Wednesday, July 25, 2001

City's image casts shadow on 2012 bid

By Robert Anglen and Anya Rao
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The picture most Americans have of Cincinnati isn't coming from a postcard.

        It is emanating from TV and magazines, which, for the second time since the April riots, depict the Queen City as the focal point of police-community tension.

        “We've become the poster child for problems in urban America,” Mayor Charlie Luken said Tuesday. “People are seeing Cincinnati as a divided city.”

        Not a pretty picture for a city hosting a visit from the United States Olympic Committee in an attempt to win the 2012 Olympic Games.

        Officials with Cincinnati 2012 Inc. say they were upfront with Olympic committee members Tuesday.

        “Cincinnati is addressing issues that are just under the surface of so many American cities,” said Joe Hale, chairman of Cincinnati 2012. “We did a pretty good job admitting we have a problem here and telling them how we're trying to fix it.”

        Mr. Hale told the USOC officials that many members of Cincinnati 2012 are involved with the city's struggle to overcome its problems — people such as businessman Ross Love and the Rev. Damon Lynch III, who co-chair the mayor's panel on racial justice.

        USOC members will not comment on their tour of Cincinnati until a press conference Thursday.

        Mr. Luken — who welcomed the group Tuesday morning — said other American cities bidding on the Olympics, such as Los Angeles, have had similar problems.

        “Not all the news for big cities is going to be good,” Mr. Luken said. “I don't think it disqualifies the city.”

        Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia who has written about media in politics, said the recent national news coverage is a typical example of covering the extremes.

        “TV cameras gravitate to the most animated and extreme views because they are trying to hold viewers and get them to put that clicker down.”

        Those views include Monday's Nightline with police union President Keith Fangman squaring off with the Rev. Mr. Lynch.

        On the same day, Time magazine's major story was on the frustrated Cincinnati police force. The New York Times earlier ran a front-page story about the effects of a police slowdown. The Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor concentrated on a rash of shootings that some say is an outgrowth of the riots.

        Mr. Luken said much of the divisiveness being reported comes from within the city. He singled out comments the Rev. Mr. Lynch made in three different interviews.

        In the New York Times, the Rev. Mr. Lynch suggested the mayor's response to police-community tension was to hug a cop; on The O'Reilly Factor, the Rev. Mr. Lynch attributed violence to guns stolen during the riots and wrongly said the mayor would implement a gun buyback program; and on Nightline, Mr. Lynch would not agree there is ever a time a police officer should use deadly force.

        “Way too often our own people are driving us down,” Mr. Luken said.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said he doesn't agree with the mayor's statement that he and Mr. Fangman, the police union president, make Cincinnati appear as a city of extremists.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said he is getting calls every day from people across the country telling him their city is suffering from the same racial problems.

        “Cincinnati is not alone in the spotlight,” he said. “We have the opportunity to be the poster child for healing and working out our differences.”

        That is the story that has yet to be told, said Mike Maul, president of Wordsworth Communication, a public relations firm that has worked with the Cincinnati Police Division and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce.

        “There has to be an end to the story,” he said, comparing Cincinnati to the boy who was ravaged by a shark in Florida. “We've kind of been bitten by the shark and people are waiting to see what happens.”

        Lajuana Miller, event coordinator for last weekend's Ujima Cinci-Bration 2001, said she had to battle perceptions fueled by media coverage.

        “The perception is there is chaos in the streets,” she said. “People were talking about it, mostly people from other cities in the Midwest.”

        Deasa Nichols, executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce, said significant changes must occur before the press reports a different story.

        “Once we have those results, we will have something to broadcast to the national media showing progress.”

        Kevin Aldridge and Dan Klepal of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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