BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
We really hate to break the bad news to you.
The 1999 Cincinnati mayor's race has begun.
Don't let it ruin your summer, though. Go to the lake. Take in a ballgame or two. Send the kids to grandma's for the week and sit in the backyard spraying yourself with the garden hose.
Just act like nothing happened.
But believe this -- thanks to Cincinnati Councilman Todd Portune, the race for mayor in 1999 has started a full 16 months before the election is supposed to happen.
The good news is that once Labor Day 1998 rolls around, you will not have to sit in front of the TV and watch a continual loop of Cincinnati City Council candidate commercials. Instead, you'll have plenty of gubernatorial, congressional and state candidate commercials to make you crazy.
We know that if you really, really try, you can push these thoughts of council candidates grubbing to be top vote-getter out of your minds. But Todd Portune seems willing to go to great lengths to make that impossible.
Mr. Portune, a Democrat, ran third in the council election last year. The only two candidates who drew more votes were two other Democrats -- Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Dwight Tillery. Cincinnati's term limits law prevents either one of them from running for re-election in 1999.
But Mr. Portune has one more bite of the apple coming to him -- given his performance in the last election, which makes him something of a front-runner to become the top vote-getter and, thus, mayor.
Not since the days when J. Kenneth Blackwell roamed the corridors of City Hall have we seen such a public relations blitz as Mr. Portune has been putting on lately.
The way to become mayor in Cincinnati is to offer something for everybody; and Mr. Portune has been busy lately making sure no one is left out.
No one is elected mayor in Cincinnati without substantial support from black voters. Mr. Portune has it covered. America's chief exponent of I-feel-your-pain politics may be busy chumming up with the Chinese this week, but his Cincinnati disciple has been keeping the banner aloft.
He was one of the most vocal proponents of the minority set-aside program for the Fort Washington Way project that council passed on an 8-1 vote this week.
For the mad-as-hell, anti-tax crowd, he has been front and center in the minority opposition to the plan to raise the admissions tax to provide money for Cincinnati's schools.
This puts him in the same camp with Republican Councilman Charles Winburn, who, no doubt, sees himself as a mayoral contender in 1999 as well. If so, he won't be able to run against Mr. Portune by calling hm Mr. Tax-and-Spend Liberal.
For those who are worried about the corruption of money in politics; he is the author of Cincinnati's campaign contribution limit and spending limit laws, both of which are under attack in the federal courts.
But his best act lately may be his idea for a voter referendum this fall on where the Cincinnati Reds ballpark should be located.
At first, Mr. Portune, a backer of the Broadway Commons site, contemplated a referendum for city voters only, but that idea was almost universally dismissed as loopy since it is Hamilton County, not the city of Cincinnati, which is negotiating with the Reds.
But Mr. Portune can brake on a dime; and now he and Broadway Commons advocate Jim Tarbell are busy gathering 26,800 signatures for a county-wide referendum which they believe will force the hand of the county commissioners, a majority of whom are partial to the riverfront "wedge" site.
Lost in all this seems to be the fact that there is no reason to believe that the Reds will agree to Broadway Commons
But this is a campaign, dad gum it, and we have yet to see a campaign that is slowed down by trifling things like reality.
Howard Wilkinson covers local politics for The Enquirer.