Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Luken lukewarm to Clinton role

Race effort 'up to us,' mayor says

By Gregory Korte gkorte@enquirer.com
and Kevin Aldridge kaldridge@enquirer.com

The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said Monday he would pay a “courtesy call” to Bill Clinton to gauge the former president's interest in coming to Cincinnati to help deal with race relations.

        But he said the city is already making progress and wasn't sure what role Mr. Clinton could play.

        “I will see what he knows, and what his real interest is,” Mr. Luken said in a prepared statement. “Ultimately, it is up to us to keep moving on the right path, which we have been doing.”

        Mr. Clinton told The Cincinnati Enquirer Saturday that he would be willing to come to Cincinnati — if invited by the mayor's office.

        But Mr. Luken's statement Monday dealt less with Mr. Clinton and more with the Enquirer, saying he was disappointed in the newspaper's coverage of race relations, police behavior and the boycott. He said the newspaper invited Mr. Clinton and was “so vested in a Clinton visit that it cannot fairly report what happens next.”

        Rosemary Goudreau, Enquirer managing editor, who spoke with Mr. Clinton in New York on Saturday, said the newspaper simply reported what the former president said.

        “I did not invite Bill Clinton to Cincinnati,” she said. “Several times, he said he would like to come if he could be of any help, but that he needed an invitation and perhaps should call the mayor's office.”

        Mr. Clinton's office in New York said the former president has kept up on happenings in Cincinnati but wasn't familiar with all the details.

        “He was not trying to interject himself. He said if he could be of help, he would consider it,” said Julia Payne, Mr. Clinton's spokeswoman. “Racial reconciliation is a major part of his post-presidency and foundation work.”

        The William J. Clinton Foundation focuses on international humanitarian work, public service education and racial and religious conflict resolution.

        Ms. Payne said Mr. Clinton has not decided what role he would have in addressing race relations in Cincinnati. The mayor has said repeatedly that he will not negotiate the demands of African-American groups boycotting the city.

        Nearly half of 500 Greater Cincinnati adults said in a poll Monday that a Clinton visit would make no difference to race relations here. Twenty-eight percent said a visit would help, and 23 percent said a visit would hurt, according to the poll by Survey USA for WCPO-TV (Channel 9). The margin of error was 4.5 percentage points.

        Meanwhile, the Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons of Ohio canceled its statewide meeting in Cincinnati.

        The masons had planned to bring as many as 4,900 lodge members to Cincinnati for a convention in August, and had at one point made a point of coming despite the boycott.

        The group, which has moved the convention to Columbus, cited “the uncertain environmental and economic conditions” that led to Cincinnati's racial unrest in April 2001 and the subsequent boycott as the reason for the decision.

        Sidney D. Broadnax, state grand master of the Prince Hall Masons and a Cincinnati resident, said the relocation comes “with much regret.”

        “We pray that peace, harmony and unity will prevail and that God will bless the leaders of the city and leaders of the boycott to come together to resolve the issues which have led to the boycott and have created the "serious conditions'... which make it difficult for thousands of members of our statewide Masonic organization to meet in Cincinnati,” he said.

        Also Monday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed court papers to enter the case on behalf of boycotters who were sued for urging entertainers to cancel appearances.

        The civil rights organization wants to serve as co-counsel for defendants in the lawsuit filed against the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati by the Cincinnati Arts Association.

        The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has been separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil-rights organization, since 1957.

        “It's an excellent development,” said Covington attorney Lucian Bernard, who represents the coalition. “They are well-known and well-regarded in the field of civil rights litigation, and the members of the coalition welcome their involvement.”

        Mr. Bernard said two attorneys from the organization's New York office will be helping with the case.

        The Cincinnati Arts Association sued the coalition in March, claiming that the boycott group was interfering with the association's ability to do business by pressuring artists to break contracts with its venues.

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