Sunday, May 16, 1999

Charterites are big losers

Directly elected mayor a nail in party's coffin

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Before we close the book on Issue 4, the Cincinnati charter amendment that will bring the city a directly elected mayor two years from now, let's take a look at the winners and losers from an odd little campaign:

        The Charter Committee: Big losers.

        Back in February, when Build Cincinnati, the group that wanted the charter reform, was trying to put together six votes on city council to put a plan on the ballot, they very much needed to bring the Charter Committee on board.

        After all, Charterites are the direct descendants of the original reformers of the 1920s who threw out the bosses and brought the city its council-manager form of government.

        Charter has had the self-righteousness market cornered for decades; they see themselves as the preservers of purity and protectors of Good Government.

        With Charter neutralized, Build Cincinnati could campaign for a semi-strong, directly elected mayor without being sniped at by the do-gooder crowd.

        So they gave the Charterites something that resembled a council-manager form of government and a nonpartisan primary for mayor, and the Charter Committee jumped on board.

        Or, more likely, they climbed inside the coffin and nailed it shut from the inside.

        Charter has one of nine council members now. It is hard to imagine, under this new system, how they would get any more.

        They won't go away com pletely. After all, there are still a handful of Shakers left in the world, and, as far as we know, Charterites have no rules against procreation.

        But chances are that under this new system, their function will be reduced to what they like to call cross-endorsing. No, that's not something you're likely to see on Jerry Springer. Cross-endorsing means other parties — the Democrats and Republicans — run candidates for council and mayor and the Charterites add their endorsement to them, so that, if they win, they can claim to have influenced city politics.

        The Democrats: They lose, too, but not as big.

        A lot of Democrats couldn't figure out why party co-chairman Tim Burke and others were so gung-ho for changing the system, when, in fact, the Democrats have won majorities in the last three elections and have had a Democrat be come mayor in every election since 1987.

        If it ain't broke, the Democratic opponents of Issue 4 said, don't fix it.

        What we will have in September of 2001 is a field race for mayor. Anybody can join in the fun. Democrat, Republican or Charterite. The top two willfinishers in the primary will face each other in the fall.

        “Internal discipline” and “Democratic Party” being mutually exclusive terms, a host of Democrats will run in the mayoral primary, split up the vote, and give the Republicans a leg up in the fall campaign.

        The Republicans: They hit the Lotto with this one.

        Call them what you will, but Cincinnati Republicans are disciplined. They will find a single mayoral candidate; they will wrap the party machinery around that candidate; and they will go to the suits in the business world, who will write checks trailing lots of zeroes to give that one Republican mayoral candidate all the money he or she needs to win.

        All the while, the Democrats, with their plethora of mayoral candidates, will be doing their imitation of the Donner Pass party.

        What the Republicans bought with Issue 4 was a chance — and a darn good one — to survive in a city that is becoming, nominally at least, more and more Democratic with each passing year.

        No more wasting time and money trying to buy a majority on a nine-member council.

        One-stop shopping.

        Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at


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