Runners-up spoil it for Qualls
Council divides power to exclude mayor

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You may have noticed that Cincinnati City Council has had a bit of a problem focusing lately.

For the past 33 days, ever since the Nov. 4 election where all nine were re-elected, many of them have spent every waking moment obsessing on how the newly re-elected council would be reorganized - who would get what committees, who would win and who would lose, who would be able to carry around momentous titles such as vice mayor or president pro tem.

The average taxpaying citizen with the sense of a sand flea probably doesn't much care about this kind of life-within-the-margins, where politicians sweat over who will be vice chairman of the finance committee and who gets to spend time at boring planning commission meetings.

But, every two years, this is a big deal for Cincinnati City Council. Time stands still; all activity ceases while the nine figure out who will do what to whom.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog will understand this. Dogs are, quite possibly, the noblest creatures ever made, but they have a hard time thinking on parallel tracks. The dog who is busy chasing a delivery truck down the streets is not thinking about going out to sniff garbage cans with his buddies later; he is thinking only one thing: Kill truck.

Put a bowl of Rover's favorite kibbles in front of him and just try to separate him from it once he's buried his nose in it. He will not budge.

So too with council members.

This time around, it took them a bit longer than usual. They couldn't manage to come up with a plan by Monday's swearing-in ceremony. But on Wednesday, five of them - the three Republicans, and Democrats Dwight Tillery and Minette Cooper - pushed through a plan over the strenuous objections of the other four.

For those of you keeping score at home, here's how it turned out:

  • Roxanne Qualls: The Democratic mayor - top vote-getter for the third straight election - found out there is such a thing as being too popular, at least in terms of council reorganization.

    The three Republicans and her two fellow Democrats hammered her, taking away her Committee of the Whole, taking away her power to assign legislation to committees, booting her off the OKI Regional Council of Governments and creating a committee to screen her mayoral appointments to boards and commissions.

    It may not matter much, because she still has her political capital intact and her future probably lies elsewhere, as a candidate for county commissioner or some other office.

    Her political supporters tend to treat her as the queen bee; and we all know what happens in the hive when the queen bee is attacked. The little worker bees swarm around her and she ends up stronger than ever.

  • Mr. Tillery: The former mayor and second-place finisher in the council race came out of the process smelling like a rose. He'll continue to be finance committee chairman, but this time with control over the city budget, which had been in Ms. Qualls' committee.

  • Ms. Cooper: Being joined at the hip with Mr. Tillery in the council coalition paid off for Ms. Cooper, who got the vice mayor's job, continues as chair of the health committee and gets chair of the committee to screen Ms. Qualls' appointments.

  • Charles Winburn: The coalition created for Mr. Winburn something called the Neighborhood and Small Business Development Committee. It doesn't sound like much, but given Mr. Winburn's knack for showmanship, it could be just the vehicle to launch a 1999 campaign for mayor as Mr. Neighborhood.

  • Phil Heimlich: Like some ousted Chinese Communist apparatchik of the 1960s, Mr. Heimlich is trying for political rehabilitation. The voters knocked Mr. Heimlich silly on Nov. 4. Early on, he thought he might be mayor and he spent well over $400,000 to make that happen. Instead, he fell to sixth place.

    So, as consolation, Mr. Heimlich was given a choice of a lovely parting gift for being a good sport and playing the game: a home version of Jeopardy or chairmanship of an Intergovernmental Affairs and Regionalism Committee. He chose the latter. ''Regionalism,'' you see, is his new theme song.

    We would have gone with Jeopardy.

    Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

    WILKINSON ARCHIVE