CityBeat Goes Mainstream?

Some pretty astounding things happened last week on Election Day, led by Democrats taking over control of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, the Ohio governorship and the Hamilton Count

Nov 15, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Some pretty astounding things happened last week on Election Day, led by Democrats taking over control of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, the Ohio governorship and the Hamilton County Commission.

Possibly even more astounding: CityBeat endorsed candidates and issues actually won. Loads of them.

It's a running joke around our office that a CityBeat election endorsement is the kiss of death. Our debut issue hit the street a week after the 1994 elections, and we've offered endorsements in every election season since, often including primaries and special issue elections.

Our favorite sons and daughters usually haven't fared well. It's not for a lack of trying, of course, or a lack of progressive ideas.

Twelve years worth of endorsement editorials are littered with candidates CityBeat embraced but voters did not: City Council hopefuls Diane Goldsmith (1995 and 1997); Jim Tarbell (1997); Jane Anderson, Forrest Buckey and Scott Seidewitz (1999); Wes Flinn, Akiva Freeman and Anderson again (2001); Brian Garry, Damon Lynch III, John Schlagetter and Nick Spencer (2003); and Samantha Herd and Spencer again (2005). Presidential candidates Harry Browne (Libertarian 1996), Ralph Nader (2000) and John Kerry (2004). Congressional hopefuls Roxanne Qualls (1998), John Cranley (2000), Greg Harris (2002 and 2004) and Nick Clooney (2004).

Other excellent candidates like Fanon Rucker and Dr. Jean Siebenaler. Good causes like Broadway Commons for the new Reds stadium and light rail for the region.

Honestly, the morning after Election Day has been gloomy around CityBeat for years. About the only bright spots I recall were the defeat of the Cincinnati Zoo levy in 1997 (when all the media except CityBeat endorsed the levy renewal despite the zoo's dubious use of public funding) and Todd Portune's victory over incumbent Bob Bedinghaus for County Commissioner in 2000 (in the wake of the Paul Brown Stadium construction fiasco).

I know more progressive folks and ballot issues won over the years, but sometimes you focus on the negative. A few bad guys lost here and there, but not nearly enough.

The absolute low point was 2001, a little more than six months after the riots, when CityBeat endorsed a clean sweep at City Hall, starting with Mayor Charlie Luken. Yet he and every council incumbent running were re-elected. Ugh.

I felt the tide finally turning in just the last couple of years. In 2004, we endorsed Dr. O'dell Owens for Hamilton County Coroner, and his win made him the first African American to hold a countywide administrative office in generations, if not in history.

The anti-gay Article 12 was repealed in the same election. Article 12 had managed to stay in the city charter for 11 long years, depriving gays of equal status under the law, and repeal advocates spent more than a year organizing a grassroots campaign to educate Cincinnati voters. The repeal victory was a huge win for tolerance and diversity in a city not widely known for either.

Last fall, Mark Mallory was elected mayor, a real turning point in CityBeat endorsement karma. Both The Enquirer and The Post endorsed Mallory's opponent, David Pepper, while we backed the City Hall outsider. Not only that — we put Mallory on the cover of our pre-election issue.

Cover treatment has been particularly unkind to CityBeat endorsed candidates over the years. We featured photos or illustrations of losing causes Lee Fisher and Qualls in 1998; Nader in 2000; Siebenaler, Harris and light rail in 2002; and Kerry in 2004. Only Portune (2000) broke the worst cover jinx this side of Sports Illustrated.

The night our pre-election issue went to press last year, I saw Mallory just before his final debate with Pepper and not-so-jokingly apologized for the impending cover illustration. That probably confused the hell out of him.

I'll never forget the shocked look on Mallory's face when a TV reporter announced that the final results showed he'd overcome Pepper's early lead to win the race. I was doing a good imitation of that shocked look for several days afterwards.

And then comes this year. The tidal wave of change managed to pass right over the Tristate, which re-elected all of its incumbent Republican Congressmen — although Jean Schmidt's official victory awaits final ballot counting. (See "Still Crazy After All These Years" on page 13 for details.)

Yet progressive candidates and issues won statewide in Ohio. Good guys won local races, and bad ballot issues lost.

And the CityBeat cover turned from a jinx to a good luck charm. All three of the caricatured candidates on our Nov. 1 "Time for a Clean Sweep" cover won important races: Pepper for County Commissioner, Ted Strickland for Ohio Governor and Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senator.

Voters agreed with CityBeat positions on every one of the seven major ballot issues: Yes on 2 (increasing the minimum wage), 5 (smoking ban), 13 (children's services levy renewal) and 14 (health and hospitalization services levy renewal) and no on 3 (slot machine gambling), 4 (tobacco companies' fake smoking ban) and 12 (sales tax increase to fund a new jail).

In fact, of the 21 races or ballot initiatives in Ohio and Kentucky that CityBeat endorsed, 15 went our way last week. If you don't count city council campaigns — we always back several successful candidates in the nine-winner field race — this year's total might beat all previous years combined.

Compare that to The Enquirer, the region's standard-bearer of mainstream thought and status quo behavior. Voters agreed with the paper's endorsements in only 13 of 22 cases, rebuffing its picks for governor (Ken Blackwell), senator (Mike DeWine) and arguably the three most important ballot issues: minimum wage (The Enquirer endorsed "no"), gambling (endorsed "yes") and jail tax (endorsed "yes").

So has CityBeat become the voice of the masses now? Are we more in touch with the political will in Cincinnati than The Enquirer? Have we gone mainstream?

Yes and no.

Like anyone with an opinion, I'm always convinced of the rightness and righteousness of the causes I back. And like anyone with a left of center/progressive/liberal point of view in Greater Cincinnati, I always know I'm outnumbered.

The majority rules, and that's the rule. Of course, that doesn't mean you don't stand up for what you believe and try to convince others of the worth of your beliefs.

Election endorsements are a high-profile platform from which to throw progressive candidates and issues against the wall of wider public opinion. Sometimes one of them sticks.

Last week a lot of them stuck.

Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe our endorsements didn't make a bit of difference.

More likely, voters simply decided that — for numerous local, national and internation reasons — 2006 was finally the year for change. And there was CityBeat, advocating for change as always.

I went back through past election endorsement issues, and here's a selection of the main headlines: Open Your Eyes (1995); Fresh Blood (1999); Power to the People (2000); A Tall Order (2003); Spare Some Change? (2005); and Bone Up, Then Vote for Change (2006).

Two things are obvious. First, someone else needs to start writing the headlines.

More importantly, I'm certain CityBeat's overall editorial philosophy hasn't changed. Everyone should get informed, make thoughtful decisions and vote. Vote for something and not against something. One person can make a difference. Fight the power. Don't succumb to fear. When in doubt, vote for change.

For the first time in CityBeat's existence, the pendulum of majority public opinion seems to have swung toward those values. Is it the dawn of a newly liberal, progressive Greater Cincinnati with CityBeat as its paper of record?

Nah. Look at the election numbers a little closer.

Hamilton, Warren, Clermont and Butler counties were four of only 16 Ohio counties that voted for Blackwell (out of 88). All four voted for DeWine. Hamilton County was one of only six Ohio counties to vote for Issue 3. All three area Congressional candidates backed by CityBeat lost (again, pending the final Schmidt-Victoria Wulsin results).

So the local voting populace remains in step with The Enquirer's reliably conservative editorial voice. Overall, that's still the measuring stick for mainstream Cincinnati.

And that's OK with me. We like CityBeat where it is — an alternative voice conspiring with fellow outsiders, nonconformists and agents of change.

It's clear, however, that at this moment in history many, many mainstream voters support a serious challenge to the status quo. I'm happy to be counted among the majority for once.

But it's also clear that this situation comes along infrequently. The agents of change we elected last week better come through, better not waste this opportunity, better not let us down.

Or I swear I'll endorse them for the rest of their lives and kill their careers.

Contact john fox: [email protected]