Sunday, May 05, 2002

Clinton offers to help city

Racial peace would be visit's aim

By Rosemary Goudreau
and Tim Bonfield

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — Former president Bill Clinton said Saturday that he would like to come to Cincinnati to help mediate a solution to the city's racial divisions.

Rosemary Goudreau, Enquirer managing editor, greets former president Bill Clinton Saturday at Columbia University.
(Tim Bonfield photo)
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        The former president was speaking at an AIDS conference at Columbia University. After the event he shook hands with some of the journalists and researchers in the audience.

        In greeting an Enquirer editor, he asked how things were going with Cincinnati's racial situation.

        Mr. Clinton said he had planned to offer his help, but then learned of the mediated settlements last month that ended a Department of Jus tice police investigation and a racial-profiling lawsuit against the city.

        “I thought it had all been settled,” Mr. Clinton said.

        When told the city remains troubled despite the settlement, Mr. Clinton said, “If you think it would help, I would be glad to come.”

        Mr. Clinton, an Arkansas native and Yale Law School graduate, said he was con cerned about Cincinnati, noting its location on the border between the North and the South. “We can't have this,” he said of the unrest.

        The Justice investigation and multi-party mediation followed Cincinnati's unrest of April 2001, when the city was paralyzed by riots and protest after the police shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old African-American man who was fleeing an officer.

        In New York Saturday, the former president made the offer to help Cincinnati a couple of times, expressing a desire to help put systems in place to help move the city forward.

        However, he said: “I would like to come but I can't invite myself. Maybe I should call the mayor's office.”

        Mayor Luken was vacationing in San Francisco Saturday and could not be reached for comment.

        A possible visit by Mr. Clinton could yield some progress in the stalemate that exists between boycotters and city leaders, some involved in the situation said.

        “His ability to connect with people and move people is truly amazing. And, sure some people are going to complain and moan about various problems that he had as president. But the fact of the matter is he has a very high degree of experience in helping to resolve very, very difficult situations, ” said Tim Burke, who co-chairs the Hamilton County Demo cratic Party.

        “I think he has a level of respect in the minority community — particularly in the African-American community — that could make him very helpful in any kind of a situation like the situation here,” Mr. Burke said. “But ... in the end it's the people in the government of the city of Cincinnati that have to resolve things.”

        As president, Mr. Clinton brokered peace agreements between factions in both Northern Ireland and in the Middle East.

        “A former president coming (to Cincinnati) could possibly be a good thing,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, leader of Cincinnati's Black United Front.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said Mr. Clinton's presidential legacy focused on volunteerism and racial harmony and that a trip to the city would fit into that.

        “I would encourage him to meet with members of the community and members of the boycott groups,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “If former President Clinton is amenable to coming here, I think it's something that should be explored. There are still some substantive issues out there that need to be addressed.”

        Republican City Councilman Chris Monzel said Sat urday that he wasn't opposed to a visit by the former Democratic president.

        “I don't know that bringing in a third party is going to be helpful,” he said. “The city is moving forward. We're doing good things. We're trying to improve. Sitting down and negotiating the boycott, I don't see that being a helpful thing to do. I've said from day one that we shouldn't be negotiating with the boycotters.”

        Mr. Clinton, a Democrat, won the City of Cincinnati vote overwhelmingly in both the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.

        His previous visits have included a major fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee hosted by local attorney Stan Chesley.

        Other national figures who have come to Cincinnati in response to the racial unrest include New York's Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

        Others have pointedly stayed away, observing or promoting the boycott of the city: Bill Cosby, comic Whoopi Goldberg, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and most recently, singer Wyclef Jean.


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