Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Debate focuses on riots, revival




By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati mayoral candidates Charlie Luken and Courtis Fuller argued over the mayor's conduct during the April race riots, how best to revive neighborhoods and whether the city can attract qualified developers.

[photo] Mayoral candidates Charlie Luken (left) Courtis Fuller meet in a televised debate a week before the election.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        The two men who want to be Cincinnati's first directly elected mayor since 1925 met Tuesday night at the Cincinnati Museum Center for what was likely to be the only televised debate of the campaign.

        The hourlong debate was televised by WLWT-TV (Channel 5).

        Mr. Luken, mayor since 1999, stressed his Cincinnati roots and experience.

        “There is no on-the-job training for the job of mayor of Cincinnati,” he said.

        Mr. Fuller, who has never held office, said his journey to the mayor's office is a “walk of faith.”

        “Leadership is not in a name. Leadership is in your soul, with passion, sacrifice and a vision.”

        The Cincinnati mayor's campaign has regional implications and is getting national attention.

        “Your vote will tell the entire world who we are and what we want to be,” Mr. Fuller said.

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        Several of the questions focused on the April race riots and the Justice Department investigation into police practices.

        Mr. Fuller criticized Mr. Luken for leaving a City Council committee meeting where citizens demanded answers about the police shooting of Timothy Thomas.

        “Had I been mayor, it wouldn't have happened to begin with,” Mr. Fuller said, adding that he would have had discussions with people well before riots. “You make sure dialogue is ongoing, so things don't erupt on one fateful day.”

        Mr. Luken defended his performance during the riots and said he had already tried to engage the city in a discussion about race relations.

        “I made a conscious decision to become the face of the city and made decisions day after day after day,” he said. “I did the very best I could under some very difficult circumstances.”

        Although the two have debated on radio, joint appearances have been rare. In fact, Mr. Luken said Tuesday the voters have been cheated because the number of face-to-face meetings have been limited.

        Mr. Fuller responded that his campaign has been successful, noting his 16-point win in the Sept. 11 primary.

        Mr. Luken spoke of the new, stronger powers of the mayor's office, underlined the importance of the election, and argued that he has the experience needed to lead the city.

        In particular, he noted that the new enhanced powers of the mayor will make it easier for the city to lure developers and their projects to the city.

        Mr. Fuller questioned whether the system is to blame or the people in it.

        Mr. Fuller talked about his faith, the need for change and his commitment to a more inclusive, tolerant city.

        A high point of the debate was in the final minutes, where each candidate had the opportunity to — for the first time — ask his opponent a question directly.

        Mr. Luken asked Mr. Fuller about the curfew following the acquittal of Officer Stephen Roach in the death of Mr. Thomas. “Do you still believe the curfew was a bad call, and why?”

        “I was there, I never felt threatened,” Mr. Fuller responded. “I think a lot of people questioned — and I do, too — that the curfew was called when everyone was at home.”

        Then, Mr. Fuller asked his opponent to imagine he was looking into a little girl's eyes and assure her that the city will move forward on race relations.

        Mr. Luken recited a list of steps he's taken this year: passing an anti-racial profiling ordinance, requesting a Justice Department investigation, and establishing a race relations commission.

        “So many people — and, Courtis, I think you too — only started paying attention when the events of April happened.”

        Mr. Luken, 50, is a former Cincinnati City Council member, congressman and news anchor. He has been mayor since 1999, by virtue of finishing first in the City Council elections.

        Mr. Fuller, 44, left his job as a news anchor at WLWT-TV to run for office.

       



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