Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Winburn's out of politics, but not far

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Charlie Winburn, former Cincinnati city councilman, in his home with family photos and other mementos, including a photo of him with future president George W. Bush.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
Once he resigned from Cincinnati City Council in 2001, it almost seemed as if Charlie Winburn had disappeared - after years of dancing in the spotlight.

It seemed odd that this charismatic, flamboyant Republican - perhaps best known for mobilizing hundreds of yellow-shirted citizens to picket and shout outside drug houses - would stay so quiet.

Then in March, he popped back up in a startling way.

Winburn, the self-described leader of what he called an ad hoc citizens group, went public recently with allegations of improprieties at Walnut Hills High School. The group, Save Walnut Hills Committee/The Parents' Union, complained that Cincinnati's top public high school has been inflating students' grades, lowering entrance requirements, expunging records and committing other improprieties for at least two years.

The allegations were quickly denied by school supporters, but officials are looking into them.

This periodic feature revisits past newsmakers. If you have a candidate for a story, call William A. Weathers at 768-8390, or e-mail
"Our investigation is still under way," Janet Walsh, Cincinnati Public Schools spokesperson, said of the group's complaints. "Hopefully that investigation will be completed in a couple of weeks."

Winburn, who has a daughter attending the school, said his group - made up of parents, students, teachers and alumni - submitted a report, met three times with Superintendent Alton Frailey who promised a full investigation, and has since disbanded.

"I'm looking for another project," Winburn said.

Winburn, who resigned from council to accept a position with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, says he is busier that ever with his teaching ministry, his church and a faith-based organization that plans to build 100 new homes "to attract people back to Cincinnati."

The 52-year-old Winburn said he never stopped his political and public service activities.

"I've just changed my step. I'm running for Christ right now."

When Winburn served on council, he had a style all his own punctuated by "enormous energy," said Gene Beaupre, who teaches political science at Xavier University.

"He's probably not as subtle and deliberate as some (politicians), but there's no one who can match his energy," Beaupre said. "He's constantly campaigning for causes. The things he proposed, he was willing to put his energy behind."

And Winburn remains a viable candidate if he ever decides to run for office again, Beaupre said, because he has name recognition, a track record as a great fundraiser, and possesses "tremendous organizational skills."

Term limits loomed 10 months down the road when Winburn left city council after more than seven years to accept the civil rights appointment. But that wasn't the main reason for his resignation.

The number one reason was his wife's health. She was undergoing chemotherapy to combat cancer.

"My family needed me more than the citizens of Cincinnati," Winburn said.

His wife, Colleen, is now cancer-free, and she is home-schooling the couple's two youngest children, sons ages 6 and 10.

Winburn's "day job" with the five-member civil rights commission requires attending 16 meetings a year in Columbus, but allows him to do most of his work at his Mount Airy home.

"I've ruled on over 7,000 cases,'' he said.

Winburn also stays busy with a $1 million-plus expansion at The Church in College Hill on North Bend Road, where he serves as a senior ruling elder and founder. The expansion, which will include a preschool child-care center, is expected to open later this year.

He also is working to launch a church-sponsored community development corporation that hopes to construct new homes for first-time homebuyers.

Winburn's teaching ministry, which includes subjects like "The Mystery of Marriage" and a planned class on "How to Get Wealth Legally," has attracted more than 2,500 students since September 2001, he said.

"All of my schools will be on Internet radio and television sometime around June 1," he said.

Those interested can learn more about the projects at the church's Web site.

Today's Charlie Winburn is a healthier version than the one two years ago. He and his wife are following the Atkins Diet and Winburn uses a pedometer to make sure he walks 10,000 steps a day.

So far, the 5-foot-11 inch man has cut his weight from 174 pounds to 156 and his cholesterol reading from 289 to 166.

"I feel much better," Winburn said

Members of his church's 400-family congregation have noticed the change, Winburn said.

They say: "Oh, you've lost some weight and you're preaching longer," he said.

Winburn often has a lot to say - as he did during his seven years on city council, when he was never shy about expressing his opinion.

He even laughs at the nickname "Charlie Windbag" given to him by the satirical Whistleblower newsletter.

"That goes with the turf," Winburn said. "I like to communicate. I wasn't offended by that. That never bothered me. I love to talk. Some people say I have a lot of wind."

Although he professes to have no interest in running for public office, he acknowledges that things could change in about three years when his six-year commission appointment expires.

"You better watch out for Charlie Winburn about July 2006,'' the conservative Republican says of his possible return to politics.

"I've been asked to run against Mr. (Todd) Portune (for Hamilton County commissioner) and Mr. (Charlie) Luken (Cincinnati mayor), but I like to keep my options open."

But Winburn's not shy about his chances of success against either potential Democratic opponent.

"Of course, you know I'd be a shoo-in," he said with a grin.


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