Friday, August 18, 2000

WILKINSON: A new decade

Celestes invisible in L.A.

        LOS ANGELES — There was a time not so long ago when it would have been inconceivable that an Ohio delegation to a Democratic National Convention would include someone named Celeste who faded into the woodwork.

        The Ohio Democrats managed to do it this week.

        Back in the good old days of Ohio Democratic politics, when the Ohioans gathered in San Francisco in 1984 and Atlanta in 1988 for their party's convention, a Celeste was clearly in charge — Richard F. Celeste, governor of Ohio from 1983 to 1991.

        Dick Celeste was the star of those delegations — the high potentate, the crown prince, the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night.

        But Dick Celeste is gone, halfway around the world as Bill Clinton's ambassador to India and a decade removed from the Ohio political stage.

        In his place is his brother, Ted Celeste, a fellow who grew up around politics but never grabbed for the brass ring himself. Not until this year, that is — he is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Mike DeWine.

First campaign

               Ted Celeste has never run for office before; he is a businessman in Columbus and served on the Ohio State University board of trustees, who are, as you imagine, appointed by governors.

        The polls in Ohio have his candidacy crashing like a Pacific Palisades beach house in a California earthquake; unless something changes and changes fast, Mr. DeWine will bury him without a trace.

        Dick Celeste used to be the life of the party at these events, but his brother Ted has been scarcely visible. On most days he has made the rounds of the tables at the Ohio delegation breakfasts, cheerfully shaking hands and introducing himself to the delegates from Jackson and Bucyrus and Pomeroy.

A hard worker

               Ted Celeste is relentlessly cheerful, optimistic, upbeat about the Herculean task before him; he will, if nothing else, outwork every other candidate in Ohio this year.

        It is not his fault that this year's Senate campaign in Ohio is not turning out the way it was supposed to be.

        Mr. DeWine was supposed to be in a heap o' trouble at this point, beset by an electorate upset by his role in the impeachment of President Clinton and furious over his fraternizing with the right wing congressional leadership of his party.

        But it would seem that impeachment seems as remote to Ohio voters as the sinking of the Maine, and those who do remember seem to think Mr. DeWine was right. The senior senator has staked out a moderate Republican position that makes him a difficult target for those who want to turn him into Newt Jr.

        All of which means Ted Celeste has a difficult mountain to climb.

        But the delegates here are hanging on to their “Celeste for Senate” bumper stickers. They'll be great collector's items one day.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.