Sunday, December 02, 2001

Luken takes charge

Strong mayor gets fresh charge

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Saturday's historic opening session of Cincinnati City Council wasn't exactly the coronation that everyone had in mind a year ago, when Charlie Luken looked to be a lock for the city's first “strong mayor” since 1925.

[photo] Mayor Charlie Luken gives his acceptance speech Saturday at City Hall.
(Tony Jones photos)
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        Charlie Luken was sworn in, of course. And while he wasn't presented with a crown, there was a palpable sense in the City Council chambers that Mr. Luken's stature had been elevated from his previous status as “first among equals.”

        What was missing was any of the partisan rancor that had so characterized City Council throughout the last decade.

        It was a day Mr. Luken, a Democrat, had been working for since 1979, when he first ran for council on a platform of, among other things, a stronger role for the mayor.

        “I always knew this day would come,” Mr. Luken said. “I just didn't know if I'd still be in the building.”

        Mr. Luken's installation as the first directly elected mayor since George F. Carrel in 1925 was the culminating political event in a year that saw the city's worst riots in a generation. Once the favorite, Mr. Luken had to come back from a 16-point primary loss to former news anchor Courtis Fuller to win the election last month.

[photo] David Pepper (right) is sworn in as a member of City Council. Standing beside him is his father, Procter & Gamble chairman John Pepper.
([name of photographer] photo)
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        “If I were to stand before you today and list all the issues facing the city, I would greatly exceed the five-minute limit I've set for myself,” he said.

        “I am heartened when I hear (vice mayor) Alicia Reece say to you this morning what has not been repeated enough over the last few months, and that is that Cincinnati is a great city,” he said. “That's not for a moment to suggest that we don't have serious problems and great issues, because we do.”

        He recalled Murray Seasongood's speech when he was sworn in as the first charter mayor in 1926. He said the citizens should “not expect us to rub Aladdin's lamp” and solve the city's problems overnight.

        “Well, I'm not going to put the genie back in the bottle,” Mr. Luken said.

        “We're going to acknowledge the past, we're going to learn from our past, and we're going to recognize that our past makes us a great American city. But we're going to move boldly into the future.”

        He said his daughter Molly asked him which one of the council members he didn't like. He told her he'll be able to work with them all.

        “Not one of the nine people got elected to City Council by telling the voters they wanted things to stay the same,” he said. “I hope today represents a fresh start for all of you. I hope it represents a fresh start for me.”

[photo] Councilman Jim Tarbell plays “God Bless America” on his harmonica.
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        “We will not repudiate our past. We will not run down our city. We will be optimistic about our future, and we will work together.”

        The mayor's new powers — including power to veto ordinances and lead hiring and firing of the city manager — could put him in conflict with council. Saturday, however, council members expressed a willingness to work together.

        “Today when we took the oath of office and swore to uphold the charter, it was a different charter than we swore to uphold two years ago,” said Councilman Pat DeWine, a Republican.

        Mr. DeWine, a Republican, said he hoped Mr. Luken would have a “George Washington-like opportunity” to define the new system of government.

        Councilman Chris Monzel, a Republican, urged his colleagues not to play “the same political games we've seen at City Hall over the years. ... I will not let this city wither away on my watch.”

        Newcomer David Crowley, a Democrat, acknowledged being critical during the campaign. But he quoted President John F. Kennedy: “Our task is not to fix blame for the past, but to fix the course for the future.”

        Freshman councilman David Pepper, a Democrat, said the day should be remembered for more than a charter change.

        “I hope it will be remembered as a day when nine council members and a strong mayor came together and started to do things differently,” he said.

        There were some lighter moments. After Mr. Pepper gave the longest speech of the day, Councilman Paul Booth began his speech by saying, “I see the two-minute rule is suspended.”

        John Cranley, at 27 the youngest, noted that five of the nine were under the age of 35, “and that Mayor Luken thinks and acts like he's under 35.”

        Mr. Luken, 50, interrupted, “Mr. Cranley, your two minutes are up.”


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