From the Steam Room to Council Chambers

Conscientious Objector

Mar 22, 2001 at 2:06 pm

It's often said politics makes for strange bedfellows, but come this fall, Cincinnati voters will be treated to one of the most unlikely boarders ever to vie for a room at the 801 Plum dormitory. He's about the last person I would have imagined to dirty his hands with the nasty business of politics.

I've known John Schlagetter for at least eight years, since my days as a bad-boy actor/artist and activist for everything from gay rights to medical marijuana. He'd play the devil's advocate in social-issue bull sessions in the steam room at our gym, sitting in his Buddha pose, calmly and rationally challenging my rage-driven radicalism.

I don't know if it was his helping me focus my energy and thoughts, or my helping him define his own; but now he's running for city council. If his demeanor those nights in the steam room is any indication, Schlagetter should have no problem dealing with the rants and ravings of those who frequent City Hall.

After thinking casually about running for years, he says he finally began to give it serious thought last summer.

"When I moved back from Florida in '98, I was struck with how little things had changed," Schlagetter says. "I started paying attention to how council was organized and operated."

The particular event that cemented his decision to run was the city's handling of Ujima Cinci-Bration, the question of discriminatory intent "and the grandstanding of council.

They wait for a thing to happen, and then wait to see what position to take. I just thought it was outrageous. If council was going to do something about it, they should have acted to prevent it."

Schlagetter points out that the business closings have been happening for years, and sees no reason for police to close the whole of downtown.

Upon making the decision to run, he started looking at budget documents and how city departments were organized. He also checked out the 1999 campaign reports.

He then began building his own Web site ( as a way to organize his thoughts and build a campaign platform.

"I knew I had to develop very specific plans and ideas," he says. "I've been working on this for the past six months"

So far most of the work of his campaign has been done by him alone, but soon he'll start putting volunteers to work.

Schlagetter's self-sufficiency and independence extend to his political affiliations. Although he filed as an independent candidate, he's hoping to run an issue oriented campaign as a Charter candidate. The Charter Committee is Cincinnati's local third party, the oldest continuous governmental reform organization in America.

Schlagetter does, however enjoy the support of his family in his decision to enter politics.

"They think it's great," he says. "(But) since they're in Florida, it's tough to press them into service."

But not all of Schlagetter's family is in Florida. His partner, investment advisor Lester Freeman, will be gearing up for his debut as a political spouse.

"He had the right of first refusal," Schlagetter says, "He said, 'Go for it.' "

The two have been together for nearly 10 years.

Of course, the big question for anyone entering politics is money. Although he has set a campaign budget of $110,000, Schlagetter, an architect, hasn't started formally raising money.

"I'm doing it out of my own pocket right now," he says.

He expects to spend about $10,000 of his own money in the process. Right now he just wants to get his name out there and familiarize people with his ideas.

"Being an independent candidate is mostly an uphill battle from a media standpoint, because you don't have the cache of a party endorsement," Schlagetter says.

Schlagetter listens to talk radio while working.

"I listen to the Buzz and WCIN to learn what people are thinking and feeling about in the African-American community," he says.

He cites these stations and the Cincinnati Herald as the only black-authored media outlets he knows in this city, and his concern is more than lip service. His partner, Lester, is black; race relations and discrimination are issues that directly touch his family and home life.

Schlagetter is concerned race politics are being played very early in this campaign, "because of dissatisfaction in the African-American community with the current council and beliefs that white council members cannot represent interests of black citizens"

But he's also been listening to 55WKRC and 700WLW. He must be into torture, as well.

"You learn that perception is reality," Schlagetter says. "You could have a cure for cancer, but if people think it'll give them a stomachache, they won't take it. Listening to talk radio is helping me to develop my listening skills, to elevate the discourse."

It's also a great way to identify Grade A bullshit. But if Schlagetter could put up with my diatribes in the steam room, I guess it's no wonder he has the patience to listen to talk radio.

"I want to be the voice of reason on council," he says. "I'm passionate about what I do, but I try not to be emotional. I've read too much to believe that politics should be anything other than the application of ethics to the governance of society."

contact Michael Blankenship: [email protected]