Thursday, November 04, 1999

A post-election thank-you note




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Right now. Before one of them does something that will drive us to say unkind things about politicians, let's notice the good people who ran for office this year. Wonderful people. Not to mention decent and unselfish. There. I said it. And I'm probably going to hear about it next time I see Ralph.

        Ralph Ossenbeck, a guy I see at the courthouse where he works, says I'm getting soft, and he could be right. I'm not nearly as mean to politicians as I used to be before I spent so much time around them, watching what they do.

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        Take former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, who also served as a member of Congress. He's 78 years old, and I'm fairly sure he wasn't trying to improve his resume by getting elected to Cincinnati's school board. I think it's possible he offered to tackle the problems of urban schoolchildren because he is a good man.

        A public servant.

Chick magnets?
        I suppose some people run for public office to line their pockets or meet women or get a free parking space and stationery with their name on it. Others probably can't help it. It surely is part of the Taft DNA. And maybe it's genetic for people named Luken and DeWine as well.

        The rest of them could be drawn by the privilege of riding around in the back seat of a convertible at the Harvest Home parade. Or maybe they have an insatiable appetite for rubber chicken. Do you suppose they are consumed with longing to hear from citizens who are sincerely ticked off about how their garbage is collected?

        Perhaps they enjoy begging for money from strangers. Maybe they secretly enjoy sitting on molded plastic chairs. Perhaps they love the thrill of a front-row seat at zoning hearings or the heady satisfaction of a thorough debate about sewers. Maybe they like the challenge of explaining an increase in a water bill.

        Maybe. That's power of a certain kind, I suppose.

        But, of course, sewers and zoning are very boring. Unless the sewer is running through your personal front yard or the zoning means that your neighbor can open a massage parlor. Then, it becomes kind of interesting. And the people who make these decisions are what you might call generalists. That is, they were generally trained to do something else.

        For instance, 10 candidates vied for the seven positions open on Hamilton's City Council, among them a minister, an attorney, an optometrist, a private eye and a social worker. The council job is not really a job — more like an extracurricular activity for which they will be paid an average of $7.32 cents per meeting. Their annual salaries are $300.

Amazingly frugal
        That's not much, but it's five times what Wyoming's City Council is paid. This august body made decisions this year about emergency medical services. It approved an $18-million plan to build townhouses and shops at a former Kmart site. Mayor Dave Savage and his fellow council members are paid $60 a year.

        Gee, Dave, I said, it must be hard to make ends meet on that kind of salary.

        “We are very frugal,” he replies.

        Trained as a chemist, his other “job” was as an executive with Drackett and, later, Procter & Gamble. He was first elected to Wyoming's council in 1979, running “just to see how the system works.”

        Well, the system works, if I may say so, Dave, because of people like yourself.

        The election Tuesday was what we cavalierly call “off-year.” We were not sending anybody to Washington or Columbus. We were merely choosing the people who will decide what goes on in our children's schools and which farmlands will become shopping malls and when our garbage will be collected.

        Without them, our community would grind to a halt, and I don't think it would be excessive to say so now and then. Maybe even thank them.

        So, get off my back, Ralph.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.