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Reeling Around the Fountain

By Gregory Flannery · October 18th, 2006 · Porkopolis
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  Joe Deters can't stand riot sympathizers, except when they help him get elected.
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Joe Deters can't stand riot sympathizers, except when they help him get elected.



Fountain Square officially reopened Oct. 14 with compelling entertainment, some controversy and lots of construction work still to be done. The overall feeling among those attending the day's festivities seemed to be that the new square is quite an improvement over what had become a quiet and underused public space.

Oct. 14 started as a chilly morning, and the rather thin crowd didn't swell much until it was almost noon. Bootsy Collins opened the proceedings with a reminiscence about coming downtown as a kid to shop and then getting to go to Fountain Square -- the real highlight of a downtown trip, he claimed.

Nikki Giovanni then read her poem, which contained a few lines she'd inserted to express her opinion of gubernatorial candidate and fellow native Cincinnatian Ken Blackwell (she called him "a son of a bitch" and "a political whore"). Her brash statements caught the crowd by surprise; there were audible gasps and a bit of applause. Several elderly women turned away from the stage and departed, clearly offended by Giovanni's remarks.

Everyone else seemed to take them in stride. Politicians from Charlie Luken to Mayor Mark Mallory observed that the square was a place for free speech, as demonstrated by Giovanni's remarks. Jim Tarbell -- who compared his black top hat with the lavender item Bootsy was wearing -- remarked about the history of the square, saying he'd had childhood experiences similar to Bootsy's.

(On Oct. 16, 3CDC, which organized the reopening celebration, issued a statement expressing "regret" over Giovanni's "completely inappropriate" remarks about Blackwell.

"Nothing in an early draft provided to 3CDC indicated the negative tone of the final poem's middle section," the statement said.)

The Cincinnati Symphony played well, especially the "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland, a piece commissioned by the CSO that premiered here back in the 1940s. The biggest ovation for the afternoon was for opera singer Mark Panuccio, representing Cincinnati Opera, singing "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. A dozen dancers from Cincinnati Ballet then came from behind the fountain with a routine of flag-waving while the CSO played.

At the culminating point, 10,000 biodegradable balloons were released. One observer said they looked like "champagne bubbles" as they swirled and floated up above the square.

The evening festivities went off well, even through a surprisingly chilly wind swirling around the square. The night started off with an amazing performance from Talib Kweli, who was joined for about half his set by bona fide Cincinnati Hip Hop legend Hi-Tek, who rapped instead of DJing. It was a magnificently diverse crowd, if a little thin at that point.

Later sets from L.A.-based Los Lobos and one of the country's current buzz Pop Rock bands, OK Go, sounded great on the temporary stage set up in the middle of Fifth Street between the square and the Westin Hotel. The large crowd spilled back up onto the square, where another temporary stage hosted local bands between the national acts.

There were some complaints about the half-finished nature of the square, but it actually looked good considering how much work remained the week before Oct. 14. As for the festivities, local musician Dave Purcell joked at the event about how it was amusing that it took a white kid from the suburbs -- 3CDC Fountain Square Managing Director and MidPoint Music Festival co-founder Bill Donabedian -- to book the most diverse concert in the city's history.

Deters Selectively Opposed to 'Riot Sympathizers'
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters doesn't like people connected with Cincinnati's Collaborative Agreement and riot sympathizers, except when it's politically expedient. In a much-played television commercial supporting Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, Deters lets voters know that he opposes the Collaborative Agreement that resulted in dozens of reforms for Cincinnati Police and is against subsequent city deals with, as he termed them, "riot sympathizers."

All of which, of course, doesn't mention the fact that Deters has relied upon Kenneth Lawson -- the local attorney who helped negotiate the Collaborative Agreement and also helped strike some of the other deals -- for political help in the African-American community when Deters was running for election.

In the current commercial aimed at re-electing Heimlich (Deters' fellow Republican) the prosecutor appears on camera and disparages Democratic challenger David Pepper for his role in helping negotiate the Collaborative Agreement while Pepper was on Cincinnati City Council.

As Pepper points out, he wasn't yet elected to council when the April 2001 riots occurred, although Heimlich was. Further, the local police union, Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. and a bipartisan council majority supported the Collaborative Agreement because the alternative was a federal consent decree giving the courts direct supervision of the police department. The union also urged council to settle several lawsuits against police to free individual officers from personal liability.

Viewers might get the impression that Deters is angry over the Collaborative Agreement and the other police lawsuit settlements, along with anyone who supported them. But when Deters sought re-election to the prosecutor's office in 2004 after an absence of six years, he called on Lawson for help.

In the election, Deters, who is white, was running against Democrat Fanon Rucker, who is black. Deters had Lawson record some commercials on his behalf that aired on radio stations with predominantly black audiences. Lawson is a Republican who, in the past, has tried to convince the party to back him for a judgeship.



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