Sunday, August 19, 2001

Africa-born mayor hits streets

The Associated Press

        EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Shortly after his election as mayor of this Cleveland suburb nearly four years ago, African-born Emmanuel W. Onunwor glanced out of his office window and found reason to worry.

        He saw drug dealers and prostitutes.

        “I thought about calling in the National Guard,” he said.

        Mr. Onunwor was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States at age 22 to escape the instability left by a civil war. He has since called on his life's experiences for a tough-love governing approach he said is finally making some progress in the impoverished neighborhoods of this northern Ohio city, which is 94 percent black.

        Mr. Onunwor became the first black, African-born mayor in the United States when he was elected in 1997, said Michelle Kourouma, executive director of the Atlanta-based National Conference of Black Mayors.

        He has since been joined by Berkeley, Mo., Mayor Babatunde Deinbo, who also was born in Nigeria.

        “I would come into the office and do my office work, and almost every day at about 2:30 in the afternoon I would walk the streets to confront the individuals we suspected were involved in these (crime) activities,” Mr. Onunwor said.

        Mr. Onunwor, 43, married and the father of four, also drew on his reli gious convictions as an associate minister at East Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland when he walked and talked on East Cleveland streets.

        Mr. Onunwor also serves as safety director and earns $65,000 a year. With his first term soon ending, crime has decreased and a few newly built homes are the first in several years.

        But Eric Brewer, editor of Cleveland Life, an urban weekly newspaper in Cleveland, wants his job. Mr. Brewer was Mr. Onunwor's campaign manager in 1997 and his top aide for one year until Mr. Onunwor fired him.

        Mr. Brewer said Mr. Onunwor has charm, but little administrative ability.


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