Saturday, October 12, 2002

Charterites endorse in Kentucky


It's a first for what's considered Cincinnati's third political party

By Gregory Korte and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Charter Committee of Greater Cincinnati — the “third party” of Cincinnati politics with its roots in nonpartisan reform — has endorsed a Kentucky candidate for the first time in its 78-year history.

The committee has endorsed J.T. Spence, a Covington city commissioner, for re-election next month.

Charterites say the unprecedented river-crossing endorsement could be the first step in making the Charter Committee a more regional institution, at the risk of looking more like the major political parties. But the decision also bewilders some Bluegrass politicos, who think voters could view the endorsement as more meddling from Cincinnati.

So why now? And why Mr. Spence?

Andy Scheurer, who headed the endorsement process for the Charter Committee, said Mr. Spence is a Charter Committee member, and was the only Kentucky candidate to seek an endorsement.

“We did have a good amount of debate about whether we should get involved in a Kentucky race,” Mr. Scheurer said. “To be honest, we've had a tougher time defining our charter principles in races outside Cincinnati or Hamilton County.”

But one of those principles is “regionalism,” a doctrine that Cincinnati Councilman Jim Tarbell, the Charter Committee's only remaining elected officeholder, preaches regularly.

Mr. Spence, who worked as Covington's city planner for five years before becoming a commissioner, shares that passion, Charterites say.

The Charter Committee also is concerned with efforts by some business leaders to push for a “strong mayor” form of government in Covington. While Cincinnati didn't invent the city manager form of government, it's still considered the national home to the council-manager charter from which the Charter Committee takes its name.

Some doubt that the Charter endorsement will have any impact south of the river.

“That really comes out of nowhere,” said Terry Mann, chairman of the Campbell County Democratic Party and a former state legislator.

“I don't think people in Northern Kentucky are particularly aware of what the Charter party is. I can't believe it would necessarily hurt (Mr. Spence), but it does not necessarily help him, either.”

Others said the endorsement could turn into a liability with some voters.

“People in Covington aren't going to be swayed with what people in Cincinnati are thinking,” said political consultant Joe Shields of Park Hills, a principal in Wordsworth & Associates, a public relations and marketing firm in downtown Cincinnati. “Northern Kentucky is a very parochial place. Some people could see this as meddling.”

Charterites said they were equally concerned about the possibility of having their endorsement backfire, but were reassured by Mr. Spence that he was willing to carry the Charter mantle. Commission races in Covington are nonpartisan.

“Covington is parochial, as any place is,” said Mr. Sheurer. “But Covington sees the need to reach across the river — actually across two rivers, to Cincinnati and to Newport — to build regional relationships.”

Though the Charter Committee is best known for its role in Cincinnati City Council campaigns, it's been endorsing a small number of county and state office-seekers as well. This year, the Charter Committee has endorsed Jean Siebenaler for Hamilton County Commissioner, and Bruce Whitman for Common Pleas judge. Both are Democrats running in hotly contested races.

Over the years, Charterite loyalists have followed the migration of Cincinnatians to the suburbs. Today, about half of the Charter Committee's registered members live outside the city.

But only 40 of its 7,000 members are in Kentucky.

While Charter Committee leaders concede they won't have overnight credibility in Kentucky, some south of the river see it as a positive development.

“I see it as Southwest Ohio recognizing we are part of the region, and what one area does affects the entire region,” said Fort Thomas real estate agent Ken Warden, a Republican activist. “It doesn't always come out this way, but every part of the region should know what is going on around them.”

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com and pcrowley@enquirer.com.



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