Tuesday, September 05, 2000

Politicians, like ants, love to swarm picnic

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jason Justin-James is only 12 years old and hadn't thought a lot about politics until Monday afternoon at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic at Coney Island.

        That's when he saw the guy at the picnic ground gates handing out money.

        “I thought that was pretty cool,” the Delhi Township seventh-grader said. “Politics is OK.”

        Of course, it wasn't real money — that would be illegal, and a really bad way to ignite a 12-year-old's interest in the political process.

        What Jason and nearly all the rest of the 20,000 union members and their families at the annual AFL-CIO event really saw was Bob Drake, Democratic candidate for Hamilton County treasurer, handing out his campaign lit erature — a slip of paper that looks amazingly like a dollar bill with Mr. Drake's picture where George Washington ought to be.

        And, on the flip side, there is a picture of Paul Brown Stadium, with the inscription “In Bob We Trust: The Bed- inghaus Monument,” a reference to Republican county commissioner Bob Bedinghaus.

        Bored with the picnic, Jason volunteered to don a “Drake for Treasurer” T-shirt and stand at the entrance with the candidate, handing out the phony money to picnic-goers.

        “It's your money — not Bob Bedinghaus',” the boy said as he thrust a bill at each passer-by, parroting the Drake campaign slogan. Mr. Drake's opponent, Republican incumbent Rob Goering, had campaign signs on the picnic grounds Mon day, as did dozens of other southwest Ohio candidates.

        In Cincinnati, the AFL-CIO picnic is the traditional kick-off event for the local campaign season, with its thousands of voters in one place in a relaxed atmosphere who have nothing better to do than shake hands with candidates with one hand and eat ribs with the other.

        It is a big enough event that eight years ago it attracted presidential candidate Bill Clinton for a rally on the Coney Island riverbank.

        The candidates who show up to stump in the picnic grounds are mostly Democrats and mostly candidates who have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

        But non-endorsed candidates had a presence too, Monday, such as Mr. Goering and county recorder Rebecca Prem Groppe, a Republican.

        Democrat Melanie Bates, who is running against Ms. Groppe, walked the picnic grounds all afternoon, passing out campaign literature.

        “It's a great way to make contacts with some union people who volunteer for the campaign or make contributions,” Ms. Bates said. “You can't miss this one.”

        The Hamilton County Board of Elections had a booth set up on the midway to register voters for the Nov. 7 election. It tried to draw them in with a mock election on whether or not Pete Rose should be admitted to Baseball's Hall of Fame.

        Dan Radford, executive secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor council, said that all candidates, whether labor-endorsed or not, are welcome to the annual picnic.

        “The fact that we have 20,000 people here today shows what a political force labor can be,” Mr. Radford said. “It's no wonder the candidates come.”


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