The unofficial version of Bobbie Sterne

Sunday, July 12, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bobbie Sterne greets former mayor Jerry Springer during the TV show host's visit to City Council chambers.
(AP photo)
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Has the official gushing stopped? Is it time to talk about the real Bobbie Sterne? The one who locks her keys in her car with alarming regularity? The one who owns a bright yellow jumpsuit and gold boots?

Since she quietly exited Cincinnati City Council on July 1, we have heard all about her contributions to our city. But not once has anyone mentioned her chocolate habit. Or her racy car. Or the fact that she is a closet daredevil -- para-sailing, camping in a yurt. Not 10 years ago. Now.

Dignified. Principled. Gallant. And fun. Sometimes even funny.

Her chocolate habit

She loves telling about sitting in her 1978 silver Corvette, a one-owner car, meticulously maintained, recently repainted, stick shift, fast. Two kids came by, looked appreciatively, then noted with disgust that "some old lady was driving it."

Well, by anybody's standards, this is certainly some old lady. She'll be 78 in November. And for 25 of those years, she has been a public servant. A real one. She is the politician who shows up at church suppers and not-so-grand openings and funerals and weddings. She'll say a few words, if asked, but mostly she listens, standing patiently with her aching, narrow feet neatly shod in Ferragamo pumps and holding her ever-present handbag. Just like Queen Elizabeth, she's never without her purse.

I don't know what the queen keeps in hers -- probably biscuits for those miserable Corgis -- but Mrs. Sterne carries the basics: her calendar, lipstick, a wallet. Oh, and possibly -- OK, probably -- a Reese's peanut-butter cup.

The woman is a chocoholic, not a recovering one. Active. Practicing. I'll bet if you looked in her freezer right now, all you'd find is frozen candy bars, coffee and Graeter's ice cream with some kind of chip. She's not choosy about the flavor, as she thinks the mint or the mocha is just there to suspend the chocolate.

Lunch is wheat crackers with peanut butter and Diet Coke. Dinner is often rubber chicken.

Her calendar is a horror, brutally full. Her normal day is 10 to 12 hours. Every day. "People asked her to a lot of events, birthdays, anniversaries," an aide says, "and she thinks they really wanted her to come."

So she went. The thing is, she was not there for a photo op. And she probably already had their votes.

Picking up votes isn't at the top of her agenda. She has never been afraid of unpopular issues -- gay rights, abortion, unions, minority recruitment. In fact, she's generally unafraid. Her bravery is habitual and long-standing.

A tough side

Last October, when a man crept into her home through a window, Mrs. Sterne tried to push him back out. He grabbed her, put her in a headlock and took a billfold. She went out campaigning the same night and was at work the next day.

I don't suppose some two-bit thug was much of a threat after the battlefield. "When Japan invaded Manchuria," she said, "I remember saying to people, "Why are you sitting here? Why don't you stop them?"

By then, she'd finished nurse's training, having earned tuition by cleaning houses and baby sitting to get there. "After Pearl Harbor, it was automatic that I was going."

In a mobile hospital unit, she arrived in France, climbing from the troop carrier down a rope to a beach being strafed. From there, she was sent to Leage, Belgium, where "the enemy was buzz-bombing the place constantly."

No wonder she handled the potshots and bickering from some of her council colleagues with such equanimity. "Brats," she called them sometimes. And she was the one who provided adult supervision. It's her official life that makes us so respectful, gushy even. The other stuff -- the endless chicken dinners, the reliable goodness, unexpected bravery, the fast car, the chocolate -- merely makes us love her.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 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. E-mail her at