Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Mayor calls on dad to scrutinize transit



By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When it came time for Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to make an appointment to the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority, Mr. Luken said he looked for a tight-fisted public watchdog to make sure tax money was properly spent.

So he called his dad.

Mayor Luken today will nominate Thomas A. Luken, the 77-year-old former congressman and mayor, to the transit agency's board of trustees.

"My thought is, we need a watchdog," the mayor said. "We need someone to watch the money and make sure it's spent in the best interests of people, and not of business."

Mr. Luken's appointment comes as the mayor has been critical of SORTA officials, claiming they have used tax money to help promote the regional light-rail plan on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Hamilton County voters would see a half-cent increase in the county sales tax to pay for the expanded service.

Mr. Luken's nominee declined to give his opinion of the light-rail plan Tuesday.

But as mayor in 1972, Tom Luken and then-Councilman Gerald N. Springer (now known worldwide as "Jerry") pushed through the current 0.3 percent earnings tax increase for the bus system.

More recently, as a councilman in 1994, he told light-rail advocates at a council meeting that the cost of a regional transit system cannot continue to fall on city taxpayers.

"From my point of view, and from the taxpayers' point of view, it might even improve the chances of this thing passing," the mayor said.

"If I'm a voter, I'm more sure that the money will be spent wisely."

Mr. Luken will occupy the seat formerly held by Betsy Strivers of Indian Hill. Her term expired Oct. 1, and the mayor said he wanted a Cincinnati resident on the nine-member board.

Board members are not paid, and city lawyers say there's no law against such an appointment.

And if anyone should suggest that the mayor's father won't be independent-minded enough?

"Then I would say they obviously don't know my father," Charlie Luken said.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com



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