Saturday, April 06, 2002

Peter Deane

Advocate means well, but goofs

        The e-mail snafu was classic Peter Deane.

        He had just returned from laying flowers at a memorial for a murdered Mexican immigrant. Cincinnati community leaders were invited, but none bothered to show, Mr. Deane wrote in an e-mail to 24 reporters, politicians and ministers.

        Um, maybe that's because you put the wrong date on your invitation, somebody said.

        Oops. Another awkward moment for the immigrant community's most outspoken advocate.

        “This man is good when he's good, and when he's bad, he's really bad,” said Linda Garcia, who works with immigrants at Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

        Mr. Deane, 36, is a Cincinnati firefighter, devout Catholic and father of three. With his friendly, freshly scrubbed face, he looks like an Irish Boy Scout. But he chases his cause like a tornado through City Hall.

        Last summer, Mr. Deane encountered Mexican crime victims during emergency runs in Over-the-Rhine. Concerned about their isolation, he wrote and widely distributed a poem called “Indigenous Eyes.” Then he began sending long e-mails to dozens of Hispanic professionals, urging them to support various proposals.

        He has called for an electronic phone hub, for instance, that would direct Spanish speakers to services.

        Last winter, he invited people to help him distribute warm clothes to families in Over-the-Rhine. On one such visit, only one other man showed up, and neither he nor Mr. Deane spoke Spanish. “I left very angry,” Mr. Deane wrote in an e-mail to 60 community members, many of them Hispanic. “Where is everyone?”

Lack of tact

        Probably hiding from Mr. Deane.

        “We think it's wonderful what he's doing, but you have to have tact with people, especially when you're trying to open doors and help the community,” says Maritza Dyer, a caseworker with Santa Maria Community Services.

        Many agencies are working quietly to help immigrants help themselves, she says. Handing out coats on a street corner is not their style, and Mr. Deane lost support when he criticized them for it.

        Some of his missives are almost comical. In e-mails copied to dozens of people, for instance, he issued a list of questions to the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. The first query was, “What is it that you do?”

        A commission member responded angrily to his tone, and soon after, Mr. Deane distributed an e-mail news item with the headline “Peter Deane scolded.”

        “I keep nothing hidden from anybody,” he says.

        And he has managed to get the attention of city officials. Cecil Thomas of the Human Relations Commission brought Mr. Deane together with Su Casa Hispanic Ministry, which is working on a proposal for a 24-hour, Spanish-language hot line.

        “You have to give some credit to Peter Deane, as obnoxious as he is,” Mr. Thomas says.

        It's true. Obnoxiousness has its place in the public arena.

        Mr. Deane is still tracking the city's progress, but because many immigrants have left Over-the-Rhine, his torrent of e-mails has trailed off.

        I confess I'm going to miss them.

       Contact: (859) 578-5584 or at


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