Monday, July 24, 2000

Prosecutor's death leaves political gap

Democrats must replace Holcomb

By Janice Morse and Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County prosecutor's race, the county's most high-profile political campaign in some time, heads into uncertain territory after Prosecutor John F. Holcomb's death Saturday.

        The county Democratic Party must choose someone to at least temporarily fill the seat Mr. Holcomb occupied for 27 years.

        The party also must decide who will compete against Republican Robin Piper in the Butler Democrats' attempt to retain their only countywide elected office.

        “He's been the Democratic standard bearer for a long, long time,” Don Daiker, chairman of the county's Democratic Executive Committee, said about Mr. Holcomb Sunday. Mr. Holcomb died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at the River Downs horse race track in Anderson Township.

        “The loss of John Holcomb hurts the county,” said Mr. Daiker. “This is one of the preeminent prosecutors in the state. This is a blow to every citizen of Butler County — Democrat, Republican or independent."

        Mr. Daiker said that under Ohio election laws, the Democrats' Central Committee must decide who will serve the remaining five months of Mr. Holcomb's term and whose name will appear on the November general election ballot. He said it is too early to tell whether the party would choose the same person to fulfill both roles, but he expected that the committee would meet within two to three weeks.

        Although most people were reluctant to speculate publicly on possible choices so soon, county political observers seem to agree that at least four people — all current assistant prosecutors — are likely nominees: Mr. Holcomb's son, John M. Holcomb; Dan Gattermeyer; Kathy Romans; and Mr. Hol comb's longtime first assistant, Dan Eichel, who ran for a county judgeship in 1998.

        “We're (Mr. Holcomb's office staff) all so upset. We just want to get though the funeral,” said Ms. Romans Sunday night, declining further comment on whether she's interested in being a candidate.

        Calls to Mr. Gattermeyer and Mr. Eichel were not returned.

        Joe Statzer, the county Republican Party's political director, said he hopes that whoever is chosen to run against Mr. Piper will agree to wage a “clean” campaign.

        “Robin Piper would like to run a race based on the issues and not negative personal attacks,” Mr. Statzer said, adding that so far Mr. Piper has been unable to gain much attention on his ideas for how the prosecutor's office should be run.

        Mr. Piper did not return phone calls Sunday.

        Mr. Holcomb came under Mr. Piper's fire for accepting — or, some say, insisting upon — campaign contributions from his employees.

        Then Mr. Holcomb at tacked Mr. Piper's 1981 minor misdemeanor citation for marijuana use.

        The controversies in the campaign thus far “might have meant (Mr. Holcomb) got fewer votes than usual, but I think he would have won,” said Democratic Central Committee Chairman Fred Sennett, a Middletown city councilman.

        Whatever happens now, “I think it's going to mean a very bleak year (for Democrats) unless something dramatic happens,” Mr. Sennett said.


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