Positioning counts in stadium game

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For those of you who can follow the plot of Cincinnati's stadium saga without falling asleep in your Barcaloungers, here's our best guess on how the political fallout is shaping up for the major players.

  • Bob Bedinghaus: The county commissioner, who takes his leave as county commission president Monday, looked like a golden boy two years ago, after persuading the local populace to raise the sales tax so ''Hamilton County's riverfront'' could have two shining new stadiums.

    Then came the lease agreement with the Bengals, and the public started to have second thoughts about how generous Hamilton County had become.

    By the time the ink was dry, many who had voted for the tax thought it was the worst deal since Yalta, with the Bengals cheerfully gobbling up cash and precious riverfront real estate like mini-Baltic states.

    Suddenly Mr. Bedinghaus was sucking wind, and Republicans had stopped talking about him as a potential statewide candidate.

  • Tom Neyer Jr.: More people could name Barry Goldwater's vice presidential running mate than could identify the young developer when he was appointed to Guy Guckenberger's seat on the county commission a year ago.

    He's still not a household name, except in his own household. But after a shaky start where he seemed to suffer from the dreaded Bob Taft Disease - high anxiety when asked for a position on public policy issues - he seems to have pulled himself together.

    But the young commissioner who seemed to be living in Mr. Bedinghaus' shadow has a life of his own now. When the city of Cincinnati made its move to hold up the Bengals stadium project by refusing to transfer 10 acres of riverfront land and it was apparent the talks between City Manager John Shirey and County Administrator David Krings were going nowhere, Mr. Neyer started dealing with the city manager himself. Most people close to the situation believe the problems will be resolved well before the Bengals' Jan. 31 fish-or-cut-bait deadline.

    Mr. Neyer's passage into political maturity comes just in time, too. Mr. Neyer, who becomes commission president Monday, has to run for election this year, and his opponent could be the most popular Democrat in town, Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

    That could make him grow up fast.

  • Roxanne Qualls: Her interest in the seemingly never-ending stadium saga appears to be twofold: (1) seeing the Reds' ballpark built at Broadway Commons to give that an area an economic boost, and (2) to make sure that the riverfront, with the Bengals stadium as an anchor, still has plenty of room for other kinds of development.

    As a potential candidate for county commissioner, she has been smart enough to stay out of the cross-fire and let Mr. Shirey be the point man in the conflict with the county over the 10 acres the city owns and the Bengals need.

    Chances are that conflict will be worked out. If she does become a candidate for county commissioner, she could end up with a ready-made campaign issue by arguing that the county allowed the sales tax money to be gobbled up by the Bengals stadium, leaving little left over for a Reds ballpark. The voters, the argument goes, thought they were raising their taxes enough to build two stadiums.

    Once again, the Teflon Mayor will come out without a scratch.

  • State Sen. Louis Blessing: The Colerain Township Republican stuck his oar in the water last week when he threatened to get the state to pull its $80 million share of the Fort Washington Way highway project unless the city gave up its demand that Hamilton County kick in for the highway in exchange for the 10 acres of riverfront land.

    ''Extortion'' is what Mr. Blessing called the city's demand.

    Mr. Blessing decided to battle the alleged extortionists at City Hall by threatening to yank state highway funding and getting the legislature to pass a law saying the county had to sign off on all the city's state funding grants.

    Some might say that what Mr. Blessing was proposing falls under the broad definition of ''extortion.''

    Others would say it's just politics as usual.

    Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

    WILKINSON ARCHIVE