Qualls is obvious loser

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was clear a month ago that the Republican Party didn't much like the result of the Cincinnati City Council race.

So, with the reorganization plan passed by five council members Wednesday, they decided to change it.

And to do that particular quick rewrite of Cincinnati electoral history, the three council Republicans had to depend on two Democrats - Dwight Tillery and Minette Cooper - to pull it off.

They were only too happy to do so, as long as what the Republicans proposed in terms of reorganizing council left them with plenty of political power.

Mr. Tillery and Ms. Cooper got what they wanted, and more. The Republicans got a chance to control significant council committees and throw their weight around council chambers.

It was a skillful political move on the part of five council members who worked together for most of the year on budget matters, much to the consternation of the other four council members and many Cincinnati Democrats who were ready to drum Mr. Tillery and Ms. Cooper out of the party.

But it could be argued that it probably wasn't what the voters had in mind Nov. 4.

On that day, they re-elected Democrat Roxanne Qualls by a huge margin over Mr. Tillery. They also gave Democrat Todd Portune a strong third-place finish.

Because term limits prevent Ms. Qualls and Mr. Tillery from running again in 1999, Mr. Portune came out of last month's election as the logical Democratic contender for mayor in 1999.

On that same day, Cincinnati voters also erased Republican Councilman Phil Heimlich's dream of becoming mayor, sending him tumbling from a second-place finish in 1995 to a sixth-place finish. But when it came to dividing up the power at City Hall - handing out committee chairs and committee assignments - the Republicans had their revenge.

Ms. Qualls, who has been Mr. Tillery's rival since she unseated him as mayor four years ago, was the obvious loser.

She lost her Committee of the Whole and its control of the budget, which landed in Mr. Tillery's finance committee. She lost her ability to control how legislation is assigned to committees. She even lost, practically speaking, her ability to appoint people to city boards and commissions, with the creation of a committee, chaired by Ms. Cooper, to screen mayoral appointments.

For the Republican Party, it was important that Ms. Qualls' role be diminished, because she might run for Hamilton County commissioner next year.

Mr. Portune, too, had to be punished for having the temerity to finish third and become a mayoral contender. He was assigned to only two committees, one of which he'll chair.

Republicans who now see Councilman Charles Winburn as their mayoral hope could not have Mr. Portune hogging too much of the spotlight.

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

WILKINSON ARCHIVE