Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Springer avoids Iraq debate

Speech cites support for troops

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jerry Springer, still testing the waters for a possible U.S. Senate bid next year, spoke about education, the economy, health care and the American dream to a group of Cincinnati Democrats on Monday night. But for the first time in his two-month exploratory campaign, he said little about the war in Iraq.

"This week, I don't think it's appropriate," he said after the speech to the Hamilton County Young Democrats at Carol's on Main downtown. "Our boys are over there right now. In this democratic society, you state your case. You make your argument. We lost. Now, we back our boys. If my kids was over there, that's what I would expect."

Springer, the talk show host and former Cincinnati mayor, was 43 minutes into a 54-minute speech before he even mentioned Iraq. And that was in response to a question about property tax levies funding Ohio schools.

"How come our kids are the only things we get to vote against?" he said. "Maybe I was doing a show that day, but I don't remember getting to vote on Iraq. Not only wasn't I asked, but I wasn't even told the cost."

Springer said he would decide by this summer whether he would run against Republican Sen. George Voinovich in 2004. (He would face a Democratic primary opponent in state Sen. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland.) But Monday's speech - which followed a brief appearance at a factory gate in Blue Ash - sounded more like a campaign speech than most of his recent local appearances.

To be sure, he was typically self-deprecating about his show, which often features strippers, fistfights and cheating lovers. "If I decide to run, this is one promise I can keep: I will shake things up," he said. "And they will have to tie the chairs in the Senate down, because it could get ugly."

But in trying to overcome poll numbers showing his "unfavorable" rating at 71 percent, Springer also talked about lesser-known parts of his story.

He spoke about his own arrival in America at age 5 - as a Jewish immigrant from England whose family fled Nazi Germany. He talked about the Statue of Liberty, the immigrant experience, and living the American dream.

Wrapping up his speech, he worried out loud that the United States is turning its back on the rest of the world.

"What arrogance," he said of the edict by Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, that french fries be changed to "freedom fries" on the official menu in the Capitol Hill cafeteria, in protest of French opposition to the war.

"You don't fight to make someone free, as we did with the French in World War II, and then get mad at them for exercising that freedom. We're bigger than that. We're better than that. We're America. We're a beacon of light for the rest of the world. Don't snuff it out."

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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