Friday, September 28, 2001

Unrest gives Luken a second chance

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The first time Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken had to deal with racial protests and rioting, it was more than six months before a historic election in which he seemed destined to become the city's first strong mayor in 76 years.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        Now the underdog in a one-on-one race for mayor, Mr. Luken said he and other city officials “learned some things” from the April unrest that followed the deadly police shooting of Timothy Thomas.

        This week, after a judge Wednesday acquitted the police officer in that shooting, Mr. Luken's handling of the renewed protests may have given him a second chance.

        He was polite yet firm with protesters at a City Council meeting Wednesday, then declared a state of emergency and imposed a citywide curfew at the first sign of trouble.

        “I would give him higher marks, certainly, this time around,” said Charles Wolff, 51, a downtown property owner who attended a candidates' forum at the downtown public library Thursday night. “I think the last time, everybody was caught a little off-guard.”

        Downtown resident Hugh C. Koon, 62, said he was disappointed with Mr. Luken in April.

        “I think he waited too long to put on the curfew, and walking out of that City Council meeting may have touched off a riot when it shouldn't have,” he said. “He did it better this time around.”

        Mr. Luken has steadfastly defended his leadership throughout the ordeal. However, he acknowledged Thursday that “the response this time was better than the response in April.”

        In April, the protests and riots were unexpected, and caught city officials by surprise.

        This week, they received 24 hours' notice of the verdict and had a plan already in place when sporadic violence broke out Wednesday night. The decision came after the first reports of garbage fires and bottle-throwing in Over-the-Rhine.

        In April, there was an awkward period during which the mayor and the city manager looked to each other for leadership, before Mr. Luken stepped forward to become, as he has said, the “face of the city.”

        Thursday, City Manager John Shirey stood in the back of the room while a relaxed Mr. Luken — flanked by police, fire and safety officials — addressed reporters.

        For most of the 2001 mayoral campaign, Courtis Fuller has denounced his opponent's lack of leadership before, during and after the April riots. That, in part, helped him to a 16-point win over Mr. Luken in the Sept. 11 primary, buoyed by large turnout in black wards.

        This week, his criticism has been somewhat muted.

        “I am not interested in playing games any more along the lines of grading Charlie,” Mr. Fuller said Thursday. “The citizens of Cincinnati understand the truth of this moment, and that will be revealed on Election Day, Nov. 6.”

        Mr. Fuller delivered that message Thursday before leaving on atrip.

        But Wednesday night, he walked with the Rev. Damon Lynch III through Over-the-Rhine.

        He urged people to pray for Stephen Roach, the officer whose acquittal sparked the most recent protests.

        He spoke of healing, and asked people to join him in a period of fasting and prayer in the 40 days until Nov. 6.


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