Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Korte: Inside City Hall

Is Damon Lynch III a carpetbagger?

Where does Damon Lynch III live?

In Woodlawn, with his wife and kids, in a $147,500 house? Or in East Price Hill, where he and his wife own a $41,000 condo - and where he registered to vote three days before filing petitions to run for Cincinnati City Council last week?

Pete Witte, president of the Price Hill Civic Club and a Republican candidate for City Council, thinks it's the former. And short of a friendly game of West Side-style cornhole to settle the issue, Witte has filed a protest with the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

"It's an absolute joke that this kind of switcheroo can happen. It's an insult to every voter and resident of the city of Cincinnati that this kind of carpetbagging can go on," Witte said.

Witte's gambit is risky. Indeed, his own party seems to be split on the protest.

"I would think it would help us to have him (Lynch) running. His running is going to make every single Republican in the city run out and vote," said Republican candidate Leslie Ghiz.

The effort could backfire: If Lynch isn't disqualified, it could make him a stronger candidate.

Subpoenas and accusations flew at 824 Broadway when the Board of Elections last took up the thorny issue of residency in 1999. Republicans even looked through Councilman Paul Booth's garbage - or, at least, through his garbage bills - in an unsuccessful attempt to prove he lived in Amberley Village, not Oakley.

Remembering that debacle, Mayor Charlie Luken gave his opponent a pass in 2001. When Courtis Fuller rented an apartment in College Hill the day before filing petitions for mayor, Luken wrote the Board of Elections saying all candidates with valid city addresses "deserve to be on the ballot."

Lynch's case is different. One factor working in his favor is the fact that he owns the Warsaw Avenue condo - and has since 2001. Booth and Fuller both rented.

But the political equation is different. First, Lynch is an independent - and has few friends in either party.

Second, it's a different Board of Elections. It was former Mayor Gene Ruehlmann who broke ranks with Republicans and voted to put Booth on the ballot in 1999.

But Ruehlmann stepped down last year, and Republicans appointed Todd Ward to his place. And if the bipartisan board splits evenly, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell - also a former mayor - will break the tie.

Blackwell is a Republican - and has strictly interpreted the state's residency law.

Lynch himself seems nonplussed by the issue. "I've lived there for two years," he said of his Price Hill pad. "It's public record. It's easy to prove - just ask my neighbors. It's a real non-issue, and anyone who raises it is ignoring other issues that need to be discussed."

But Witte said there's a legitimate campaign issue underlying the squabble.

Witte is pushing a plan to elect council members by districts. Under that plan, candidates have to live in the district they represent for at least two years.

"It's essential to understanding the issues and the concerns of the neighborhood - to live it, breathe it, feel it, eat it, sleep it," Witte said. "People want to have a say in what happens in the city, but they don't want to put their money where their mouth is and live in the city."


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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