The biggest challenge Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, faced on 'Undercover Boss' was concealing his identity. After all, "most politicians build their careers on being recognized," he laughed. He's been seen on television, billboards, in magazine and newspapers countless times. But with dreadlocks, glasses, fake facial hair and a fat suit, he was able to pull off being the first elected official and the first African American boss on the series.
The latter was news to him, when AOL asked him about it. "I am?" he wondered. "That didn't occur to me." But he says that as the first directly elected black mayor of Cincinnati, he's accustomed to firsts.
He's also accustomed to politics of every kind imaginable. Between his father, his four brothers and himself, they've been in more than 30 elections. His father, William Mallory Sr., is the former majority leader in the Ohio House of Representatives and served in the state legislature for 28 years. "You can't be a Mallory and not be in politics," says the mayor.
Of course, it took a whole different kind of political skill to go undercover for a better understanding of how Cincinnati, which has a population of about 2.1 million, works. Some of that skill involved juggling shooting the show for eight days, with fulfilling his civic duties when the need arose. One day, for example, after working a long, hard shift with a city mechanic, Mallory donned a suit and went as mayor to a ribbon cutting for the Queen City Tower, now the tallest building in Cincinnati. For eight days straight, Mallory found himself working from about 4:0AM to 11PM.
It was exhausting and at times he was grumpy -- especially when he didn't get to take his habitual and well-known 11:30AM lunch break. But he said it was worth every second to find out how passionate and dedicated city employees are to their work.
His first job involved removing roadkill with Danny, who had been cleaning up dead animals for the sanitation division of the Public Services Department for eight years. It wasn't easy for Mallory to handle a dog and a "flat cat," as well as squirrels and possums. Mallory developed renewed respect for the employees who do this type of distasteful work every day, and was amazed that Danny didn't have a GPS to guide him or a winch to pick up the larger animals.
Of course, when Mallory revealed his identity, he made sure Danny would get that GPS unit and winch. Danny had told Mallory earlier that he had eight kids, and couldn't afford to take his wife on a vacation to New York, where she'd been yearning to visit. Now, the Mayor can't hand out city funds as bonuses, so he remedied this by having wealthy friends and corporate donors take care of the employees. Danny and his wife got an all-expenses-paid trip to New York and $3,000 to spend there.
Mallory's second job was much kinder and gentler, and a little more exciting. He worked at an after-school day camp at a recreation center in Northside, where he helped lead the children playing volleyball and making pigs in a blanket for a cooking lesson. Mallory has no children of his own, but he has plenty of nieces and nephews, which helped him relate.
He was sympathetic to the concerns Karen, his supervisor, had about budget cuts, and he admired her efforts to sponsor a basketball team and work in a job-readiness program in the summer, for kids ages 12 and 13, in which they get to try a number of jobs. After the reveal, he arranged for the job readiness programs to be put in place at all the city recreation centers, and a donor provided Karen with a $10,000 gift card to be used anywhere in the city.
Keeping the fleet neat
Next up, Mallory worked with fleet services in central Cincinnati, where budget cuts had resulted in delaying the purchase of some new vehicles, and Mallory helped a city mechanic named Steve see that the existing vehicles would run a bit longer. Mallory assisted in an oil change on a police motorcycle and checked horns, lights, sirens, etc. Steve commented that Mallory has soft hands and clearly doesn't work with them much.
Steve was honest with Mallory and told him he doesn't like the cuts that have been made, some of which require keeping some fairly old vehicles running, and that he felt that fleet services wasn't fully appreciated. Of course Mallory had a solution for that in the end -- he arranged for special, citywide recognition of fleet services, and for someone to give Steve $10,000 to use as he pleased. The final credits revealed that Steve would be using the money to facilitate early retirement.
Lovely Mallory, meter maid
For his fourth and final job, Mallory got a taste of what it was like to be the proverbial "meter maid." Working with a Arnneater, a parking enforcement officer, Mallory was involved in writing tickets for parking violators, and jamming the ticket machine. Not much gets past Arnneater, apparently, and she told Mallory he looked an awful lot like the mayor.
When the two took a break, Arnneater revealed she had four children, the oldest of which lives in a home because he has cerebral palsy. At that point, Mallory didn't feel like deceiving her any longer, and revealed his true identity. Later, he found a donor to give a special needs van to her family so they could take her son out.
The result of Mallory's 'Undercover Boss' experience is that he is now "on a crusade." Since he filmed the show, he has gone out to work with various other divisions, and his work has included filling potholes, picking up trash, street sweeping, and riding along with police officers. And he plans to do more.
"This is giving me new, invaluable perspective, which really helps when budget time comes and we have to decide how we're going to fund different programs and what we're going to cut," Mallory says. All in all, he hopes the show brings an awareness to the fact that there are so many dedicated city employees who work hard every day, appreciate their jobs, and are happy to be there.
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