Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Neyer won't make 2nd run

But he'll finish commission term

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. said Tuesday he won't seek re-election in 2002, but won't be leaving until his four-year term is finished.

        “I can't do the work of being a commissioner and run for office at the same time,” the 35-year-old Republican real estate developer said. “It's too much.”

        Mr. Neyer's decision means the 2002 race for commissioner will give Democrats an opportunity to win a majority on the three-member board that has long been dominated by Republicans.

        Some in the Republican Party want Mr. Neyer to step down early to give a replacement a head start against a Democratic challenger.

        Republican Party Chairman Mike Barrett said he has no problem with Mr. Neyer staying in office until his term ends in January 2003.

        “He's got his agenda he wants to see through,” Mr. Barrett said. “He won't have to campaign. He can be the senior statesman over there.”

        One of the Republican Party's potential candidates, Cincinnati Councilman Phil Heimlich, said Tuesday he is giving “serious consideration” to running next year. Mr. Heimlich cannot run for re-election in Cincinnati because of term limits.

        State Sen. Mark Mallory, co-chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said the departure of Mr. Neyer and the prospect of an open seat offers Democrats “a unique opportunity.”

        “Surely, there are going to be a lot of Democrats looking at running,” Mr. Mallory said.

        Among them could be County Auditor Dusty Rhodes; former state Rep. Jerome Luebbers; Joe Wolterman, who ran unsuccessfully for commissioner last year; and Marilyn Hyland, an Indian Hill Democrat who lost to Mr. Neyer in 1998.

        Mr. Rhodes said he would not “slam the door” on a run for county commissioner.

        “Actually, though, it might have been more interesting with Tom Neyer running, because there would be some issues to run on,” the Delhi Township Democrat said.

        With former Cincinnati Councilman Todd Portune now on the County Commission, Democrats could gain control in 2002.

        Last year, Mr. Neyer watched as his friend and fellow commissioner, Bob Bedinghaus, lost his commission seat to Mr. Portune — a victim, most believe, of public anger over the cost overruns at Paul Brown Stadium and the generous lease terms the commissioners gave the Bengals.

        It was the first time a Democrat was elected Hamilton County commissioner since 1964.

        Mr. Neyer voted with Mr. Bedinghaus on stadium construction issues and is now often alone on stadium construction questions, with Mr. Portune and GOP Commissioner John Dowlin lined up against him.

        But Mr. Neyer said frustration over what he calls the “new dynamic” on the commission was not the reason for his decision.

        “Yes, it is harder to move the ball down the field than it used to be, but that's not why I am doing this,” Mr. Neyer said.

        Mr. Neyer said he wants to remain in office through 2002 so he can work through a “critical time” for riverfront development projects such as the new Reds ballpark and The Banks.

        The GOP commissioner ran into a flap last fall over one of his many community and charitable activities.

        As chairman of the Regional Cultural Alliance's “transition team,” he helped develop a plan to raise money for the group — a plan that included going to the county commissioners for county dollars.

        Mr. Neyer urged fellow commissioners to give the group $600,000, but anti-tax advocates charged that it was a conflict of interest for Mr. Neyer and the money was never spent.

        The Republican county commissioner was appointed in 1996, when then-Commissioner Guy Guckenberger was appointed to a Municipal Court judgeship.

        Mr. Neyer said Tuesday he wants also to devote more time to his family's business, Al Neyer Inc., a real estate construction firm.

        He ran as a candidate in only one election. His performance in that contest was not as strong as GOP leaders had expected in the Republican-dominated county — he won with 56 percent to 44 percent for Ms. Hyland.


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