Cissell suddenly needed by Qualls,
the ol' gang

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Question: What do Roxanne Qualls and Jeanette Cissell have in common? Answer: Not much.

Well, both are carbon-based life forms, biped mammals, fellow passengers on the Spaceship Earth. Then, too, they are at the center of attention halfway through this biennial four-week interregnum between Election Day and the swearing-in of a new council, when the nine try to reorganize for the next term.

In every odd-numbered year - after a council election and before the new council takes office Dec. 1 - there is this period where the newly elected council members form a circle, stare each other down and, eventually, put together five votes for a plan to reorganize council committees.

Deciding who chairs what and who is relegated to the back benches can have a lot to say about the direction council will take over the next two years.

In a stunning triumph of the status quo, all nine incumbent council members were returned Nov. 4. You might assume that this would mean that the coalition of three Republicans (Phil Heimlich, Charlie Winburn and Mrs. Cissell) and two Democrats (Dwight Tillery and Minette Cooper) would continue their dominance of the other four unabated.

You might assume that. But you might be wrong.

The mayor, Democrat Qualls, has been among the four, but on Election Day, she made a rather impressive showing to become top vote-getter and, thus, mayor for another two years. She pulled in just over 50,000 votes from the 83,314 Cincinnati residents who voted. That means that nearly 61 percent of those who cast ballots gave her a vote, the second-best performance since Cincinnati began its wacky top vote-getter system in 1987. Only Charlie Luken, in 1989, did better, and not much better.

Because of term limits, Ms. Qualls cannot run in 1999 and will have to go out and find a new way of making a living. But unlike Mr. Luken, Ms. Qualls' future is not in television news.

Some say it might be as a statewide candidate in 1998; we doubt it. Some say she might take on U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot in the 1st District, but we doubt that even more.

What is more likely is that she might take on Republican County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. next year. Mr. Neyer, appointed less than a year ago, has never had his name on a ballot, and Ms. Qualls did not grab 61 percent of Cincinnati's voters without pulling in a lot of Republican voters in the city.

Presumably, though, it might help Ms. Qualls' chances if she were to run as the leader of a new ruling majority at City Hall, and that is where Mrs. Cissell comes in.

Mrs. Cissell, who won her council seat with the slimmest of margins, has considerable reason to scratch some of her coalition pals off her Christmas card lists.

Her fellow coalition members and any number of Republican Party sachems have been calling her day and night lately, trying to keep her on the reservation. The Republican Party knows that the Hale-Bopp comet will return before the GOP wins a majority on council again, so their only chance of influence is to form - and preserve - alliances with malleable Democrats.

But Mrs. Cissell could look at her close scrape with being retired to private life - only 342 votes separated her and Charterite Jim Tarbell - and rightfully wonder why her pal Mr. Heimlich, the mayoral wanna-be, didn't lift a finger to help her while he was busy pouring $400,000 down a gopher hole just so he could finish a solid sixth.

Then, she might look across the council table at Mr. Tillery and Mrs. Cooper, who, when convinced that Mrs. Cooper was in trouble, persuaded Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke to send out 20,000 postcards to Democrats telling them that a vote for Mrs. Cissell or Mr. Tarbell was a vote against Mrs. Cooper. That stunt didn't make election night any easier for Mrs. Cissell.

So, she is, as they say, keeping her options open. The sales job by the Republicans is continuing relentlessly, as they try to figure out what it is she wants to hang in with the gang.

Maybe, though, she just wants to be left alone.

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

WILKINSON ARCHIVE