By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
Conservative activists fighting to keep Article XII of Cincinnati's charter - which prevents City Council from passing a gay-rights ordinance - are looking for support in an unexpected place: African-American voters.
Long silent while gay-rights activists have mounted a yearlong effort to repeal Article XII, the framers of the 1993 charter amendment have begun an ad campaign that pits gay rights as contrary to civil rights.
The star of the ad campaign is the legendary civil-rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. He's pictured in an anti-Issue 3 leaflet that asks, "Did Martin Luther King Jr. live and die so that sexual behavior could be called civil rights? No." Campaign strategists say an upcoming television ad will play on the same theme, and yard signs read, "Protect civil rights and marriage. No on Issue 3."
Leaders of the anti-Issue 3 campaign say they'll broaden their appeal before Election Day, but for now, black voters are at ground zero.
"They're up first, there's no question about it," said Phil Burress, a conservative from Loveland who led the 1993 campaign and is a key strategist in opposing its repeal.
"I think the election is going to be won or lost in the black community," said Councilman Sam Malone, a black Republican who is chairman of the Equal Rights Not Special Rights Campaign. "This campaign will give us an opportunity to recognize some civil-rights pioneers."
That has left the Campaign to Repeal Article XII - which claims support from key Baptist ministers and civil-rights leaders - making an effort to attract black voters.
"Clearly, there are strong opinions, and clearly the opposition, their message is that we're trying to hijack the civil-rights movement," said Laura Randall, a spokeswoman for the repeal campaign.
"We're very concerned about this notion that if we fight discrimination against any group at all, that we're taking something away from another group.
"Certainly, we've never suggested that what's happened to gay people is worse than what's happened over the course of this country's history to African-Americans."
Why are black voters so important? The answer can be found, in part, in election results from 1993.
Many of the same conservative activists, infuriated by City Council's passage of a 1992 human rights ordinance that included sexual orientation among its protected classes, put a charter amendment on the ballot to rescind the ordinance and take the issue out of City Council's hands forever.
That initiative, also known as Issue 3, won with 62 percent of the vote. Support was broad-based - 83 percent of the city's 414 precincts supported it. (Then, unlike now, a vote for Issue 3 was a vote against gay rights.)
The highest numbers - with some precincts nearing 90 percent approval - came from the heavily Catholic West Side, in neighborhoods such as Price Hill and Westwood.
African-American voters also supported Issue 3, but not as strongly. Ward 7, an African-American bellwether that includes Bond Hill and Roselawn, approved it with 61.3 percent. In the West End, that figure was 58.6 percent; Evanston, 55.9 percent; Over-the-Rhine, 55.1 percent.
Another factor: African-American voters are already subject to big get-out-the-vote efforts by the Democratic presidential campaign and its affiliated independent groups.
"I'd be reluctant to use the word 'swing voters,' because they're not swinging in the traditional sense. But it's certainly a key constituency in this election," said Gene Beaupre, a political scientist at Xavier University and long-time observer of Cincinnati politics.
"What they're feeling the need to do is remind those people that they voted with them in the past, and the reasons why, and most of all remind them that it's on the ballot," he said. "It's a very impressive strategy. Their base is solid. They don't have to worry about losing the West Side Catholics. It's exactly where I'd spend my money, too. It's a very smart move."
Pressure on other side
Beaupre said the move puts pressure on the Campaign to Repeal Article XII's efforts in black neighborhoods. The campaign would not make its African-American outreach chairman, Terry Payne, available for an interview.