Sunday, November 28, 1999

Q & A with Charlie Luken

        Enquirer reporter Howard Wilkinson spoke with Mayor-elect Charlie Luken. Highlights of their conversation:

        Q: Two of every three Cincinnati voters who went to the polls Nov. 2 gave you one of their votes. You were the top vote-getter by a 5,700-vote margin. What message do you think voters were sending? A: I think it was partly about me, partly about council itself and the kind of dissatisfaction that's out there about what's been happening at City Hall. I think they were saying that they hope there will be more focus, more clear direction. There's a general feeling out there that there is too much bickering, not enough cooperation and maybe they see me as someone who can fix that.

        Q: One of the first things out of your mouth on election night, after it was clear you would be mayor again, was that the new council must decide if it wants a new city manager. Does John Shirey have a future at City Hall?


A: I've had some talks with John since the election and we've talked about what council needs from him and what he needs from council. My hope would be that he and the council get on the same page and that he could continue his service to the city. He talks about it in terms of council not giving clear direction. Council members talk about it in terms of the city administration not doing what they want done. It's difficult; you talk to the city manager and then you talk to council members, it's like they're living on different planets. They don't speak the same language. I would like to see the issue of whether John is going to stay or move on resolved by January 1.


        Q: After the 2001 election, where the mayor will be directly elected, the mayor will no longer be a member of council. But the old system is still in effect. You've done the job of mayor before — what do you think the function of a mayor is in our form of government?

A: I think it is to lead, and use whatever support you have in the community to get things done. You can't do much alone. You have to work with a group of council members, whether it is the five Democrats or the Republicans or (Charterite) Jim Tarbell. There are going to be five Democrats on council, and I think we will organize the new council and appoint the committee chairs and have an idea of what we want to do, but I don't want to exclude anybody. I'd like to have some (council committee) chairmanships for Republicans. I really want to work with these people.


        Q: With yourself back in the mayor's office, and the other new faces on council, do you think people have higher expectations for city council this time around?

A: I think they expect what they always expect, what they should expect. They expect to see change. They expect progress. They expect their streets to be cleaned and the snow to be removed. Basic stuff. I told the city manager, “Wouldn't it be nice for the first time it snows that the streets in the city would be cleaner than the ones in the suburbs, just for once?” Simple stuff. And I think people want this council to be more orderly and more understandable to people. I want to make that happen.

        Q: Do you have specific goals for the city you'd like to achieve over the next two years?

A: I'd like to see progress on riverfront development; I'm pretty enthusiastic about The Banks plan. Like I've said, I'd like to see a more orderly approach to city council. I would like to see reductions in some parts of the city budget so that more money would be available for basic services. (The city manager) seems to have this idea that you can cut city departments 3 percent across the board; I'd rather see us cut 15 percent in a department where there is waste so more money would be available for departments that are working the way they should.

        Q: What about downtown development?

A: I'll admit that, when I was mayor before, there was too much emphasis on development of office space and you started to see the empty storefront and the retail places closing. A major retail development at Fifth and Race — I'd like to see that get done. I'd like to see the convention center expansion, too, but I think that's going to take a long time. I don't see where the money is going to come from. We've got a $250 million problem there.


        Q: Education was not a theme in your campaign, but many of the council candidates, incumbents and non-incumbents, talked about the state of Cincinnati Public Schools and argued that council should be helping fix the district's problems. Are there practical ways the city can help?

A: I'm not an academic and I'm not going to pretend I'm qualified to tell educators how they should be educating children. I'm also not going to pretend that the problems of Cincinnati Public Schools are going to be solved by city council. But everybody knows that having a good public school system would be enormously important to the economic health of the city. And we"ll help in any way we can. But it is the school board's responsibility.

        Q: Should people assume that you will run in the direct election for mayor in 2001?

A: People shouldn't assume anything. If I do, I hope people will judge me on what happens in the next two years and that they think I've helped create an environment where people think Cincinnati is on the right track. That's all I can do.


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