Saturday, October 26, 2002

Hagan, Taft in a nutshell? Cleveland, Cincinnati

Geography shapes gubernatorial candidates' styles

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - In many ways, all voters need to know about the Ohio governor's race is this:

Tim Hagan is from Cleveland. Bob Taft is from Cincinnati.

Up here in the Rust Belt, people understand Mr. Hagan. He speaks their language. He's brash, blunt and blustery.

Mr. Taft is polite - so much so that Mr. Hagan, campaigning in Cleveland, often makes a point of just how nice - perhaps too nice - the governor is.

To understand the differences between Cincinnati and Cleveland is to understand Ohio politics, the candidates for governor, and the state's economy.

Cleveland is the Browns, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, union halls and boccie ball.

Cincinnati is, (for better or worse) the Reds, The People Versus Larry Flynt, Catholic church festivals and cornhole.

"If you went to Central Casting and asked for a politician from Cincinnati and one from Youngstown, they would give you Bob Taft and Tim Hagan," said Mary Anne Sharkey, a former reporter and associate editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who is now Mr. Taft's communications director.

"I think there's definite differences in styles based on the geographical region of the state. Obviously, Bob Taft represents more of his conservative base, and Cleveland is more ethnic blue collar. Brass knuckle politics is more of a sport in Cleveland," she said.

"People in Cleveland ask me all the time, `Why doesn't Bob Taft just punch the lights out of some of his more problematic members of the General Assembly?' And I have to explain, that's definitely not the governor's style."

Similarly, Cincinnatians may wonder about a candidate for governor who calls his opponent "pal," rails against corporate greed and has to try hard not to curse in public.

As a result, Mr. Hagan has spent relatively little time campaigning in Cincinnati. Unlike Mr. Taft, he doesn't have access to a campaign plane to crisscross the state. And besides, he says, campaigning against Bob Taft in Cincinnati "is like campaigning against a monument."

That's what makes Ohio politics different, said University of Akron history professor George W. Knepper. Unlike Michigan or Illinois, Ohio has no one metropolitan area that defines and dominates the state.

"Those involved in statewide campaigns must deal with this problem: What pleases Cleveland is almost certain to alienate Cincinnati, and Columbus is different still," he writes in Ohio Politics (Kent State University Press, 1994).

The candidates who have been successful statewide have been those such as Mr. Taft or Sen. George Voinovich, who have been able to take the ideological rough edges off their hometown politics, Dr. Knepper said.

"Cleveland and Cincinnati really are very, very different cities," Dr. Knepper said.. "Cincinnati rightly considers herself to be the grand dame of Ohio. Cleveland was a Johnny-come-lately."

Cincinnati emerged much earlier than Cleveland, seeing its glory days in the 1830s and '40s. As a result, its population reflects the immigrant population that came to the United States during that time, primarily Germans and Irish.

If Ohio has a melting pot, it's Cleveland. By the time it emerged in the late 19th century, eastern Europeans were flooding Ellis Island. Italians, Ukrainians, Poles and Hungarians came to work in Cleveland's steel mills.

Christine Patronik-Holder was born in Chicago, half Irish and half Polish-Ukrainian. Her family moved to Mount Healthy, and she graduated from McAuley High School in 1966 and Ohio State University in 1970 before moving to Cleveland.

"To me, coming to Cleveland was like coming home to Chicago," she said. "In the summer you can go from the Greek festival to the Polish festival to the German festival. I used to think of Cleveland as this big rich bowl of soup, and Columbus was a bowl of oatmeal."

Clevelanders are hard-working folks, she said.

"People didn't complain about pollution," said Ms. Patronik-Holder, who has been active in Democratic politics but is not affiliated with any campaign. "The mom would swipe her finger on the black dust and say, `This is good, because it means your dad has a job.' "

People in Cleveland know and respect those ethnic differences. Names that end in "-ich," like Voinovich, are instantly recognized as Serbian. Patronik, with its "-ik," is Ukrainian.

Hagan, an Irish name, also plays well in Cleveland. Born in Youngstown, he moved to Cuyahoga County and first got elected to county office in 1980.

The latest Ohio Poll, released Wednesday by the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research, shows Mr. Hagan's name recognition is lagging Mr. Taft's statewide. Only 83 percent of Ohio voters have heard of him, compared with 99 percent for the incumbent governor.

But in northeastern Ohio, Mr. Hagan is a household name, at 95 percent.

Cuyahoga County has 1,010,726 registered voters - 13 percent of all voters in the state. With its six surrounding counties, Cleveland and its suburbs have 26 percent of the state's voters. Fifty-seven percent of them voted for Al Gore in 2000.

If Hamilton County politics are dominated by one-party Republican rule, Cuyahoga County is even more solidly Democratic.

In Hamilton County, 9 of 11 county elected officeholders are Republicans. All 11 elected county officeholders in Cuyahoga County are Democrats. Two years ago, only one Cuyahoga Republican got more than 30 percent of the vote - for county engineer.

The congressional delegation, too, is heavily Democratic. Of the state's five Democratic incumbent congressmen, four have districts bordering Lake Erie.

The Democratic base in Cleveland is so strong that political strategists have developed a rule of thumb: Republicans can win statewide just by keeping the Democratic margin in Cuyahoga County under 100,000 votes.

The Cleveland area doesn't vote as a monolithic block, however, and there are pockets of support for Gov. Taft in northeastern Ohio. The more affluent suburban counties - Lake, Geauga and Medina - lean Republican.

Still, even the Republicans are different.

"They're a little more likely to say exactly what's on their minds," Mr. Taft said as he campaigned on Medina's quaint, 19th-century town square this month. "They're more direct, a little less reserved."

In Medina, where the leaves have already reached their peak fall colors, Mr. Taft met a receptive - if skeptical - audience.

"I'm voting for you," said voter Paula Kasmin. But she was talking to state Rep. Chuck Calvert, R-Medina, who was campaigning by the governor's side. Turning to Mr. Taft, she said, "You, I haven't figured out yet. I have to do my research."

Mrs. Kasmin, a 47-year-old waitress at Miss Molly's Tea Room on Medina Square, said she votes a right-to-life ticket, and was concerned about Mr. Taft's selection of a pro-choice running mate.

"I think that where a candidate is from influences who they are. If you grow up in the industrial north, you're going to know more about that," she said, wiping a table. "Ohio's very diverse. But I don't think our politicians are diverse."

She said the fact that Mr. Taft comes from Cincinnati wouldn't affect her opinion of him. But her husband, an autoworker at Ford's Brook Park Engine Plant outside Cleveland, would probably be less likely to vote for a Cincinnatian.

"He's very influenced by the United Auto Workers, but I'm not. We usually cancel each other out," she said.

As Mr. Taft campaigned in Medina, Mr. Hagan was on Lake Erie.

Teamsters striking the Cargill Salt Co. mine attracted nearly every Cleveland politician of consequence - all Democrats - to a rally on Whiskey Island. Across the drawbridge onto the island, every car in the gravel parking lot was made by one of Detroit's Big Three..

Mr. Hagan talked about his roots in Youngstown, where his father worked in a steel mill. With mountains of road salt on one side and the Cleveland skyline on the other, Mr. Hagan spoke about how Cargill, a billion dollar private company, was "sticking it" to its workers.

"When I'm elected governor of this state, and these people won't come to the table, I'll tell them to go pound salt," he said to rousing applause. "We will not spend one dollar of your tax money to buy salt from this company."

The economy is in recession across the state, but the slump is particularly hard felt in Cleveland. New unemployment claims hit an all-time high of 13,542 in April - almost twice what they were in 1998 - and have exceeded 10,000 a month for 15 months straight.

To understand the impact of LTV Steel's closing last year - leaving 7,500 without work - imagine what would happen to Cincinnati's economy if General Electric abandoned its Evendale aircraft engine plant.

Plant closings aren't new in the northern part of the state. In Akron, Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown, global forces have rocked the rubber, auto and steel industries for 20 years.

Though the issues are the same, both candidates recognize that northern voters have slightly different priorities.

"The whole state has been hit by the recession hard, but up here, the dominant issue is the economy and jobs and what's the future of the state," Mr. Taft said. "There's a mood here that things aren't going well for northeastern Ohio."

Mr. Taft said Clevelanders don't give themselves enough credit for their resilience. And when his opponent talks about the state's gloomy economic outlook, Mr. Taft says he's "down on Ohio."

Other issues are the same all over, but Clevelanders are more aware of them.

Every week, busloads of senior citizens from Cleveland, Lorain and Toledo drive to Ontario, Canada, to get cheaper prescription drugs. Mr. Hagan said that's "unconscionable."

Of course, the state is bigger than Cleveland and Cincinnati. Cuyahoga and Hamilton Counties have just 21 percent of the state's registered voters, but serve as launching pads for the majority of statewide candidates.

Second-tier cities like Dayton, Steubenville and Toledo have long felt neglected.

"Toledoans have felt that they're stuck up in the northwest corner of the state and that Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus only pay attention to them when they have to," said Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, the former minority leader in the Ohio House. "I've found people from Cincinnati and Cleveland who couldn't find Toledo on a map."


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