Every election eve, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune performs his traditional campaign ritual, dropping off campaign literature in the Clifton Gaslight district, Mount Adams and the Twin Towers apartments in Westwood.
But this time things were a little different. Overcome with excitement, Portune started doing wheelchair wheelies in the middle of the street in Mount Adams. It's that kind of enthusiasm and commitment to made him the first Democrat incumbent to be re-elected to the commission since 1964, beating back a challenge by retired Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge David Grossman.
Democrats gathered at the Music Hall ballroom. A four-piece band played. Balloons covered the floor and tables. Finger food abounded. An overpriced cash bar did good business.
A large projector was tuned to CNN, and a tense vibe wafted thorough the air.
This was supposed to be a Democratic party, but the only people celebrating were two kids kicking and throwing balloons. State Sen. Mark Mallory tried to hype the large crowd. Kathy Binns, Portune's cheerful campaign manager, frantically ran around talking to supporters, cell phone glued to her hand.
At 9 p.m., the latest poll results showed Portune was ahead, and the crowd started cheering.
"I feel confident, but I'm realistic there are still a lot of votes left to count," Portune said.
Portune was hardly guaranteed to win. Grossman fought a tough and at times misleading campaign. He distributed leaflets stating he was "the only candidate with any administrative hearing experience in county government."
Portune accused Grossman's campaign manager, Assistant County Prosecutor Steve Goodin, of a conflict of interest. Ohio law designates the prosecutor's office as legal adviser for the board of county commissioners.
Binns thought Grossman's campaign was unnecessarily negative.
"It proved that that kind of campaign doesn't work," Binns said.
Grossman said his work as a juvenile court judge made him qualified.
"I decided to run because I thought I still had something to offer," he said. "I've been in this business a long time."
Grossman might have had more governmental experience, but Portune said his priorities for a second term are a lot of the same things he worked on in his first term: public health, progress and public safety.
"I plan to do things in a way that the county recognizes everyone in Hamilton County," he said.
The Republican Party partied at the swanky Cincinnatian Hotel with an open bar. The entire second floor, where Bush supporters were camped out, was a sea of white faces and reeked of liquor. Even with Bush in the lead, his supporters were on edge. A bespectacled George Costanza lookalike started interrogating an out-of-place African-American reporter.
"What are you doing, counting the number of us here so you can go back and report to the Democrats?" he asked.
Elections can bring out the ugliness in people.
"I didn't think this would be an easy race," Portune later said. "This is Hamilton County. Nothing is easy here when you're not a Republican." ©