Monday, January 19, 1998
Cincinnatians positioned to run Statehouse

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Statehouse in Columbus could soon be tilting toward Cincinnati. After the November election, four of Ohio's top offices - governor, secretary of state, treasurer and Senate president - could belong to Cincinnatians.

This depends, of course, on a bushel of ifs.

  • If Bob Taft gets the governor's nomination and wins the election.

  • If Ken Blackwell scraps his plans to fight the Taft name, goes for secretary of state instead and is elected.

  • If Joe Deters leaves his post as Hamilton County prosecutor and lands in the job of state treasurer, a position he has said ''interests'' him.

  • If Senate President Richard Finan is re-elected.

If. If. If. If.

If they win, will they remember their Cincinnati roots or turn their backs on their old hometown?

''Any time a bill came up about bricks and mortar, my first thoughts always started with my hometown,'' said Stan Aronoff, the first Cincinnatian to become the president of Ohio's Senate.

Elected officials like to share those thoughts with their friends.

''All of these guys from Cincinnati - who have various political chips they can cash in - know each other,'' said Zane Miller, University of Cincinnati history professor. ''That's called access.''

And access, as UC political analyst Al Tuchfarber pointed out, ''is the first of the three hurdles'' you must overcome to get what you want out of your state government.

''Access gets you in the door,'' he said. ''The second hurdle is to get them to understand your problem. And the third hurdle is to get them to help you with funding or legislative change.

''If you have a local person you can talk to in the top job, you're already over the first two hurdles.''

Our governors

If that top job belongs to Bob Taft, he'll be the first Cincinnatian in the governor's mansion since 1975. That's when Cincinnatian John Gilligan moved out to make way for James Rhodes.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County have produced 13 governors for Ohio. The county is Ohio's mother of governors. Cuyahoga, Cleveland's home county, occupies a distant second place, with eight. That number includes the last two, Richard Celeste and George Voinovich.

As the first governor from Cincinnati since Myers Y. Cooper won the 1928 election, John Gilligan continued a tradition that began in 1814 with Othneil Looker. A veteran of the Revolutionary War, Gov. Looker was Ohio's fifth chief executive and the first with Cincinnati roots.

Play fair

As a fourth-generation Cincinnatian, Mr. Gilligan recognized the powerful hold home can have over an elected official. As governor, he tried not to play favorites.

Talking by phone Friday from his East Walnut Hills home, he said: ''Your constituency changes when you're governor. You have a statewide stage to play on.

''You have to bend over backwards to be fair and equitable to all parts of the state. Appear like you are favoring one part of the state and you are going to get your head handed to you on a platter.''

Mr. Gilligan had some words of warning for a new generation of Cincinnati politicians considering new jobs in the Statehouse. He still remembers his wife's words as they drove into the state capital after his election.

''I can't possibly live here,'' she told the governor-elect. ''It's so flat. I need some hills and, if possible, a wide river.''

Columbus is still flat. And, its main river - the streamlike Scioto - is still not much of a waterway.

But Columbus does have something it didn't have during the Gilligan years: five Graeter's ice cream parlors.

''During our years (1971-75) in Columbus,'' Mr. Gilligan said, ''there were no Graeter's. My wife imported every flavor they make.''

He had no favorites.

''I ate them all.''

Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.