By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DOWNTOWN - More than 100 members of Cincinnati's Chinese-American community packed City Council chambers Wednesday, demanding that council renounce remarks by a proposed developer of Main Street that he wouldn't rent to Chinese restaurants.
Memphis developer John Elkington has apologized for the remarks, but promised that he would continue to work on making Over-the-Rhine a national attraction by luring restaurants and nightlife.
That hasn't satisfied some Chinese-Americans, who say Elkington set the wrong tone in a neighborhood beset with racial tension.
Chinese Americans, parents of adopted Chinese children and human rights leaders all condemned the remarks and demanded that City Council not hire Elkington as a consultant.
Two hours later, City Council adopted a resolution by Jim Tarbell condemning Elkington's remarks and honoring the Chinese New Year the week of Jan. 18, 2004.
Councilman John Cranley, Elkington's biggest supporter on City Council, said the remarks were unacceptable. Elkington made the remarks last month.
"Let me say in unequivocal terms - and I know I speak for all of council - that I condemn the statements made by Mr. Elkington at the Over-the-Rhine chamber luncheon," Cranley said.
He seemed to satisfy the crowd when he said City Council "has no intention of putting Mr. Elkington under contract with the city."
Cranley and Mayor Charlie Luken, who have made Main Street a priority, had first proposed giving Elkington a $100,000 city contract.
But Cranley later clarified that Elkington would still have a central role in developing Main Street. "There's more excitement to come from Mr. Elkington. He's still committed to Cincinnati and is going to make things happen. This is about deals, not about retaining him with some consulting contract."
Elkington, the creator of the Beale Street district in Memphis, has apologized - calling his luncheon remarks an "unforgivable bad joke."
But Elkington denies ever having told City Beat, a local alternative weekly, that Chinese are "hagglers" and "use different math."
"There are too many bars and not enough restaurants on Main Street. We need more restaurants. If it turns out to be a Chinese restaurant, great," he said.
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