News: Same As It Ever Was

Status quo wallops all challengers

Nov 7, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Jon Hughes/

Dr. Jean Siebenaler was the Democrats' big hope, but in the end she won fewer votes than Marilyn Hyland — who had sought the party's endorsement — received four years ago.

If you were looking for the 2002 elections to bring change to Hamilton County, never mind.

Republicans maintained control of the board of county commissioners, held the Congressional seat from the 1st Ohio District and won the only contested judicial race in Common Pleas Court.

A proposed sales tax for expanded public transit died in a fiery crash. The only real change was a step backwards as voters repealed public financing for Cincinnati City Council elections.

'A lot were hopeful'
Former Cincinnati City Councilman Phil Heimlich won the race for county commissioner, handily beating Democratic candidate Dr. Jean Siebenaler.

"There is no doubt that we raised the visibility and the voices on these issues," Siebenaler said. "I was a little surprised it wasn't closer."

Jene Galvin, a consultant to Siebenaler's campaign, said he knew she had obstacles to overcome.

"When we started, we were down 80-20, so we knew we had a real high hill to climb," Galvin said. "But I have to admit hitting only 40 percent was a shock. Maybe this patriotism and war backdrop helps them — the Republicans."

Siebenaler said she doesn't know if she'll run for office again. She isn't planning on returning to private practice, although she plans to continue to practice medicine in some way. Another campaign wouldn't be fair to patients, she said.

Offering congratulations to Heimlich, County Commissioner Todd Portune pointed to their past work together on city council.

"We've worked together for seven years and I think we'll find ways to find common ground," Portune said.

Even so, he had hoped his fellow Democrat would win.

"I think it would have been very exciting had Jean won," Portune said. "She ran a great race and she was right on the issues. I think a lot of folks were hopeful."

Heimlich said he wants to work together and avoid political posturing.

"Todd (Portune) and I did butt heads a lot when we were on council," he said.

Heimlich said he saw a sense of betrayal in the public as a result of the Paul Brown Stadium lease.

"There'll be no sweetheart deals while I'm a county commissioner," he said. "I think we need to rebuild the trust."

The race in the 1st Congressional District, between Democratic challenger Greg Harris and Republican incumbent Steve Chabot was predictable: a wipeout. Redistricting made the area lean more Republican.

Chabot felt the victory came easily, but said Harris is a bright star for the Democratic Party.

Harris said the experience was valuable. His concerns about running a decent race seemed to revolve more around the local Democratic Party's impotence and how the media cover races (or don't).

"Even though it was not a winning campaign, it had substantive issues and debate that the mainstream news would not cover," Harris said.

Harris expressed concern about a lack of support from his own party, saying he found the ward chairs worthless.

"No party infrastructure," Harris said. "A bunch of dead weight. I needed their help. I sent out 600 letters to the precinct executives asking for help. Two responded."

Will he run again? Harris shrugged.

"We need to spend a year or two reorganizing the party, reorganizing the infrastructure, long term party building — then maybe," he said.

First-time candidate David Schaff, a Democrat, suffered a humiliating defeat in the race for state representative from the 34th Ohio House District. Although Schaff's Republican opponent, incumbent Tom Brinkman, has been virtually disowned by his own party leadership and even lost the endorsement of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Brinkman trounced him.

"(Schaff) ran a very aggressive campaign," Brinkman said. "I felt it was not as positive as I ran mine, but it's a free country."

In final unofficial results, Brinkman won 63 percent of the votes cast, a margin of victory of nearly 10,000 over Schaff.

Few New Taxes
The closest contested race in the county was a bond issue sought by the Cincinnati Public Schools. Voters narrowly rejected a request for $480 million to renovate old buildings and build new ones. The levy failed, with 44,308 votes against it and 42,953 in favor.

School Board member Melanie Bates felt confident that the levy would pass.

"The maintenance of the new building and renovation is built into the law this time," she said.

The defeat of the bond issue was voters saying no to waste in Cincinnati Public Schools, according to Jim Urling, chair of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which made defeating the tax its top priority.

COAST wants CPS to complete the first of four segments of the building plan, then come back to voters in two or three years.

However, the defeat jeopardizes the state's 23 percent funding match for the nearly $1 billion plan, according to Harriet Russell, chair of the Cincinnati Board of Education's Facilities Committee. CPS has an August 2003 deadline to get a local match.

Russell lamented the fact the pro-Issue 2 campaign didn't emphasize this.

"Our campaign did not get that message out at all," she said.

Issue 7, a half-cent sales tax for light rail and expanded bus service, suffered one of the worst defeats of the night, 68.4 percent to 31.6 percent.

John Schneider, chair of Let's Get Moving, the backers of Issue 7, was humbled.

"I think we put a vision for a different kind of city and a different kind of county," he said. "I think we'll have to do some research to find out why people didn't agree with that vision."

Stephan Louis, chair of Alternatives to Light Rail Transit (ALRT), which opposed the transit tax, had a few ideas.

"This is a clear message to them — they're on the wrong track," he said.

ALRT won despite an overwhelming disadvantage in funding. By the Oct. 25 campaign finance filing deadline, ALRT had raised $5,674, compared to $331,738 for the pro-tax campaign.

Issue 8, which stops public funding of city council campaigns, also lost by a healthy margin, 55.1 percent to 44.9 percent. One of the co-chairs of the campaign against Issue 8, Jeneene Brengelman, in part blamed the Hamilton County Democratic Party for the setback to the campaign finance law narrowly passed last year.

"It's just so incredibly disheartening," she said. "I'm very, very disappointed in the Democratic Party ... which didn't take a position on the issue."

Brengelman said voters gave in to the message of fear spread by the group backing Issue 8.

"It was fear," she said. "People are worried that it's going to cost a lot of money. We've all lost."

Leslie Blade, Maria Rogers and Doug Trapp contributed to this story.