Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Physician consults a specialist

        “What do you think of Phil Heimlich?” I asked a politically savvy friend.

        “Oh,” he replied casually, “I think he'll make a good commissioner.”

        Mike Ford laughs when I tell him that.

        He has been hired by Mr. Heimlich's opponent, Democrat Jean Siebenaler. A formidable political strategist, Mr. Ford is not accustomed to being counted out so early in the game.

        Former Ford clients include Evan Bayh, Ted Kennedy, Richard Daley, John Gilligan, Paul Tsongas, Ed Rendell. And before that, Bella Abzug, Birch Bayh, Morris Udall. Senators, governors, big-city mayors.

        And one Green Township physician who wants to be a Hamilton County commissioner.

A big pile of money

        Somebody must have laid a great big pile of money on Mike Ford, I suggest.

        He laughs again. A bear of a man, he makes a significant sound of glee. It makes me feel very amusing.

        “I think the campaign just got around to paying me back for my airline ticket here,” he says.

        A Xavier University graduate, he lives just outside Washington, D.C. He met Jerry Springer, who was a frequent visitor to the XU campus during his 1970 bid for a congressional seat. Mike Ford wound up running the campaign.

        “We had very little money, so we couldn't have a yard sign in every yard, a coordinator in every precinct.

        “What we had instead was a loyal band of supporters who worked like crazy, who believed in the candidate,” he says.

        Money, of course, is one of the immediate challenges for a candidate, especially one who was, shall we say, runner-up in her last race.

        Jean Siebenaler took a thumping from Bill Seitz in the fall of 2000 when she ran for state representative.

        So, it was a nice boost for her campaign when John and Francie Pepper agreed to host a fund-raiser last weekend. The reception at the Peppers' home was nice for a lot of reasons, not all financial. Francie commands enormous respect among women in town for her work for the YWCA and battered women.

        And Mr. Pepper's reach extends well beyond his own company. The former Procter & Gamble chair has thrown his considerable weight behind public schools and the Freedom Center.

        Not surprising, Mr. Ford says, that the Peppers would choose to support his candidate. “There's a painful separation in this community. And I think a lot of people believe Jean can help fix it if she gets the chance.”

        To “get the chance” in Hamilton County, she'll have to win over a considerable number of Republicans. Mike Ford can count. In fact, it is his specialty. “We start with our Democratic base, then try to reach beyond that,” he says. “There are a lot of voters who can identify with a candidate who is a wife, a mother of two.”

A lot of voters?

        Hamilton County is 52.3 percent female. Of the three people who preside over its $2 billion annual budget, the people who make decisions about social services and sewers, exactly 0 percent of them is a woman, Mike Ford points out. “It's time.”

        He laughs again. But I don't think he's kidding.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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