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Tired From Jump

By Kathy Y. Wilson · August 11th, 2004 · Your Negro Tour Guide
Hooty-hoot! This will be the year of the wrong white men yielding the right-of-way to who's left. Regardless of which evil of the two lessers nabs the White House in November, we in Cincinnati can rest assured our "leader" is doing right by us. Mayor Charlie Luken's not running again. (Sigh of relief here.)

It's the kindest, most earnest and visionary thing he's done for this city. It shows real leadership. He can wrap his decision in the floury tortilla of quasi-intellectual political speak.

"I couldn't get myself ratcheted up for a tough campaign," he said.

That's because he never mastered the notion of leading a city slammed by a wobbling economy, besieged by a slightly decaying urban core and populated by a more textured citizenry. Luken never possessed the fiery belly for mayorship.

He's good when things hum, not when it clanks.

He ran for mayor just for something to do until his real gig kicked in -- like a teacher waiting tables or painting houses on summer break. Being mayor for Luken was a temporary distraction, a nagging birthright, a sparkly object that caught his eye.

He's got a law degree. That exam is about the only bar he's passed. Because his zest for law's about as squishy as his zeal for politics, Luken appears to d r i f t from post to post, never lighting fully and passionately on any one thing.

He was mayor from 1984 to 1990 back when City Council picked the mayor. From there he won his father's former congressional seat in a show of good old American entitlement, done up Midwestern style.

Chewed up in 1992 by the beast of Washington politics (he said he was "disenchanted"), Luken parlayed his political stiffness into a cardboard TV news anchor gig for six years at WLWT-TV 5.

In 1999 when Cincinnati was just another placid American city, Luken earned the mayor's seat as the top vote-getter.

Before Timothy Thomas, Stephen Roach, riots, protests and the Black Fist renamed him "Pharaoh," Luken was voted strong mayor as the first person since 1925 to do so.

Now he's tired.

Actually, he was tired from jump -- we just didn't know any better. If we'd known Luken would've ruled with an abrasive, perturbed visionless mojo, we'd have consulted our Magic 8 Ball. All along it's like he's "tried" politics, an arena smudged so far from its foundation of public service that Americans have fallen victim to substandard leadership so long we expect it. We accept it.

Dazed by status quo and apathy, voters knowingly reward political sorriness with re-election. Which makes Luken's tenure your fault.

This is a political age wherein politicians get by more on the flimsiness of pedigree and the gluttony of their former corporate ties than on service and accountability. Luken personified some of this.

When the mayor announces his bow out from the race a full 15 months ahead of time, it makes me realize just how dreadful the at-large quality of life's been. What pall. It is we who'll wade through the malaise left by his legacy of honoring corporate panhandling, criminalization of the homeless, masturbating a white-bread center city culture, placating beleaguered cops, ignoring wary inner-city residents and ineffectively staving murder rates.

It's unreasonable to think the mayor is responsible for every person's happiness. That's unfair and unrealistic. But because he's not means he shouldn't be responsible for general unhappiness, either.

"Cincinnati's a great place to raise a family!" chirp shiny, happy people who'll gleefully say they're pleased with Luken's performance as mayor. They're transferring like Metro passengers, translating the stability of their 9-to-5's, manicured families and club memberships onto the rest of us. If life's great for them, it must or should be for everyone else. And if it is great then city leaders get the credit and if it ain't, then it's your own damned fault.

I got no grudge against idyllic. Just don't get it twisted. What you've done to better your life and what the mayor's done to better your city are mutually exclusive.

For the last time: Quality of life among the classes isn't equitable, and some of the reason for that winds around to lackluster city leadership. Under Luken's groundbreaking (heartbreaking) strong mayorship, council bitchiness reached all-time lows. When he dipped from a side door during the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting in 2001 after Roach shot Thomas, his distraction from the immediacy of our emotional fragility was a first-class bungle, indelible in the minds of the people craving accountable leadership. Appointing Alicia Reece vice mayor was a wink and an elbow in the gut.

And now begins a Democratic feeding frenzy. Council Members David Pepper and John Cranley announced that they will run for mayor; Councilman Christopher Smitherman is testing the waters, and Reece is considering a run. Meanwhile, Luken has no immediate plans for political office or public service. Hooty-hoot!

In all seriousness, knowing when not to assert privilege and power is as significant and responsible an act as doing so.

Now step aside.

Coming through. ©

Kathy's collection of columns, Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White, is available in bookstores now.


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