Sunday, November 9, 2003

New faces take over suburbs

Economic issues contribute to wave of exiting incumbents

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From Delhi to Deerfield, Loveland to Lebanon, and Sycamore to Monroe, a changing of the guard will take place by year's end in many Greater Cincinnati suburbs.

While Cincinnati voters returned mostly incumbents to City Council and the school board Tuesday, some long-time leaders lost their bid for re-election in small towns - while others left on their own terms by retiring from office.

The end result is that newcomers will preside as mayors in Reading, Norwood, Loveland, St. Bernard, Evendale, Golf Manor, Cheviot, North Bend and Batavia.

Only about a third - or less - of all voters cast a ballot Tuesday for local municipal, township or school elections.

"It's just sad to see," said Gene Beaupre, a Xavier University politics professor who has studied local elections for 30 years.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections had predicted a 42 percent turnout. But only 33.97 percent came to the polls, down from 37 percent two years ago.

Butler County saw a 31 percent turnout, down from 34 percent in 2001. Warren County dropped to 29.8 percent, from 31 percent two years ago. Only Clermont County registered an uptick, from 26 percent to 29.7 percent.

"What's the (voters') excuse this time? Certainly it wasn't the weather," Beaupre said.

Beaupre blamed apathy and complacency. About half of candidates in the four counties were uncontested.

He also said the public has "a broader attitude of cynicism toward all leaders, not just elected officials. We've got this toxic attitude toward all leaders."

Many more new voices will be heard on town councils and boards in small communities, where it's easier for candidates to get their message out and meet voters than in a large city like Cincinnati.

And a lot of those voices had been speaking about economic development - or redevelopment.

In Delhi Township, businessman Al Duebber ended the 24-year reign of Trustee Nicholas LaScalea by talking about the 27 empty storefronts on Delhi Road.

"We just felt it was time for new ideas and new blood. The township really needs to revitalize our business district," said Duebber, a former Oak Hills school board member.

In Hamilton, former Butler County Sheriff Richard Holzberger blamed his failure to secure a fifth City Council term on voters' impatience for an economic turnaround.

"There's a lot of frustration with the economy. They tend to blame the incumbents," says Holzberger.

Incumbent trustees William Morand and David Tacosik were rejected by voters in Deerfield and West Chester townships, two of the fastest-growing unincorporated areas north of the I-275 outerbelt.

Lee Speidel, who ended Morand's eight-year tenure in Deerfield Township, said residents responded to his criticisms about traffic congestion from new developments approved by trustees.

In Butler County's Ross Township, Dave Young's 16 years at trustee ended Tuesday with a victory by Ellen Yordy, who will become the township's first female trustee.

In Lebanon, City Council members Ron Pandorf and James Reinhard were not re-elected in an eight-way race for three seats.

"Voters looked at it from the perspective of who wanted it the most," said Matthew Rodriguez, a mortgage company president who led Lebanon council candidates with 19 percent of the vote.

"It's not a matter of a voice of change, but voters choosing someone who didn't rest on their laurels and years of experience, and went out and showed the community that they really wanted to make a difference," Rodriguez said.

Significant changes also will be coming to area school boards. The two Sycamore Schools incumbents, Pat Raffel and Charlie Wilfong, were ousted after contentious union negotiations last year in favor of retired teacher Vicki Hirsch and retired businessman Ken Richter.

Suzi Rubin, who worked exhaustively in Butler County to split Monroe's schools from the Middletown system and form its own district, lost a re-election bid by 11 votes.

Across Hamilton County suburbs, voters opted for new faces.

Norwood Democrats took control of the mayor's office, with retired police captain Thomas Williams defeating incumbent Victor Schneider by 29 votes.

Evendale voters replaced Mayor Douglas Lohmeier with former mayor Donald Apking. Loveland Mayor Donna Lajcak was ousted after finishing last among six candidates for three council seats.

Four communities lost a combined 63 years of experience with the retirements of Golf Manor Mayor Dennis Puthoff (22 years); Cheviot Mayor J. Michael Laumann (20 years); St. Bernard Mayor Barbara Siegel (12 years); and Reading Mayor Earl Schmidt (nine years).

"It's time to do other things," says Puthoff, who has been commuting between the central Hamilton County suburb and his investment property in Florida. "I'm tired of being on the phone all the time, and running back and forth."

Replacing Puthoff will be Alan Zaffiro, who has served six years on Golf Manor council. Cheviot elected Samuel Keller, council president since 1994, as mayor.

St. Bernard's new mayor will be John Estep, the assistant principal from St. Bernard-Elmwood Place Junior High School who campaigned on redeveloping the old eight-acre Nu-Maid Margarine site.

Reading chose Robert "Bo" Bemmes, son of long-time council member Butch Bemmes, over two challengers to replace Schmidt.

"This is a changing of the guard," said Bemmes, a construction company owner who promised a "more aggressive pursuit" of economic redevelopment.

"We felt that the core of our city - Reading Road - was deteriorating too far," Bemmes said. "We've got to clean it up, and fix it up to be pedestrian friendly, and limit the parking."

Erica Solvig and Steve Kemme contributed to this report. E-mail

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