- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Cincinnati's vice mayor yesterday said a boycott of businesses by blacks who believe the city has inadequately addressed minority needs is causing black unemployment and crippling economic growth.
"It is absolutely disproportionately affecting the city's African-American population," said Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, the city's highest-ranking black official.
Miss Reece's statement coincided with the release of a study from the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, which said the boycott, along with post-September 11 travel malaise and an ailing national economy, last year dropped the city's hotel occupancy rate to among the lowest in the nation.
The effect on the city's roughly 45 percent black population has been profound. Rank-and-file service employees have been the first to be laid off amid an estimated $10 million in losses from convention and concert cancellations, mostly from black groups and entertainers.
Black filmmaker Spike Lee yesterday became the latest personality to back out of an appearance in apparent deference to the boycott, canceling a Black History Month speech at the University of Cincinnati. Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Wynton Marsalis, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson have canceled performances as well. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and the Progressive Baptist National Convention also have heeded the boycott by moving scheduled events from the city.
Several local black groups initiated the boycott of all downtown businesses after the April 2001 shooting of a fleeing 19-year-old black man the 15th black suspect killed by police since 1995. Police and city officials pointed out that most of those killed had been carrying weapons.
The sanctions endured even after the city agreed to many of the demands, including creating an oversight board for the police force, increasing business opportunities for black residents and hiring the first black city manager.
"We have 160,000 African-Americans living here, and the boycott and the lagging economy have caused this city to be hit twice as hard as others," said Miss Reece, who is combating the boycott's effects through a campaign to entice both visitors and businesses. "We've had many institutional changes here, but we still have an industry that tells people not to come to town."
The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce attempted to counter the boycott by establishing an office dedicated to solicitation of minority-owned businesses. Leaders of the boycott, who did not return calls, refused to relent.
"The boycott has resulted in layoffs that has hit minorities the hardest,'' said Steve Love, vice president of the Cincinnati chamber's Office of Economic Inclusion and Community Development.
"Generally, this is because they are the people with the least seniority, so when hotels and restaurants have had to let people go, which they have, these are the first to go."
When Bill Cosby canceled his Cincinnati appearance last year in deference to the boycott, restaurateur Jeff Ruby ran an ad in a local newspaper with a picture of his staff, which was about 40 percent black.
"I just wanted [Mr. Cosby] to know that he was making a difference to these workers," Mr.Ruby said. "The boycotters are saying they want fairness, and I was trying to show that my restaurant is an example of how everybody can work together.
"And there is no doubt about it the hotel and hospitality employees are by and large African-American, and those are the ones being most affected by this action."
Miss Reece, who has met with groups from the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners in an effort to steer conventions to Cincinnati, says Mr. Lee's reported $25,000 fee for his February appearance could have been donated as part of a scholarship fund at the university.
"If he is really interested in helping the black community, that would be the way to do it," she said.

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