Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Inside City Hall

Petition drives start for 2004 elections

Today marks the end of the 2003 election campaign - and the beginning of the 2004 campaign.

Volunteers will be at the polls today collecting signatures on petitions to get two Cincinnati charter amendments on the ballot next year.

District elections?

The District Election Committee for a Greater Cincinnati launches its plan to divide the city into voting districts for the first time since the 1925 charter. The bipartisan committee is headed by Pete Witte and Don Driehaus of Price Hill and Emanuel Marshall of College Hill.

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Their plan provides for a 12-member council (up from nine), with nine elected by districts and three at-large members. The ward representatives would take a 33 percent pay cut.

There are some changes to this plan since it was first proposed a year ago: The plan leaves the districting process up to City Council. (Their original map outraged Oakley Community Council president Sue Doucleff, whose neighborhood was chopped in half.) And the mayor gets his veto back.

Organizers say they're launching the campaign today to take advantage of the access to registered voters. About a dozen circulators will hit precincts in College Hill, Mount Washington, Mount Airy and Price Hill.

But there's also some symbolism to the timing.

"We love the fact that we're launching this during what we believe to be the last at-large election in the city of Cincinnati," said Witte, president of the Price Hill Civic Club.

The committee is aiming for the March 2004 presidential primary ballot.

It could have competition. Another committee - co-chaired by GOP state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. and former Democratic congressional candidate Greg Harris - will soon release its own plan. And an Election Reform Commission appointed by Mayor Charlie Luken is set to report back to City Council with its recommendations in February.

There are two ways to get a charter amendment on the ballot: By a two-thirds vote of City Council, or by an initiative petition signed by 10 percent of the voters in the last municipal election. Based on 2001 turnout, that number would be 9,245.

Repeal Article XII?

Hundreds of volunteers from the Citizens to Restore Fairness will be at the polls today as they continue their campaign to repeal Article XII - a charter amendment passed 10 years ago.

Article XII prohibits City Council from passing a gay rights law.

Gay rights supporters have subtly changed tactics since the first time City Council passed a gay rights ordinance. In 1991, they tried to avoid a debate by working quietly to get a gay rights law passed. Today, they're generating grass-roots support through a petition campaign.

But the signatures are almost beside the point, said Citizens to Restore Fairness co-chairman Gary Wright.

"The most important thing we're doing is talking to the voters one on one," he said. "Most people are aware of their gay and lesbian friends in their community, it's important to put a personal face on the campaign."

Volunteers wearing blue-and-white "Yes for Fairness" stickers will be collecting signatures to get the repeal on the November 2004 ballot.

"We'll probably have more volunteers at the polls than anyone else, which says a lot because we're not even on the ballot."

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