Sunday, October 20, 2002

Tough-talking Hagan stays true to his roots

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

When activist Nathaniel Livingston blasted Tim Hagan last month for failing to honor the Cincinnati boycott, the Democratic candidate for governor fired right back.

He put a hand on Mr. Livingston's shoulder, wagged a finger at him and warned: "Don't ever attack me. I'm not taking anything from anybody. I'm running for governor."

[photo] Tim Hagan lectures Nate Livingston after making a speech at UC last month.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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The moment was classic Tim Hagan, a tough-talking, in-your-face politician who once lived in public housing, earned his money in a Mahoning Valley steel mill and rose through the political ranks to become his party's nominee.

One of 14 children, Mr. Hagan says he knows "something about the edge of life."

He was shaped by his Italian grandfather, a man who "stood on a Youngstown picket line in the middle of the Depression in 1937 and fought the guards even as blood from his union brothers splattered on his shirt."

"My grandfather said he was going to make corporations understand that profit isn't the only reason to be in existence," Mr. Hagan recalls. "That history is wedded, melded, into my soul."

Mr. Hagan, 56, who served 16 years as a Cuyahoga County commissioner, is a long shot in the race against Republican Gov. Bob Taft. He's raised less than $1 million compared to Mr. Taft's $9 million. One poll shows he trails Mr. Taft by double digits. And outside of Cleveland, few voters have ever heard of him.

Still, he trudges on, racking up thousands of miles on his blue Jeep Cherokee as he travels Ohio, making his pitch in debates on public television, in classrooms, union halls and Democratic fish fries.

A throwback to '60s liberalism, Mr. Hagan rarely talks in sound bites and doesn't have the money for television ads. Instead, the Cleveland politician gives lengthy speeches about government's responsibility to help the weak, the sick, the poor and the voiceless.

"I didn't pick my parents, the pigmentation of my skin, my gender or the economic situation I was born into," he told an urban affairs class at the University of Cincinnati. "Some people say, `I got mine and the hell with everyone else.' They believe in survival of the fittest. Well, that may work in the animal kingdom, but it isn't a good definition for how a society should function."

Afflict the comfortable

Such beliefs are widely held in the large Hagan family, says his brother, Chris. "Our dad always said, `Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,'" he explains.

It's advice Mr. Hagan takes to heart. When he isn't talking about how to help the needy, he is railing against greedy corporations and politicians. He says he is driven to become governor in part by his anger toward a political system corrupted by money.

On the stump, he routinely rips into Mr. Taft for raising $50,000 a week, $7,000 a day, or $300 an hour, during his four years in office.

"Ask yourself, when someone accepts that kind of money, what does he have to give in return?" Mr. Hagan told workers in an AFL-CIO union hall in northeast Ohio. He criticizes Mr. Taftfor allowing the state to give Bank One a no-bid contract to process child support checks. The Bank One contract cost $16 million more than the deal the state got when it put the contract up for bid.

"If Tim Hagan took care of his union friends like that, you'd call it a rip off," Mr. Hagan told the union workers. "But when you dress up in a $2,000 suit and get your nails buffed and go to the country club, they call that business."

One of Mr. Hagan's overriding campaign themes is that his opponent, the son and grandson of U.S. senators and the great-grandson of a president, is out of touch with the working class.

"Taft's not angry that some elderly person doesn't have enough money to buy prescription drugs. He's not angry that people who have worked all their lives are now stuck with a property tax that is a terrible burden. He's not angry and I am," Mr. Hagan says. "I was taught to stand up to those entrenched in power."

The Taft campaign points out that Mr. Hagan is bemoaning the same property taxes he helped increase as a four-term Cuyahoga County commissioner. They note the Democratic candidate himself wrote an article for a Cleveland newspaper in 1996 saying he raised property and sales taxes so many times to help the poor that he was known as "Tax Hike Tim."

The Taft Web site portrays him as an out-of-control cartoon character named "Taxin' Tim" who gambles the state's future on the pull of a slot-machine lever.

Mr. Hagan laughs at the depiction. He readily admits that if elected he might raise business taxes or expand gambling to balance the state budget.

`The daring one'

Tough talk about taxes, entrenched special interests and corporate greed is par for the course for Mr. Hagan, says former Democratic governor John J. Gilligan of Cincinnati.

"If you want to know what a person truly believes in, see what makes him mad," Mr. Gilligan says. "You can trigger Hagan by showing him examples of people being mistreated in society. That really sets him off."

Mr. Hagan says he learned from his relatives to stand up for people who don't fit in. He notes one grandfather was Irish, a great-grandfather was Navajo Indian and an Italian grandfather barely spoke English when he arrived in America at the turn of the century.

Born in 1946, eight minutes after his twin brother, Jim, Mr. Hagan's roots are in the blue-collar Mahoning Valley, a depressed region where decaying steel mills stand tribute to an area that was once one of the top steel producers in the world.

Early on, the Hagan clan lived in public housing in Youngstown until their father moved his family to a nine-acre farm in a neighboring county.

Mr. Hagan got his first job at 12, working at a pitch-ball booth in a summer carnival. By the time he finished high school, he'd worked as a cement finisher, ironworker, welder and steel worker.

His twin brother, a communications specialist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, says Mr. Hagan was a natural leader, even in school.

"He was always watching out for us. In grade school, he was the first student council president and quarterback of the football team. He had a swagger about him, a self-confidence, that I envied," Jim Hagan says.

Ed O'Neill, an actor best known for portraying Al Bundy on the Married with Children TV sitcom, grew up with Mr. Hagan.

"We used to just loaf. We didn't have cars or a lot of money. He was always talking politics, even then," Mr. O'Neill recalls. "He's for all the moral positions, women's rights, helping the poor. He's a good talker, and I always found him to be a delightful guy. "

Mr. Hagan learned about politics from his father, who ran a small construction company and later became a county commissioner and state lawmaker.

The Hagans say their brother also had a brilliant sense of humor growing up and instinctively knew how to charm people. At Ursuline High School, the Hagan twins were struggling through physics their senior year when their teacher announced the class was going on a field trip to Pennsylvania.

"Tim's hand went up, and everybody looked at him, because his hand didn't usually go up in physics class," Jim Hagan recalls, laughing. "And he said, `Sister, don't you think we should say the rosary on the bus on the way to Pittsburgh?' People really got a charge out of it. After that, our grades shot up. I was glad he was able to work the system."

`An upfront guy'

After high school graduation, Mr. Hagan went to Youngstown State University for two years before the Army drafted him and sent him to Germany. When he returned, he enrolled at Cleveland State University under the GI Bill and earned a degree in urban studies in 1974.

He took a job as a social worker in the housing project where his family once lived, married Jeanne Carney and had two daughters, Eleanor, who is now 15 and Marie, 12. The couple divorced seven years ago.

In 1978, he was elected Cuyahoga County Party chairman and two years later was appointed county recorder. He was later elected to four terms as Cuyahoga County commissioner.

During those times, Mr. Hagan also worked on the campaigns of several powerful Democrats, including Robert F. Kennedy, Mr. Gilligan and former U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum.

He made high-profile friends, including the Kennedys. Mr. Hagan's godchild is the daughter of Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest child of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He also is friends with U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and supported his 1980 bid for president.

Regardless of the circles he moves in, Mr. Gilligan says Mr. Hagan is outspoken and direct.

"He's an upfront guy. There is no guile in him. What you see is what you get," says Mr. Gilligan, now a member of the Cincinnati board of education.

"In the television age, where the sound bite and 30-second paid commercial worked up by hucksters is the predominant political weapon, Tim ain't that kind of cat. He won't sell his ideas like deodorant," Mr. Gilligan says. "He's the absolute reverse of the slick advertising approach to politics."

That lack of salesmanship showed through in Mr. Hagan's first debate with the governor last Tuesday. Unlike Mr. Taft, he rarely looked straight into the camera or spoke directly to his television audience. He spoke with conviction at times but also stumbled over words and failed to deliver the knockout punch that pundits said he needed to gain ground on the governor.

Now, with just two weeks to go before Election Day, Mr. Hagan finds himself still struggling. His wife, actress Kate Mulgrew, who is known for her role as Capt. Janeway on the Star Trek: Voyager series, says her husband isn't about to give up.

"He has a fire in his belly," she says. "His message will get out to the right people."

Sitting in their stylish home in the outskirts of Cleveland, Ms. Mulgrew says people frequently ask her why she married Mr. Hagan and moved to Ohio. "They say, `What is the deal?' But I know I've aligned myself with somebody who is ambitious for all the profoundly right reasons. "

Ms. Mulgrew isn't the only one in the relationship to field questions about her spouse. Mr. Hagan told his wife that 300 Teamsters recently booed when he got up on stage and admitted she wasn't with him.

"I said, `You rotten bastards, I'm going to make a speech anyway,'" Mr. Hagan told her, grinning. "They all just laughed and hollered. They said, `Nah, we're with you, save the speech. But where is your wife?'"

Mr. Hagan, who has been criticized this campaign season for his use of foul language, says he doesn't typically curse in public speeches.

"But I didn't grow up in polite society, either. I grew up with tough people," he says. "My mother and father made it pretty clear that you don't demean people on the basis of race or religion or sexual preference. Those are the words that sting and hurt. All the other words are kind of incidental."

Ms. Mulgrew nods her head in agreement. She says her husband is as comfortable with the Kennedys as he is with the blue-collar workers he grew up with - but he will never forget his roots.

"After 17 hours on the road, we're going through the toll booth and he asks the woman and the guy how they are doing, how they like their job, what their benefits are and what their struggles are. That's two minutes of backed-up traffic to talk to the people in the tollbooth. He does the same thing at the airport. He does it in restaurants," she says.

"It is,'' she adds, "just who he is."


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