Thursday, September 23, 2004

Commissioner hopefuls claim outsider status

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

The candidates to replace Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin are competing to be the voice of change; the voice of a more open, less costly era of county government.

Pat DeWine
Hometown: Pleasant Ridge
Age: 36
Occupation: Cincinnati councilman; attorney
Experience: Councilman since 1999
Personal: Divorced; three sons
Quote: "We have to do a better job spending your money. ... We need to make government more accountable and more transparent."

Eve Bolton
Hometown: College Hill
Age: 53
Occupation: Government teacher at Wyoming High School; president of Wyoming Education Association
Experience: Former Hamilton County recorder; former Mount Healthy councilwoman; former president, College Hill Redevelopment Corp.
Personal: Single
Quote: "I have already reformed the county culture (as recorder) and would do that on a larger scale so that taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the patronage monster."
Democrat Eve Bolton, a former county recorder, wants to end the practice of patronage, in which county jobs go to officeholders' relatives and friends. Up to a quarter of employees in county offices are related to another county employee, she says, a claim the county personnel office could not substantiate.

Republican Pat DeWine, a Cincinnati councilman who defeated Dowlin in the GOP primary, proposes using competition to reduce county spending. Private companies could bid on work the county now does in-house, such as maintaining its vehicles.

Bolton starts with a disadvantage because of voters' familiarity with the DeWine name. Her opponent is the son of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine.

In addition, county Democratic Co-chairman Mark Mallory concedes, Hamilton County has historically been considered GOP territory.

"Obviously, anytime we're looking at taking a county seat it's a tough race, but it's not impossible," said Mallory, a state senator from the West End.

Still, Bolton is trying to make Democrats' outsider status work for her. Prosecutor Mike Allen's recently revealed 31/2-year affair with an employee shows one of the dangers of one-party rule, she suggested at a recent candidate forum in East Walnut Hills.

Also, the high county taxes and spending that DeWine's campaign is targeting occurred under decades of Republican rule, Bolton noted at another event. Hamilton County's tax rates are among the highest of Ohio's 88 counties.

"If you look around at who's been in charge, it isn't necessarily a shared responsibility between Democrats and Republicans," she said.

Bolton managed a rare feat in 1992 when she was elected to lead the office that records deeds and other legal documents. The Democrat lost to Republican Rebecca Prem Groppe four years later after Groppe accused her of breaking her promise to be a full-time recorder.

DeWine - a councilman since 1999 - is positioning himself as an outsider, too.

"The reality is, I'm someone who ran against and beat a guy who'd been there for 13 years," he said.

DeWine supports having residents vote on all countywide special levies in the same election. It's a measure endorsed by conservative Republicans such as Commissioner Phil Heimlich, but opposed by Dowlin and some other mainstream Republicans who say it's sure to cause some levies to fail.

Nine levies pay for required county services such as housing the mentally retarded and optional amenities such as the zoo and the Museum Center.

DeWine is carrying personal baggage into the Nov. 2 election.

Dowlin ran a television ad before the March primary accusing DeWine of switching his vote on tax breaks for Convergys Corp. after the company hired his girlfriend. The commercial also made public the fact that DeWine left his wife for the girlfriend just after his wife gave birth to their third child.

The revelations backfired against Dowlin when two-thirds of Republicans voted in the primary to oust him.


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