Sunday, January 10, 1999

Cincinnati clout in Columbus has limits




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In Cleveland right now, people probably aren't thinking very clearly about the state of politics in Ohio.

        It can't be easy to fire up the gray matter and hone one's thoughts on the Statehouse in Columbus when the entire region is suddenly within the Arctic Circle, with the wind and snow that whips in off that lake.

        You think we've had it bad. Walk down that Cleveland wind tunnel called Euclid Avenue in the dead of winter sometime. It would make you weep, if your tear ducts weren't solid ice.

        This time of year, if people in Cleveland are thinking about anything at all, it is probably the imminent return of their beloved Browns and visions of Tim Couch in the quarterback position this fall.

        But someday the snow and ice will melt, and it will occur to those Clevelanders who follow the fortunes of Ohio politics that they are suddenly on the short end of the stick.

        As of Monday, when the new governor and other state officeholders are sworn in, most of the state's constitutional elected officers will be from Cincinnati.

        That is the first time that has happened in living memory, and it is particularly unsettling to the political and business interests in Cleveland, who have gotten rather used to 16 straight years of governors from Cleveland.

        Only two of the five officeholders elected statewide — all of whom are Republicans — will not be Cincinnatians: State Auditor Jim Petro of Cleveland and Attorney General Betty Montgomery of Perrysburg.

        On Monday, four Cincinna tians will take their oaths:

        • Joe Deters, the Hamilton County prosecutor who was elected state treasurer in his first run for statewide office.

        • J. Kenneth Blackwell, who, after driving his party crazy a year ago by threatening to run for governor, gave up the state treasurer's job and won the secretary of state's office.

        • Bob Taft, the former secretary of state and Hamilton County commissioner, who will become Ohio's 67th governor.

        • The most powerful of the lot, however, might be one Cincinnati political figure who is not a statewide officeholder. Richard Finan of Evendale is president of the Ohio Senate, and he is likely to have more to say about who gets what and where than a brand-new governor who is still looking for the executive washroom and trying to figure out how to work the office coffee machine.

        Throw Mr. Finan into the mix, and this is an impressive display of political horseflesh.

        On the surface, at least, it would seem astonishing that one city could produce so many winners in a state where voters have no fewer than eight metropolitan areas to choose from.

        But will it pay off for Cincinnati? Will this usher in the gilded age of politics in Cincinnati, with state dollars raining down like manna from heaven?

        Probably not.

        The reasons are very simple. First, these are statewide officeholders; eventually, they will have to run for re-election or some other office higher up the food chain, and they have to run in every part of the state. They will find it hard to play favorites for long.

        The second reason is that Cincinnati — even with Clevelanders George Voinovich and Dick Celeste in the governor's office — has hardly been the poor little orphan waif of Ohio, huddled in the snow, selling matchsticks to passersby.

        This city has always had more fabulously wealthy people per square mile than any metropolitan area in the state. And what do those fabulously wealthy people do with their disposable income, when they're not captaining industry and endowing charity?

        They give it to politicians, that's what.

        Cincinnati has been the Comstock Lode of campaign money for decades; it is the place of pilgrimage for all Republicans who seek higher office.

        The fabulously wealthy give until it hurts, and it doesn't seem to matter whether their Republican candidates are from Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo or Knockemstiff.

        And, as we all know, campaign money pays big dividends.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for The Enquirer. His column appears Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at hwilkinson@enquirer.com

       



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