March 30, 1997
Democrats find reason to live;
GOP trying to find candidates

BY Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Last November, you may recall, was not a particularly good time to be a Democrat in Hamilton County.

Yes, on the national level at least, there was some good news for local Democrats. Bill Clinton got himself re-elected to the presidency, but the news did not exactly cause Democrats here or elsewhere to do cartwheels.

Even in oh-so-Republican Hamilton County, Mr. Clinton ran only 7 percentage points behind Bob Dole; but the fact that the Dole - Kemp campaign seemed to be run by people who would have a hard time organizing a two-car funeral seemed to have more to do with the Clinton re-election than anything else.

No, for local Democrats, there was next to nothing to cheer about. Despite a hopeful beginning of the campaign season a year or so ago, the Democrats who ran for countywide offices found themselves kicked around by the Republicans like rented mules.

Mark Longabaugh's bid to unseat Steve Chabot in the 1st Congressional District crashed and burned; former mayor and congressman David Mann was pulverized in his run for an appeals court seat.

The Democrats even lost one of the few county offices they held - County Recorder Eve Bolton flapped her gums enough to convince voters that even Rebecca Prem Groppe, a candidate who had started out her campaign by getting caught in a lie about having a college degree, was a better deal. Go figure.

So there was no class of people in Hamilton County who were happier to see the clock strike midnight last New Year's Eve than the Democrats.

When that calendar turned from an even-numbered to an odd-numbered year, Democrats suddenly had reason to live again. It meant that they had passed into an official Cincinnati City Council year, a holy time for Cincinnati Democrats, when miracles happen - they can put their candidates' names on the ballot and have a reasonably good expectation that they will win.

Because, you see, this is a Democratic city. Republican county, but Democratic city.

They have won majorities on the nine-member Cincinnati City Council in the last two elections; although, being Democrats, they were unable to get along with each other sufficiently to do much about it.

But - and please don't be too shocked at this - politics is more about winning elections than about governing - so local Democrats are mighty happy about their majority status even though it means less than nothing in terms of running the city.

These facts of life in Cincinnati politics are enough to drive the Hamilton County Republican Party to despair. It has three members of council now, but the chances of winning two more in this election are slim to none; and GOP leadersknow it.

It may also explain why it is now nearly April and the Republicans have announced only one non-incumbent council candidate, Diane Goldsmith. Hamilton County GOP chairman Mike Allen makes no bones that he has had a hard time recruiting good candidates for council this year.

The Republicans will run a relatively short slate of six or seven council candidates this year. This, despite the fact that council term limits will kick in two years from now. In 1999, there will be at least four open seats: and one would think that council wannabes, Democrat and Republican alike, would be beating down the doors for a chance to get name recognition in 1997.

But they're not; and the Republican Party is starting to sweat. That, in itself, should be enough to give Cincinnati Democrats a reason to live.