Tuesday, May 07, 2002

RADEL: Race relations

Bill Clinton could help city heal

By Cliff Radel, cradel@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bring on Big Bad Bill Clinton. The former president has offered to help racially torn Cincinnati. Fine. Come on down.

        All he needs, he says, is a formal invitation. From someone official. Somebody — hint, hint — like Mayor Charlie Luken.

        On Monday, the mayor said he's going to pay the former president a “courtesy call.” Go ahead, Charlie, invite the guy. He can talk the talk. And get feuding factions to open lines of communication.

        Don't get me wrong. I don't admire the man, his presidency, his personal life or his sax playing.

        Plus, I'm no fan of out-of-town celebrity mediators. We can, and should, be able to solve our own problems.

        So far, unfortunately, we haven't. No doubt, great progress has been made. A landmark racial-profiling settlement has been signed, sealed and is poised to be put in place.

        Yet, tensions remain high. Roadblocks still exist. The boycott and its fallout continue — witness Monday's announcement that the 4,900-member Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons are moving their annual convention from Cincinnati to Columbus.


Win-win proposition

        The mere mention of Bill Clinton — much less seeing him in the flesh — will cause his rabid enemies to foam at the mouth. They see the man as evil incarnate. Let them. It's their loss.

        They're missing the point. He has a gift for coaxing opposing sides to sit in the same room and start talking. Let him work his magic here.

        Bill Clinton heading a Cincinnati-style peace conference can be a good thing. For us. And, for him.

        We have to win. He can't afford to lose.

        The stakes are high for everyone. He needs the prestige. We need peace.

        He has to succeed to maintain his high profile, enhance his statesman credentials and improve his chances for landing a fat contract as a TV talk-show host.

        We must succeed. The city's fate hangs in the balance.

        Bill Clinton knows Cincinnati. Not well. But well enough.

        He's tasted the chili. That didn't scare him off.

        He has a friend here in Stan Chesley. He's attended fund-raisers at the famed attorney's digs in Amberley Village. The peace talks could be held there.

        A visit from Bill Clinton to negotiate an end to Cincinnati's racial strife would be good for the city's image.

        Cincinnati could use the headlines generated from such a visit to its advantage.

        The city could show how determined it is to put an end to racism. Opportunities would arise to point out what is specifically being done to stop this virulent form of hatred. And what still needs to be accomplished.


You're invited

        Bill Clinton's greatest asset in this endeavor would be his mouth. He can talk with all sides.

        He speaks the politicians' lingo. It doesn't hurt that he's a Democrat. So's the mayor.

        Bill Clinton can also speak the language of the people. All the people. He can point out the races' shared concerns and their shortcomings. He can do this without dragging along any excess psychological or political baggage. The riots of 2001 did not happen on his watch.

        He has the verbal skills — coupled with a rascally charisma — to talk to all sides and get everyone talking to each other.

        That's Bill Clinton's forte. For all of his faults, and they are mighty in number, he knows how to bring opposite sides together.

        So, give him a chance. Invite the guy. It can't hurt. In the process, a whole lot of people just might be helped.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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