Sunday, January 09, 2000

Poor Portune: Political luck goes other way




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's a scene in Primary Colors, the movie made from a roman a clef about how Bill Clinton became president, when a panic-stricken campaign aide runs up to the candidate in a men's room and tells the candidate there is a pregnant teen-ager who claims he is the father of her child.

        Man, says John Travolta, in the “Clinton” role, I can't catch a break.

        Politicians, from the dawn of time, have moaned about how the fates have treated them. I shoulda been a contender. I coulda been president.

        We have known many of them who were utterly convinced that the entire world — nay, the universe — was conspiring to squash their ambitions; that nothing bad that happened to them ever had the slightest thing to do with their own actions.

        Most of them are are just people in heavy denial, but every once in a while, you run into one who just might be entitled to his or her own persecution complex.

        Todd Portune, the Democratic Cincinnati city councilman, may be one of them.

        This guy really can't catch a break.

        A year ago this time, Mr. Portune was busy putting together his council re-election campaign, and the outlook was rosy, indeed.

        He was the odds-on favorite to be the top vote-getter and, thus, the mayor. Nobody believed a Republican councilman could be the top vote-getter in an increasingly Democratic city.

        If Mr. Portune could win the top vote-getter spot in the 1999 council election, he would be the clear front-runner for 2001, when the new direct mayoral election system kicks into place.

        Nobody knew for sure then that, by mid-year, Charlie Luken would have a mid-life career crisis and leave TV news to run for council.

        From the moment Mr. Luken announced in June, there was no question who would be mayor, and it would not be Todd Portune.

        Mr. Portune was elected to his fourth term on council — a term that will be his last under the city's term limits law. He had to start looking around for other employment opportunities in the public sector, and several presented themselves.

        Mr. Portune was wooed to run for Congress against Republican incumbent Steve Chabot. But, while the Democratic councilman might have been born at night, it wasn't last night, so he dropped that idea.

        Running for Hamilton County commissioner was quite another kettle of fish, though. Republican Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus is running for re-election this year after negotiating a stadium contract with the Bengals in which the taxpayers seem to be stuck with everything short of going down to Paul Brown Stadium after the games and sweeping up the beer cups and hot dog wrappers.

        Mr. Bedinghaus looked ripe for the picking. So Friday, Mr. Portune filed petitions to run for that office.

        The only problem was there was already a Democratic candidate running, the ubiquitous Marilyn Hyland of Indian Hill, who ran for commissioner two years ago and lost.

        The Democratic Party leadership wants Ms. Hyland to go away, but she apparently will not. She is one persistent cuss, and campaigns like a whirling dervish. She will go anywhere and do anything. She will mow your lawn. She'll tie balloon animals at your kid's birthday party. She'll pick up your dry cleaning and put your trash out on Tuesday, just to win your vote.

        Now, she says she will do one of two things — either run against Mr. Portune in the March 7 primary, or — worse yet for Mr. Portune — file as an independent candidate for the general election, which might siphon off enough votes to utterly ruin any chance Mr. Portune had of knocking off the Republican incumbent.

        Mr. Portune must be wondering what it is he did to deserve this. We'd bet that whatever it was, he's ready to promise to never do it again.

        E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

       



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