Wednesday, April 14, 2004

District voting would have favored GOP

Inside City Hall

Greg Korte

When the original Charterites won a charter referendum in 1925 and replaced 26 ward councilmen with nine at-large councilmen, only two of the old ward heelers kept their seats.

So what if the 2003 election were conducted under the nine-district map proposed by the Electoral Reform Commission? Would a return to districts have the same effect of dislodging incumbents?

Let's break it down:

Pete Witte and John Cranley are almost even in District 1, which stretches from East Price Hill out to Sayler Park. But Witte gets the edge, because the commission had to cut out part of East Price Hill - Cranley's stronghold - in order to make the districts even. (No wonder Witte's leading the charge for districts.) Advantage: GOP.

No candidate filed in District 2 (Westwood) or District 3 (College Hill, Mount Airy, Fay Apartments, South Cumminsville, Millvale, North Fairmount, English Woods and Camp Washington). In a district plan, certainly someone would step forward to run. A Republican would have a decent chance in Westwood, and the northwestern neighborhoods would likely go Democratic.

In District 4, Chris Monzel of Winton Place - who finished 12th in the 2003 field race - keeps his seat as a ward candidate. Not that he deserves it. Fourteen of the 26 candidates in 2003 finished ahead of him in that district, but they don't live there. Result: Republicans in a fluke.

Charterites Jim Tarbell and Nick Spencer go head to head in District 5, which includes downtown and surrounding basin neighborhoods. The veteran Tarbell wins, despite getting little support in the vote-rich (and predominantly African-American) West End. Charter stays alive.

David Pepper prevails in District 6, which includes the near eastern neighborhoods, knocking out fellow Democrat David Crowley.

District 7, which includes Bond Hill, Roselawn and North Avondale, is home to four incumbents: Laketa Cole, Sam Malone, Alicia Reece and Christopher Smitherman. Reece, a Democrat, wins easily.

Pat DeWine has set up residence in Oakley, pitting him against Democrat Sam Britton of Madisonville in District 8. DeWine's name (and Britton's lackluster campaign) gives the Republican an edge.

Three non-incumbent Republicans compete in District 9, which includes the wealthy far east-side neighborhoods. Leslie Ghiz rises to the top.

Keeping score? That's five Republican seats. But more important, only four at-large council members would have won.

This exercise is academic, of course. Under a district system, new candidates would emerge and old candidates would likely move into the neighborhoods most likely to elect them - Damon Lynch III to the West End, for example. But with council salaries cut in half, there's less incentive to move.

The moral: City Council members may well be acting in their own self-interest in opposing the district election system.

But then, district proponents - despite their interest in a more neighborhood-friendly council - may also be looking to simply throw the bums out.

YOU'RE WELCOME: No one can say that being a council member is a thankless job. Still, last week's speech by Alicia Reece may have set a record.

Reece - who once actually thanked herself for attending her own press conference - thanked 37 people and organizations, including "the community," for attending a workshop she held this month on getting jobs for felons.


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