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Springer and Blackwell: Old allies, differing views

One could hardly find two political figures whose beliefs are more far apart than Ken Blackwell and Jerry Springer.

Blackwell, the conservative Republican and believer in limited government and the power of the private sector.

Springer, the liberal Democrat, who went on from a career in Cincinnati politics and TV news to become an internationally known talk show host, and a liberal Democrat who believes that government is not the enemy but the friend of those trying to their lives.

Both come from vastly different backgrounds.

Back in the 1970s, the two were allies for the most part on Cincinnati City Council, both serving terms as mayor.

Later, they took different paths, both politically and professionally.

But they remain friends; and the respect they have for each showed through in the hour long side-by-side discussion the pair had Tuesday night at the Kresge Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati Medical School as part of Beyond Civility’s “Side by Side” series.

Beyond Civility is an organization dedicated to promoting civil dialogue between people of different political views; and Tuesday night’s session was the most well-attended of its three “Side-By-Side” events so far, with nearly 400 people in attendance.

The people in the darkened auditorium sat and heard things about two of Cincinnati’s most familiar figures they had probably never heard before – things about their childhoods, their influences, and what brought them to the views they hold today.

Blackwell – a former Ohio treasurer, secretary of state and unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial candidate – talked about his father, a meat packer in a West End sausage factory; his mother, who dropped out of high school but who read voraciously and encouraged her children to do the same; and how the Blackwell family grew up in the Laurel Home projects of the West End.

Blackwell spoke of his grandmother, who taught them that “the three most important books are the date book, the check book and the Good Book. She knew that life was not perfect that one had to keep on the path.”

And he spoke of his uncle, DeHart Hubbard, a track and field star who was the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal; and a man who faced racial discrimination as he pursued his athletic dreams.

“My uncle scored five touchdowns in his first game for the Walnut Hills football team,’’ Blackwell said. “The school district found out and ordered him off the team because he was black. The entire team – every one of them – voted  to forfeit the whole season because he couldn’t play.”

Springer had a far different story to tell.

He was born in a railroad station in London, where his parents had gone from Germany to escape the Nazi holocaust.

“All of our family was exterminated by the Nazis, but my mother and father survived,’’ said Springer, born in 1944. “The train stations were used by people as shelter; and that was where I was born.”

The family moved to New York City when he was four years old. After high school, Springer came to Cincinnati to go to law school; and that is where his involvement in politics began.

Springer – who went on to host a somewhat raunchy but hugely successful TV talk show – said that being a liberal “was in my DNA.”

“If you are the child of holocaust survivors, it’s hard not to be a liberal,’’ Springer said. “Twenty-seven members of my family were wiped out. You learn that you never judge people on what they are, but what they do.”

Robert Kennedy was his first political hero, Springer said, and the political figure he still admires most today. As a young man, he got involved in Kennedy’s 1968 run for the presidency, cut short by his assassination.

“Bobby Kennedy was in politics for all the right reasons, especially in the final years of his life,’’ Springer said. “He cared about the people who were struggling, who were discriminated against, who had no chance to succeed. Why else be in politics unless you want to make life better for people who have nothing.”

The two disagreed about the role government should play in helping the less fortunate in society.
“Charity is a value and a behavior that is important,’’ Blackwell said. “Some of those who have been the most successful in our country are among the generous.”

But government is not “the most efficient” method of delivering help to those who need it – that role is better suited to the private sector and private charity.

Springer disagreed sharply.

“We should be charitable to one another, by any moral measure,’’ said Springer, who has often become involved in Democratic political campaigns in Ohio in recent years. “I know there is this idea that we should hate the government, but the government is us. And too many people are falling through the cracks.”

WVXU is a media partner of Beyond Civility.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.