Saturday, June 30, 2001

Mayor hopefuls offer contrasts

GOP may hold key for Luken, Fuller

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If Charlie Luken and Courtis Fuller were to poll the city's most experienced political strategists on how they should run their mayoral campaigns, they would each get the same advice:

        Play the hand you are dealt.

        For Mr. Fuller, 44, who quit his job as a WLWT-TV (Channel 5) news anchor to plunge headlong into his first political campaign, that means running as the new face, the nonpolitician who has not been part of the problem and who can bring a fresh perspective to find the solutions.

        For Mr. Luken, 49, also a former TV news anchor and owner of one of the most potent political names in Cincinnati history, it means running on his experience and knowledge of the city, of the system, and of how to get things done.

        “They are going to be chasing after the same constituencies — white and black, east side and west side — so they are going to have to each play to their strengths,” said Jerry Galvin, who has worked as a campaign media strategist for Cincinnati politicians, mostly Democrats, for decades.

        The two former news anchors are going to have to finish first and second in a four-candidate field in the Sept. 11 mayoral primary if they are to go head-to-head in the fall.

        But with the two other candidates — Bill Brodberger of Madisonville and Michael D. Riley of Evanston — having nearly no name recognition and no experience as candidates, most think it will be a Luken-Fuller contest.

        While both are Democrats, Mr. Luken is endorsed by the Democratic Party and has raised money since the start of the year. Mr. Fuller only Wednesday jumped into the race with the backing of the Charter Committee and had nominating petitions verified Friday.

        The primary and general election ballots are officially nonpartisan.

        Mr. Luken is white and Mr. Fuller is African-American, a fact that takes on added significance in a city trying to recover from April's riots.

        Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University who has run political campaigns in Cincinnati, said he wonders whether a Luken-Fuller contest would turn into a “black-white vote.”

        Since the Republican Party has no mayoral candidate, the contest, Mr. Beaupre said, might come down to what Republican voters are going to do.

        What they have done in the past is save one of their nine City Council votes for Mr. Luken, and the Democratic incumbent might have to focus on “making sure they stay with him,” Mr. Beaupre said. “I suspect Charlie's message is going to be more conservative.”

        “But Charlie can't write off African-American voters,” Mr. Beaupre said. “Many of them have voted for candidates named Luken for years. He has to go in there, hold his head high and talk to the same people he has always talked to.”

        Mr. Galvin said he agreed, saying the incumbent mayor is going to have to tell black voters that “I've been your friend forever and I need you now.”        

Charter label not much help

        If Mr. Fuller is as popular with black voters as the traffic on black radio talk shows this week suggests, he could cut into one of the Democratic incumbent's natural constituencies.

        The Charter label, Mr. Galvin and Mr. Beaupre say, won't help much.

        “There aren't that many Charterites out there and they don't have any ward or precinct organization to help him,” Mr. Beaupre said.

        “Courtis should accept the backing and support of Charter and pay no attention to any tactical advice they give him,” Mr. Galvin said. “They don't have a good record of electing people lately.”

        For Mr. Luken, Mr. Galvin said, the key will be convincing voters he is the candidate with the experience to deal with the city's problems.

        “He needs to exploit his deep knowledge of politics in general and Cincinnati in specific,” Mr. Galvin said.

        On the other hand, Mr. Fuller, as a TV personality who was never before seen by the public as a political creature, should run a “Jesse Ventura-like campaign, as the outsider, the fresh face, the guy who is different.”

        “Stay philosophical, stay general, don't debate specifics with Charlie Luken because he will eat you for lunch,” Mr. Galvin said. “That's what I'd tell Courtis.”

        Fred Nelson, former chief of staff to Republican Rep. Steve Chabot and co-founder of Civic Solutions, a public policy consulting firm, said he strongly disagrees with the suggestion that Mr. Fuller should avoid specifics.

        “He needs to quickly let people know that he has an idea of where he thinks the city should go and where he stands on some basic issues,” Mr. Nelson said.

        Mr. Nelson said Mr. Fuller could help himself, particularly among conservative white voters, by staking out positions on a few issues that would allow him to “run to the right of Charlie Luken.”

        “He could come out and question why the city should subsidize an elect store like Saks Fifth Avenue to the tune of millions of taxpayers' dollars,” Mr. Nelson said. “That would have a lot of appeal.”        

Race shouldn't be a factor

        Mr. Nelson said he thinks there is no point in either candidate targeting black or white voters.

        “They need to be saying the same thing to all people in the city because most people, black or white, want the same things — basic services, government that makes sense, sound management, safe streets,” Mr. Nelson said. “There's no point in making this a racial vote.”

        Mr. Beaupre said he, too, thinks Mr. Fuller won't be able to depend only on increasing black voter turnout and winning the election without substantial white support.

        “He's got to try to work the margins among white voters,” Mr. Beaupre said.

        Aaron Herzig, a Democrat who is Mr. Nelson's partner in Civic Solutions, said he agrees that both candidates should focus on “making this a contest of ideas.”

        “Courtis can bring a fresh perspective to things and Charlie has the practical experience,” Mr. Herzig said. “It should be a good debate.”


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