Sunday, June 09, 2002

Roxanne Qualls

Why don't we bring her back?

        Roxanne Qualls finished school last week, but she's not coming back home.

        “Not for a while,” she says pleasantly but firmly by telephone from Boston.

        Cincinnati's former mayor is looking for a job in that city. Maybe with a not-for-profit. A foundation. Teaching. A consulting company. “Something,” she says, “that deals with urban issues.”

        Well, we have issues here, I remark unnecessarily.

        In May, she says, she came back here to “explore the possibilities.” Apparently, no possibilities were forthcoming.

        How about running for office?

        Her quick laugh and a brisk, “Not for a long, long time.” A pause. “If ever.”

        Roxanne Qualls was mayor from 1993 to 1999. First elected to council in 1991, the enormously popular mayor was evicted from City Hall by term limits. After an unsuccessful but respectable run against 1st District U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, she left to lecture at a seminar on politics. Then another. Meanwhile, she won a fellowship and started taking classes.

        As of last Thursday, she holds a master's degree in public administration from the prestigious John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Her practical training as a public servant here has been fortified by an education that put her together with academics and practical urban specialists from all over the world, including people who have solved problems like the ones facing Cincinnati.

        And I can't help feeling as I did when I learned that a friend's bright and newly degreed daughter was taking her brains and education to Chicago: How did Cincinnati let her get away?

        During her years at Harvard, Roxanne Qualls' fellow students included a former HUD chief of staff, the former mayor of Raleigh, N.C., a Los Angeles Times columnist who created a race-relations beat, the first woman elected premier of Bermuda.

        And so on.

        Our former mayor was chosen for a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, along with a man who ran Chicago's transit system, a British urban architect, a Detroit neighborhood developer, a Las Vegas public land expert and the man who planned the transit service in Portland, Ore.

        Her dream job, she says, would be working with communities in building social networks. You know, getting people to work together. People who don't necessarily look alike or read the same books or vote for the same public officials.

        Well, that sounds like something we don't have in great abundance around here. We're also not awash with experienced leaders who happen to have a built-in love for this city and an acquired degree in urban study from a prestigious Ivy League school.

        She says when she comes home to Cincinnati, “I am always reminded about how much I miss it. I would love to maintain a relationship with the city.”

        And our problems?

        “Nobody should pretend to have all the answers,” she says. “But I think we have to learn to ask new questions.”

        My first question would be an old one:

        Are we really going to let her get away?

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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