Political Winners and Losers in 2004

I always get sentimental when Christmas rolls around. The traditions and the end of another year inevitably conjure up mile posts throughout my life, starting with my earliest memories as a child an

I always get sentimental when Christmas rolls around. The traditions and the end of another year inevitably conjure up mile posts throughout my life, starting with my earliest memories as a child and including every significant relationship I've ever had.

One of the truths I rediscover this time each year — often expressed by people more eloquent than me — is how time speeds up as you get older. Someone needs to figure out how that's scientifically possible.

When you're a kid, the years can't pass quickly enough. You want to be older, you don't want to be little, you want to get to middle school, to high school, beyond.

I remember college as being the first time I actually liked where I was, the first time I didn't immediately focus on what was next.

Then came graduation, first job, first apartment, first car, first move to another city, second job, etc. In my twenties, the days seemed just to fill the space between going out at night with friends, exploring the city, making new friends, taking a road trip somewhere.

Then came my thirties, and for the first time I found myself without enough time to do what I wanted or needed to do. Hours, days, weeks slipped by.

Who turned the clocks up a notch?

And here I am in my forties, with kids, a business, the dreaded "R" word — responsibilities. And clocks keep whirring by faster and faster.

Where did 2004 go? Wasn't it just the other week I was sitting in city council chambers as Leslie Blade testified under oath about her story on Cincinnati Police overtime abuses? Wasn't it the other day I was hanging out on the beach with family? Didn't we celebrate CityBeat's 10th anniversary yesterday?

Putting out a newspaper every week certainly doesn't help slow things down. Each week has a certain rhythm to it, which seldom allows for long-term planning or even thinking, and so you put out a paper and then another and another and suddenly it's the end of another December.

Despite the blur, 2004 will go down as more than just another year. The presidential election — from the long, negative campaigns to the surprise victory by President Bush to the post-election analysis and overanalysis — was clearly a highlight.

Two aspects of this election will resonate for a while, I think. I hope.

First, progressives, liberals, independents and twentysomethings came together as never before in an effort to defeat Bush. Though they ultimately failed, perhaps their collaborative efforts mark a new era of political activism from the left much like the right's coalescence in the early 1990s, which produced the current state of affairs.

Secondly, it's pretty clear to anyone with a brain that our election system itself is a disaster. Ken Blackwell's conflicted performance this year as Bush's state campaign chairman while also Ohio's top elections officer followed Katherine Harris' similarly wretched twin performance four years ago in Florida — and Ohio's key contribution to the Bush victory, like Florida in 2000, raises so many concerns about the essence of our democracy it's scary.

I can't imagine our national leaders face a bigger priority than ensuring a fair, honest, transparent election system for their own citizens. The right to vote is something thousands of Americans have died both seeking and protecting and — as in the current situation in Iraq — have died and killed to secure for other people around the world.

A few local political moves marked 2004 as well. The repeal of Article 12 was a historic accompishment by a small band of brothers and sisters who swam against the year's anti-gay tide. Their relentless door-to-door campaign for fairness and tolerance outmaneuvered Citizens for Community Values' last-minute money dump and provided yet another reminder that occasionally right beats might, even the right's might.

The departures of this area's two most powerful leaders, Mayor Charlie Luken and County Prosecutor Mike Allen, leave a political vacuum that presents an opportunity for progressive change. Luken's announcement in the summer that he wouldn't seek re-election in 2005 opens the door to the next gerenration that's been trying to prove itself on city council and elsewhere.

Council members David Pepper, Christopher Smitherman, Alicia Reece and John Cranley — plus State Sen. Mark Mallory — eye the mayor's office at a time when the city totters on financial instability. It's a crucial time for a true leader to emerge from the pack.

Allen's sex scandal was a huge blow to what's arguably the single most important elected office in this part of the state. The Republican Party for decades has used the prosecutor's office to train, mobilize and deploy its political army to fill judgeships, county offices and statewide offices.

If the Democrats had only gotten someone on the ballot to run against Allen, he/she likely would have been elected when Allen withdrew his re-election bid. As it was, the all-write-in campaign resulted in Joe Deters returning to town to his old job and retaining the GOP's lock on power for at least a few more years.

But Fanon Rucker's run as a legitimate Democratic candidate for prosecutor puts the Republicans on notice that the office isn't their fiefdom anymore — they'll have to actually accomplish something to keep it from here on out.

And the year's events have also, in one way or another, narrowed the Republicans' field of potential governor candidates in 2006. Blackwell's dubious accomplishments as secretary of state have doomed his chances, the pay-to-play scandal in Deters' state treasurer office have sent him back to the boonies, and Allen's sexual misdeeds have derailed any statewide hopes he had.

It looks like Bob Taft will be the last Cincinnatian as governor for a while — unless you count Jerry Springer.

But that's another year. Though it'll be here before you know it.

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