Sunday, May 21, 2000

Parkinson's new race for Pete Strauss

        Pete Strauss, former Cincinnati vice mayor, interrupts himself three or four times to wave at people, as he tucks into an English muffin and bacon at the Echo in Hyde Park. He is having no trouble with his hands just now. He buttoned the cuffs of his crisp white and blue pin-striped shirt and tied the tight Windsor knot in his silk necktie. It has been a good morning.

        Right around the time of his 50th birthday, eight years ago, he tried to make some handwritten notes. And couldn't. Then he started limping. “I'm a little hard pressed to remember the symptoms,” he says. “This disease is so unpredictable, things kept changing.”

        Unpredictable. Parkinson's is also progressive and incurable. Billy Graham suffers from it. So do Muhammad Ali and Pope John Paul II and Janet Reno. And, lately, of course, Michael J. Fox.

Perilous waters
        “Everybody is different,” Pete says. “I never had the tremors. I just — I just would freeze up. My body wouldn't go where my mind told it to. Nothing hurts. My hands just don't work sometimes.” He occasionally has difficulty walking.

        He takes 18 pills a day. Those pills allow him to work, which he is proud to do. He left Graydon Head & Ritchey two years ago and practices law on his own and serves “on a ton of boards.”

        Oh, and he says he's a consultant. By that, I think he means he guides others through the perilous waters of Cincinnati politics, where he swam most of his adult life.

        In his 12 years on Cincinnati's City Council, he got some things done and tilted at a few windmills. My personal favorite in the latter category was a proposal that any new lease with the Bengals should include a performance clause.

        Pete left office in 1993, the victim of term limits. He toiled on the Year 2000 Report and its 1990 revision. He worked on campaign reform, housing, downtown development and zoning. He trolled for votes at bowling alleys and bingo parlors and waved from the back seats of convertibles during parades. He ate rubber chicken and knocked on doors.

        “I thought it was fun. I got to know a lot of people. I hope they believed I was always straight up with them.”

A clean fight
        As we are leaving the restaurant, he automatically moves to put himself between me and the curb — an old-fashioned gesture, much like struggling to his feet when a woman stopped by our table. “Don't get up,“ she says.

        She is wasting her breath.

        “A gentleman,” says Pete's first political opponent, former Hamilton County commissioner Bob Wood. “A hard fighter but a class candidate.”

        Fellow attorney Kent Wellington says, “He fights for the underdog, isn't afraid to take a stand.”

        And this gallant man — this thoroughly decent public servant — is still fighting, but his race now is against time. He's grateful, he says, that Michael J. Fox has captured the public's attention. “I'm a lot more confident that this disease will be dealt with. It used to be way down on the list.”

        We parted at the corner, and I watched him make his way down the street. Not looking back. Listing slightly. But very straight up.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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