Sunday, October 27, 2002

Meet Ohio's real running mates


Hope Taft and Kate Mulgrew as different as their husbands

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

[photo] After the debate, Hope Taft hugs her husband, Gov. Bob Taft, while Kate Mulgrew, wife of candidate Tim Hagen, looks for her husband.
(Jeff Swinger photos)
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COLUMBUS - When Kate Mulgrew is asked to describe her husband, Democratic candidate for governor Tim Hagan, she doesn't hesitate.

"Hot," the Hollywood actress says. "Unafraid. Powerful."

Asked the same thing, Hope Taft chooses far different words. Republican Governor Bob Taft, she says, is "kind and considerate, honest and trustworthy. Down to earth."

Like the candidates, the differences between Ohio's first lady, and Ms. Mulgrew, the woman who covets the role, couldn't be more striking. It's evident in the careers they chose, how they support their causes, and even in the way - perhaps especially in the way - they describe the men they married.

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Mrs. Taft, in her khaki pants, tan socks and sandals, is casual and unpretentious both in the governor's mansion and campaigning with her husband. She doesn't drink, prefers family-style entertaining, and is a staunch campaigner against drug and alcohol addiction.

She's also politically savvy and wields considerable influence with her husband. After 35 years, she says she is still crazy about him.

"He's the same lovable man," she says. "He's got all those good qualities you look for in a partner."

THE CANDIDATES
Profile of Gov. Bob Taft
Profile of Tim Hagan
Actress Kate Mulgrew, who married Mr. Hagan three years ago, spent much of her life focused on career. Best known for her roles as TV's Mrs. Columbo and Capt. Janeway on the Star Trek: Voyager series, she is frank, outspoken and fiercely protective of Mr. Hagan.

In some ways, the two seem an unlikely match. In her classic houndstooth check suits and black pumps, her hair typically swept up in a chignon, Ms. Mulgrew seems very much the cool, sophisticated actress while Mr. Hagan is the gruff-talking, shoot-from-the-hip, Cleveland politician.

Despite their differences - or perhaps because of them - Ms. Mulgrew says she is remarkably in love with Mr. Hagan. "He is the first man who ever made me vulnerable."

Leaning on the back of a flowered chair in their stylish home on the outskirts of Cleveland one cold October evening, she smiles at her husband while a newspaper photographer snaps pictures.

She speaks of Mr. Hagan's ability to move as easily among the working class in Youngstown as with his close friends, the Kennedys, in Hyannisport, Mass.

He cares so much about workers, she says, that he once won $4,000 in Las Vegas and gave it away that same night to bartenders, maids and waitresses.

"I said, `Where did the money go?' and he said, `Well, we didn't have it an hour ago, now did we?' " she recalls, laughing. "That is exactly his nature."

Mr. Taft is far less flamboyant.

On their first date in 1966, Mrs. Taft says he never bothered to mention that he was the son and grandson of U.S. senators and the great grandson of a president. "He's not image conscious," she says.

He is the kind of man, she adds, who "wanted me to take the alligators off his Izod golf shirts because he didn't want labels."

Ohio's volunteer

A tall, slender woman who grew up in the small, conservative Arkansas town of Camden, Mrs. Taft helps build houses for Habitat for Humanity and works on so many community service projects she calls herself "Ohio's volunteer."

[photo] Hope and Bob Taft campaigning in Cincinnati.
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As first lady, Mrs. Taft has raised money to beautify the governor's mansion. She gathers rose petals and honeysuckle from her gardens and fixes up $10 bags of homemade potpourri to be sold in the Statehouse museum.

Last summer, she learned to needlepoint and then spent 200 hours working to cover an antique stool with a design of clovers surrounding the state seal.

But while she relishes such roles, Mrs. Taft, 58, is also a political power in her own right.

Her strongest passion is her crusade against drug abuse, which she started in 1986 when Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken asked her to lead an effort to curb the use of crack cocaine.

Since her husband's election to the governor's office four years ago, Mrs. Taft has used her bully pulpit to fight addiction, creating and heading the governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Services.

She takes her role so seriously that she gave up social drinking.

"I realized I had to walk the talk. There was no way a picture of me could run somewhere with a glass of wine in my hand," she explains. "That would undermine my message."

To drive home that message, Mrs. Taft recently developed a 25-minute video, called Smart and Sober, which features actor Henry Winkler and others who warn students about the consequences of underage drinking. She frequently shows the video in classrooms and encourages kids to stay off drugs.

"I tell them about Anna (her 23-year-old daughter) and that she is drug- and alcohol-free. I say if she can do it, they can do it," Mrs. Hope says. "I tell them that Anna realized she didn't want to dim her future with a can of beer."

Then she asks students to pretend someone is offering them drugs or alcohol, and then to act out how they would say no.

"It's very respectful," she says. "I'm very respectful of them, and they are respectful of me."

Her devotion to drug prevention is no surprise to the governor. "Hope, with her interests and desires, makes the most out of being first lady. She accomplishes what she wants in life," he says. "She sets quite an example."

Mrs. Taft, who has a small staff to coordinate some 400 appearances a year, says she enjoys the niche she has carved out for herself. It isn't an easy schedule - but she believes she is making an impact.

"There is no salary for the first lady. There is no job description. There isn't a dotted line on an organizational chart," she says. "To do the job well, you have to have an ability to convince people to do what you want them to do."

She laughs, noting she has put her marketing degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas to good use. "It's the best degree anyone can have," she says. "No matter what you do, you have to be able to sell."

`Provoking depth'

Like Mrs. Taft, Ms. Mulgrew also frequently travels to Ohio schools to encourage children to stay drug free. But the Hollywood actress has a far different approach.

She believes the best way to teach children to say no to drugs is to teach them to say yes to their passion and creativity. She also tries to teach them to express their feelings, including anger, more openly.

[photo] Tim Hagan and wife Kate Mulgrew at their Cleveland-area home.
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To do that, Ms. Mulgrew asks students to act out their anger about topics such as racial discrimination. During a visit this month to Lorain Southview High School near Cleveland, she stood up in front of the class and asked for volunteers.

"I said, `I want the blackest of the black boys. I want the homeboy up here. And I want the whitest of the white princesses, front and center'," Ms. Mulgrew says.

They walked to the stage and she instructed them to act out what they didn't like about each other and not to hold anything back. Jumping up from her living room chair, she describes how the boy rushed toward the girl and started yelling, "Motherf-----. F--- you, f--- you."

At that point, she says, an administrator tried to intervene, but she stopped him and told the student to go on.

"So he told her about all the things that had been given to her that he'd never known about, every gift, every privilege that he'd never get. And in turn, she leveled him with his racist tendencies and the anger and the rage," Ms. Mulgrew says passionately.

"I said, `Fine, now I want a resolution and remember, you are acting.' And then they talked about what they like about each other," she says. "And I said, `So grab her and kiss her, that's what you really want to do.' "

Ms. Mulgrew believes such scenes should be allowed to take place in high schools across Ohio. Letting students express their anger is the best way to defuse it, she says. And defusing anger is the best way to keep students off drugs.

"(Students) are not being given chances to act creatively," she says. "And if it ain't going to happen creatively, madam, they will turn to drugs to make it happen."

After she finishes her story, Mr. Hagan looks at his wife and smiles, shaking his head. "Did you just use the word motherf---?" he asks. "That's awful."

They laugh together, and then he quickly explains, "Kate is the accomplished one in reaching for the feelings of people and trying to provoke people into a greater depth. You don't gratuitously engage in language that would belittle people. But the fact is, what Hope and Bob Taft would find obscene, most of those kids in the classroom exchange every day."

Ms. Mulgrew agrees. Sometimes, she says, using language the students themselves use gives her a chance to connect with them. "That's a window in."

Ms. Mulgrew also gives speeches at universities, Elk lodges and other settings about the importance of education and the trauma of domestic violence. She promotes her husband's bid for governor during these stops, as well as during television appearances and fundraisers.

Last February, during an appearance on the Rosie O'Donnell Show, Ms. Mulgrew said her husband was passionate about children, education and the economic well-being of Ohio.

Ms. O'Donnell agreed. "Yes, I love him," the show host told her audience. "He's very real."

In August, Ms. Mulgrew also persuaded several Star Trek cast members, including William Shatner, to help her host a Star Trek convention that raised a little more than $100,000 for Mr. Hagan's campaign.

When she isn't giving speeches, raising money or campaigning for her husband, she still works as an actress, most recently portraying Katharine Hepburn in the one-person play, Tea at Five, at the Cleveland Playhouse. .

An Iowa native, she left home at age 17 to pursue her acting career in New York. She played Mary Ryan on the soap, Ryan's Hope, and starred in her own NBC series, Mrs. Columbo in 1979. She also plays an admiral in the upcoming film, Star Trek: Nemesis.

After spending years in New York, Los Angeles and other big cities, Ms. Mulgrew, who has two sons, Ian, 19, and Alexander, 18, says marrying Mr. Hagan and moving to the suburbs of Cleveland has changed her life.

"At 47, I'm learning things I never imagined. I'm learning what it is to see people struggle to have what I don't have to think about, what my darling privileged children have never had to consider," she says.

Then she grins. "Also, I'm learning patience, which is not my strong suit."

Very lucky

Mr. Hagan is all too familiar with his wife's lack of patience. He also knows a little something about her temper. He saw it up close and personal in 1999 when he picked up the phone and called Ms. Mulgrew for the first time in five years.

The couple first met in 1994 after her mother, who is close friends with Mr. Hagan, arranged for them to get together when they both happened to be in Ireland. Mr. Hagan says Ms. Mulgrew walked into the bar where they were supposed to meet and he thought, "There is a God. She's a knockout."

The two fell in love, but Mr. Hagan ended the relationship when Ms. Mulgrew was offered the role of Capt. Janeway.

"I said, `Your life is going to change, and I'm a commissioner in Cuyahoga County with two daughters who need my attention. This isn't going to work,' " he explains. "I was making 70,000 bucks a year. I couldn't afford to go to L.A. all the time. So it ended. She did Star Trek, and I continued to be a commissioner."

Five years later, Mr. Hagan called Ms. Mulgrew again at the urging of her mother. She was curt but agreed to see him if he met her at the Bel-Aire Hotel in Los Angeles the following Friday.

"In the back of my mind, to be quite frank, I was thinking, `I can't get a 14-day advance ticket,' " he recalls. "I said `Is that the only time you can meet me?' "

Mr. Hagan, who had separated in 1991 and divorced in 1995, didn't expect the reunion with Ms. Mulgrew to go anywhere. But he booked the flight, met her for lunch and eight months later the two were married.

"He's very, very, very lucky - that's 10 verys - that I forgave him," Ms. Mulgrew says.

The actress, who also is divorced, says their relationship hasn't always been easy but it works.

"I've tested him in every way I know how and I'm very clever. I've provoked him. I've probably hurt him. I've probably disappointed him. I've probably threatened him. It's been an absolute challenge from beginning to end, the marriage, given all the trials and obstacles in its way. And never once has he, for a second, been less than who he is."

A Taft of Ohio

Like Ms. Mulgrew, Mrs. Taft also speaks only in glowing terms about her husband, whom she met in 1966 in an airport in Guatemala City. At the time, 22-year-old Hope Rothert had just earned a marketing degree and was there visiting an aunt.

Mr. Taft, who was traveling on his summer break from Princeton, asked her to a party but she already had other plans. He persisted, calling again and asked her to dinner.

The second time, she accepted.

At breakfast the next morning, her aunt, a retired doctor overseeing health programs in Guatemala for Catholic Relief Services, asked Mrs. Taft if her date was one of the Tafts of Ohio. "I said,`I don't know. Who are the Tafts of Ohio?" Mrs. Taft recalls. "A year later, I was a Taft of Ohio."

Mrs. Taft maintained a sense of independence during those years. Mr. Taft went to Vietnam to work for the State Department during the war and, since she wasn't allowed by the department to join him, Mrs. Taft moved to Bangkok, Thailand.

She lived on her own for two years, visiting her husband every few weeks and working for an American phone company. In the 1970s, they finally settled in Cincinnati, where Mr. Taft was elected state representative, county commissioner, secretary of state and then governor.

Mrs. Taft says it has been a challenge at times to be married to a politician - especially once he was elected governor. "We're together a lot, but we're not alone a lot," she explains. "You can't go out in the yard without being in view of some camera."

Still, she says, there is an upside to her husband's climb up the political ladder.

"One of the things I like about campaign season is you focus so much on the strength of the person running. So I'm always talking about Bob's good qualities, and he talks about my good qualities," she says. "It's great because you end up falling in love all over again."

E-mail djasper@enquirer.com




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