Friday, October 29, 2004

John '4 Days' Mirlisena unclogged City Hall

Plumber/councilman revolutionized service

By Rebecca Goodman
Enquirer staff writer

John Mirlisena, the gregarious and outspoken Cincinnati councilman who was swept into office in 1985 by pledging to tackle any resident's complaint in four days, died Wednesday night. He was 73.

"John Mirlisena was the best," said Mayor Charlie Luken. "He was one of the most caring and fun people I've met in politics, although he was not a politician per se. He was never ambitious. He never wanted to do any more than serve the people of Cincinnati. He revolutionized city service with his four-day pledge of action.

"I knew him to do everything from trying to get streets repaved to going out personally and getting a squirrel out of a toilet. He was a street-level kind of guy."

Mr. Mirlisena came from a working-class background - he and his father and brother ran a plumbing company with offices in Over-the-Rhine and Price Hill - and had a bare-knuckles style of handling his job on City Council.

"He was unique," Councilman Jim Tarbell said. "He was still a plumber. He was kind of the citizen legislator. He still had his toolbox. That's my kind of guy."

Mr. Mirlisena died of a blood-borne cancer at the hospice at Mercy Franciscan Western Hills. He was born at Good Samaritan Hospital on April 20, 1931, to Sam and Pauline Mirlisena, who had both emigrated from Sicily. He attended Central Vocational High School and became a plumbers' apprentice. Drafted in 1952, he served with the Army in Tokyo.

In 1956, he and his father and brother started Sam Mirlisena & Sons Plumbing Co. near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine. The name was changed to Mirlisena Plumbing in the mid-1970s. It closed in 1986, when Mr. Mirlisena decided to work full time at his council job.

He entered politics in 1978 as campaign manager for a cousin, Judge Ron Panioto. The following year, Mr. Mirlisena ran for City Council as a Republican. He lost despite spending $25,000 - a lot of money at the time - on radio and newspaper ads and top-of-the-line yard signs. He ran as an "Independent Republican" after failing to get on the Republican Party ticket in 1981, but was again defeated. In 1983, he lost to Sally Fellerhoff by 62 votes - but was later appointed to fill the vacant seat of Joseph M. DeCourcy. He later became a Democrat.

Mr. Mirlisena was elected in 1985, when he urged voters to make him personally responsible for addressing their concerns. He promised to cut through the bureaucracy and to address a citizen's complaint within four days. John "Four Days" Mirlisena became his moniker, and he even had "4 Days" put on his car's license plates. He served until 1993.

Sharon Mangold of Sayler Park, executive assistant to the city manager, recalled the squirrel-in-the-toilet incident:

"He had been out at a community meeting and had just arrived home. He kicked off his shoes and started to get something to eat when the phone rang - and it was a woman who was just distraught. 'Could you please come to my home? There's a monster in my toilet.' "

He put on his shoes and drove over. The lady and her family were standing outside. Mr. Mirlisena removed a stack of books from the toilet lid, opened it, and peered inside - to find a drowned squirrel. He fished it out with a plunger, put it into a plastic bag and went outside to the applause of his constituents."

Tarbell said: "Usually you don't think about how long it would take people to go through the Golden Gates, but this is one occasion you could safely predict it would be within four days."

Survivors include: his wife of 47 years, Nancy; two daughters, Karen Kaufmann of Anderson Township and Kathy Mock of Bridgetown; two sons, John Jr. of Montgomery and Robert of Stuart, Fla.; a brother, Joe of Mason; a sister, Bea Wilkens of Cincinnati; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service is being planned for Thursday in Camp Washington.

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