Sunday, August 19, 2001

Independent candidates show unusual strength

        In most Cincinnati City Council elections, you can stick a fork in any candidate who decides to run without a political party endorsment five minutes after that candidate files. Because at that point, the independent candidate is done. This year, though, might be an exception.

        This year — after the riots, in the midst of turmoil and considerable anger and frustration — it might just pay to have no party designation behind your name.

        Technically speaking, Cincinnati has nonpartisan elections, simply because there is no party designation on the ballot, just candidates' names.

        But the reality has been that to be taken seriously as a candidate, you have to have one of the major parties — the Republicans, the Democrats or the Charterites — backing your candidacy.

        The numbers bear this out.

        During the past eight council elections, voters have cast more than 4.6 million votes for council candidates.

        Of those, 45 percent have gone to Democratic candidates, 38 percent to Republicans and 14 percent to Charter candidates.

        Independent candidates picked up 3 percent.

        Thus, no independents have been elected — unless you count Guy Guckenberger, who ran as an independent in 1987 after the Republicans yanked his endorsement.

        Just doesn't pay to be an independent.

        Except this year, maybe.

        If, as many in local politics believe, voters are looking for something different, they might turn to candidates not hauling around the ball-and-chain of party loyalty.

        There will be a number of them to choose from, many of them African-American candidates.

        Among these is Laketa Cole, a former council aide who tried and failed to get a Democratic Party endorsement but who is running hard anyway. She has little campaign money, but she is well-known in Cincinnati's black community and has amassed a small army of volunteers.

        Then there is “The Buzz” factor. One independent, Ken Anderson, is a talk show host on that radio station and is far more well-known than he was two years ago when he ran a hopeless campaign as a Republican.

        Then there is Nate Livingston. It's been a tough year for Mr. Livingston: He was fired from his job as a talk show host on WDBZ-AM (1230), “The Buzz,” and then convicted and jailed for 60 days on charges stemming from his disruption of Mayor Charlie Luken's speech opening Oktoberfest last year.

        But he is expected to file a petition next week for council and there's no denying he is now one of the best-known people in Cincinnati's black political circles.

        What these candidates will need to do is organize — get people registered, get them to the polls.

        But with a relatively weak field of incumbents and a bunch of party-endorsed challengers who are not much better known than they are, 2001 could be the year of the independent.

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