By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CHEVIOT - Michael Laumann grew up with a taste for politics.
His family moved to a new subdivision in Cheviot when Laumann was in the third grade. One of his neighbors was local politico Lou Von Holle, who became Laumann's mentor. Laumann would walk from house to house as a kid, passing out literature from the Democratic Party and promoting Von Holle's bid for mayor.
In 1973, Von Holle asked the 22-year-old Laumann, a liberal child of the 1960s with long hair and exciting ideas, to run for city council. He won and became the youngest member of council.
In 1983, when then-Mayor Von Holle died, Laumann was appointed mayor and later that year won his first election. He would hold the spot for 20 years.
Now Laumann is passing the torch to Sam Keller, a former council member who was sworn in Thursday. Keller ran unopposed for mayor in the November election.
"It's time for someone else to have the fun, but now that it's so close to the end, I find myself second-guessing," Laumann said. "Call it hokey, but I just like to feel I'm giving something back to the community. I guess I felt I should term-limit myself."
Laumann, now 53, is only the sixth mayor since Cheviot became a city in 1932.
His 20 years in the spot makes him one of the longest-running mayors in Hamilton County.
His tenure as mayor, some Cheviot residents say, is best measured not by the changes he brought to Cheviot but instead by the effort he put into resisting change.
"It might not be so much what's changed instead of what he's kept the same," said lifelong Cheviot resident Charlie Norman, the youngest member of council at 25.
"Cheviot is a very close-knit community, and people like to keep it the way it is."
The city is unique in Hamilton County - its one square mile of land is fully built out.
"We have the same 9,700 people paying for the cost of operating our government as we did 20 years ago," Laumann said. "We're kind of in a time warp, just a blue-collar conservative community with a strong work ethic."
Laumann says his biggest accomplishment is keeping one thing the same - taxes. Cheviot has not raised property or earnings taxes in his 20 years at the helm.
Laumann says that's because he's a fiscal conservative who operates a lean ship.
Laumann calls the city a "manageable" size, with only a $3 million annual operating budget, and that's the key to keeping a small bureaucracy.
They've seen a few new things in Cheviot the past two decades - the city built a new administrative building in 1987 for $1.7 million, and the city built a new municipal swimming pool in the early 1990s.
But Laumann, a Democrat, believes the reason he was able to handily win five consecutive opposed elections in the heavily Republican city was because the residents knew he could keep the city in the black.
"That's one hell of an accomplishment," said Dennis Dinkelacker, a Cheviot resident for more than a decade and a council member for four years. "That tells you the citizens of Cheviot hold him in a very high respect."
Even Laumann's opponents say they've always respected him.
"It takes a lot of caring for this city, and that's exactly what the mayor does," said Kitty Zech, a Republican who says she has "at times disagreed violently" with Laumann over the years.
"He's really kept this city together. To hang in there that long, that's above and beyond the call of duty."
Michael Laumann file
Tenure: Appointed mayor in 1983 after being president of city council; elected later that year for the first of five four-year terms.
History: Sixth mayor since Cheviot became a city in 1932.
Family: Wife of 19 years, Debbie, and 16-year-old daughter, Courtney.
Church: St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church on Bridgetown Road.
Education: La Salle High School; University of Cincinnati.
Day job: General practice/family law attorney in Cheviot.
Quote: "I don't want to overstay my welcome. I'd rather leave when people are still saying good things about me."
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