A Tale of Two Pities

It was the best of ads. It was the worst of ads. When I first laid four eyes on Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin's "attack ads" accusing Councilman Pat DeWine of "leaving his wife and childr

It was the best of ads. It was the worst of ads. When I first laid four eyes on Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin's "attack ads" accusing Councilman Pat DeWine of "leaving his wife and children for the Convergys lobbyist whose company received the tax breaks DeWine supported," my mouth fell open in respect and disbelief.

Respect for Dowlin for trying to "Presto! Change-o!" water cooler fodder into grist for the campaign mill. Disbelief that he's basing his re-election bid largely on the bottom-feeding tactic of using the opponent's private travails for votes.

If we took to task and then didn't vote for every motherfucker who cheated on/left/somehow disrespected and/or brought shame and degradation to his wife or family, there'd be scant elected officials in public office.

Conversely, we'd be hard up to find and vote for any politician not living in a glass house. And I bet at least one side of Dowlin's house is all glass.

Back after this commercial break.

Here's the thing: Campaign commercials like Dowlin's are akin to car wrecks. You wanna stop and gawk at the carnage, but you feel guilty for casting your gaze on someone else's guts suddenly splayed along the interstate.

Like many of you, I'd heard the gossip swirling around DeWine's personal life, mainly that he'd separated from his wife because he'd taken up with Betty Hull, a black woman. Gasp!

Buried beneath all this high and mighty speculation about DeWine's character is the racist corpse that won't die. What people were really stuck on was how DeWine could "leave his wife and kids" for a black woman.

It looked like political suicide in this conservative and oppressive city, wherein a white man of DeWine's stature and political promise (and conservative leanings) could literally lose everything for taking up with the Sally Hemmings of his time.

I now know Hull personally. That's full disclosure.

As a journalist, I never confronted DeWine or Hull with the rumors because their relationship was irrelevant. I never saw proof that DeWine blurred any lines in his personal and professional relationships with Hull.

Further, as a black woman I'm never much interested in jumping on a bandwagon filled with cultural vigilantes on their way to crucify another black woman. I'll leave that dirty work to those folks.

I was more interested in DeWine because he takes cops to task, always a selling point.

Ultimately I predict that what Dowlin is doing will backfire and that he will (narrowly) lose Tuesday's primary race to DeWine. And it will backfire because DeWine, love him or vilify him, is a master at turning an insult on its head, flipping it back around and bringing his accuser's character to bear.

It's the old schoolyard retort "I know I am, but what are you?" done up in the postmodern schoolyard of local politics.

Check DeWine's Feb. 17 point-by-point press release taking to task Dowlin's criticisms. DeWine names Hull as the mysterious "Convergys lobbyist," gingerly takes care to clarify that he didn't "leave" his children and then spells out that Hull, in fact, never worked for Convergys but Northlich, which did public relations work for Convergys.

He did what's supposed to be done but what only few have mastered. He reclaimed his truth, thereby stealing Dowlin's nut. Now that's game.

I've been where DeWine is, in the nosebleed seats with aspirations to climb still higher, yet forced to stop off to defend crevices of a personal life laid bare by a faction dead set on distracting attention from the issues.

This is dirty dancing. Dowlin's fucked-up strategy says if DeWine can't hold his marriage together and is allegedly promiscuous (with a black woman), how can DeWine run the county?

I say that if Dowlin is capable of these tactics, how can we trust him to continue running the county? Seems self-serving, mean and little to me. Either way, it's the evil of the two lessers.

This has been a scrappy campaign. Fun at first to watch, exciting to predict and ultimately draining to sit through.

As voters, we've gotta be thinking either Dowlin is evil or he genuinely values his commissioner's post. Likewise, either DeWine is a masochist or he really has the county's best interest in mind.

Ultimately, though, this is Dowlin's Low End Theory, his own version of the ghetto anthem "Get Low." Just how low can he go? Everybody limbo!

We'll remember this as the campaign when Dowlin intimated at an intimacy many of us only once whispered about, the campaign when DeWine answered Dowlin's challenge and as the campaign that brought yet another city council member into a commissioner's seat.

I'll remember it as the worst of times.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

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