Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Luken kicks off mayor campaign

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        All it took was a look around the hotel ballroom where Democrat Charlie Luken launched his mayoral candidacy Monday morning to see why potential opponents aren't knocking each other over for the chance to take him on.

        It was a room where all the Democratic mayor had to do was put a plate of fruit and rolls in front of about 700 people and, in the space of an hour, walk away with about $200,000 — more than he spent in the 1999 campaign.

        It was a room where Democrats like State Sen. Mark Mallory and Republicans like former Ohio Sen.
President Stanley Aronoff broke bread together; where lawyers from downtown law firms sat at tables next to neighborhood activists; where the home builders association sat cheek to jowl with the building trade unions.

        “He is the one politician who bridges the gaps,” said John Williams, the outgoing president of the Cincinnati Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Consensus builder'

               In a political career that goes back more than 20 years — with a five-year gap as a TV news anchor — Mr. Luken has developed a reputation as a politician who lives on Republican and Democratic votes.

        “He has built a career on being a consensus builder,” said Tim Burke, co-chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. “He can get along with Republicans and stick to his Democratic issues.

        “Charlie can be an advocate for ending racial profiling, making the Democrats happy, and support downtown development, making the Republicans happy.”

        With this year bringing the first direct mayoral election in Cincinnati in more than 75 years, that combination of Republican money and Democratic votes is one that has the Republican Party and the Charter Committee scrambling to come up with candidates to run against Mr. Luken in the Sept. 11 mayoral primary election.

Opposition unclear

               The Republicans and the Charterites say they will field candidates, but neither party has a clear idea who those candidates will be.

        Two years ago, Mr. Luken returned to politics and ran in the last council election under the old system, where the top vote-getter became


        Mr. Luken won the top spot easily, as he did in 1987 and 1989, during his first stint on City Council.

        But the mayor's office Mr. Luken is running for this time is vastly different from the one he holds now and held before.

        A charter amendment approved by Cincinnati voters in 1999 did more than establish a separate election. It will also greatly enhance the mayor's power, giving the mayor the ability to choose a city manager (with the consent of a council majority), veto council legislation and appoint council members to committee chairmanships.

        “A quasi-strong mayor,” is how Mr. Luken describes the job he is running for.

        The new job, Mr. Luken said, will “raise people's expectations for city hall. They will expect action.”

        Monday morning, Mr. Luken held a campaign kickoff fund-raising breakfast at the Westin Hotel where individuals paid $150 each and political action committees (PACs), both labor and business, paid $1,500 for a table.

        Developer Thomas Humes, who helped organize the event, said that when all the checks come in, Mr. Luken's mayoral campaign will have raised about $200,000 — more than the $184,343 he spent two years ago.

        “He's demonstrating his strength with that kind of money,” said Mr. Burke. “It sends a signal.”

        Much of the money that came in Monday's fund-raiser was from a myriad of business and labor PACs, many of the same groups that have supported him in past campaigns.

        Two years ago, Mr. Luken re ceived $24,600 from various labor unions, including $7,650 from the Southwest Ohio District Council of Carpenters.

        Financier Carl Lindner was Mr. Luken's biggest single contributor — he gave Mr. Luken's campaign $25,000. Business PACs representing utilities, law firms, home builders, apartment owners, among others, kicked in another $15,700.

        Many of the same PACs, business and labor, were represented at the fund-raising breakfast. While they may end up giving to other candidates as well, Mr. Luken got their support first.

        Michael Barrett, the lawyer expected to take over today as the new Hamilton County GOP chairman, said the Republicans plan to run a candidate.

        But the most visible GOP politicians have bowed out, including the three incumbent GOP councilmen, Phil Heimlich, Charles Win burn and Pat DeWine.

        Mr. Barrett said Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a former mayor, would make a formidable candidate, but Mr. Blackwell is mulling job possibilities with President Bush's administration.

        Jeff Cramerding, the Charter Committee's executive director, said there will “definitely” be a Charter candidate for mayor, although he does not know who that will be.

        “We think it's important that somebody challenge Charlie Luken, otherwise this election is just a coronation,” Mr. Cramerding said.

        But the array of people at Mr. Luken's initial fund-raiser and the amount of money it produced is likely to discourage most would-be candidates.

        “It would be uphill for anybody,” said Mr. Williams.


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