Friday, May 10, 2002

Dueling coalitions

Infighting just slows the healing

        Mayor Charlie Luken says he won't negotiate any demands from any boycott groups.

        “Negotiating demands is a nonstarter,” he says, almost like negotiating with terrorists.

        But if anyone — boycotters included — has a beef with the city, he or she can come down to his City Hall office and have a sit-down, the mayor says. People are welcome, too, he says, to use their constitutional right to free speech in City Council chambers.

        Mr. Luken is speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

        He and others representing the city have been in talks for some time with members of the boycott groups. Informally. Behind closed doors.

        Boycott members have been to his office “off and on,” although they aren't negotiating, the mayor says. He won't give details.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of the Black United Front, and the Rev. Stephen Scott, spokesman du jour for the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, also describe informal chats.

        “There's dialogue and discussion on a daily basis, though I'm not always sure who is representing whom,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch says. He won't name names, either.

A monkey wrench

        Whatever you call it, these cozy meetings ought to be more open, say some among the boycott groups.

        The Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, responsible for persuading some entertainers to avoid Cincinnati, issued a plan this week to make these back-door discussions more up-front and to involve more people. The group submitted a five-page plan for negotiations, making it the only one of the three main groups to publicly map a potential ending of the boycott for racial equity.

        The plan has some good points. It says a steering committee of city, Hamilton County, business and boycott leaders would:

        • Separate the boycott issues and participants into several “working groups,” instead of saddling everyone with each of the boycott groups' demands.

        • Balance representation with each boycott group's interests. For instance, Stonewall Cincinnati, a gay-rights group, would get more chairs in the group negotiating human-rights issues. The Black United Front would get more chairs in the police-
       relations group.

        • Make mediators part of the process, from beginning to end.

        • Most important, let the public see it all unfold, and participate if the parties are willing.

Divided champions

        But no one is discussing the coalition's new plan.

        Mr. Luken dismisses it outright, saying its requirements that the city first settle wrongful-death lawsuits involving police make it just too costly.

        It shows, he says, that the coalition isn't really ready to negotiate.

        Members of other boycott groups — the Black United Front and the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice — haven't embraced the measure, either.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch, who still hasn't read the coalition's proposal, said it's unlikely to be embraced because it wasn't discussed among the boycott groups before it was publicized.

        “It causes hard feelings among people who are fighting for the same things,” he says. “It was a mistake. It shows a lack of maturity, but it's not terminal.”

        The proposal is most hobbled, though, by its own champion.

        A rift in the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati's leadership is pitting three new leaders against the Rev. Mr. Scott, one of its old ones. All that does is endanger the coalition's message and make the boycott movement seem less organized, more vulnerable and less ready to negotiate.

       Denise Smith Amos can be reached at 768-8395, or e-mail


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