BY SANDY THEIS
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Former Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste is expected to be nominated for U.S. ambassador to India and will not seek statewide office in 1998, Democratic Party officials said Monday.
"The president is expected to make an announcement very soon," said a high-ranking Democrat with close ties to Mr. Celeste.
Mr. Celeste, 60, could not be reached for comment. His nomination would be subject to Senate confirmation.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Leland said he is aware that Mr. Celeste's nomination is imminent, although he has not spoken with him about it.
When asked whether the appointment indicates Mr. Celeste is not running for office next year, Mr. Leland replied: "I assume that's a safe assumption."
He said he remains confident Democrats will field a strong slate of candidates and predicted Mr. Celeste would succeed as the nation's next ambassador to India.
"He'll make a great ambassador, and I'm sure he'll represent the United States with honor and acclaim," Mr. Leland said.
Mr. Celeste lived in India in the mid-1960s.
After serving as a staff liaison for the Peace Corps in 1963, Mr. Celeste was appointed executive assistant to Chester Bowles, then ambassador to India.
After four years in New Delhi, he returned to Cleveland, his hometown, and joined his father's housing business. Mr. Celeste served as Peace Corps director for 22 months under President Carter, then returned to Ohio to plan his 1982 campaign for governor.
Mr. Celeste was Ohio's governor from 1983 to January 1991. After leaving office, he opened an international consulting business. Early last year, Mr. Celeste signaled an interest in a political comeback when he asked friends and financial backers to contribute $10,000 for polling and other services needed to assess a possible statewide campaign.
An Ohio Poll in April showed Mr. Celeste the clear favorite of Democratic Party primary voters for either governor or U.S. senator over a field of far lesser-known potential candidates. The same poll also showed many voters held a negative view of him.
His apparent exodus from the statewide stage leaves Democrats continuing their search for top-tier candidates for 1998 ticket. Republicans appear poised to have two well-known and popular figures to head their ticket - Gov. George Voinovich for the U.S. Senate and Secretary of State Bob Taft for governor.
Former Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher is the Democrats' clear front-runner for governor. Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Mary Boyle is the Democrats' all-but-announced candidate for U.S. Senate, although polls show few voters know who she is.