Monday, November 05, 2001

Mayor's race hinges on turnout

Fuller and Luken stump to get out their backers

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In Tuesday's mayoral race between Democratic incumbent Charlie Luken and Charterite challenger Courtis Fuller, getting out the vote is as important as getting the vote. With political support that for the most part falls along discernible lines, the candidates are waging aggressive turnout campaigns.

        Thousands of Cincinnati voters have received phone calls, mail, hand-delivered fliers or a doorstep visit from the mayoral campaigns or from one of the other groups active in the election. Among them: political parties, labor unions and African-American organizations.

        “This race will turn on who gets out their base vote,” said Xavier University political science instructor Gene Beaupre, who closely follows Cincinnati politics.

        “And both sides, for different reasons, have to get their base out,” Mr. Beaupre said.

        Mr. Fuller, an African-American making his first run for elective office, appeals to black voters and “hard-core Democrats,” even though he is running as a Charterite, Mr. Beaupre said.

        African-American voters were a major reason Mr. Fuller won the Sept. 11 mayoral primary by 16 points.

        While the primary vote turnout was just under 15 percent, it rose to 19 percent in the city's seven most predominantly black wards — compared to 13.6 percent elsewhere in the city.

        And in those black wards, Mr. Fuller beat Mr. Luken, 74 percent to 23 percent.

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        African-Americans make up 43 percent of Cincinnati's population but only 28.7 percent of African-Americans in the city are of voting age.

        Blacks historically have not turned out in large numbers to vote, said Dwight Tillery, the former mayor who now heads the recently formed African-American Political Caucus.

        “You look at the numbers in the African-American communities and it's quite apparent that we have not gotten out and voted in past elections,” Mr. Tillery said.

        He points to the City Council election of 1999, when only 75 of the 1,300 registered voters in Over-the-Rhine — a predominantly African-American neighborhood — turned out to vote.

        To inspire black voters, the African American Political Caucus will have delivered 25,000 pieces of campaign literature and made 15,000 phone calls by election day, Mr. Tillery said.

        “We are telling people that they can be as angry as they want, that they can go down to City Hall and protest,” he said. “But the biggest way you can make a difference is to show up and vote.”

        Mr. Fuller's campaign also has delivered literature in targeted neighborhoods, according to his campaign office.

        And the NAACP's Voter Empowerment Office has run a series of television spots urging people to vote, said Khabeer Akbar, coordinator of the effort and a member of the local NAACP.

        “We are a nonpartisan organization working to get a record number of people to the polls and we don't get directly involved with candidates,” Mr. Akbar said.

        “But if Courtis happens to benefit as people come out to the polls, we would have no objection to that.”

        Cincinnati political consultant Brewster Rhoads said he expects the efforts to get out the black vote to be successful.

        “My gut tells me ... that the potential for an African-American mayor is going to be one hell of a powerful draw,” said Mr. Rhoads, who has managed several tax levy campaigns.

        “The African-American political caucus now exists, and this is the first opportunity to show that they can do,” he said.

GOP key for Luken

        Mr. Luken, a veteran of Cincinnati politics, finds his greatest support among moderate Democrats, white voters and Republicans who don't have a candidate in this year's election.

        “Luken is the establishment candidate in this year's race, but the real question is: Are Republicans going to vote for him or sit on their hands and let him lose?” said Chris Finney, a lawyer active in Hamilton County Republican politics.

        The county GOP also did a get-out-the-vote effort for its council candidates and the party's position on ballot issues, said chairman Mike Barrett.

        Mr. Finney said that could bring some GOP votes to Mr. Luken, as could ballot and tax levy issues, which typically draw conservative voters to the polls.

        To help motivate his base, Mr. Luken paid $70,000 to a Washington political firm for direct-mail pieces and 30,000 phone calls to voters likely to support him. That was Mr. Luken's second largest expenditure behind the $110,000 he spent on TV ads.

        Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke said sample Democratic ballots were passed out over the weekend in targeted neighborhoods. But because many of the ballots were distributed in African-American neighborhoods, the effort may benefit Mr. Fuller as much if not more than Mr. Luken.

        Labor unions, traditionally Democratic supporters, also worked to get their members to the polls on election day.

        Throughout the election season the AFL-CIO Labor Council made 11,000 phone calls, delivered 25,000 pieces of mail and had 200 people visiting union households, said Dan Radford, the organization's executive-secretary treasurer.

        And the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 212 in Cincinnati sent mail to 900 of its members, said William Cunningham, the union's business manager.

        The information contains the unions' endorsements in the City Council race and organized labor's opposition to Issue 5, the Charter amendment to change the way the city hires its police and fire chiefs along with more than 90 other key positions.

        But those unions did not make an endorsement in the mayor's race.

Turnout declining

        Getting voters to the polls in city elections has proven more difficult in recent years.

        Turnout has dropped from 51 percent in 1993 to 34 percent in 1999, according to Julie Stautberg, director of the Hamilton County Board of elections.

        Ms. Stautberg declined to predict Tuesday's turnout.

        The same factors that kept people away from the polls for the Sept. 11 primary — that day's terrorist attacks and unfamiliarity with the first direct election of the mayor in 76 years — may increase voting on Tuesday, said Eric Rademacher, director of polling for the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research.

        “We don't really know what the public reaction is going to be for the new method of electing the mayor,” Mr. Rademacher said. “Since the primary there's been a lot more information about the change and that may well translate to higher voter turnout.

        “And the events we've seen nationally in terms of the terrorists attacks, people are looking for ways to express solidarity, patriotism and to make a statement that these events aren't going to disrupt our lives,' he said.

        “One way to certainly do that is to vote.”


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