Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Inside City Hall

Committee on changes might see some changes

For years, it was said that everyone in Cincinnati was in favor of changing the way council members were elected - until they looked at alternate systems.

Now, it seems, there's another hurdle. Everyone's in favor of a new system - but can't agree on who should get to write it.

A bipartisan West Side faction wants one district plan; East Siders have another. Diehard Charterites want a return to the proportional representation system, which existed before 1957.

And some want voters to finish the job they started in 1999, eliminating the city manager's office entirely and putting an elected mayor in charge.

Mayor Charlie Luken tried to bring some stability to this reform free-for-all last month, proposing a 13-member commission to study new plans for Cincinnati government and come up with a single plan that City Council could send to voters. District systems, proportional representation, an executive mayor - everything, it seemed, was open for discussion.

The commission would be made up of three representatives of each political party, plus four more mayoral appointees.

Republicans, who have made a district system a part of their platform, thought the fix was on. How could City Council be trusted to tell neighborhoods how they should be represented - especially if it meant the incumbents might possibly lose power?

As late as last week, Republicans threatened to boycott the process by sending the mayor no representatives. Then they relented, and sent in a pro-district slate.

The GOP nominated Carl Stich Jr. of Mariemont, a former assistant county prosecutor; Rick Witte of West Price Hill, the brother of council candidate and district plan proponent Pete Witte; and state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. of Mount Lookout, who's pushing a competing district plan.

Luken's beef: they're all white guys. The other two parties each appointed one African-American apiece.

Racial balance is particularly important, Luken said, because many African-Americans feel disenfranchised by an at-large system in which 44 percent of the city now has 33 percent of council seats.

So Luken put the whole commission on hold until he could find more black members.

Brinkman said Luken's rejection of the GOP nominees proves what he's believed all along - that the city-controlled commission is a farce.

"Now that the purpose is more about quotas than real reform, I am even more dubious," he said. "Change of this type has to come from the bottom up. Elected officials dictating rules and expansion of their power sounds like Communist Russia or China to me."

• • •

Doing the math: Republicans say they think they have a good chance to take one - and maybe two - council seats in November.

Now some Democrats think so, too.

Dave Schaff, the president of the Hamilton County Young Democrats, is the author of a new politics newsletter he calls the "Schaff Report." He gives this analysis:

Republican Leslie Ghiz, with her "fundraising abilities and go-anywhere, anytime mentality" is most likely to edge out Democrats for Minette Cooper's seat on City Council. "On the bubble" - vying for positions 10 through 13 in the balloting, are Democrats Howard Bond and Sam Britton, Charterite Chris Smitherman and Republican Pete Witte, Schaff says.

It didn't take long for Schaff's Democrats-only newsletter to cross into the GOP camp. Some Democrats think Schaff committed a political faux pas by publicly disclosing which Republicans are considered strongest, giving them added credibility and a big morale boost.


City Hall reporter Gregory Korte can be reached at gkorte@enquirer.com or 768-8391.

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