At a news conference outside City Hall July 31, Harry Black pledged that should he be selected to be city manager, his office would seek to boost development, improve financial planning and preserve safety in the city.
A committee made up of Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young met with Black Aug. 5 to vet him for the job. The three gave their approval for a full council vote on Black, expected Aug. 6.
Black currently serves as the finance director for the city of Baltimore, a role he says has prepared him to be Cincinnati’s city manager.
“They’re both challenged in similar ways,” Black said of Baltimore and Cincinnati. “What may vary is scale. But the issues here are issues that I’ve seen.”
Black has been involved in political dustups in some of his past jobs, but has more than 25 years of public service experience and reams of positive recommendations.
He’s pledged to take an analytic rather than political approach to big issues. He also said he would “think outside the box” in working to lift up Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.
“We’ll have a segment of the community that may need help in terms of being employable,” he said. “As a local government, we have to be certain that we make that a priority as well.”
Black, 51, grew up in Park Heights, a rough neighborhood in Baltimore, and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
He touts his experience with long-term financial planning.
“A longer-term approach” is important “not just in terms of filling budget shortfalls but also finding ways to reinvest back into the city,” Black said.
Cincinnati would be Black’s first turn as a city manager. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness.Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name.
“I’m not a pitbull,” he said at the conference, “and only time will allow you to see that.”
Whether council chooses Black for city manager or not, the gig may be short-lived. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed amending Cincinnati’s charter to create a so-called executive mayor., eliminating the city manager position. Cranley has voiced support for the idea, though Smitherman has said he doesn’t think he has the votes on council to pass the measure and may need to collect voter signatures to get it on the ballot.