Friday, August 23, 1996
Mayor's plea for office cash may cost her

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Be careful when you need something. Asking for it may wind up costing you more than doing without.

Roxanne Qualls is learning this lesson the hard way. By throwing a $75-a-head fireworks party, she could be tossing away her hard-earned good reputation.

She got into trouble by wanting to do a good job. As the mayor of Cincinnati, she spends a bundle running her office, joining organizations, attending functions and posing for pictures.

In 1995, the mayor forked over $24,627 for fliers and billboards promoting her ''Zero Tolerance'' clean-up Cincinnati campaign.

This year, it cost her $8,000 to join the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

She's also spent $1,599 to have a photographer on hand at such prestigious events as ground-breakings. You can never have too many Kodak moments with the mayor in a hard hat.

Then there's the expenditure of $1,200 for ceremonial keys and medallions to the city.

These expenses mount up. Since the mayor's annual city-funded budget for office supplies and staff salaries is only $162,370, she needs help making ends meet.

Political party animal

To increase her office's cash flow, the mayor has invited 2,500 contributors to a Riverfest party. By donating $75 to the Citizens for Qualls' special mayor's office account, a lucky partygoer can have the honor of hobnobbing with her honor while being wowed by the fireworks.

The $75 donation - a bargain compared to some Riverfest fireworks packages - will help offset her costs of doing the mayor's business.

While perfectly legal, the mayor's party has set off some verbal fireworks at City Hall.

''I don't think contributors should be funding our office,'' fumed Councilman Charles Winburn.

Vice Mayor Tyrone Yates called the party ''a legal way to maneuver around the campaign finance ceiling.''

Councilman Todd Portune said such fund-raisers could upset council's balance of power. The mayor could become city council's boss instead of just being first among equals.

The mayor answered these charges with a volley of her own. In a reply worthy of George ''Boss'' Cox, Cincinnati's political godfather at the turn of the century, Boss Rox said, in essence: Eat my dust.

''Politics is about power,'' she explained.

Too bad if other members of council find themselves powerless, she said. If they can't create ways to beef up their budgets, ''maybe they should go to school and learn how to do it.''

So much for the mayor being council's voice of unity.

Her party may be legal. And creative, too. No less an authority on city government than University of Cincinnati history Professor Zane Miller, author of Boss Cox's Cincinnati, calls the Riverfest event ''a shrewd way of enhancing the ability of the mayor to perform functions suitable to the office.''

Still, it doesn't look right. And in politics, appearance is everything. If a contributor can pay for the keys to the city, what else in the mayor's office is for sale?

Make an offer

To answer that question, I exercised my rights as a taxpayer and visited the mayor's office at City Hall. No one had tacked a ''Space For Rent'' sign on the massive oak door or the two-toned marble wainscoting. The terrazzo floor was still there. Its colorful pieces of marble had not been sold to the highest bidder.

The light switch did not bear this message: ''Electrical power brought to you by Cinergy.''

Most important, the brass doorknob on the mayor's office door still had the seal of the City of Cincinnati on it. The motto still reads ''Juncta Juvant.''

Now, my Latin's a little rusty. But I think that motto means something like ''United They Assist.'' Not: I got mine. If you can't get yours, tough.

As I looked at that seal, I thought of the mayor.

Maybe she's the one who should go back to school. She could take a class in good government.

The course would teach her that politics is not just about power. It's also about working together and acting responsibly.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.