Thursday, January 18, 1996
The world is discovering Carl Lindner

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Time magazine got one thing wrong in its two-page story this week on Cincinnati's richest citizen.

It says Carl Lindner is a real estate, insurance and banana tycoon. That's right. It says he has showered money on Democrats and Republicans alike. That's right, too. Just ask Dwight Tillery and Stan Aronoff about Mr. Lindner's ecumenical interest in politics.

But Time also called him ''reclusive,'' and nothing could be further from the truth.

Silver hair, yellow Rolls

You can see him driving around during nice weather with the top down on his cream-colored Rolls Royce. Or inspecting the jonquils at the end of his driveway on Shawnee Run Road. Or walking around downtown. Without an entourage, usually.

He was at the opening of a new nightclub in Newport and at the Christian Hills Academy commencement. He was in his very visible courtside seat at the ATP. You can find him in the tent, helping his grandkids juggle their plates at the Charity Horse Show. He has had his picture taken with Ronald Reagan and Marge Schott. This is a guy who gets around.

And now the rest of the world is discovering him.

First, comedienne Paula Poundstone squinted into the audience at a fund-raiser at Ford's Theatre in Washington and wondered aloud how the president knows this ''banana guy.'' The way most politicians know him. By the color of his money.

Now Frontline on PBS has scheduled a 90-minute report titled ''So You Want to Buy a President.'' Correspondent Robert Krulwich says it's an ''affectionate portrait of a guy who frankly uses his political connections as often and as much as he can.'' Reclusive? I don't think so.

Nor is he mysterious.

He has worn his Baptist religion on his sleeve for as long as anybody can remember. He makes his wishes clearly known. The Cincinnati Business Committee (CBC) dithered for months over how to handle dismissing their executive director because Mr. Lindner wanted him to stay. And said so. Most insiders agree that Mr. Lindner threw his support behind the CBC staffer because he was genuinely fond of the man. It was not just business.

Sometimes it can be very personal. In the late '70s, Cincinnati Magazine in an otherwise fawning look at the financier, pictured him as a scoop of ice cream. He was furious and stayed that way for years. He didn't like a 1993 series about himself that appeared in The Enquirer, either.

Both stories were done without benefit of a conversation with Mr. Lindner. As was the Time magazine story. As was the Frontline story. As are they all.

He is not reclusive. He is not mysterious. He just doesn't talk to media. Ever.

We don't understand this. After all, we are simply trying to do our job, which includes noticing what kind of underwear is favored by the president of the United States and whether the first lady lies more effectively with short or long hair.

Money for ATP

Today, I'm pretty sure that Paul Flory, the force behind the ATP Tennis Championships, will announce that Carl Lindner or one of his companies will spend a bunch of money on the ATP. I'm only guessing.

I couldn't get anybody to blab. The best I could get was the promise of a slide show, a turkey sandwich and a ''big announcement'' at noon today. Mr. Flory will present a check to Children's Hospital, the proceeds of the most recent event. This should bring the total contributed since 1974 to about $3 million.

Last year, when Winn-Dixie, a Florida-based chain, bought the Lindner family's Thriftway, it seemed unlikely the retailer would continue sponsorship of the ATP. Like the $55,000 Mr. Lindner sent to the Kidney Foundation and the money he funneled into the zoo and the Shriners Burns Institute, his family's support of the tennis tournament probably was not strictly business.

Perhaps it's time to notice the possibility that maybe he's not a bad guy. Nice even. Generous for sure.

I told the ATP office and someone at Mr. Lindner's office that I would be available to discuss this. I mentioned how adorable and trustworthy I am. I waited all day for my phone to ring.

And it never did.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.