Including a "Dean Wins Iowa!" card in the Dean Deck was a bit premature, but local supporters still believe former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will oust George W. Bush and gain the White House in November.
About 50 people showed up for the Cincinnati for Dean Steering Committee's first town hall meeting Jan. 24. The topic was "Civil Rights and Justice."
The location — Integrity Hall, owned by longtime African-American political activist Steve Reece — was apropos. Several African-American elected officials used the occasion to show their support for Dean, among them State Sen. Mark Mallory, state representatives Tyrone Yates and Catherine Barrett, Cincinnati Vice-Mayor Alicia Reece and city council members Laketa Cole and Christopher Smitherman.
Steve Reece talked about racial profiling and affirmative action. He described meeting Bush, then co-owner of the Texas Rangers, as part of a delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to increase baseball owners' sensitivity to diversity. At the end of that day, according to Reece, Bush — in cowboy boots, cigar in mouth — said, " 'You all taught me a lot about diversity. I don't know much about diversity because I'm in the oil business.'
"That got me to thinking," Reece said.
"He doesn't know much about women, foreign affairs, health care — he doesn't know much about anything."
Reece knows too well about racial profiling. When he was 9, he and his 13-year-old brother got permission to go to a game at the Cincinnati Gardens by perfectly completing their schoolwork. Waiting for the bus afterward, they escaped cold and rain by huddling next to what is now Integrity Hall. The owner of the building shooed them off, saying, " 'I don't ever want to catch you black boys in the Bond Hill area. Stay in Avondale,' " Reece said. "So I was very pleased when I bought this property from him."
Gary Wright, co-chair of Citizens to Restore Fairness (CRF), said the local Dean campaign decided not to debate gay marriage or civil unions because repealing Article 12 of the Cincinnati city charter is more pressing. Article 12 forbids ordinances granting protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Though CRF can't endorse candidates, "I can say I'm absolutely 100 percent sure that Howard Dean would support the repeal of Article 12," Wright said.
CRF has collected 13,000 signatures, nearly twice the 6,771 necessary to put the issue on the ballot.
"We are on the ballot when we want to be," he said.
CRF wants to be on the November ballot, when activists hope a high voter turnout for the presidential election will increase the chance of winning repeal.
Vice Mayor Alicia Reece spoke on health care. Cuts at the federal level increase pressure on local government, she said. Though Cincinnati funds two health clinics, "I don't know how much longer we can hold on," she said.
Supporters also talked about Dean's positions on women's issues — he is pro-choice; and justice — he would get rid of the Patriot Act and kill its successor in infancy.
The two objectives of the Dean campaign are visibility and canvassing, according to Bill Bridges, chairman of the Cincinnati for Dean Steering Committee. He said Republicans use five "wedge issues" to discredit Dean: race, abortion, guns, gays and God.
Dean is pro-gun and pro-capital punishment, which doesn't play well with some liberals.
"We have got to stop them from dividing us like this," Bridges said.
It seems many who could favor other candidates embrace Dean as the one most likely to defeat Bush. Greg Harris described the mantra of Dean naysayers: "He wears his patches on his sleeve. He's too temperamental."
Harris, director of the Ohio County Community Foundation and a Democrat launching his second challenge to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati), doesn't see those qualities as negative. FDR and Truman were outspoken and blunt, too. It's just that Dean's demeanor confounds Washington insiders, Harris said. Dean speaks to people outside that loop.
"You have to have your eye on people who don't vote or under-vote to understand that," he said.
Harris's beliefs line up well with former Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland). But Moseley-Braun has dropped out of the race, and "I think Dean is much more electable," Harris said.
So who's the biggest threat to Dean's campaign? U.S. Senator John Kerry, who pushed Dean off his "frontrunner" pedestal to win the Iowa caucuses? John Edwards, the handsome senator from North Carolina who placed second?
Neither, according to Bridges. The biggest threat to Dean is the mainstream media, he says.
Even Dean's red-faced war cry after the Iowa caucuses — repeatedly played on TV and the cause of outright ridicule — hasn't dissuaded his supporters.
"I thought it was wonderful," said Jane Williams. "I'm so glad to see somebody who doesn't feel compelled to act like a robot."
But she conceded that she doesn't know who can beat Bush.
"It depends on the press," Williams said. "Dean is currently getting very bad press."
The next Cincinnati for Dean town hall meeting is at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Old Saint George.