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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Charter's council slate a mixed bag

This is not your parents’ Charter Committee.

Not the staid old political organization, that, back in the 1920's, threw out the corrupt political bosses and instituted Cincinnati’s charter form of government. And who have, through the decades, sat back and scolded Democratic and Republican council members alike for going beyond their role of setting policy and interfering with the professional administrators of the city.

Some people have felt in recent years that Charter lacked relevance, pushed to the back burner of city politics.

This year, the Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s third political party, has endorsed a widely diverse group of six council members, four of whom also have endorsements from the other political parties. They are trying to make it clear to voters – we still matter.

And Charter leaders are positioning themselves as the voice of reason – the one party with candidates who are committed to reaching across party lines and philosophical divides and actually working together to solve problems.

“We are not asking our candidates to give up their traditional political affiliations,’’ said Michael Goldman, the chairman of Charter’s executive committee. “We are endorsing people we believe can confront difficulty issues and act as a broker to resolve conflicts. To actually solve problems.”

It’s an interesting bunch:

-    Yvette Simpson, the incumbent council member who also has a Democratic party endorsement and was elected to council in 2011;
-    Kevin Flynn, a lawyer and former head of the Charter Committee, who has run for council twice before as a Charterite and lost;
-    Vanessa White, who came out of nowhere four years ago to win a seat on the Cincinnati Board of Education and who sought a Democratic party council endorsement this year but didn’t get it;
-    David Mann, an endorsed Democrat who has always had close ties to Charter, and who served in the '70's, '80's and early ’90's as a council member, mayor and a one-term congressman;
-    Greg Landsman, another endorsed Democrat and first time candidate, with close ties to former Ohio governor Ted Strickland;
-    And, perhaps most surprisingly, Republican Amy Murray, who served briefly as an appointed council member in 2011 but lost her seat in that year’s council election. She is one of four Republican-endorsed candidates in this year’s election.

On the surface, it seems like an odd combination. You have an unabashed Democratic liberal like David Mann running on the same slate with an equally unabashed conservative Republican like Amy Murray. Philosophically, there is a gap between them wider than the Gulf of Mexico.

“It seems odd,’’ said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke. “I think what was  happening was that the Charter wanted to broaden itself to take in people from both political parties; and, of the Republican candidates, Murray seemed like the reasonable choice.”

Well, it wasn’t going to be the lone incumbent Republican on council, Charlie Winburn. He is anathema to Charterites, who still believe that council members should set policy and stay out of the way of administration of government. Winburn doesn’t always roll that way.

Goldman said it really doesn’t matter to Charter whether a member or a candidate considers himself or herself a Republican or a Democrat when it comes to state and national elections.

That’s true, although most Charter leaders in recent years have tended to be Democrats. But many of the founding fathers of the Charter movement – Murray Seasongood, who led the 1924 effort that led to the creation of Cincinnati’s charter form of government, considered himself a Republican, but fought the corrupt Republican machine that had ruled Cincinnati for decades.

Later, Charlie Taft, son of President William Howard Taft, served on council for over 30 years as an elected Charterite, although he was a liberal Republican – in an era when there was such an animal as a liberal Republican.

Goldman said that all Charter has asked of the candidates it has endorsed for city council is adherence to the five principles of the Charter Committee – political independence, accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility and regional cooperation.

“Where they stood on particular issues really didn’t matter,’’ Goldman said. “The hope of Charter is to elect a council that starts with dialogue, but transcends dialogue and comes to solutions to real problems.”

It’s like the old Charterite saying goes – there is no Republican way of fixing potholes; there is no Democratic way of fixing potholes – there is only fixing potholes.

We shall see after the election if it works the way Charter envisions it working. Heavens knows there are more problems than potholes to fix.


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