After Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory's State of the City address Feb. 4, one audience member made a bold statement.
"I think he threw that pitch that way on purpose," he said.
The pitch, which wasn't mentioned in the approximately 30-minute speech at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, was the mayor's grossly misthrown ceremonial toss at last year's Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day game. It quickly became a YouTube sensation, garnering hundreds of thousands of views before Major League Baseball had the videos removed, but not before landing the mayor on ESPN and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Mallory was constantly teased about it in the weeks and months afterward, which he graciously turned into a boatload of free PR for our fine city. That couples well with the time he drove a Metro bus into the newly re-modeled Government Square bus depot downtown and Friday's planned groundbreaking in Over-the-Rhine where Mallory is expected to drive a bulldozer into a building being torn down to make way for new housing at 14th and Vine streets.
I have no idea whether Mallory threw the pitch that way on purpose.
The notion had never dawned on me, but I have a hunch he didn't.
Yet if he did, like the other nifty PR "moves," what a brilliant one. He's really good at doing that kind of stuff. He makes our city look great, giving it personality and life.
The State of the City, the once-a-year clapfest called for in the city charter, requires the mayor to tell the city how he thinks we're doing. About 600 people who RSVP'd (out of the 4,000 that Mallory's office said it invited) got into the Robert S. Marx Theatre for the speech read off of a Teleprompter. The event included a surprisingly upbeat, positive introduction by John Eby, the two-time Republican City Council candidate who, I believe, has his own reserved stool at Price Hill Chili.
It was Mallory's third go 'round, and it sounded, well, pretty much like the previous two.
"We are without a doubt moving toward our full potential," the mayor said. "Our success is the result of the collaboration between my office, City Council, the police department, the community, other elected officials and leaders throughout the city."
It was heavy on touting the city's violent crime reduction, big improvements in economic development, an emphasis on helping the city's children get jobs and better schools and, oddly, the evening's biggest clap-getter: the need for a streetcar system that joins downtown to Uptown. All great stuff, no question.
(For more on the streetcar proposal, see "Streetcar Plan Might Derail.")
The evening's boldest proposal, which came with an apology for those who might find it hard to fathom, was a plea to the city's businesses to make jobs available to ex-offenders. Ex-convicts have a tremendous time finding work, which -- statistics have shown and law enforcement have known for eons -- leads to them committing more crime in a twisted effort to survive in a world not providing the means to do so.
If there is a repeated criticism I hear with Mallory's tenure -- having become the first directly-elected black mayor in Cincinnati history in November 2005 -- it's that he's just not as great as people had hoped.
Taking big stances is not Mallory's strong suit. When then-Mayor Charlie Luken seemed to check out after a year in office, citizens were eager for someone like Mallory to bring the city back from the beatdown it took in the years after the 2001 civil unrest. He's black, smart, savvy, keeps controversy to a minimum and had no previous connections to City Hall.
Now, it seems, Mallory was what we needed but not in retrospect what we wanted. Behind-the-scenes collaboration, consensus-building and a disarming sense of humor just don't seem enough.
The numerous and important causes he has championed -- keeping public swimming pools open all summer, jobs and meals for young people, expanding recycling programs -- aren't the big splashes it seems many were hoping for with his leadership.
With rumored successors lining up to possibly challenge him in 2009, including speculation for newly-returned Councilwoman and ex-Mayor Roxanne Qualls, it is up to Mallory to save himself. He can do it, and I'm willing to bet there are a lot of people who hopes he does.
CONTACT JOE WESSELS: firstname.lastname@example.org