Wednesday, May 21, 2003

City Hall

Spencer running hard route in declaring as independent


The first declared independent of the 2003 City Council campaign is Nick Spencer, the 25-year-old founder of Cincinnati Tomorrow.

Like most Cincinnati independents, Spencer doesn't have any beef with the three-party system. He simply got left behind when the party's train left the station.

The Hamilton County Republican Party managed to fill nine slots on its slate for the first time in more than a decade, leaving no room for Spencer, a Republican who has worked and campaigned for Arizona Sen. John McCain, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich and Councilman Pat DeWine.

In the 77-year history of Cincinnati's charter, only four people have been elected to City Council as independents: Herbert Bigelow (1935, 1939), Wiley Craig (1937), Jerry Springer (1975) and Guy Guckenberger (1989).

Discount the 1930s, which provided fertile ground for socialists, pacifists and other left-leaning progressives, and you're left with Springer and Guckenberger - both of whom were established party-endorsed incumbents before they were independents.

Springer was left off the Democratic ticket after his now-infamous prostitution scandal, and later returned to the fold and was elected mayor. Guckenberger was unendorsed by the GOP in 1989 in a periodic purge of pro-choice candidates and is now serving as a Republican-endorsed Municipal Court judge.

The far more common way for independents to advance their political careers is to run without an endorsement and lose - but have a strong enough showing that they get picked up by a major party in two years.

Candidates who have gone that route include Charlie Luken (now the Democratic mayor), Steve Chabot (now a Republican congressman), John Mirlisena (later a party-switching councilman) and most recently Laketa Cole (appointed by Democrats in March to replace Paul Booth, and now endorsed for re-election).

Spencer, who lives in Clifton, sees Cole as his model. Both worked on the third floor before their campaigns - Cole was an aide to Councilman Dwight Tillery and Booth; Spencer worked for DeWine for all of three weeks before leaving to start his campaign.

More independents will announce once the Democrats fill out their ticket after Memorial Day.

Two more interesting possibilities are Cincinnati Board of Education member Cathy Ingram and perennial peace protester Brian Crum, acquitted last month of punching a police horse during last October's visit of President Bush.

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In the lobby: City Manager Valerie Lemmie has hired a new Washington lobbying firm, The Ferguson Group, replacing Patton Boggs.

The contract will be about $104,400 a year, about $10,000 less than the city was paying Patton Boggs.

But the biggest change may be in party affiliation.

Ferguson's William Hanka is a Republican; Patton Boggs' Florence Prioleau is a Democrat.

With Bush in the White House and the city's entire congressional delegation safely in Republican hands, that could make all the difference.

"Strong Mayor" Luken has also promised to step up his lobbying role. Indeed, even without a Washington lobbyist for the past five months, the city had two big successes last week.

With the help of Rep. Chabot, the city persuaded the U.S. Justice Department to back down from new reporting policies that police didn't like.

And Luken is still crowing about the $8 million the city got from the Department of Homeland Security, even while bigger cities got little or no money.

Indeed, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is complaining to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that the state capital - and largest city in Ohio - got nothing while Cincinnati and Cleveland got millions.

"Coleman has gotten 20 times more ink for not getting money than I did getting $8 million," Luken complained this week.

City Hall reporter Gregory Korte can be reached at or 768-8391.

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