I like David Pepper. He’s been nice to me.
In 2004, Ed Stern (then-artistic-director), let me use Playhouse in the Park on 6 Monday nights for a series called Alteractive Speaks. I wanted to talk about all the things we are not allowed to talk about in Cincinnati: race and class and every other inflammatory topic I didn’t understand. My original idea was to do one speaker at a time, but Ed explained I’d only get people who agreed with that viewpoint in the room. The trick was to create drama, let the differences bounce off of each other and attract a more diverse audience.
David agreed to participate on the panel on the Black United Front’s economic boycott of Cincinnati and as the only representative from city government, Mr. Pepper stood-in as the establishment punching bag that night. He was a pro during the Q&A portion of the evening – but I almost had a heart attack watching the audience’s take-no-prisoners ambush as the MC passed an open mic around the standing-room-only crowd.
Mr. Pepper apparently is not the type to hold a grudge as he accepted my invitation to lead Bike PAC’s Bike-About Fountain Ride a short 5 years later. Advocates of alternative transportation wanted to draw media attention to how much fun it is to use bikes to get around town, an idea that was almost as controversial as abortion back then. David is a cyclist and he couldn’t have been more gracious.
Of course it’s only natural as John Pepper’s son (John being the former CEO of Procter & Gamble) that David has always been very comfortable with his father’s friends, fellow members of the elite Cincinnati Business Committee. He ran for Mayor against Mark Mallory with their backing in 2005 and everybody expected him to win, especially with his 3-to-1 advantage in fundraising.
Can you imagine the frustration of Cincinnati’s most powerful corporate executives when their candidate lost? They were used to working with Charlie Luken, the city’s first strong mayor from 1999 – 2005, also backed by the corporate community. Mark Mallory not only didn’t look like anybody in that crowd. He didn’t think like them or belong to any of their clubs. It must have been quite a culture shock when the new mayor had different ideas about how City Hall was going to be run.
As of 2013, Cincinnati has returned to business as usual, John Cranley, the generously funded candidate of the city’s corporate elite. Since taking office the new Mayor’s positions have often appeared irrational to the point of insanity, any remnant of the Mallory years “Cranceled” for the flimsiest of excuses, respected public servants fired without cause. It’s almost as though the city is being punished for some unnamed crime, isn’t it? As though we need to be taught a lesson about power and who has it.
But maybe Mr. Cranley’s decisions are not all that difficult to understand if we remember one very important thing. David Pepper was supposed to win in 2005. Not Mark Mallory.