Wednesday, February 20, 1998
Qualls' plans won't disrupt
city business

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Right after Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced that she was running for Congress, one question popped into my head.

Who's minding the store?

Or, does it matter, in the non-contact sport we call city council, if the head honcho is on the campaign trail?

I checked around. Bottom line: Not much.

The potholes will be filled. The garbage trucks will run on time. Snow will be removed (provided that forecasters give 48 hours warning). CP:Roxanne Qualls

In fact, the more calls I made, the more people I found less-than-concerned that the mayor might be, well, distracted.

Councilman Phil Heimlich, for instance. He leads council's ignore-Qualls five-member power coalition and would love to be mayor himself.

''It could work to my favor on crime issues,'' he said. If the campaign takes her away from an important council vote, he won't miss her. Mayor Qualls helped kill one of the councilman's pet projects, putting crime-spotting cameras on downtown telephone poles.

Councilman Charles Winburn, part of the Heimlich coalition, said the mayor's whereabouts don't matter. ''She doesn't have the votes to get things done.''

Over on Qualls' side of the aisle, Councilman Todd Portune fumed that others on council will play politics more to hurt the mayor than help the city. ''She won't permit the city's interests to suffer. But her enemies would rather put her in a bad light than work on the city's business.''

David Mann said running for Congress from a position on city council is complex politics.

''You begin to cast an eye for how a vote on an issue might look over Cincinnati's border and into Hamilton County,'' said the man who went from council to Congress in 1992.

Councilman Tyrone Yates, an unabashed ''Qualls booster,'' figures that the mayor can handle the complexity. ''She's always been a forward thinker for what is best for the city, the region, the state and the nation.''

Anyone on council who questions the mayor's motives on city votes, Councilman Yates said, is just spouting ''pure sour grapes. These people resent that they are not the mayor. Love her or dislike her, you still must call her 'the mayor.' Those words stick in her critic's throats.''

City council infighting aside, I still wondered whether running for national office while holding down a day job at City Hall is a tough bit of juggling.

''I don't see that,'' said former Councilman Tom Luken, who went to the halls of Congress from City Hall in 1974. ''There's no conflict holding one office and running for another. You only campaign for a few months. It's not that difficult.''

Charlie Luken, Tom's son and a reformed politician now working as Channel 5's news anchor, said, ''It was the worst eight months of my life.''

When Charlie Luken was Cincinnati's mayor, he ran for Congress in 1990 and defeated Ken Blackwell in a high-profile slugfest. ''We duked it out day and night,'' he said. Every day, he woke up ''feeling as if I had two, 100-pound weights on each shoulder. ''There was never enough time to do all you wanted to do, never any time to kick back. I couldn't just forget about the world and watch the Notre Dame game on TV.''

Always on the move, he lost weight, shedding 10 pounds from an already skinny frame.

And he had to watch how he voted and what he said in council. ''Vote the wrong way, say the wrong thing, and you wind up looking stupid in a 30-second commercial.''

As I was wrapping up this column, the phone rang. It was Mayor Qualls. I asked her what she thought about campaigning and serving as mayor, and I told her what others had said about her run for Congress.

She listened and then laughed. The mayor said that since she announced her campaign, she's been filled with anticipation. But she hasn't yet figured out if the butterflies in her stomach are ''the kind you get when you go to the gallows or fly to the moon.''

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