Wednesday, December 05, 2001

CAN leaders: Firing Lynch was right call

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The two remaining leaders of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) said firing the Rev. Damon Lynch III was the right call, but Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken could have handled it better.

        “We understand and accept the mayor's decision to remove Rev. Lynch,” co-chairman Ross Love said Tuesday during a news conference at the task force's downtown headquarters.

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        “There were conflicts between the Rev. Mr. Lynch's role with Cincinnati CAN and his role as a community leader. They needed to be resolved.

        “But the events of the last few days could have been handled more constructively,” he said.

        Mr. Luken dismissed the commission co-chairman in a 15-word letter hand-delivered to the pastor on Monday. The letter, which was Mr. Luken's first official act after being sworn in as the city's new strong mayor, stated the Rev. Mr. Lynch would be prohibited from further involvement of any kind with Cincinnati CAN.

        The move was in response to a letter mailed by the Cincinnati Black United Front to convention planners discouraging them from having conventions in Cincinnati. The letter, signed by the Rev. Mr. Lynch and two other leaders of the group, referred to Cincinnati police officers as rapists and killers.

        “Tom (Cody, the other co-chairman) and I disagree wholeheartedly with the letter,” Mr. Love said.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch, who has been unapologetic about the letter, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But on Monday, he said he will “remain committed to progress, reform and justice” whether he is a member of CAN or not.

        Mr. Luken said Tuesday that he wants to wait until the controversy dies down before he appoints a replacement for the Rev. Mr. Lynch, but he said it will be someone with a “grassroots background.”

        Both Mr. Love and Mr. Cody said they were consulted by the mayor about dismissing the Rev. Mr. Lynch but neither played a part in the ultimate decision.

        “It's the mayor's commission, so it was his call,” Mr. Cody said.

        The CAN co-chairs said they intend to continue to use Rev. Lynch as a consultant, a move supported by the mayor, the co-chairmen said.

        “We are going to call on Damon in areas where he can be helpful,” Mr. Love said.

        The issue doesn't spell the end of CAN, Mr. Love said.

        In fact, he said, the race panel is poised to announce several initiatives in coming weeks, including one involving city police and clergy.

        But some African-American residents who were already skeptical of the commission's chances for success said their confidence in the race panel is even shakier now. They said the Rev. Mr. Lynch's dismissal hurts the commission, the mayor and the city as a whole.

        “Rev. Lynch was the bridge between the haves and the have nots,” said the Rev. Steven Wheeler of Impact Christian Ministries.

        “People looked at him as their eyes, ears and their voice in the boardroom. Now, by removing him from the room, (African-Americans) have no one in there that we can honestly trust to look out for our interests and speak out on our behalf.”

        Added Jennifer Thornton, an Avondale resident: “Rev. Lynch is the only voice I ever heard coming from that commission ... the only one I paid attention to.

        “Sometimes you need somebody on the board to point out things that are racist and stuff people aren't doing right. I don't want somebody on the CAN commission that is going to say things are all rosy when they are not.”


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