Saturday, November 29, 2003

Life turnaround started on street

At police gym, Malone honed boxing skills

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BOND HILL - Sam Malone was 5 months old when his father was killed. A bounty hunter, Sam Malone Sr. was gunned down in 1971 in a Reading Road shootout. He was helping to apprehend a man who skipped bail after being convicted of burning an American flag at a racial protest at Ach Junior High School in Avondale.

Newly elected Cincinnati City Council member Sam Malone pats his son Chris, 12, on the head as they sit next to each other during a church service Sunday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Sam Jr.'s mother worked two or three jobs to support her three children, and they moved from Over-the-Rhine to Mount Auburn to Bond Hill. By the time he was 12, Malone was a scrapping street fighter looking for trouble.

But a chance encounter with a Cincinnati police officer set him on a course that will lead to his swearing-in Monday as a member of Cincinnati City Council.

It's how he learned the discipline that kept him going after two unsuccessful council campaigns, and how he acquired the unabashed pro-police conservatism that finally got him elected on his third try this year.

But even the veteran police officer who became his boxing coach, mentor and father figure admits he would have never thought Malone would get elected to anything.

"I thought he would be a world boxing champion before he would be on City Council," said retired police Lt. Aaron Taylor.

Taylor was assigned to a canine unit when he rolled up on what appeared to be a street fight on Reading Road in 1983. The other kids ran. Malone stayed behind.

The officer asked him questions. Malone talked back.

"I was one of those kids who, if you ask a question, I always had something smart to say," Malone said.

But Malone took to the officer's dog, Turbo, and Taylor appealed to his tough-guy demeanor by offering to teach him how to box.

"Sam was pretty rebellious," Taylor said. "Sam was always a basically good boy. He was hanging in the wrong crowd, headed in the wrong direction."

By age 16, Malone was working out at the Fraternal Order of Police gym on Central Parkway and became known as a "cop's kid."

"That really influenced me. I met judges. I met prosecutors. I met Leslie Isaiah Gaines. As a kid, that was pretty impressive," he said.

Malone struggled in school and had trouble speaking. Malone said he had a speech impediment; Taylor said he just talked too fast.

Taylor told him to emulate Sugar Ray Leonard.

"You mean how he fights?" Malone asked.

"No, how he talks," Taylor said.

Military and career

Malone went to Western Hills High School because it had a good wrestling program. After graduation, he joined the Navy and served in the Persian Gulf in 1991.

Afterward, he attended Xavier University and became a banker for Westwood Homestead Savings Bank and, more recently, worked as a counselor for the Southwest Ohio Career Resource Network. (He'll have to give up that job because the organization receives city contracts.)

In his first council run he got just 5,030 votes - 18th place. Two years later, he got 23,211 votes - 12th place. This year, he picked up just 1,408 more votes, but with a lower turnout that made those votes count for an eighth-place finish.

"One thing this kid could take, more than anyone I've seen, is a good punch. He has a resiliency and a stick-to-itiveness," Taylor said. "But one thing about him, he has some arrogance. And that's the kind of arrogance you need to have when you're a champion, and when you're in politics. You need to have a tough skin."

Especially when you're a black Republican.

Malone was excoriated on talk radio by boycott leaders who took exception to his 30-second television commercial in which he said: "I've had enough of boycotts, riots, runaway crime." Malone credits that commercial with getting him elected.

"Sam Malone is confused," said Damon Lynch III, president of the Cincinnati Black United Front and an unsuccessful independent candidate. "The problem with Sam Malone is that he doesn't have the historical context, and doesn't have the strength to buck his own party."

Malone fared equally well with black and white voters, getting as many votes in Westwood as he did in Bond Hill.

"He must drink nails for breakfast, because he can take some heat from people in the black community," said former Councilman Charlie Winburn, a four-term Republican who is African-American. "We get it from white liberal Democrats, and we get it from some of the blacks. And then in our party sometimes, we are attacked from some liberals."

Winburn played a key role in Malone's campaign and heads his transition team, helping Malone to hire a staff and get up to speed on who's who at City Hall.

His advice to the young councilman: "He needs to work on the mayor's team, he needs to follow the mayor's leadership. He needs to be a team player," he said. "Mayor (Charlie) Luken is pretty much a Republican anyway, so it shouldn't be too hard to work with Charlie on his downtown initiatives and plans for the region."

Malone's own priorities are to increase home ownership by allowing a one-time $2,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers in the city, and by giving bonuses to police officers who, like Taylor, choose to live in the city.

Malone said he has a "20-year political plan," but won't say what it is. For now, he said, he needs to focus on the job ahead of him.

He's making a big point of listening to his constituents. At neighborhood meetings since the election, he takes notes and makes a point to address people by their first names.

"I've learned that if you open your mouth, you better know what you're talking about," he said. "In boxing, there's a saying: The punches that hurt the most are the ones you don't see."

Vital statistics

Sam Malone
Neighborhood: Bond Hill
Age: 32
Occupation: Career counselor
Party: Republican
Family: Son, Christopher Starks
Athletic activity: Boxing
Political hero: Charlie Winburn
Top issue: Crime
Career ambition: Head of private school



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