are all typical of political campaigns. Of course, we're going to have to get that message out. But when I say those words, I really mean them.”

        He said the ability to get 4,539 people to sign petitions to place him on the ballot was more a statement that voters want a new direction.

        “There's an excitement there. And it wasn't about me. This isn't about me. It's about changing the climate in this city.”

        He avoided direct criticism of Charlie Luken, the endorsed Democrat who has been mayor since 1999, is a former congressman and was mayor for six years in the 1980s. But Mr. Fuller drew a parallel between the mayor and former President Clinton, whom he voted for twice.

        Both, he said, are popular politicians who provoked intense dislike in some voters.

        “Maybe,” he said. “People just start to vote (for certain candidates) out of habit.”        

Dreaming big

        To some, Mr. Fuller's reluctance to talk about issues right out of the gate is endearing, a sign of a badly needed outsider bidding for City Hall.

        “I think he's probably wisely stayed away from political discussions because of his job,” said Lajuana Miller, the coordinator for the Ujima Cincibration festival, who has known Mr. Fuller for several years.

        Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Mike Barrett, who failed to persuade about half a dozen candidates to challenge Mr. Luken, said Mr. Fuller's lack of political seasoning also means he hasn't been planning the race for some time.

        “I think it's proof that he's getting into this thing for the right reasons,” Mr. Barrett said.

        Mr. Fuller said that despite people asking for his opinions now, he wants to “do this right, do it with a good conscience.”

        “Am I idealistic? Maybe I am,” he said. “But there is nothing wrong with dreaming big, and I mean really big.”

        Mr. Fuller said his views on many issues are not set in concrete.

        “It's a matter of balancing my own personal opinions with the good of the community,” he said. “Just because it's my opinion doesn't necessarily mean it's right.”

        Until the Sept. 11 primary to identify the two candidates who will appear on the ballot in November, Mr. Fuller will be blanketing Cincinnati to convince residents he has what it takes to run City Hall.

        Despite the initial burst of enthusiasm over his candidacy, it will be a tough sell. Gerald Newfarmer, the former Cincinnati city manager who is president of the Charter Committee, said he would describe Mr. Fuller “as a political leader who cares first and foremost about people.”

        “He's a stand-up guy. He has a good leadership presence,” Mr. Newfarmer said. “I think the technical stuff about city government is going to be very easy for him to learn as he goes. He knows he has a whole lot to learn about individual issues.”        

Well-traveled reporter

        Until he started talking to Charter officials about the mayor's race several months ago, Mr. Fuller had followed a familiar path for broadcast news reporters, starting as a traffic reporter at a country-and-western radio station in Milwaukee after leaving Marquette University.

        He moved from there to assignments in Peoria, Ill., Daytona Beach, Fla., and Macon, Ga., before coming to Cincinnati and WLWT-TV in 1988, where he ended his tenure Wednesday as co-anchor of the noon and 5:30 p.m. newscasts.

        Growing up in Pittsburgh, he had dreamed of being a baseball player. His father, Sam, died when Courtis was less than a year old, and his mother, Dorothy, supported Courtis and two other children as a cook.

        Divorced just as he was moving to Cincinnati, Mr. Fuller has a 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, from that first marriage. He was married in 1999 to Marla Hurston, a WKRC-TV (Channel 12) video production manager.

        A lifetime Baptist, Mr. Fuller is an active member of Lincoln Heights Missionary Baptist Church and said his faith is “much of me.”

        He has talked of writing a book about self-improvement, a project he said he has not abandoned.

        “It's still there in my mind,” he said. “The focus is really just how to turn your life around, turn it upside down and really do the impossible.”

        That is exactly what Mr. Fuller has done. While he was still finalizing the termination of his WLWT contract Friday, he said it was unlikely he would ever return there or to TV news in general.

        Mr. Fuller lived in Springfield Township until switching residency Wednesday to an apartment in College Hill.

        But he professes not to be comfortable, asking a question that the mayor's race clearly has answered for him.

        “If everything was perfect, you could just float through life,” he said. “But it's not. So the question is, how do we make a difference?”
       



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