Both her allies and adversaries were stunned at Wednesday's council meeting when Cincinnati City Councilwoman Bobbie Sterne, after 25 years in City Hall, suddenly submitted her resignation.
Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who had been designated by the 77-year-old Charterite to pick her replacement, immediately announced the appointment of Jim Tarbell, the restaurant owner who came within 350 votes of being elected to council last fall.
Mrs. Sterne, known as someone who worked quietly and spoke only when she had something to say, made an exit that was in keeping with her reputation.
She simply got up from her council seat and left.
No one particularly noticed during Wednesday's busy meeting when, at about 3 p.m., Mrs. Sterne slipped out of council chambers. Within minutes she was out of the building, leaving behind a resignation letter that was read to council about an hour later by council clerk Sandy Sherman.
"Please don't forget to put extra money in the budget to slurry and seal-coat the streets; and give special care to the children, the elderly, the sick, the homeless, the poor and the disabled," Mrs. Sterne told her council colleagues in the letter.
Because of Cincinnati's term-limits law, Mrs. Sterne could not run for re-election in 1999. There had been much speculation in Cincinnati political circles that she would step down early to allow an appointed councilmember from the Charter Committee to run as an incumbent next year.
"While I would have preferred to serve my full term, the last election did not produce another Charterite on council," Mrs. Sterne wrote.
"I believe it is important to good government in this city that when our council-manager form of government is being attacked, that the Charter Committee, who brought this form of government to this city, keep a representative on council," Mrs. Sterne said. Charter officials think that Mr. Tarbell can keep the seat for the Charterites next year, particularly since three Democratic council members -- Roxanne Qualls, Tyrone Yates and Dwight Tillery -- cannot run for re-election.
Only a handful of friends and Charter officers knew that Mrs. Sterne would submit her resignation Wednesday. By the time Mrs. Sterne's letter was read Wednesday, she had left the building, but it did not stop her fellow council members from spending half an hour paying tribute to her.
Ms. Qualls, her voice cracking with emotion, told council that Mrs. Sterne, who served as the first elected woman mayor of the city for two years in the 1970s, was a model of "courage and dedication."
Mrs. Sterne left the meeting, Ms. Qualls explained, "to avoid having to listen to the speeches of her colleagues, because, as we all know, she was not much of one for speeches."
Republican Councilman Charles Winburn, who often jousted with Mrs. Sterne, said he had "come to love and respect Bobbie Sterne. I am truly going to miss her."
Mrs. Sterne was by far the most senior member of council. She was first elected in 1971. She lost her seat in the 1985 electionbut won it back two years later.
On council, she was an advocate in two principal areas:
For funding of public health services through the city's medical clinics, a natural outgrowth of her background as a registered nurse whose husband, the late Eugene Sterne, was director of the Veterans Hospital here.
Her staunch defense of the city manager form of government that her Charter Committee created 70 years ago. She would consistently resist any council interference with the city manager or the day-to-day operations of the city.
Long before she was elected to council, Mrs. Sterne was a community activist -- organizing volunteers for the Cincinnati Health Department in the 1960s and serving on the Community Chest board and the county health planning agency. During World War II, she was an Army nurse in France and Belgium, where she met her husband. He died in 1977. Her first problem when she ran for council in 1969 was her name. Her real first name is Lavergne, and she was thwarted in 1969 from running under her nickname "Bobbie" in a case that went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Jim Tarbell adresses council Wednesday after being sworn in.
Prior to 1987, council itself elected the mayor; and, during the 1970s and early 1980s, a majority coalition of Charterites and Democrats passed the mayoralty back and forth.
Mrs. Sterne's first turn as mayor came in 1976; and later in 1979. In her second stint, she was widely praised for her handling of a police strike and severe problems in police-community relations. In recent years, friends say Mrs. Sterne had become frustrated over what she saw as the continual bickering among city council members and the political posturing.
In council meetings that sometimes saw debates go on into the evening hours, Mrs. Sterne was often quiet, speaking up only about issues of particular concern.
A study in contrast
In terms of political style, her Charterite replacement, Mr. Tarbell, 55, appears to be completely her opposite.
The colorful downtown restaurant owner with the bald head and flair for the dramatic has been most known in recent years as the chief advocate for putting the Reds' new ballpark at Broadway Commons. There was irony Wednesday afternoon in the fact that as Mr. Tarbell, newly sworn in as a council member, was making his inaugural speech, Hamilton County officials were at Cinergy Field announcing that the new ballpark would be on the riverfront, not Broadway Commons. After his swearing-in, Mr. Tarbell walked around the council chambers handing out single white roses to his new council colleagues. "I expect it would have been easier to get elected than to come in this way," Mr. Tarbell said. "I can't think of anyone I would feel more honored to follow."
Mr. Tarbell said that while he has a public reputation as a "businessman," he wants Cincinnatians to know that he is concerned about "quality of life" issues in Cincinnati neighborhoods.
The new council member said he opposes any plan to do away with the city manager form of government and would like to see the power to select the mayor returned to council.