Commons mascot may run again
Tarbell sending sign to Democrats

Sunday, May 3, 1998

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

tarbell
Jim Tarbell
Please, Marge -- honey -- sweetheart -- just let them put the ballpark at Broadway Commons.

We'll lock the doors on the county jail, honest we will. We'll rewrite the city ordinance so you can suck down a pack of Marlboros per innning in your box. You can keep the dog in the dugout if you want, the elephant in the bullpen. Whatever.

Because if you would, and two of three county commissioners would go along, Cincinnati's political establishment would be spared the agony of another round of Jim Tarbell's on-again, off-again candidacy for Hamilton County commissioner.

Mr. Tarbell, the organizer and principal mascot of the Broadway Commons movement, is once again threatening to run for county commissioner against the Republican incumbent, Tom Neyer Jr., the only commissioner left who can't seem to make up his mind where the new Reds ballpark should be.

And, of course, in the whacked-out atmosphere that has descended on this town, where the ballpark will be is the only thing that matters in the Hamilton County commissioner's race.

Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus wants it on the river; Commissioner John Dowlin wants it on Broadway Commons. Mr. Neyer has, as of yet, been unable to bring himself to break this logjam, saying he is still studying it. People on both sides of the issue wonder what there is left to study. People are asking, What's the big deal, Tom? The riverfront or Broadway Commons? Pick one. He has been in office 15 months now. People do doctoral dissertations in less time.

We would hate to be in line behind this guy while he ordered food at Burger King.

The heavy betting in political circles is that, in the end, Mr. Neyer will go with the riverfront "wedge" site, because that is where the Republican leadership and business establishment who created him as a public figure want it to be.

Some people may think Mr. Tarbell is delusional when it comes to Broadway Commons, but he is not stupid; and he knows which way the wind is blowing.

Ten weeks ago, the Hamilton County Democratic Party was begging him to run against Mr. Neyer as their endorsed candidate; and up until the day before the Feb. 19 filing deadline, it appeared likely that he would.

But he backed off at the last minute, leaving the Democratic party in the position of having no candidate to run against the least-known and most vulnerable GOP county commissioner to come along in decades. Into the breach jumped Marilyn Hyland, a novice candidate known vaguely, even by Democrats. She was seen by some as Tarbell Lite, since she also supports Broadway Commons.

Ms. Hyland had almost nothing going for her politically -- no money, no name recognition, no voter base. But she was willing to take a flyer on this race; and the Democratic party was spared the embarrassment of fielding no candidate at all against the contemplative Mr. Neyer.

Then, this week, Mr. Tarbell suddenly gets a burr under his saddle and starts circulating petitions to run as an independent. The implicit message was that, if he can get the necessary 2,600 signatures by 4 p.m. Monday, the Democratic party might want to consider dumping Ms. Hyland off the side of the boat.

The Democratic party would be sorely tempted to do so. Mr. Tarbell, after all, has much higher name recognition and could probably raise a great deal more money than Ms. Hyland.

But Ms. Hyland has been out there like a whirling dervish, working hard at trying to turn the race into something other than the functional equivalent of the Busken Bakery cookie poll on Broadway Commons.

Many Democrats will believe she deserves better treatment.

And many others will wonder why Mr. Tarbell didn't just run as a Democrat when he had the chance.

Howard Wilkinson's column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388. E-mail: hwilkinsonenquirer.com