Sunday, January 07, 2001

Clinton mined funds, feelings here


Regime aided troubled pockets of southern Ohio

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A limousine ride on Sept. 17, 1998, probably defined Bill Clinton's relationship with the Tristate the best.

        On that day, the 42nd president of the United States bounded down the steps of Air Force One at the DHL Express terminal, shook hands and patted the shoulders of a knot of local Democratic officials there to greet him. Then he hopped in a limousine for a half-hour motorcade ride to the Amberley Village home of lawyer Stan Chesley.

        Over the next five hours in Cincinnati, Bill Clinton saw hundreds of people lining the motorcade route, evenly split between those screaming for his impeachment and those cheering his presence. He had lunch at the Chesley home with about 40 support ers who had paid $10,000 each to the Democratic Party for the chance to dine with him, and walked unannounced through the streets of Over-the-Rhine around Findlay Market, picking up a burgeoning crowd of neighborhood folks, mostly African-Americans, who were ecstatic to see him.

        In other words, for Mr. Clinton, Cincinnati and the Tristate meant two things — a bottomless source of campaign money and a so-so source of votes.

        “I think he has touched this area in a lot of ways,” said Mr. Chesley, the nationally-known class-action lawyer who raised millions for the Democrats in the Clinton years and became the Cincinnatian with the closest ties and greatest access to the Clinton White House.

        “Some hated him; some loved him,” said Mr. Chesley, who was host for fund-raising events in Cincinnati featuring Mr. Clinton four times. “He draws that kind of reaction from people. He is what he is.”

        As a candidate, Mr. Clinton never did particularly well in the conservative, heavily Republican areas of southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

        While Mr. Clinton was disliked intensely by many in the heavily Republican suburbs, he was wildly popular in the city of Cincinnati.

        Most of the city is in the district of Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot — a district that gave Mr. Clinton a seven-point margin in his 1996 re-election campaign while at the same time re-electing the very conservative Mr. Chabot, who ended up in 1999 as one of the House impeachment managers who made the case against Mr. Clinton in his Senate trial.

        Mr. Chabot has never quite understood that.

        “I guess it is because there are a lot of Democrats in my district who end up voting for me,” Mr. Chabot said.

        U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, whose 6th District runs 250 miles from Warren County to Marietta, said that he believes his constituents are of two minds about Mr. Clinton.

        “A lot of them are angry and upset and disappointed in some of the behavior he displayed in the White House,” said Mr. Strickland. “But there is a recognition that he has paid attention to our part of the world.”

        Mr. Strickland credits the Clinton administration — “often with the president's personal involvement” — with helping his district, chronically plagued with unemployment and a shaky economy.

        The Clinton administration backed sending millions of federal dollars into southern Ohio for highway projects, Mr. Strickland said.

        And, Mr. Strickland said, when it appeared 1,900 employees of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant would lose their jobs in June, Mr. Clinton's Energy Department stepped in and put the plant on “stand-by” status instead of closing it.

        During most of the Clinton years, Cincinnati had a mayor in Roxanne Qualls who was well-connected to the administration and it paid off in terms of highway dollars and the creation of an “empowerment” in several disadvantaged Cincinnati neighborhoods.

        Still, whenever Mr. Clinton came to Cincinnati, it seemed to generate some kind of controversy.

        A March 1996 Clinton stop for a speech at Xavier University led Catholic right-to-life advocates to criticize leaders of the Jesuit school for inviting an abortion-rights advocate president to speak.

        Then, after Mr. Clinton returned for another Democratic fund-raiser in 1999, Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis tried to sue the Democratic National Committee for the $8,000 his department spent on presidential security.

        Through it all, Mr. Clinton maintained high public approval ratings in Ohio, hovering arounf 60 percent.

        The burgeoning economy and low unemployment account for Mr. Clinton's sustained popularity here and elsewhere, despite the scandals and impeachment that are also part of the Clinton legacy, said Norman Thomas, retired professor of political science at UC.

        “Some wag put it best when he said that people vote Dow Jones, not Paula Jones,” Mr. Thomas said.

       



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