Wednesday, January 12, 2000

It's politics as usual in county race

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The campaign isn't even a week old, and already one race for Hamilton County commissioner is a tired, mudslinging affair.

        On one side of this wallow, Todd Portune wants to unseat Bob Bed-inghaus. But the Cincinnati city councilman sounds as if he's running against the Bengals' Mike Brown and the team's sweet stadium deal.

        On the other side, Mr. Bedinghaus is going for his second four-year term. The incumbent commissioner is trying to drum up votes by calling Mr. Portune a liberal, a label that's been the kiss of death in past county elections.

        Frankly, I had expected better from these two. Both men are forward-thinking straight-talkers from the west side. They have a firm grasp of where the county has made strides and where there is room for improvement. But instead of talking about the issues, they are just calling each other names. This cheats the voters out of a chance to hear debates about issues that affect their future.

        Granted, as Mr. Portune never tires of pointing out, the county — with Mr. Bedinghaus leading the charge — gave away the store at taxpayers' expense in the stadium deal with Mike Brown and the Bengals. For $404 million in public money, the people of Hamilton County are building a massive stadium complex for the worst NFL team of the '90s run by the game's most stubborn owner.

        Even so, the stadium is a done deal. It's going up and should be ready for another losing season in August. That's three months before the election. So Mr. Portune might consider other, more current issues in his run for one of the two commissioners' seats up for grabs Nov. 7.

        When the councilman entered the race, Mr. Bedinghaus stoked up an old reliable Republican smoke screen. He used the L-word, labeling Todd Portune “one of the most liberal council members.” And he announced plans to “talk about our differences on a whole range of issues.” Then he trotted out old topics, “abortion, gun control, managed competition.”

        I don't care what either candidate thinks about these issues. They are for the most part well beyond the jurisdiction of the county. Might as well ask who's their favorite Beatle.

Look ahead
        What I want to know is how either man will lead the county through thebeginning of the 21st century. Where are we are going and how are we going to get there? As development in the county increases, traffic continues to back up. More interstates are not the answer. Light rail is an option that must be discussed.

        Issues such as light rail require cooperation among cities, townships, counties and states. Regionalism — how it can be achieved? what are its benefits? — should be a major issue in the campaign. All of the reports in the world by urban planners such as Michael Gallis — a consultant who completed a two-year study of the region last summer — can be assembled and discussed.

        But to become a reality, the reports' recommendations for regionalism must be implemented. Because of their clout, the Hamilton County commissioners can get those recommendations up and running.

        A candidate for county commissioner should also be prepared to discuss the county's plans for growth, from the crowded core to the un-developed western edge. Will growth be unrestricted? New houses slapped up on hillsides and without sewers?

        Or will the growth be managed and orderly? Will tight controls be established to promote slow growth while protecting the environment? Will ample sewer lines be installed to prevent basements from flooding every time it rains?

        Hamilton County has made enormous contributions to sports. Thanks go to the millions produced by the stadium tax. I'd now like to hear the candidates debate how the county can balance the equation by contributing to the arts and culture.

        There are only three Hamilton County commissioners. Three votes to focus on specific issues affecting the future. Recycling buzzwords from 20-year-old stump speeches and rehashing ancient history won't get the job done.

        Please. Let's talk issues.

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

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