Why Won't the Democrats Back Marilyn Hyland?

The Hamilton County Democratic Party Central Committee meets Saturday to endorse candidates, and once again Marilyn Hyland is on the outside looking in. The party's nominating committee has recomme

The Hamilton County Democratic Party Central Committee meets Saturday to endorse candidates, and once again Marilyn Hyland is on the outside looking in.

The party's nominating committee has recommended Dr. Jean Siebenaler of Green Township, a former Navy doctor, to run for the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. But Hyland, the other finalist, hasn't given up.

An Indian Hill resident with a background in marketing and civic projects, Hyland has been eyeing a commission seat for four years. In 1998, running as the Democratic candidate, Hyland lost to Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr., but took 44 percent of the vote.

"Normally, when somebody does well the first time, the party would want to grow them," Hyland says.

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) and former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat, each ran three times before winning elections, according to Hyland.

In 2000, Hyland was poised to receive the Democratic endorsement for commissioner and run against incumbent Bob Bedinghaus. Hyland had spent a lot of time working on rail transportation, stadium issues and growth in western Hamilton County. Her 2000 campaign began on election night, 1998, she says.

Hyland was ready to ask the central committee to vote for her at a meeting in early 2000, but stopped at the request of party co-chair Tim Burke. Todd Portune, who didn't declare his intentions until the last minute, won the endorsement and the race.

"A lot of people feel like I would have had the endorsement that night had I called for the vote," Hyland says.

She challenged Portune in the primary, taking 42 percent, then supported him in the general election.

Burke disagrees with Hyland's account.

"She would not have won a vote in the executive committee when we were on the eve of getting Todd Portune as a candidate," he says.

Burke also says Hyland would not have beat Bedinghaus.

This year Hyland again feels she has a strong chance.

"Frankly, this time I believe I have the votes to win," she says.

Hyland has better name recognition than Siebenaler, who has never run a county wide race.

This year's race is perhaps even more crucial than Portune's 2000 win. A win this year would give Democrats a majority on the commission for at least two years, ending the Republicans' decades-long stranglehold on county government.

So why hasn't the party leadership endorsed Hyland?

Siebenaler did a better job convincing them she was qualified, according to Portune and Burke.

"Jane is the consummate professional," Burke says.

Siebenaler also impressed committee members in her 2000 race against Bill Seitz for state representative, taking 35 percent of the vote in a Republican district.

Burke says he doubts Hyland could raise enough money for a solid campaign, because unions would not support her the way they have in the past.

But Hyland says Burke has never supported her.

"I have not received a penny from the Democratic Party," she says.

"She can say what she wants to say," Burke says. "I contributed to her campaign."

In addition, the party helps pay for candidates' campaign expenses, including sample ballots mailed to voters in 1998.

Burke says this year he is concerned about lawsuits against Hyland for late bills for her marketing firm — at least 22 in the past decade, according to the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. Some of the suits are settled, some were dismissed and some are pending.

"I think that's a killer," Burke says.

Hyland says some of her troubles came from stock losses. But getting sued is a normal part of running a business, she says.

Portune says the lawsuits didn't come up in the committee's interview, and he's not aware of any grudges against Hyland.

"Jean simply, on balance, presented a much stronger candidate on a variety of fronts," he says.

Hyland isn't sure if she'll run in the Democratic primary, much less run as an independent in the general election. But she's losing patience with playing the role of a loyal Democrat.

"Where has my loyalty been rewarded?" she says.

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