News: The Race Is On

Party poopers can't stop democracy

Joe Lamb

Ed Rothenberg is running anyway.

Just as the presidential race this year had Mike Gravel on the Democratic side and Ron Paul on the Republican side to discuss issues that other contenders weren't addressing, this fall's race for Hamilton County Commission has its own renegade candidates.

Hoping to tap into the public outrage and voter discontent over a deal between the local Democratic and Republican parties that eliminates major competition from the commission race, Chris Dole and Ed Rothenberg are bucking the political establishment.

Dole, a Democrat, is running as an independent for the county commission seat now held by Republican Pat DeWine. DeWine isn't seeking re-election, and the GOP has endorsed Greg Hartmann to campaign for the spot. Meanwhile, Rothenberg, a Republican, is running without his party's endorsement in the other commission race, against incumbent Democrat Todd Portune.

The pair's presence in the races is irritating the political Powers That Be. Portune and Hartmann hatched a backroom deal earlier this month in which the local Democratic Party promised not to run a candidate against Hartmann. In return, the local Republican Party wouldn't endorse any candidate who challenged Portune.

Both party chairs approved the deal although it appears that the Democratic Party's executive committee wasn't apprised of it beforehand, as is standard. Millionaire litigator Stan Chesley — who's benefited financially from lawsuits filed by county and state governments and is a generous campaign contributor — acted as the facilitator for the parties.

Dole, 47, is an electrician who lives in Crosby Township and was elected a township trustee there. Active in helping some Democratic campaigns in recent years — including that of Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper in 2005 — Dole was so angered by the Portune/Hartmann deal that it prompted him to run as an independent.

That's a much harder chore than running with party backing. Although Democrats and Republicans had an earlier filing deadline, Jan. 4, they only have to get 56 signatures on petitions to qualify for the ballot. By comparison, an independent has a later deadline, March 3, but has to get 2,875 signatures.

Dole is confident he can meet that goal.

"I've got a lot of support, especially on the far West side, where people know me," he says.

Also, Dole already has been endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 212, which is helping canvass petitions.

Referring to the infamous deal, he says, "It's a blatant abuse of the electoral system. I was shocked. I truly was. As Americans, how can we let anyone take our vote away from us?"

Rothenberg's disgust with county politics is longer lived. He was a leader of the "No on Issue 27" campaign last fall. After commissioners approved a sales tax increase last year to build a new jail, Rothenberg and his colleagues collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue and overturn the tax.

"It was basically a miracle," he says. "We got 56,000 signatures in 45 days in 95-degree weather. I was so mad at them for putting us through this that I decided maybe they needed to be kicked out of office."

Rothenberg, 73, is a real estate investor who owns several properties on Hyde Park Square and lives nearby. He upset the local GOP and its most popular official, Sheriff Simon Leis, by opposing the jail tax.

"It's crazy to me that they supported it because they claim to be fiscal conservatives," Rothenberg says.

If elected, he promises do a review of the special tax levies that Hamilton County now has, lobby for a state law that limits levy attempts to one per year and propose a plan to build a 500-bed jail without asking for new revenues. Rothenberg would do that by building a "no frills" facility using a 30-year bond financed at about 5 percent — meaning the county would pay $800,000 annually.

"With a $250 million general fund, that shouldn't be hard to do," Rothenberg says. "Most of the issues they deal with are real estate, and that's my background."

For his part, Dole still is developing his platform.

"Right now, I'm more concerned with getting on the ballot," he says.

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