Elections mired in miscues

Heimlich, zoo sent wrong message

The Cincinnati Enquirer

With apologies to the Bard of Avon, we come to bury this election, not to praise it.

It was not a particularly pleasant affair, full of subterranean tricks, specious arguments, and veiled threats, some of them directed, if you can imagine it, at elephants.

It was yet more proof that the problem is not politics, it is politicians.

To wit:

The 'mayor's race'

Some people thought that Cincinnati's loopy top-vote-getter system for mayor would produce a thrilling, too-close-to-call contest between the incumbent mayor, Democrat Roxanne Qualls, and Republican Phil Heimlich, who had come close to defeating her two years ago.

After all, Mr. Heimlich had $400,000-plus to spend, and had managed to give himself a high profile as co-leader of council's ruling coalition.

But in the end, it was as if Mr. Heimlich had taken a loaded revolver and fired repeatedly, and accurately, at his own foot. Everything that could possibly have been done wrong in that campaign was done; it was as if his consultants were working off a checklist of really dumb moves, racing to get each and every one of them done by election.

The biggest bonehead play was in the message delivered by the Heimlich TV and radio ads, which made much of his association with Democrat Dwight Tillery and the others in the coalition.

In one bold stroke, Mr. Heimlich managed to alienate the two largest voting constituencies in the city - African-American voters and the conservative, Republican-leaning voters of the city's west side.

Cincinnati's black voters wrote him off because he hadn't been on their side of the issues for two years but suddenly wanted to be their best friend at election time.

His Republican base eroded because every night conservative voters were seeing him consorting with known Democrats in an almost continuous loop of TV commercials.

With Herculean effort, he managed to slide to sixth place.

The council

Cincinnati City Council seems to be a thing very much like the weather: Everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it.

Tuesday, Cincinnati voters had nine incumbents and nine challengers to choose from. They re-elected all nine of the former.

Even Republican Jeanette Cissell, who the GOP feared was on the endangered species list, squeaked by with a 305-vote lead over Charterite Jim Tarbell.

Democrat Minette Cooper, also seen as teetering on the brink of un-election, pulled it out. Black voters rallied around her and she slipped into the jet stream in the wake of Mr. Tillery, who finished second.

So, all nine returned, leaving many supporters of the nine non-incumbents scratching their heads in amazement that such a thing could happen.

Did we mention that the incumbents had 80 percent of the campaign money?

The zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo failed miserably in its effort to persuade Hamilton County taxpayers to cough up $20 million for a parking garage.

Under ordinary circumstances, the zoo could probably get any kind of levy passed, provided it buys enough TV advertising showing pretty pictures of cute kids cavorting among the animals, old folks strolling hand-in-hand through the ape house, families picnicking among the giraffes.

But this time around, the zoo's executive director, Ed Maruska, had to start talking about how some of the elephants might disappear if the zoo didn't get its parking garage, which zoo officials said would free up more elephant space.

Voters don't particularly like tax levy campaigns that take hostages, and it was a particularly bad message for the zoo to send so soon after the voters approved a tax increase to build the Reds and Bengals new stadiums. Voters were already feeling that the sports teams had abused their generosity, and now they had a zoo keeper telling them to stick 'em up.

Keep 'em in your back yard, Ed, if you're that worried about them, the voters said.

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