BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
This Cincinnati City Council race is giving nice a bad name.
If all you depended on for information in this contest were the 30-second TV commercials taking up the space between Charlie the Tuna and discount carpet commercials, you would think you had been sentenced to a life in prison, with the Up With People! chorus as your cellmates.
It's the Smiley Face campaign. Grit your teeth; exercise those facial muscles; show those voters you're not such a bad Joe or Jane after all.
But we suspect that even the Osmond family had its share of knock-down, drag-out fights. In this council race, you don't have to scratch far below the surface to find that there are some people involved in this who truly detest each other.
But you would never guess it from the television ads.
First, there is Mayor Roxanne Qualls, whose commercials have had an ethereal quality suggesting that she floats on the clouds high above the fray, doing the people's work while mortal politicians plot and scheme. St. Roxanne of Avondale, who, with her Mayor's Night In program, can be visited by the faithful every Tuesday night in the grotto of Our Lady of Perpetual Committee Meetings at 801 Plum St.
One of Ms. Qualls' chief antagonists at City Hall, Dwight Tillery, has been running an ad that has a sort of low-rent Frank Capra quality to it.
It doesn't say anything in particular, but it says it so well. First, you see a large crowd of citizens gathered for what is obviously an important event. A tow-headed little boy in the back of the crowd can't see what is going on. He pushes his way between the grown-ups, ducking between legs and around obstacles until he finally reaches the front.
There, standing at the center of crowd, smiling down beatifically at the boy, is Councilman Tillery, the object of the crowd's affection. He stoops to shake the tyke's hand. The boy is so moved by being in the presence of greatness that he tells everyone they should vote for Dwight Tillery ''because we need him!''
The message? We're not sure, but it is something like this: Vote for Uncle Dwight. He doesn't scare children.
Then there is Ms. Qualls' chief rival for the mayor's job, Republican Phil Heimlich. Two years ago, Mr. Heimlich, the advocate of more police and keeping an eye on scofflaws with surveillance cameras, set new standards for scary campaign advertising with commercials full of grainy, black-and-white slo-mo shots of flashing police lights, cops chasing down bad guys and general mayhem.
This year, though, we have the kinder-and-gentler Phil Heimlich, the candidate who not only has feel-good ads but ads with a moral to the story.
The gist of the Heimlich pitch is this: I accomplished a lot the last two years, but I couldn't do it alone. I work well with others.
The ''others,'' in this case, are the two other council Republicans and Democrats Tillery and Minette Cooper, who formed a coalition with Mr. Heimlich. On one of the ads, Mr. Heimlich actually shows pictures of his four cohorts, much to the chagrin of Mr. Tillery and Ms. Cooper, who really don't want to remind voters in their Democratic base that they have spent the past year consorting with known Republicans.
But Mr. Heimlich makes his point; and it is one Barney the bulbous dinosaur makes every day: It's nice to have friends; and friends mean sharing.
Thankfully, there is one jawbreaker in this world of cotton-candy campaign commercials; and that comes from Republican Charles Winburn, the only true showman left in Cincinnati politics. Mr. Winburn quite obviously loves theater. While most of the campaign commercials out this year look like ads for deodorant or term life insurance, Mr. Winburn's ads are mini-action films. The one featuring a citizen having a heart attack in his front yard while cops try to bring him around with a defibrillator that Charles Winburn put in their police cars could be spliced into one of those real-life cop shows without missing a beat.
Talk is cheap. Action's what we want on television.
Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer. His column appears on Sundays.