Crystal ball cloudy
on Qualls' political future

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If, in these days of crisis in public school funding, Ohio wants a quick and easy way to pump a modest amount of cash into the system, we suggest a lottery designed solely for the Cincinnati market. Now, we know that Ohio Gov. George Voinovich isn't very fond of gambling, but that hasn't slowed down the state lottery commission - and our idea is a lot more interesting than scratching off numbers on a $1 bingo card.

Everywhere we go, we hear people in political circles, Democratic and Republican, asking the question: What will Roxanne do?

"Roxanne," of course, is Roxanne Qualls, the mayor of Cincinnati, a politician who has done quite well at the polls in recent years and seems to have acquired at least part of the Teflon shell that Mr. Voinovich wears at the state level.

The cloud on the horizon for Ms. Qualls, however, is that under Cincinnati's term limits law, she has but one more bite at the apple. This year she is running for her last two-year term on council before she has to sit it out for a while.

Perhaps the state could put together something like an office pool, where everybody throws in a buck and tries to guess the time and date when the woman in accounting delivers her baby, with birth weight as a tie-breaker. Because it seems everybody in politics has an opinion on what Ms. Qualls will do; and those who don't would probably be willing to take a stab in the dark.

Here are some of the possibilities, not necessarily in order of probability:

That, sometime after this fall's council election, she will end up with a job in the Clinton administration, probably in a field like housing or transportation;

That, next year, she will end up as the running mate of the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Lee Fisher; or as a candidate for another statewide office;

Or that, in 1998, she will be the next Democrat to try to knock U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot out of the box in the 1st Congressional District. We know that U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Elyria, whose job it is to recruit Democratic congressional candidates in Ohio, was in town recently and made the pitch for a 1st District run to Ms. Qualls, who was noncommittal. The prospect of a Qualls-Chabot race next year is far more interesting than last year's ordeal of watching Mr. Chabot's last opponent, Mark Longabaugh, foul off a dozen pitches before striking out looking.

At this point, there is no evidence whatsoever that Ms. Qualls has an interest in statewide politics. People who do spend their free time driving around the state to places like Steubenville and Wapakoneta, trying to get their names known. Ms. Qualls spends her free time riding a bike in Cincinnati.

The one possibility that seemingly hasn't occurred to the politicos, whose religious creed does not include the concept of life after politics, is that she won't do any of the above.

Maybe she will just chuck it all for another line of work. Maybe she will find a nice beach and paint coconut shells. Maybe she will open a spin art booth at the county fair. Maybe she'll move to Tanzania and teach chimps to read Shakespeare.

The fact is, we don't know. And neither does she. Ask her the next time you see her and that's the answer you'll get.

What we do know is that if there is a future for Roxanne Qualls in politics, it will almost certainly require her to run first in this year's council race and be elected mayor again - a formidable task with the Republicans apparently willing to break the bank for their mayoral candidate, Phil Heimlich, who trailed Ms. Qualls by only 1,093 votes two years ago.

Otherwise, it may be the county fair circuit for her.

Howard Wilkinson's politics column appears Sundays.