Sunday, February 18, 2001

Just how far can the 'guy next door' go?

        If you borrowed your neighbor's garden hose last summer and forgot to give it back, you'd better do it now. Before the Republican Party appoints him to Cincinnati City Council. Then, he could probably send a police cruiser looking for it.

        This past week, Cincinnati bade farewell to The Hardest Working Man in Show Business and said hello to The Guy Next Door.

        Council's resident showman, Charlie Winburn, was in his last term because of the city's term limits law. And while you might think that his future lies in improvisational comedy
or running a guerrilla theater troupe, he left this week to take an appointment to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

        Chosen by the Hamilton County Republican Party was a 32-year-old engineer, Chris Monzel.

        Mr. Monzel is a bright, affable, well-spoken young fellow, the sort of neighborly guy you might expect to see chairing the meeting at your local community council. In fact, he has done that, as vice president of the Winton Place Community Council.

        He is not Charlie Winburn's Mini-Me. It is hard to imagine him trooping through neighborhoods with a bullhorn, as Mr. Winburn was wont to do.

        He seems like pretty much a normal guy, a guy who might lean over the backyard fence and offer you his Matchlight when your grill won't start.

        Mr. Monzel has run for council once before — in 1999, as an endorsed Republican candidate. He received 9,486 votes, which sounds pretty good, unless you take into account that it took at least 23,241 votes to get elected.

        There was some grumbling over Mr. Monzel's appointment, because the Republicans decided to replace Mr. Winburn, who is African-American, with Mr. Monzel, who is not.

        But these are Republicans we are talking about; and their options when it comes to appointing African-Americans are somewhat limited. They could have chosen Todd Ward, a young black candidate who ran in 1997, but he has somehow gotten on the wrong side of some big-time Republicans — looked cross-eyed at them or something — and was passed over, although he is likely to be on the GOP council slate this year.

        Mr. Monzel is well liked by the party establishment; they believe he could be the next Steve Chabot — an earnest, hard-working young politician who will shake more hands than anybody else. He had only $22,683 to spend in 1999 — a pittance in council politics — but the GOP establishment is sure to shower him with cash in 2001.

        But closing that huge 14,000-vote gap between winning and losing will be difficult for Mr. Monzel. It speaks volumes about the trouble the GOP has in an increasingly Democratic city when a fellow who got only 9,468 votes last time is their best hope of holding on to a council seat.

        Even if he is the guy next door.

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