Mayor's race may repeat '91

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Those who ignore history, they say, are doomed to repeat it.

But if you were Dwight Tillery, Democratic Cincinnati city councilman and former mayor, you might find the ''doomed'' part of that old saw a bit much.

''Destined,'' if you were Mr. Tillery, might be more like it. Some folks at Cincinnati City Hall may have forgotten 1991, but Mr. Tillery has not.

That was the year when the city hall know-it-alls had the council race pegged as a contest between Democrat David Mann, the incumbent mayor, and Republican Guy Guckenberger for the honor of being the top vote-getter in the council field race, which, to Cincinnati's eternal chagrin, means you get to be mayor for the next two years.

All the talk that year was about how the campaigns of Mr. Mann and Mr. Guckenberger were trying to persuade their respective supporters to vote for one and not the other.

It was, as Marty Brennaman would say, a ''titanic struggle,'' but it ended in a way neither Mr. Mann nor Mr. Guckenberger nor anybody else had counted on.

As it turned out, Mr. Mann's supporters didn't vote for Mr. Guckenberger and vice versa, but they all voted for Mr. Tillery, who had been appointed to a council vacancy a few months before.

Thus, Cincinnati woke up the morning of Nov. 6, 1991, and found it had just elected Mr. Tillery as its new mayor.

He was, of course, unelected two years later when Roxanne Qualls became top vote-getter. But that was then; this is now; and this is where the history-repeating-itself part comes in.

This year's pseudo-race for mayor is said to be between Ms. Qualls, a Democrat, and Phil Heimlich, the Republican entry.

Ms. Qualls and Mr. Heimlich will, no doubt, spend enormous amounts of money trying to be the top vote-getter. Qualls supporters, we assume, will vote for Ms. Qualls and not Mr. Heimlich; Heimlich supporters, likewise, will vote for their man and leave Ms. Qualls off their ballots.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?

We have a feeling that a repeat of 1991 has crossed Mr. Tillery's mind.

And, if returning to the mayor's chair is his ambition, he got off to a pretty good start last week.

Last weekend, violence erupted when thousands of people jammed downtown streets while the Coors Light Festival was going on. A young man was shot to death; others were wounded.

Mr. Tillery's response was to call a ''summit meeting'' at city hall last Wednesday of city officials, community leaders and festival organizers to discuss ways of preventing violence at downtown events.

A task force was formed; and, whether anything comes of it, Mr. Tillery looked like a mayor, doing the kinds of things mayors do when there is a crisis.

He did it while the current mayor, Ms. Qualls, was vacationing overseas, a point that was not lost on many at city hall.

And the other mayoral contender, Mr. Heimlich, had only one idea on how to prevent such violence - enforce the teen curfew law which he sponsored several years ago. But that suggestion only begged two rather significant questions: First, how would police round up thousands of youths jamming downtown streets; and, second, where would they detain them? Cinergy Field? Sorry, there's a concert going on there.

So Mr. Tillery ended up looking like the statesman, while the two ''real'' mayoral candidates were off the radar screen.

If we were in the shoes of Ms. Qualls or Mr. Heimlich, we might want to sit down for a history lesson with Mr. Mann and Mr. Guckenberger sometime soon. Very soon.

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for The Enquirer. His column appears on Sundays.