Sunday, December 28, 2003

Small-town mayors show Democrats can win here, too


Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

Democrats could use a recipe for success in Hamilton County. The place has been a Republican stronghold since Lincoln was clean-shaven.

For advice, the minority party could consult two of its own, J. Michael Laumann and Earl Schmidt.

The two straight-shooting, small-town Hamilton County mayors boast a combined 29 years as chief executives and 56 years as elected officials. Quite an accomplishment in a county where Republicans own Election Day.

Laumann has been Cheviot's mayor for 20 years. Schmidt has held Reading's top job for nine.

But their days as mayor are numbered. Laumann and Schmidt are retiring. Their terms officially end Dec. 31. They hand over the reins of power during ceremonies on New Year's Day.

Before they close up shop, the mayors spoke about their careers in politics and their years tending democracy's grass roots.

"Running a small city is democracy as its best," Laumann said. "You get to know the community, to talk to the people."

Schmidt said, "I know all of my policemen by name, all of my firemen." Then he paused.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I mean our policemen, our firemen."

There are "no secrets" to winning elections as a Democrat, said Laumann. He's met success in a one-square-mile west-side town of 9,015 inhabitants that traditionally goes Republican in county, state and national elections.

"Cheviot is a neighborhood community," he said. "Our campaigns are conducted on people's porches, while they're painting their front doors or changing the screens. This gives people the opportunity to meet and evaluate candidates."

Plus, the people get a chance to ask the candidate to steady a ladder. Or hold a screen.

"When you get to know the candidate," Laumann added, "you vote for the person, not the party."

Schmidt ran a similar operation for the 11,292 people in Reading's 4.5 square miles.

"People could drop by my office, ask, 'Do you have a minute?' and then sit down and start talking. That's how I got to know what they were thinking. For all practical purposes, they ignored the 'D' beside my name on the ballot because they knew I tried to make myself available.

"I don't know what else to attribute it to," he added. "We didn't build any monuments."

During Laumann's 20 years in office, Cheviot built a city hall and a municipal swimming pool. Streets were repaved. Garbage collected.

"All without raising taxes," he said proudly.

In a sense, the mayors build lasting monuments through their dedication to maintaining their communities. Both men are plain-spoken and honest. They liked their job and it showed. And they cared about the people they were proud to serve.

That's their monument. No mayor could want for anything better.

E-mail cradel@enquirer.com




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