By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer
Three years ago, when running for mayor of Cincinnati, Charlie Luken said, "If I'm 60 and still on the campaign trail, shoot me."
Now, Luken wants to amend that remark. "I'm getting closer to 60, and I may well be running for something,'' Luken said Tuesday, one day after he announced he would not be a candidate for re-election as mayor in 2005. "So don't shoot me.''
Those close to the mayor say privately that, after 25 years in the arena of local politics, the 53-year-old Luken has tired of the increasingly contentious and expensive nature of Cincinnati city politics and is ready to move to something else.
That something else could be a run for a statewide office in 2006.
"I could end up running for one of the 'under-card' offices,'' said Luken, referring to the offices that rank below governor, such as state auditor or secretary of state.
Luken said that last week at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, he had several discussions with state party leaders about the possibility of running for statewide office in 2006.
"I'm not committing to anything at this point,'' said Luken. "It's all speculation.''
For an Ohio Democratic Party that has weathered a decade of weak statewide candidates being rolled over by Republicans, the prospect of a proven vote-getter from Cincinnati on the ticket might move beyond speculation at some point.
"The state party needs good candidates - and they'd have to consider Charlie, given his record here,'' said Hamilton County Democratic Party co-chairman Tim Burke.
The Ohio Democratic Party's goal in 2006 will be not only to take back the governor's office, but to gain a majority on the five-member state apportionment board.
The board draws legislative district lines. The party that controls the board can create cozy districts for its candidates that will last a decade. The state auditor and secretary of state - the two offices state party leaders have discussed with Luken - are both members of the apportionment board.
There have been signs that Luken - who, for most of his political career, rarely ventured outside the Interstate 275 beltway - is laying the groundwork for a possible statewide campaign.
This spring, local Democrats noted that Luken bought a table at the Ohio Democratic Party's annual fund-raising dinner, an event he has shunned in the past. And he has ventured as far as Athens County in southeast Ohio, where he was a guest at a county party function.
Luken said his decision not to run for re-election as mayor "doesn't mean I have soured on politics. I haven't.''
He could, he said, see himself as a candidate for lieutenant governor, teamed with a Democratic gubernatorial candidate such as U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman or even TV talk show host Jerry Springer of Cincinnati.
But after being a councilman, a congressman and mayor of a big city, Luken said, he may well decide to do "something altogether different.'' In 1993, after serving one term in Congress, Luken went to work at WLWT-TV (Channel 5) as a news anchor, a job he held until ran again for council in 1999. Luken said it is "conceivable'' that he could try to return to the broadcast news business.
"The fact is, I have a lot of options,'' Luken said. "And the fact is, I already have a job. I have a third of my term as mayor left. I need to concentrate on that for the time being.''
The top two vote-getters for mayor in a nonpartisan primary in September 2005 will meet in the November election. The office is technically nonpartisan, but the political parties are active in recruiting and supporting candidates.
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