Wednesday, April 21, 2004

What would Ted Berry think of this?


Inside City Hall

Greg Korte

One sure sign of a man's enduring importance is that, years after he's gone, people are still debating how he would have handled some modern-day predicament.

The question around City Hall these days has been: "What would Ted Berry do?"

That's the question Councilman Christopher Smitherman posed on the floor of City Council on April 7, during a debate on Pat DeWine's proposal for a crackdown on foul language in City Council chambers.

Smitherman said the city's first African-American mayor, who fought his entire life for civil rights, would never support rules that would restrict the First Amendment rights of people who speak at City Council. Berry died in 2000 at age 94.

Now, a new generation of civil rights fighters - people like Nate Livingston, William Kirkland, Kabaka Oba and Terry Summers - have been using the City Council podium as their soapbox. To protest the city manager's failure to discipline police Lt. Jeff Butler for allegations he used a racial slur in 1999, they shout the same slur at Mayor Charlie Luken when he enters the council chamber.

In response, City Council passed a rule last week to ban speakers for 60 days if they use inappropriate language.

"Ted Berry would have never used the kinds of words we've heard in this chamber," said Luken, whose father, Tom Luken, served with Berry. "His reaction would have been exactly the same as my own, if not more emphatic."

The debate escalated last week, with Smitherman again invoking Berry's name. This time, a passionate rebuttal came from Jim Tarbell, who - like Smitherman and Berry - is a Charterite.

"I interacted with Ted Berry on a regular basis for the greater part of 30 years," Tarbell said, his voice cracking. To invoke his name in connection with today's shenanigans, he said, "is an insult to Ted Berry."

Vice Mayor Alicia Reece said she visited City Hall as a girl in the 1970s, when her father, Steve Reece, worked as an assistant to Berry. "When I came here, I didn't have to listen to that because it didn't exist."

Luken, noting that Berry is one of the city's most revered political figures, lamented the "high-and-mighty tone" of the debate - drawing an indignant response from Smitherman.

"I don't need a history lesson on civil rights, or my ancestry, or how African-American people in this community have fought for their rights," he said. "I am not grandstanding."

A GERANIUM IS A GERANIUM IS A ... This week in 1961, Cincinnati City Council passed - in a hotly contested 6-3 vote - Section 104-21 of the municipal code:

"The official city flower shall be the geranium."

City Manager C.A. Harrell recommended the genus of plant after the Federated Garden Clubs - a precursor to today's Cincinnati Horticultural Society - took a poll of its members. Councilman Gordon Rich led the opposition, pleading that the geranium is a plant, not a flower.

"I think that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," said Mary Margaret Rochford, the society's current director of shows. "At City Council nothing has ever changed, has it? They're all still morons."

The Cincinnati Flower Show, which will feature 30 varieties of geraniums, begins today at Coney Island.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com




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