Saturday, April 06, 2002

Automatic clutch

Splendor in the grasp

        What's with all the hugs?

        Every time you turn around, somebody's getting one from Valerie Lemmie.

        Cincinnati's new city manager handed out nine of them this week during her first five minutes on the job.

        Most of the hugs went to people she's going to work with — council members and her new boss, Mayor Charlie Luken.

        How nice.

        How very un-Cincinnati.

        I'm not saying this town's a cold fish. But, Cincinnati is hardly Touchy-Feely-ville. People here are considered warm and fuzzy if they shake hands regularly and smile once a year.

        As a result, there's never been much hugging at City Hall. Until Valerie Lemmie arrived.

        She is an accomplished full-frame hugger. No polite pats on the shoulder. No one-arm deals. She makes body contact, wrapping both arms around her target.

        Hugging, she told me, is a tradition — “it is in the culture of an African-American” — and a form of communication.

        “People like to be touched at the heart. That's how to get them to look at you as a person, not as a job title.”

        Ah, so it's a management tool.

        “It's the person that gets the job done,” the city manager said with a sweet smile. “Not the title.”

        We shook hands. No hug.

        “A hug is kinda warm and not very official,” said Mayor Luken.

        He's a wannabe hugger.

        “I like to hug. I just don't do it a lot,” he said. “I'm always worried it's not quite appropriate.”

        So, he missed chances to hug Valerie Lemmie's predecessors.

        “I never hugged John Shirey,” the mayor said. “Or Jerry Newfarmer, thank God.”

        Still, he favors embraces.

        “We can all use a good hug. The whole city can use a hug.”

        Well, maybe not everyone.

        “I'm not a very good hugger,” said Councilman Pat DeWine. He comes from a big family. “But, we're not big huggers.”

        So, he seems more comfortable with a handshake.

        The city manager can give Pat DeWine's share of hugs to his colleagues on council.

        “Hugs break down barriers.” — Minette Cooper.

        “A hug builds bridges.” — Paul Booth.

        “A hug taps into the emotions of togetherness.” — John Cranley.

        “By hugging the city manager you can keep her in your grasp and know what's going on.” — Chris Monzel.

        “You can't be stiff when you hug. In her case, it's effortless.” — Jim Tarbell.

        “Hugs reduce hesitancy and defensiveness.” — David Crowley.

        Save a hug for the police chief.

        “A hug is an immediate display of trust,” said Chief Tom Streicher. It beats the alternative.

        Being hugged by the city manager, he added, “feels a lot better than being kicked in the rump.”

        To Councilman David Pepper, a “converted” hugger, the city manager's style mirrors city council's more civilized demeanor.

        A year ago, if two members of council had been seen with their arms around each other, it would have been assumed the participants were trying to figure out where to insert the knife.

        “We need a collegial feel,” the councilman said. “Her personal touch can only help.”

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece calls herself “a part-time hugger.” Hugs come “just from my mom's side of the family.”

        Still, she's ready to embrace the new city manager's hands-on approach.

        “Cincinnati,” she declared, “is open for new ideas and changes that might last 20, 30 years.

        “Who knows, hugging might be the big change.”

        That's something everyone can get their arms around.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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