Perhaps it would be fun to revisit a small, but meaningful political event. It might even qualify as a profile in courage.
Oh, don't let me mislead you. No warships were deployed. No blood was shed. No medals were dispensed. It was a matter of conscience. Of character, you might say. You might even say that it was a harbinger of things to come, if you are the sort of person who uses words like harbinger in public.
On Feb. 26, 1996, the vice president of the United States arrived in Cincinnati. Mayor Roxanne Qualls was out of commission, recovering from surgery. Therefore, Vice Mayor Tyrone Yates was in charge, with the opportunity to cut ribbons, preside over council meetings and hang out with anybody important who came to town.
Mr. Yates declined the honor of welcoming Vice President Al Gore at Lunken Airport when he arrived. Furthermore, Mr. Yates proposed to present a bill to Mr. Gore for the cost of his visit here.
Mr. Gore, of course, is a Democrat.
So is Mr. Yates.
Mr. Gore was in town to raise money for the Democratic National Committee, and thanks to a $10,000-per-couple soiree at the Cincinnatian Hotel, he came away with about $100,000. Mr. Yates suggested that part of the profit be used to defray the cost of the trip.
''It would be different, if the vice president's fund raising were secondary to a public event,'' Mr. Yates said at the time. ''But in this case the citizens of Cincinnati are going to be socked for thousands of dollars worth of police time and decreased police protection to protect the vice president, who is coming to raise money privately with a group of insider fat cats.''
Our vice mayor asked a legitimate question, one we all should have been asking. When an elected official runs up expenses that have more to do with getting elected than with governing, why should we taxpayers foot the bill?
Why should we pay for what must be an extraordinary linen expense for the slumber parties in the Lincoln bedroom? Why should we pay for a telephone used to solicit funds? Why should we provide a club house for John Huang? Why should we provide security for a fund-raiser? For either party?
''Before I am a Democrat, I am an American,'' Mr. Yates says. That's the way he talks. Sometimes he sounds rather courtly. Sometimes he just sounds old-fashioned. But he always sounds sincere. And honest.
Mr. Yates' decision not to participate in Mr. Gore's trip was a news event of some interest outside the borders of Cincinnati. After his first announcement, however, the councilman turned down interviews with the Washington Post and CBS News. I suppose if he'd played his cards right he could have been dishing with Oprah.
''I wanted it to be clear that this was not an effort for me to attract attention,'' he says. ''I simply had to make a very hard decision.''
A character issue
Every election, there's a debate about whether character ''matters.'' Well, of course it does. We can't possibly know what crises and choices will be considered during the terms of our presidents and senators and council members. So, we have to notice how they behave generally.
''How sad,'' mourned a North College Hill man in a letter published in The Enquirer a year ago, ''that the acting-Mayor Tyrone Yates decided not to welcome the vice president of the United States. The position, the office, demand our respect.''
Mr. Yates, a lawyer and historian, says he is mindful of the reply from George Washington when asked what he would be called. ''He decided that he should be called Mister Washington,'' Mr. Yates says, ''so that he would not be elevated above the law or the rest of us.''
Some people have said Mr. Yates didn't have enough respect for the office of vice president of the United States. On the other hand, maybe he not only showed respect for the office but for the rest of us as well.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.