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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Cranley Reverses Course On Snub of NAACP

Politically Speaking

Apparently, it was all a merry mix-up. 

On Thursday morning, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley's campaign was adamant about its intention to skip a March 28 mayoral debate sponsored by the NAACP. 

By the end of most people's lunch hour that same day, Cranley had reversed course. His campaign released a statement that said, in effect, that, yes, absolutely, by golly, there's no way we would miss such an important event!

So what happened to change their minds? 

A little not-so-gentle poke in the eye from the NAACP, that's what. 

A poke that spread quickly on social media Thursday morning. 

Early last week, Cranley, in a battle for re-election, was catching heat from his two African-American opponents and the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP for refusing to accept the invitations of black organizations to debate. 

Thursday afternoon, the NAACP released a statement saying that if the mayor "wants to turn his back on the African-Americans in Cincinnati, he should not be surprised if they turned their back on him May 2," the date of Cincinnati's mayoral primary. 

It didn't take long for Cranley to reconsider. His campaign issued a statement almost immediately saying he would, in fact, be there for the March 28 NAACP forum at the Community Action Agency in Bond Hill. 

"Mayor Cranley respects the organization and the work it has done to improve the quality of life for African-Americans,'' the campaign release said. "He looks forward to sharing his record of accomplishment and ideas for moving the city forward with the NAACP membership."

But Tuesday night, at the James Temple Church of God in Walnut Hills,, an African-American church, Cranley wasn't so eager to share his ideas with a room full of black voters. The folks at James Temple were all set for a debate among the three candidates for Cincinnati mayor – Cranley, council member Yvette Simpson, and former UC trustee Rob Richardson.

A few hours before the debate was to begin, Cranley's campaign informed organizers at the church that the mayor couldn't make it.

The debate went on, with an empty chair on stage.

Up until early afternoon Thursday, Cranley planned to skip two other events being sponsored by African-American organizations – the March 28 forum sponsored by the NAACP and the Prince Hall Masons in Bond Hill and an April 6 debate hosted by the Black Agenda organization at Woodward High School.

Cranley changed his mind on the NAACP event, but not on the Black Agenda forum. He's had rocky relations lately with former mayor Dwight Tillery over the appointment of a city health commissioner; and Tillery - head of the Center for Closing the Health Gap - is one of the founders of Black Agenda.

It's worth noting that Rob Richardson's father, Bob Richardson, is president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. And the elder Richardson is also one of the founding members of Black Agenda. 

Before the Cranley campaign changed its mind about the NAACP event, Jay Kincaid, Cranley's campaign manager, told WVXU, that Cranley is simply unable to accept every invitation the campaign receives.

"There are an endless amount of forums and it is not possible for John to be mayor of the city, a husband and a father and attend all of them," Kincaid said.

But the forums the mayor declined to attend had his two opponents, who are both African-Americans, wondering if the mayor is avoiding black-sponsored events.

"The mayor you have is here,'' Simpson said at the James Temple event, pointing to Cranley's empty chair.

"The mayor you need is here,'' she said, pointing to herself.

Thursday morning, Richardson, a first-time candidate for public office, put out a statement saying that Cranley is "pulling a Trump" – a reference to last summer when then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump turned down an invitation to speak to the NAACP's national convention in Cincinnati.

"I simply can't imagine why a candidate who constantly brags about his progressive values would turn down this opportunity to talk to a progressive group that speaks to half the city's population,'' Richardson said in a written statement, referring to the NAACP-Prince Hall Masons event.

Kincaid told WVXU that Cranley is "declining all invitations except for those that are broadcast and accessible to all Cincinnatians. This is not a reflection on his feelings on any of the organizations whose events he is unable to attend." 

But that all changed Thursday afternoon when Cranley did an about-face on the NAACP event. 

Cranley has had an up-and-down relationship with the African-American community during his term as mayor.

He has had a rocky relationship lately with Tillery, who still has considerable influence among black voters in Cincinnati. Tillery, who co-chaired Cranley's 2013 mayoral campaign, has said publicly that Cranley has let down the city's African-American community. 

There was a good deal of consternation in the black community over the firing of Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell in 2015; and many African-Americans believe Cranley was behind it. It's a charge Cranley strongly denies, saying that City Manager Harry Black fired Blackwell for poor performance.

"Dwight Tillery is not the only leader in the black community; and John Cranley has good relations with many of them," said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke, who personally supports Cranley's re-election campaign. 

Cranley, Burke said, is getting a bad rap from those saying the mayor has failed the African-American community. 

"Under John Cranley, the city has dramatically increased the amount of work given to black-owned businesses,'' Burke said. "He's made many, many appointments of African-Americans to boards and commissions. And he got increased funding for Dwight Tillery's Center for Closing the Health Gap.

"Would I be shocked if his opponent in the fall got more African-American votes than John?,'' Burke said. "No, I wouldn't. But he will get a substantial number." 

Cranley has a case to make to African-American voters - he says he has reduced child poverty by five percent so far. He has also brought major development projects to majority-minority neighborhoods such as Avondale, Madisonville and Bond Hill; and created a Hand Up initiative aimed at reducing joblessness dramatically. 

There has been one forum where all three candidates appeared together so far.

That was a Feb. 28 forum hosted by the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Kincaid said the Cranley campaign's original understanding was that it would be a private event as part of the AFL-CIO's endorsement process, but that it was opened to the public after Cranley agreed to participate.

The day after that debate, Cranley was endorsed by the AFL-CIO Labor Council.

The original preference of the Cranley campaign was to do only three debates, all of which are to be televised and/or live-streamed. They are:

-        April 10, hosted by WCPO, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Radio One, which is made up of African-American radio stations; 

-        April 24, hosted by WKRC at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts;

-        and April 27, a debate hosted by Fox 19 and the Enquirer.

When the day began Thursday, the Cranley campaign believed those three debates would be sufficient. 

All it took was some harsh words and an invite from the NAACP to reconsider to convince them otherwise. All of this between breakfast and lunch. 

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.