Mayor's race not most important

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just in case you needed another reason to pray that your children don't grow up to be politicians, you might want to consider the alleged "mayor's race" in Cincinnati.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of a life in politics is that you tend to end up with more enemies than friends. The balance sheet almost always ends up being weighted down with those who oppose you, envy you or just plain despise you.

Roxanne Qualls made an enemy the day back in 1993 when she became the top vote-getter in the Cincinnati City Council race and replaced Dwight Tillery as mayor.

Mr. Tillery, who had surprised everyone, including himself, by being the top vote-getter in the 1991 race, liked being mayor and had planned to continue being mayor for quite some time.

Ms. Qualls burst that bubble, and anyone with a lick of sense could see that the fact that both were Democrats would not count for beans in terms of whether or not they could work together.

The 1995 election was even worse news for Mr. Tillery. Instead of making a comeback, he slipped to third and found there was a new rival in his plan to regain his status as Cincinnati's Ribbon-Cutter-in-Chief. Republican Phil Heimlich came in second, only 1,093 votes behind Ms. Qualls.

Politicians faced with a threat from rivals, real or imagined, have two choices.

They can take those rivals and turn them into something akin to allies by bringing them into the inner circle, throwing a bone or two their way and keeping them close by where they can keep a sharp eye on them.

Or they can use whatever power they have - and in the case of the Cincinnati mayor, it is minimal, no matter who happens to be warming the chair - and marginalize the opposition by trying to shove their rivals off into a corner where they will never be seen nor heard from again.

Ms. Qualls chose the latter method over the former, and it was a serious miscalculation.

Her attempts to turn Mr. Tillery into a bug on the windshield of City Hall politics succeeded only in making her predecessor very grumpy; and a grumpy Dwight Tillery is not a pretty sight.

There's no telling what a grumpy politician will do, and, in this case, he did something that Ms. Qualls did not expect.

He formed an alliance with Mr. Heimlich, who quite obviously wanted to have Mr. Tillery where he could be seen at all times. Mr. Heimlich brought fellow Republicans Charles Winburn and Jeanette Cissell along for the ride. Mr. Tillery brought along another Democratic council member, Minette Cooper, whose political philosophy seems to be rather basic - If it's OK by Dwight, it's OK by me.

Math was not our best subject in school, but we do know that when five people on a nine-member legislative body come together, they will usually get their way.

We also know that subtracting one from five changes the picture considerably. There are two weak links in this elephant chain - Ms. Cissell, an appointee who has yet to win a council election on her own; and Ms. Cooper, a first-termer who has had little exposure over the past two years.

The race at the top, with Mr. Heimlich set to spend well over $400,000 trying to upend Ms. Qualls, is semi-interesting, but what concerns people at Republican Party headquarters is the race at the bottom. Lose Ms. Cissell, and the conservative coalition on council may well be over.

Ditto for Ms. Cooper, which may explain why African-American neighborhoods are being inundated with anonymous flyers alleging a plot to "get" Ms. Cooper.

Chances are that if he can't be mayor again himself, Mr. Tillery would rather see Mr. Heimlich in that chair than Ms. Qualls. But, in the end, it won't matter who is mayor. All that will matter is who can count to five.

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

WILKINSON ARCHIVE