Friday, April 30, 1999

'Bought' mayor debated

Qualls, Yates differ over Issue 4 impact

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a live radio debate Thursday, Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman Tyrone Yates clashed over whether passage of Issue 4 next week will mean future mayors end up being “bought” by special interests.

        Appearing on the Speaking Frankly call-in show on WNKU-FM (89.7), Mr. Yates argued that direct election of the mayor will mean that special interests, particularly business, will be able to spend “outsized” amounts to elect a mayor to do their bidding.

        “Big business will be able to buy one mayor and get nine council members for free,” Mr. Yates said. He heads up the opposition to the charter amendment on Tuesday's ballot.

        Ms. Qualls, the three-term mayor who has been one of the most visible proponents of Issue 4, called Mr. Yates' suggestion “really offensive.”

        “The fact is, there is already big money in this race,” Ms. Qualls said.

        Under the current system, where the top vote-getter in the council race becomes mayor, candidates who think they have a shot at the job spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to run first. She pointed out that in 1997 she spent over $300,000 herself.

        “It is wrong to suggest that people who are trying to be mayor of this city are bought and paid for by anybody,” Ms. Qualls said.

        Mr. Yates said Issue 4 has substantial support from Cincinnati's business community. But Ms. Qualls said the support for the issue is “broad-based, including Democrats, Republicans, Charterites, labor people, African-Americans, people from all walks of life.”

        If passed, the issue would be the most substantial change in Cincinnati's form of government since the 1920s.

        In addition to direct election of the mayor, it would give the mayor a four-year term and additional powers.

        The mayor would not be a member of council but would have veto power over council legislation, subject to override by six council members. The mayor also could appoint all council committee chairs. The mayor would also initiate the hiring and firing of the city manager, but would need the consent of a majority of the nine-member city council.

        When Ms. Qualls suggested the new system would give the mayor the “tools” to implement an agenda for the city, Mr. Yates said Issue 4 “goes much farther than that.”

        “It's not just a few tools; it's the whole tool shop,” Mr. Yates said. “It would give an inordinate amount of power to one person, the mayor.”

        Ms. Qualls argued that a mayor directly elected on a specific set of promises needs additional powers.

        “What would be the purpose of directly electing a mayor if that person does not have the authority to implement an agenda?” Ms. Qualls said.


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