Friday, July 11, 1997
City's mayoral race
already getting fowl

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pin some feathers to his coattails. Phil Heimlich is a big chicken. Through a new 60-second radio ad, he's taking pot shots at Mayor Roxanne Qualls. The chicken part: His name is nowhere to be found on the ad.

Yes, it's the beginning of the election season in Cincinnati. Yes, attack ads are not Phil Heimlich's invention. And, yes, he has admitted a connection to the ads.

But what I find cowardly - and the councilman is not alone in this, either - is the stand-in approach to political dialogue and debate. Instead of stating your position, attacking your opponent and letting the voters decide, Heimlich relies on the kindness of an out-of-state consulting firm.

Chicken, Phil. Chicken.

The ads are political infomercials about privatization, an issue near and dear to the councilman's heart. With privatization, city services - such as garbage collection and parking garages - are turned over to private companies.

The councilman is for privatization. The mayor is not.

The ads star a couple engaged in a heart-to-heart talk about city hall.

The man wishes city council would save his tax dollars "by letting companies compete against city agencies to provide basic services." Indianapolis did this, he says, and "saved millions."

Obviously a champion of education, he adds: "We sure could use savings like that for our schools."

There's no debating that. City Council has pledged $100 million to fix up Cincinnati's run-down public schools. But, after weeks of debate and Wednesday's 8 1/2-hour marathon session, council has yet to keep its word.

The idea of saving money makes the woman in the radio ad race to the phone and dial the mayor. She gives the mayor's city hall number and urges listeners to call and "say you want competition."

As of late Thursday afternoon, 10 privatization calls had come in. Eight were for it, two against.

Using ads like this is cowardly, a hit-and-run tactic that drains the life out of vigorous public debate, the foundation of democracy. They are part of the widening political web of soft money, questionable contributions and masked influence peddling that's strangling our political process. Note the Senate hearings this week in Washington. Here's where the ad came from. See if you see yellow in this convoluted process:

The infomercials on privatization in Cincinnati were paid for by First Amendment Inc., a company in Alexandria, Va., run by veteran Ohio Republican political consultant Norm Cummings. His one-man think tank is dedicated "to promoting public debate through the medium of advertising." Promoting privatization, or "managed competition" as he calls it, is a pet project.

The ads were placed on local radio stations by another Alexandria firm, Wilson-Grand Inc. The same company produced $190,171 worth of advertising for Councilman Phil during the 1995 election.

Norm Cummings says he has never spoken with Phil Heimlich. The councilman says he did not pay for the privatization ads. His office did provide First Amendment "some information" about city council's votes on the topic.

Phil Heimlich figures that he's the best bet to unseat Mayor Qualls in November. So he's freely passing out information to anyone willing to advance his cause. I'd rather he just come out and say what he thinks rather than hide behind infomercials.

Roxanne Qualls says she expected this roundabout attack.

"I heard soft money was going to pour in to run a negative campaign against me," the mayor said Thursday. "So, I'm not surprised." Democracy works best when the candidates stand up and square off. It's chicken to act above the fray and use stand-ins.

The no-name ads want you to call Mayor Qualls.

I suggest calling Phil Heimlich. Tell him to come out and campaign in person.

The ads ran the mayor's number. Here's Phil Heimlich's: 352-3647. If you can't stomach chicken ads, give him a call.

And, trust me, Mayor Qualls didn't pay me to say that.

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.