Will Qualls stand by her man?
Mayor's choice: President vs. women's club

Sunday, August 30, 1998

You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends.

In life, friends are a wonderful thing to have, because they are always there when you need them.

But in politics, which is a form of life, they can be a burden, because they are always there.

Lyndon Johnson, who knew something about politics, had a lot of Democratic politician friends, but he always gave them an option on whether they needed his help.

I'll come to your state and campaign, if it would help you get elected, LBJ would tell Democratic congressmen. If it would help you get beat, I'll stay at home.

Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District, has many friends in politics; otherwise, she would not have come this far. Among them is the president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Back in March -- long before the president's grand jury testimony and when Mr. Clinton was in his finger-wagging I-did-not-have-sexual-relations- with-that-woman mode -- Ms. Qualls was delighted to see Air Force One wing its way to Cincinnati for a $10,000 per couple Democratic fund-raiser at the Amberley Village home of lawyer Stan Chesley.

That day, she was there on the tarmac when the big plane rolled up; she bounded up the ramp and huddled with the president before walking off the plane at the president's side, before a battery of TV cameras. At the fund-raising dinner, she was front and center, accepting the applause and admiration of the assembled money-bags.

But that was then. This is now.

The Democrats have picked up the scent of money, and that means Mr. Clinton is on his way back to Cincinnati for yet another Democratic fund-raiser on Sept. 17, hosted once again by Mr. Chesley.

Things have changed since March. We have learned considerably more since then about what a learning experience it can be to be an intern in the Clinton White House. We have seen the president go on national television and fess up, sort of. We anxiously await a report from the independent counsel that could trigger impeachment proceedings in Congress.

Life has become infinitely more complicated -- not only for Mr. Clinton, but for his political friends.

Particularly those who are locked in steel-cage death matches for congressional seats.

At first, Ms. Qualls, when asked about the president's problems, seemed to be the only person in North America who had not formed an opinion on the subject. Later, she allowed as how the whole thing was "incredibly unfortunate" for Mr. Clinton and his family.

But when the question arose of the Sept. 17 fund-raiser in Cincinnati and whether she would repeat her performance from March and stick to the president's side like white on rice, a campaign aide said there were some potential scheduling conflicts and that the candidate might not be able to attend Mr. Chesley's fund-raiser. It was the kind of response that probably makes the White House spin-meisters, who have their hands full already, cringe.

Immediately, the speculation began in political circles about what it might be that Ms. Qualls just had to do on Sept. 17 that would keep her away from the president of the United States.

What excuse could she possibly have? I have to take the dog in for a flea dip. Gotta mail those packages before the Christmas rush. Big sale on dental floss at Walgreen's.

What could it be?

As it turns out, the mayor has two speaking engagements that day -- a panel discussion on HMOs at the Woman's City Club, and a speech to women real estate agents.

Worthy of her attention, no doubt. But if the president were coming to your house, you'd tidy up and be there when the doorbell rang.

Later in the week, Ms. Qualls said that, of course, she would like to see the president and will try to rearrange her schedule to make sure that happens.

Well, if you want to tick off the Woman's City Club, go right ahead.

Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388. Or e-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com