Sunday, August 15, 1999

Springer race wasn't meant to be


His serious days are long gone

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

springer
Jerry Springer
        Jerry, we hardly knew ye.

        For a while there it appeared (“appeared” being the operative word here) that Jerry Springer might try to shed the television sleaze-meister persona he has worn so well in recent years and remake himself into the serious and savvy politician we knew as a Cincinnati councilman and mayor in the 1970s in order to run for the U.S. Senate from Ohio.

        The national, and even international, news media had worked themselves into a frenzy over the prospect, spilling millions of gallons of ink and sending countless broadcast reports of the Great Springer Watch hurtling into outer space for some far-distant alien culture to pick up on their satellite dishes and scratch their heads over in eons to come.

        Problem is, it's not going to happen.

        Discretion being the better part of valor, Mr. Springer has decided to take a pass on a contest next year with the Republican incumbent, Mike DeWine.

        Far too busy, it seems, offering America hour-long pieces of televised street theater titled “Lusty Love Affairs” and “Wild Sexual En counters” and cashing the checks that flow there from to be out running for the United States Senate.

        Not that he wouldn't like to. We have no doubt that there are times when Jerry Springer would like to return to the days before Americans winced or giggled at the mention of his name; when he would like to be the old Jerry, reading the news and delivering thoughtful commentary on great issues.

        But those days are gone.

        Not that there were not those who thought that a Springer candidacy would be a good thing for the Ohio Democratic Party.

        There was Mr. Springer's friend from his Cincinnati City Hall days, Hamilton County Democratic co-chairman Tim Burke, who proved to be as loyal a pal as the old hound dog in front of the fireplace. Mr. Burke put on his game face and went on one national TV news program after another, trying to make the case that a Springer candidacy would energize a million couch potatoes, from Ashtabula to Addyston, into coming to the polls.

        Ohio AFL-CIO president William Burga seemed to like the idea, too. Last week, he told the Associated Press the talk-show host is “not a villain. He's not a child molester or something.”

        Great. We can see the campaign ads: Springer for Senate. He's not a child molester.

        It's hard to say exactly what would have happened had Mr. Springer decided to run and leave behind his daily session with mouth-breathers slinging furniture at one another, but we can guess at a few things, such as:

        • The prospect of a presidential campaign where the Democratic candidate, be he Al Gore or Bill Bradley, having to slip in and out of Ohio in the dead of night in order to avoid being seen in public with the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

        • Debates between the two U.S. Senate contenders in which the Dem ocratic candidate would, no doubt, be asked to offer his expert opinion on violence on television and the coarsening of American culture.

        One of the arguments that Mr. Burke gamely made during the last month of Springermania is that his friend has dealt with difficult questions in a political campaign before, citing Mr. Springer's 1975 episode where he paid a prostitute with a check and then went on to get elected to council in conservative Cincinnati.

        He did that by coming out and saying he had made a mistake, a bad one, by apologizing for his behavior and asking the voters to judge the whole person, not just one incident.

        That was one mistake. One mistake can be explained. One mistake can be forgiven.

        But what would he have said in a U.S. Senate campaign about what he has been up to lately?

        I am sorry. I have made a mistake on national television every weekday for years now. Forgive me.

       

        Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

       



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