Council race resembles monsterama

The Cincinnati Enquirer

When we were about 12 years old or so, nothing could be better on a rainy Saturday afternoon than to plop down in front of the ol' Motorola for a marathon of Japanese horror movies.

Some scenes:

Prehistoric monsters, gone gaga from massive doses of radiation, rising from the Sea of Japan to rampage across the helpless island nation, leaving mass destruction in their wake.

Whole houses crushed under scaly monster toes. Skyscrapers snapped in two like bread sticks. Thousands - make that millions - of hysterical citizens, fleeing for their lives, running through the fiery inferno like lemmings to the sea.

Teams of anxious but dedicated Japanese scientists - with the help of some eminent American nuclear scientist like Nick Adams or Raymond Burr - struggling to invent a giant electromagnetic ray gun that will knock the behemoths senseless and save the island from total destruction.

Now that's entertainment.

But we are all grown up now, and eschew such fare. Now we watch PBS, where there is nothing hideous or frightening other than The McLaughlin Group.

Still, there are times when the 12-year-old kid takes over and we need the kind of stimulation that only the Japanese movie industry of the 1950s and early 1960s could provide.

These days, though, we look to politics - the current Cincinnati City Council campaign, to be precise.

This thing has turned into a remake of Godzilla vs. Rodan.

It is supposed to be about electing nine members of city council, this year out of a field of 18 candidates. A simple enough proposition, except that, layered on top of the council field race is an artificial, otherworldly contest for the mayor's office. For the last five council elections, that office has gone to the council candidate who gets the most votes in the field race; and now, in 1997, it has created a situation where almost all of the money and attention has gone to the race at the top.

You have two very large, formidable creatures - Roxanne Qualls, the incumbent mayor; and Phil Heimlich, the mayoral wannabe - locked in a fierce battle for supremacy, while another mayoral hopeful, Councilman Dwight Tillery - playing the part of Mothra - circles overhead, hoping the behemoths will kill each other off and sink beneath the waves from which they came.

But in this version of Godzilla vs. Rodan, instead of biting each other on the neck and hurling bolts of flaming breath, the combatants are trying to bury each other in piles of money.

Ms. Qualls and Mr. Heimlich account for half of the money that has been spent on TV advertising so far, which means that for the next three weeks, you will see little else on television but their 30-second sound-bite campaign commercials. You will see a handful of other candidates from time to time, but their messages are likely to be buried in the deluge of Heimlich and Qualls ads that are right around the corner.

Most of the non-incumbents - particularly those who do not have the do-re-mi to buy any TV ad time at all - will be reduced to the roles of mob-scene extras in this production. Their only option will be to run, and keep running.

With the big money flowing to the big-feet candidates at the top and the non-incumbents struggling to make ends meet, the conventional wisdom is that Cincinnati will hold an election Nov. 4 and all of the incumbents will be re-elected, mainly because none of the challengers is able to make a big enough impression, what with all the noise Godzilla and Rodan are making.

And all the non-incumbents can do about it is tell themselves that you can never find a good ray gun when you need one.

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