Old campaign tactic:
Hand out pork

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The problem with being a non-incumbent candidate for Cincinnati City Council is that you have nothing to hand out.

Well, you could walk around town giving people emery boards with your name on them. But we have known only one person who actually used emery boards on a regular basis; and she doesn't vote in Cincinnati any more, so what use are they?

Everyone loves kitchen magnets, but the kind politicians hand out aren't the touristy, souvenir shop items most people like, the ones shaped like the state of Nebraska. The campaign-season brand of kitchen magnet usually just has the candidate's name and a rather self-evident message like Call 911 in case of emergency. Duh.

No, most non-incumbent candidates are forced to go to the voters empty-handed. But incumbents have the chance to hand out pictures of dead presidents on a regular basis.

The phrase ''pork barrel politics'' may be one that sends shivers down the spines of politicians on Capitol Hill these days, with members of Congress sending out news releases bragging about how much federal money they didn't bring to their districts, but the time-honored tradition of doling out money in an election year is alive and well in Cincinnati City Hall.

Earlier this month, the five-member working majority of council - Republicans Phil Heimlich, Charles Winburn, Jeanette Cissell and Democrats Dwight Tillery and Minette Cooper - passed funding measures totaling $462,500, even though the city administration told them it was not a good idea given the city's budget situation.

The five council members agreed among themselves to support each other's pet projects, most of which send money to neighborhoods and voting blocks that could be important in this fall's council campaign.

The biggest chunk of change was $200,000 that Mr. Winburn wanted to help several organizations rehabilitate 10 vacant and condemned buildings in Over-the-Rhine, a project the city administration said could wait.

Another $20,000 was sent to the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Resource Center at the urging of Mrs. Cissell. Mrs. Cissell was busy passing out dollars - among her motions were $22,500 for the special needs and inclusion program of the Jewish Community Center, and $50,000 for the Genesis Men's Program, two more programs the city administration told council the city could not afford.

Mr. Tillery chimed in with a $20,000 grant to the Mount Adams Business Guild so it can develop a marketing plan. Again, the administration said no.

There are, no doubt, more than a few classical music fans on the voter rolls in Cincinnati; and they may be pleased to learn that, thanks to Ms. Cooper, $50,000 will be flowing to the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and Museum, even though the city administration told council the money wasn't there.

The four other members of council all objected to these funding projects, saying the money wasn't available. But when there's an election going on, nothing stops the gravy train.

What do the majority members get out of all this? Maybe a blip on a 30-second campaign commercial, a line in a campaign flyer that will convince some voters - particularly those voters who have a direct interest in these projects - that their council member is on our side.

And no amount of emery boards can buy that.

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