Sunday, August 20, 2000

Police endorsements create a stir

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Three police groups have taken endorsement votes in the Butler County prosecutor's race this year — with significant effects on the groups, and perhaps on the candidates.

        “Generally, that's the type of endorsement that's going to sway voters, especially in a race for (prosecutor),” said Andrew Serwin, general counsel for, a Web site that provides and solicits political opinions and information. “In general, I think political endorsements are probably becoming more important ... and more groups are giving endorse ments because of the decreasing incidence of party-line voting.”

        So far, West Chester Township's Fraternal Order of Police lodge is the only group to make a clear choice. In a vote in early August, that group endorsed former assistant county prosecutor Robin Piper. He's the Republican facing Democrat Dan Gattermeyer, an assistant prosecutor who was appointed to head the office after the July 22 death of longtime prosecutor John F. Holcomb.

        On Aug. 15, the Middletown FOP endorsed both candidates as “qualified.” But earlier in the year, before Mr. Holcomb's death, the Hamilton FOP endorsed neither Mr. Holcomb nor Mr. Piper.

        As a result of the endorsement process, the West Chester FOP was strengthened — and the Hamilton FOP was so divided, the group has been debating whether to discontinue the endorsement practice.

        “Politics is a necessary evil,” said David Tivin, chairman of the West Chester FOP's political screening committee. “When we're in uniform, working, there's no room for politics ... but as an FOP, we think it's a good idea for us to have some say in a race that's going to

        directly affect us.”

        He said many of the lodge's 60 members attended the meeting, where Mr. Piper and Mr. Gattermeyer gave presentations, but declined to reveal what either candidate said. Detective Sgt. Tivin said the lodge focused on what each candidate could do for police in the newly renamed community whose clout is growing. “We're an impact player in the county,” he said.

        The lodge's membership became more cohesive by reaching an agreement on its endorsements, he said.

        But the county's largest police group, the 400-member Hamilton FOP, has suffered bitter fallout after its decision to give no endorsement.

        “Politics started tearing us apart,” said Officer Brian Robinson, president of the lodge representing at least eight law-enforcement agencies, including the prosecutor's office, the city of Hamilton and the Butler County Sheriff's Office. “A lot of FOPs have stopped doing endorsements because of that ... we're a fraternal organization first and foremost.”

        A schism developed because some sheriff's employees were upset that Mr. Holcomb didn't receive the lodge's endorsement; there are still rumblings about sheriff's personnel splitting off into their own lodge.

        In Middletown, Mr. Piper and Mr. Gattermeyer were endorsed because “these are people that are known to us,” said Detective Dan McGill, referring to both men's experience as assistant prosecutors.

        Still, controversy arose.

        During Aug. 7 interviews, Middletown FOP members asked if the candidates favored random drug testing of prosecutor's office personnel — and both said they saw no problem with it, said Detective McGill, chairman of the lodge's political screening committee.

        But news articles two days later quoted Mr. Gattermeyer denouncing the idea as an insult to the prosecutor's employees.

        In an interview Friday, Mr. Gattermeyer denied making contradictory statements. “I told the Middletown FOP (the same thing) I said publicly a week before their endorsement vote,” he said.

        Mr. Gattermeyer said he was glad to have the Middletown FOP's endorsement, although he wasn't sure how much impact it would have on voters.

        Mr. Piper said he thinks the FOP endorsement is probably more important in a prosecutor's race than in any other political contest. “That's because the public realizes that police see prosecutors work behind-the-scenes,” he said. “They know the police know what you're really like when you do battle.”

        Bob Stein, dean of social sciences at Rice University in Houston, says there have been few studies done on the impact of endorsements in local races. But there is some evidence indicating endorsements have the most impact in local races that are little publicized.

        “Endorsements can make a big difference when people are hungry for information,” he said.

        Mr. Stein said it's hard to tell what effect the endorsements can have on a race like the highly publicized Butler prosecutor's race, which has had a lot of twists and turns.

        The Butler race, he said, certainly seems unusual because “most races for district attorney (prosecutor) are dozers.”

        Steve Kemme contributed to this report.


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