Monday, August 20, 2001

Retiring clerk saw council make history

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The first time Sandy Sherman walked into the marble and polished walnut surroundings of Cincinnati City Council chambers nearly 30 years ago, it was like walking into a land of giants.

        Now, after 16 years as the clerk of City Council, a job he will retire from at the end of the month, the people don't seem so tall.

        “They're good people; they work hard,” the 60-year-old clerk said of the nine people he serves as the chief record keeper for the city. “But it's not the same as it used to be. Those people back then, some of them, were historic figures.”

        Mr. Sherman, who lives in Oakley, became deputy clerk in January 1972 after working as a bailiff for then-Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge George Bunyan. It was a political appointment; the Hamilton native was one of a handful of young, black Republicans in Cincinnati trying to make their way up the political ladder.

        Thirteen years later, after a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans

        — known as the “Gang of Five” — took control of City Council, he became chief of the office when clerk Dennis Rogers died.

        At the end of August, Mr. Sherman will end his council career, after seeing 14 councils elected, with 12 different mayors and 43 council members.

        He remembers much about those people who have passed through City Hall, such as the pig-tailed little girl who used to run around the halls while her father worked in the office of Mayor Ted Berry.

        That pigtailed little girl is now Councilwoman Alicia Reece.

        “Now, she's running things,” Mr. Sherman said. “Pretty amazing. I've been around for a while.”

Recalling legends
               The first City Council he served in early 1972 is the one he recalls with the most fondness, and a certain amount of awe.

        Thomas Luken was mayor, a year away from beginning his 18-year career in Congress.

        The Charter Committee had two genuine historical legends on that council: Charlie Taft, one of the original Charterites from the 1920s and son of President William Howard Taft; and Mr. Berry, who later that year would become the city's first African-American mayor.

        It had members like Charterite Bobbie Sterne and Republican Guy Guckenberger, who were just starting their political careers, as well as a first-term Democrat who had transplanted to Cincinnati from the East Coast — Jerry Springer.

        “I remember walking into that chamber for the first time and thinking to myself, "What am I doing here?'” Mr. Sherman said. “I couldn't believe it.”

Bitterness prevails
               The early council and mayors that he served were more memorable than those of recent years because “there was more civility in the debate back then,” Mr. Sherman said.

        “They could have dis agreements and still delight in what they were doing and not be enemies at the end of the day,” Mr. Sherman said.

        “You could listen to a Jerry Springer and (J. Kenneth) Blackwell argue a point in council; then they'd put it aside and there would be no hard feelings,” he said. “There seems to be more bitterness these days.”

        Mr. Blackwell, who came to council in the late '70s as a Charterite and became a Republican when Ronald Reagan was elected president, had the most impressive political skills of anyone he has seen come through City Hall, Mr. Sherman said.

        “I remember when Ken switched parties, I heard (former Republican Party chairman) George Eyrich say, "I'm not sure whether Blackwell joined our party or we joined his,'” Mr. Sherman said. “That's pretty much how I feel about Ken.”

        It is a mutual admiration. Mr. Blackwell, who is now Ohio's secretary of state, described Mr. Sherman as a “complete pro” with “the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon.”

        "In that job, he has had to deal with more turkeys and hams than Tom Luken does at the Luken Thanksgiving dinner,” Mr. Blackwell joked.

        Mr. Sherman's job evolved over the years.When he took over, it was primarily a matter of keeping paper records. Now, there are audio and videotapes of council sessions and computerized records of council actions available through the city's Web site.

        “Sandy modernized that office,” said former councilman David Mann, who had a turn as mayor in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s.

        He said Mr. Sherman has been “the rock of stability in the midst of chaos.”

        “What Sandy Sherman does as clerk is keep the evidence of what we do — the antagonisms, the disagreements, the accomplishments,” Mr. Mann said. “You have to have somebody keep it all straight. Sandy does that.”


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