Monday, October 22, 2001

Council hopefuls struggle to get noticed

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Candidates for Cincinnati City Council have arguably never had a tougher time getting their messages out. Terrorist attacks and anthrax scares are dominating the national headlines. Locally, the big story is a historic mayoral race — pitting two well-known former news anchors one-on-one in the first direct election for mayor in 76 years.

        That leaves 26 City Council candidates — the largest field in a decade — competing for whatever share of attention voters have left.

        So how do these 26 candidates — three Charterites, five Republicans, nine Democrats and nine independents — get noticed by voters?

        Television commercials work for candidates who can afford it. Media coverage is essential, but hard to come by.

        That leaves the time-honored staple of local campaigns — the seemingly endless circuit of forums hosted by community councils, churches and other interest groups ranging from the 1400 block of Republic Street to the city-supported Grassroots Leadership Academy.

        Many of those forums provide little opportunity for genuine debate. Candidates often must share the spotlight with school board candidates, and get just two or three minutes to make their points.

        Sometimes, there are more candidates than voters in the room.

        But then there are rare moments when candidates have a chance to interact in front of a large audience.

        Sunday, WDBZ-AM (1230) hosted lively debates of City Council candidates.

        But when Mayor Charlie Luken showed up in the second hour, he began to draw the majority of the questions. (Courtis Fuller, the Charter candidate for mayor, did not attend.)

        “I feel like I'm on Jeopardy,” Democrat David Pepper joked after he finally got a microphone 38 minutes into the hour. “I have a lot of answers but I can't buzz in on time.”

        With 26 candidates, just getting voters to remember your name is a challenge. Many candidates have resorted to slogans such as, “When you go to the poll, punch a hole for Laketa Cole.”

        “We're running on mnemonics, not messages,” complained John Schlagetter, a Charter candidate.

        Some candidates even use props. Independent Wes Flinn, a musician by trade, brings along his trombone to campaign appearances, saying he'll “sound the horn for change.”

        But he rarely gets a chance to play it.

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