By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A Cincinnati civic group Thursday reversed its decision to move its 10th annual fund-raiser out of downtown, despite pressure from boycotters.
The Woman's City Club, which was harshly criticized by city leaders this week, said its annual fund-raiser would be held Tuesday at its traditional location at the Plum Street Temple. The move means that the scheduled keynote speaker Barbara Ehrenreich - a book author and magazine freelancer - will not come.
The reversal comes four days after the club announced that it would move its annual fund-raiser from Plum Street Temple after boycott supporters urged Ehrenreich to abide by the downtown boycott. The Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, a boycott group, threatened to picket the event.
Ehrenreich told Woman's City Club officials she would not attend a picketed event.
"She's already decided that she will not cross a picket line. We will honor that decision, move on and do better," said Ruth Cronenberg, president of the 88-year-old philanthropic group. "We feel we were given lemons, so we are making lemonade."
Cronenberg said the event would now feature a panel discussion on "the progress Cincinnati has made to date and the challenges ahead with respect to the tensions in our city." The panel could consist of boycott, city and business leaders. No specific panelists were named.
Cronenberg said the women's group has talked several times with the Cincinnati Black United Front throughout the week and "they were willing to be on the podium with us." She said BUF members could be on the panel, but they haven't received a firm commitment.
Neither Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the BUF, nor Juleana Frierson, BUF chief of staff, could be reached for comment Thursday.
News of the Woman's City Club decision drew opposite reactions from city leaders and some boycott organizers.
Councilman John Cranley, who threatened Tuesday to picket the fund-raiser if it was moved outside the city, applauded the change of heart. Cranley called the reversal "a major win for the city" and promised to support the event by purchasing a $15 ticket.
"I think they've done the courageous thing and the right thing," Cranley said. "It's heartening to see people stand up for the city. We as a city cannot allow other people to continue to define us and bully us."
Amanda Mayes, co-chairwoman of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, said the reversal was "disappointing" and said the group should have had more respect for Ehrenreich's position. Mayes said she has no interest in participating in a forum that breaks the downtown boycott.
She questioned the "legitimacy" of any boycott leaders who would attend the forum and blasted city officials and the Charter Committee for attacking the Woman's City Club for honoring the boycott.
"They like to call us boycotters thugs, bullies and all other kinds of names, but the behavior we saw from John Cranley, Pat DeWine, Jim Tarbell, the mayor and especially the Charterites was thuggery at its most oppressive level," Mayes said. "If the city really wants to bring some healing and end the boycott, threatening to do counterprotests and withhold money from groups who do honor the boycott is not the way."
Mayes said the coalition was to have voted Thursday night whether to picket the fund-raiser.
Cronenberg, who called picketing an American right, said being caught in the middle of the boycott tug-of-war was an "interesting" experience. She said the civic group is still trying to understand why boycotters targeted its event, particularly since the fund-raiser is not a moneymaker for the city.
She declined to address any of the comments made by city leaders during the past week and said only that some people in City Hall were very helpful, while others were not.
"This is not the first time that this has happened in our city," Cronenberg said. "My question is, where do we turn for help?"
Marian Spencer, past president of the Woman's City Club and a former city councilwoman, said the decision to stay downtown was not the result of pressure from City Hall.
She said board members felt a unique opportunity exists now to provide leadership to the community and bring about healing from controversy.
"It's our problem, but it is also our opportunity to let the people of this city know that we are all in this together," Spencer said.
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