Tuesday, March 12, 1996
You're still key to city's sports future

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Having an opinion on the stadiums and the half-cent sales tax is mandatory. ''What do you think about the stadiums?'' has nearly replaced ''Is it cold enough for you?'' as our small-talk greeting of choice.

So, here's what I think. I think the March 19 vote is what most of us have wanted all along: the right to decide how things are done here. It's that simple.

In case anybody missed the point last summer after the Issue 1 ''strong mayor'' defeat, we think we are grown-up enough to make our own decisions. Issue 1's confusing array of ''reforms'' came from the Cincinnati Business Committee, so right away the rest of us were wary.

We can't help noticing that not many of these fellows are standing in line next to us at Sam's Club. They don't ride the bus to work. They make up their minds about city matters in a very what's-in-it-for-my-bottom-line kind of way.

Nothing wrong with that, but occasionally we regular citizens like to rise up on our hind legs and remind them that they only lease space in this city. They do not own it. We do.

And we are trying very hard to make the smart choice. The responsible choice. The visionary choice. Are we better off with or without major league sports? This may be our last chance to decide. If we lose the Bengals - and most people think we will if this tax doesn't pass - will it signal the Beginning of the End?

Whom do we trust? There is Bob Bedinghaus, the Hamilton County commissioner who first proposed paying for the stadiums with a sales tax. We don't know him very well. Then, there's the opposition. Tom Luken. We know him all too well. And Tim Mara. Why does he care so much? What is he running for?

Predictably, Marge has honked us off. And Mike Brown has always honked us off, because no matter what he does he's not Paul Brown.

To top it all off, Marge and Mike are rich. And we are not. And one of them can't seem to put together a winning team. None of this should matter, really. We should be looking at the big picture.

But, Lord, it has been confusing.

As I wrestle with what to do with my own valuable vote, it occurs to me that there is a minor miracle about all this, globally speaking. My vote will count. I have no doubt of this.

No matter how much the big wheels in town want stadiums, money cannot buy this election. If money were the only thing that mattered, we'd be looking forward to a ''strong mayor'' handpicked by guys who live in Indian Hill.

No one will steal this election. We will not hear from voters in Spring Grove Cemetery. We will not have to ask Jimmy Carter to come check our precinct workers.

Regular people will be keeping things honest. Republicans and Democrats. Two of each in each precinct. That means that Pam Swafford, Hamilton County's deputy election director, has to come up with 4,244 poll workers.

People don't have to live in a precinct to work there, but ''everybody likes to be close to home,'' she says. ''And you try to find two Republicans in Lincoln Heights. It's like trying to find two Democrats in Indian Hill.''

The pay is not fabulous, but it's not peanuts either. If you are a presiding judge (that means you're the boss), you get paid $110. The other three workers get $90. If you are a registered voter in Hamilton County, Pam needs you. Desperately. Actually, we all do.

Call 632-7041 or 632-7042 if you're willing to help. Pam Swafford thinks there will be an unusually high turnout next Tuesday. More than 14,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, compared with about 5,900 absentee voters during the last presidential primary.

Just think, you can be part of a minor miracle. Two of them really. A free election. And regular people who have a chance to make up their own minds about the future of the place where they live.

By the way, just because the business guys think something is a good idea is no reason to turn it down. The words ''cutting off your nose to spite your face'' spring to mind.

So, anyway, is it cold enough for you?

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 mHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.