Saturday, January 11, 2003

Bradley likely bound for a national stage

With swearing-in Monday, lieutenant governor's low profile is about to rise

By Debra Jasper
and Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

[photo] Jennette Bradley is the country's first female black lieutenant governor.
(Michael E. Jackson photo)
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COLUMBUS - Although movie star Halle Berry was on the cover of November's Jet magazine, Jennette Bradley's friends were more impressed with a story and picture inside.

The national magazine for mostly African-American readers was taking note that Ms. Bradley was elected the country's first female black lieutenant governor.

"They passed that magazine around at my hair salon," Ms. Bradley says, laughing. "They all said, `Your hair looks good. Your makeup looks good.' It went from hair dryer to hair dryer."

Until this year, very few people outside the state capital knew of Ms. Bradley, 50. The city knew her as an articulate Huntington National Bank senior executive who was the only Republican on the Democratic-controlled Columbus City Council for more than a decade.

Even after she was selected in February by Gov. Bob Taft to replace Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor - who jumped off the ticket to run for the Ohio Supreme Court - she maintained a relatively low profile. She kept the attention on Mr. Taft, stressing that she would be a full partner in a second Taft administration.

[photo] Ms. Bradley chats with Gov. Taft Wednesday during a meeting of current and incoming administration.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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But her election in November as lieutenant governor changed all that. Her swearing-in Monday - and assignment by the governor to be director of the Ohio Department of Commerce - will catapult Ms. Bradley to political prominence in Ohio and the nation.

"In four years she will be in high demand," said Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett, who foresees a prime speaking position for her at the 2004 presidential convention. "I think the opportunities for her right now are unlimited."

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, one of only three Republican black statewide elected officials in the country, says Ms. Bradley's election sends two messages to voters.

"The Republican Party is a big-tent party, and political thought in the African-American community is as diverse as it is in the general public," says Mr. Blackwell, a Cincinnati native. "By comparison, she is to the left of me in political thought, but we are both members of a Republican team."

Political analyst John Green said the recent ouster of Republican Trent Lott as U.S. Senate majority leader for suggesting segregation would have been good for the country makes Ms. Bradley's role in national politics more important.

"President Bush and his associates would like to signal to Asians, Hispanics and even white Americans that the Republican Party is a big tent and can accommodate everybody," says Mr. Green, a professor of political science and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

It helps, he adds, that Ms. Bradley is an impressive politician who handles herself well. "She's going to be the center of attention nationally, whether she wants it or not."

Age: 50.
Personal: Married to Michael Taylor.
Residence: Columbus.
Education: East High School, Columbus; bachelor's degree in psychology, Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, 1974.
Work experience: Senior vice president, public funds manager, Huntington National Bank; senior vice president, public finance banker, Kemper Securities; executive director, Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Political experience: Elected Columbus City Council, 1991; re-elected in 1995 and 1999.
Honors: YWCA Woman of Achievement Award; Columbus Public Schools Hall of Fame (2000); board of trustees, Wittenberg University.
Sunday: Everyone's welcome to come to the governor's inaugural, but some are especially welcome. Find out who's ponying up thousands to underwrite the party.
Monday: The inaugural is a glorious day for Republicans. And why not? They control every lever of power. But looming over them is a huge state budget deficit.
Ms. Bradley, for her part, says she is proud of the message her election sends to people across the country.

"It carries some additional weight, but it doesn't intimidate me," she says. "If it serves as an incentive for other women and people of color to become involved in government and public policy, I'm happy to open that door."

Criticism from all sides

Democrats, of course, think Ohioans made a bad choice when they put the Taft/Bradley team in charge for four years. They said the Republicans haven't done nearly enough to fund public schools, curb increases in college tuition, create new high-tech jobs and provide adequate health care. They offered Cleveland Democrat Tim Hagan for governor and another Columbus city councilwoman, Charleta Tavares, also an African-American, for lieutenant governor.

Their view of Ms. Bradley is muted.

Matt Habash, the Columbus City Council president, praised Ms. Bradley's work on such issues as urban sprawl, infrastructure and zoning. But Ms. Tavares was a better choice for voters, he said, because she is more in touch with social service issues and groups.

"These are very difficult times for social service agencies," said Mr. Habash, also director of the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. "In a recession the corporate donations dry up, the (government) funding is cut and demand for your services goes up."

State Sen. Mark Mallory, a Democrat from Cincinnati and a leader of the minority caucus, wonders how much leeway Ms. Bradley will have to set and direct policy at the Commerce Department. He says the agency must rein in predatory lending companies that target the poor and undereducated in urban communities.

"I think it's an opportunity for her to show that the (Taft) administration is serious about predatory lenders," he says.

Ms. Bradley, former director of the Columbus Public Housing Authority, says she is qualified to be commerce director.

"Columbus isn't a small village or township," she says. "They have issues similar to those at the state level, but with the state they are on a broader scale."

She has already vowed to crack down on predatory lending and plans to work with big-city mayors to help redevelop urban areas.

"I want to see the revitalization of our cities," she says. "Both the governor and I want to work to strengthen urban areas."

Actually, Democrats' criticism of Ms. Bradley pales in comparison to the right wing of her own party.

They remain angry at her council vote in 1998 to give health benefits to the gay partners of Columbus city employees. Groups such as the Christian Coalition also blasted her for her stand in favor of abortion rights.

She shrugs off such criticism, saying those positions don't define her as a candidate.

"I'm pro-choice, but I only talk about that when I'm asked about it by a reporter," she says. "It's already federal law, so it's not an issue for me. It's not my platform, and the fact that I have that position doesn't mean I'm not a Republican."

Ms. Bradley prefers to emphasize her views as a fiscal conservative and businesswoman. At Huntington Bank, she was a senior vice president and public funds manager. Before that, she was with Kemper Securities. A graduate of East High School in Columbus, Ms. Bradley earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where she now serves on the board of trustees.

"My time and efforts are taken up with issues, like the economy, that affect the daily lives of people," she says. "When I go into a job, what is at the forefront of my mind is, `What needs to be done?' "

Accepting the offer to run with Mr. Taft was a tough decision.

"It was a big step to stop my banking career and make a full-time commitment to this," she says. "But I like Bob Taft. I thought we'd be a good team."

Ms. Bradley's election to statewide office is not her only "first." At 28, she became the youngest, first female and first black executive director of the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority in 1981. In 1991, she became the first black woman elected to the Columbus City Council.

She was also the only Republican to hold a council seat, and in 1999, won more votes than any other council candidate. "I beat everybody and that's a big accomplishment, especially for a black Republican," she says.

`Perfectly poised'

Ms. Bradley says she is eager to start tackling new challenges at the Statehouse, and one of the biggest will be maintaining balance in her new life as lieutenant governor.

Ms. Bradley says she understands loss. The death of her mother-in-law and father have taught her to value the people in her life, especially her mother and Michael Taylor, her husband since 1990.

"At the end of the day, when I'm no longer lieutenant governor, they are what matters," she says.

Mr. Taylor, a consultant who runs his own communications firm, says his wife's political image is far from who she is at home.

"The public sees this perfectly poised, organized, everything-is-clicking person, but at home it's completely different," he says. "If I get home before her and hear the garage door open, I don't worry if she doesn't come in for 10 or 15 minutes - because she's sitting in the car singing at the top of her lungs."

Usually, Mr. Taylor says his wife is singing along with Tina Turner - her favorite entertainer. Most evenings at home are quiet ones.

"A lot of people think because she's the lieutenant governor now our lives are exciting and eventful, but it's not full of glitz and glamour," he says. "We sit around and watch the Home and Garden channel and eat popcorn. We do things urbane couples aren't supposed to do."

Ms. Bradley says she picked up many of her political beliefs from her father - an Army master sergeant who served two tours in Vietnam.

"He was in the military at a time when it was not the easiest place to be for minorities, but he had a sense of higher purpose," she says. "I know that nothing I'm going through will compare to what those who went before me faced in life."

From her mother, she says she inherited a strong spirit and survival skills.

"I'm in awe of my mother," she says. "My mom was always there for the kids in the neighborhood. Growing up, when other kids were sick, they knew Mrs. Bradley would watch them. She was the neighborhood babysitter."

As lieutenant governor, Ms. Bradley says she hopes to listen to and lobby for people from all walks of life. She says she plans to put her access to the bully pulpit to good use.

"Diversity is good for government because it adds the voices of people who haven't been represented," she says, saying that she remembers all too well when women and blacks had far fewer opportunities.

"I remember the old ways, but I'm part of the new way," she says. "We've become a better nation because we're more open now."

She adds, "Maybe the goal is that one day we won't have to identify people as the `first' or the `only.' Hopefully, because of me, it will be a little easier for them."

She is more circumspect about her political aspirations. "Being a trailblazer can be a rocky path, but it's something I've always been willing to do," she says. "If I'm in the right place and have the right experience and it fits, it could be a good thing."


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