Why I won’t run for public office: Bill Moyers’ advice to me

US journalist and commentator Bill Moyers
Image via Wikipedia

When I was first hired by The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998 (my job interview was on day two of the Chiquita apology), I wasn’t sure if journalism was for me.

My job was as a news aide, the equivalent of a “copy boy,” which meant I did tasks like answer the phone, sort faxes, pick up proofs at the now soon-to-be closed “Western” (the Western Avenue printing plant) and other tasks that I’d either invent for myself to do or get asked to tackle. Things like finally entering tubs (literally) full of birth announcements – months and even more than a year behind the actual birth. We used to joke that the kids themselves could have called in if there was a mistake and ask for a correction. They were that far behind.

But the best part was who was working there with me. Night side at the Enquirer and the great folks on the copy desk, a few reporters I pestered to no end and a begrudging editor or two whetted my appetite even more and solidified my career goal. I wanted to be a journalist. But I had a dirty little secret: I’d once ran for public office.

The Northwest Local School District – located in northwestern Hamilton County – school board was my goal. I was 19 years old and a recent Colerain High School, a school in the district, graduate.

School board races, by state law, are non-partisan. Though affiliations are often touted and known by the public, officially they don’t exist. So, I didn’t run with any political party’s backing or even knowing one member of the local political scene. And I lost. Big time.

Wessels for School Board canvassing flier (1993)

I came in ninth – out of 10 on the ballot (plus one write-in). But I did get 3,325 votes (6.2 percent), about 3,450 shy of the third-place finisher, Helga Schwab (12.6 percent), an incumbent. Dan Mecklenborg – a leader of a movement, pretty sure the first, that was an organized opposition to a school levy – came in second. (It’s worth noting Mecklenborg was an early leader in a movement that spawned COAST, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes). I take solace in the fact that I was the last serious vote-getter. The guy on the ballot who finished last had about 1,197 votes. The person above me, Bruce Gehring, a current school board member, garnered about 4,750 votes.

A few people at the paper knew my political background secret and someone at the Enquirer, I can’t remember who exactly, told me I might not want to bring that up as I attempted to land the critical reporting internship and eventually a job. So, I didn’t. That was until someone found the column that former Enquirer reporter John Eckberg wrote about me at the time, photocopied and posted it all around the newsroom, including in the restrooms. It was a good-hearted jab at me – that made me slightly apprehensive.

After I lost the election I was invited by the Colerain Township Republican Club to get involved. They were the only ones who asked, so I did. They assured me they could help me get elected next time. That was even after a then-current school member and prominent youth pastor – who had a penchant for crying at the drop of a hat – had clandestinely asked me to drop out of the race on behalf of some community members and others in the race, promising similar later success. I flatly turned him down. That was not what democracy was all about, I told him.

Politics had soured me somewhat and, among other distractions and interests, by 1996 I was working at my college newspaper. It was, I rationalized, my first true love (I did a quasi-internship at WKRC-AM in 1992 and watched everyone there get fired after they were purchased by their former rival, Jacor, parent of WLW-AM).

But parts of me were always conflicted. I ran for office, even at 19, because I wanted to make a difference. School boards managed kids, so, I felt an adult closest in age to one of those kids ought to be on the school board. Despite this assertion, I was repeatedly told I was too young – something that still irks me to this day. This idealism doesn’t die easily. I still have it.

In 2004 I attended the Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention in New York City. The closing session’s keynote speaker was former White House press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson and journalist, Bill Moyers.

After his rousing speech to the journalists – many of whom came to their feet – he stuck around and signed autographs and chatted with the crowd that had encircled him in the hallway outside the convention hall. I approached him to ask a question that had been bugging me ever since I slipped from politician to journalist. He was a person I thought possibly best suited to answer this question.

“Mr. Moyers, I ran for office once. Now I am a journalist. Where do you think I can have the biggest impact on my community? What should I do?,” I asked him.

He actually paused, among the chaos around him and looked right at me.

“Keep being a journalist,” he said. “You can make a much bigger impact there.”

It was the confirmation I needed from a man whose work I truly respected. I was best being a journalist. I can still care about my community, shine light where light needs to be shined and not be in political office. It felt good to hear that.

It was noted to me that a local political reporter was so good at what he does because he just simply didn’t care about who was who in politics – he just loved the fight. I found out later he helped organize unions before he was a journalist. And he doesn’t care? He has to care, I thought, but maybe his writing and his reporting doesn’t show it. That’s more important.

As journalists we pick and choose the stories we tell. Before that, we pick and choose the aspects of the story we share. That is the very nature of what we do. We judge the facts and make a decision about which facts get included. Bias? Sure. But I think the best reporters actually listen, observe, talk to all sides and try to share all aspects of the issue, event or whatever. In the end, the readers are ultimately the ones who decide. This has been my “angle,” if you will, since I have been writing for newspapers. Integrity, I guess. I do it because I care about my community, schmaltzy as it sounds. This is the overriding factor in why I want to create a new, non-partisan, non-ideological news source for Cincinnati. Because we need it.

And even though I get asked from time to time, sometimes seriously and most of the time in passing, I will not be seeking public office. Not now; not ever. But it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I do. And I will keep trying to hold those elected and other community leaders accountable whenever I can through finding the stories that matter and expose the people and the decisions they make.

So, thank you for thinking of me. But I am fine right here where I am. In the end, it’s probably better for me – and maybe better for you.

Councilman Bortz at an April meeting.

City Council ballot update: The Return of the Queen and more

A change in Ohio state law made the filing deadline for most elected offices on this November’s ballot 90 days before the election, but not for some cities with different deadlines in their charter, which supersedes state law. Like Cincinnati.

The city’s cut-off remains 75 days prior to the election, on August 25, leaving lots of time for candidates still without enough of the 500 valid signatures or who haven’t paid their $75 filing fee or signed the acceptance letter to get their campaigns in order and, subsequently, their names on the ballot. So far, eight people have made the cut.

Councilman Bortz at an April meeting.

As of this afternoon, several incumbents and former candidates have yet to meet the filing requirements, with 10 days left to go. But, one former mayoral candidate, a woman who brought grimaces and grins to reporters and political watchers across Cincinnati, has not only met all the requirements to be on the City Council ballot this far, she was the second one to do so in early June.

Sandra Queen Noble, who fought for her apparently single-member “She-ro” political party (as opposed to “He-ro” or “Hero” party) got in her 500 valid signatures, paid her fee and signed her acceptance letter – all by June 7. That was just nearly a month behind fund-raising prodigy, first-time candidate and initially-named P.G. Sittenfeld, who got his paperwork done on May 11.

Incumbent Democrat Cecil Thomas, who, much to his own surprise, rode into office in 2005 on a shoestring campaign budget, spending a fraction of what many other non-winning and winning candidates did, finished his pre-election work on July 6.

Lawyer, professor and first-time candidate Yvette Simpson – best known lately in City Hall circles for having her first business forum of her campaign in Silverton (outside of city limits) and sending an email to City Hall staffers inviting them to it (a big no-no) – got her stuff in order on July 28.

Queen Noble, who was known for saying things that were, to put it nicely, a little off-kilter in her bid to become Cincinnati’s first female black mayor, should provide some much-needed levity in a city (and state and country) lately full of cantankerous (or some would say, “petty”) politics and gigantic budget problems. Can we all say, “The rent is too damn high?”

Kevin Flynn, the Charterite and former candidate, filed his paperwork Friday, having garnered 534 valid signatures on his petition. His name will be on the ballot, making him the seventh person to officially make the cut.

Former Hamilton County Prosecutor, city police officer, judge, FOX19 legal analyst, attorney and the guy who had extramarital relations with one of my former co-workers (always wondered why she wouldn’t go out on a date with me), Mike Allen, has crossed the 500-valid signature threshold and will appear on the fall ballot – if he makes it to the Elections board before August 25 and does what he, shall we say, needs to do. Hide your children, hide your wife.

Allen came in at 541 valid signatures in, what I am told, was lightening-fast speed – even without the endorsement of the Hamilton County Republican Party. Congratulations, Mr. Allen!

Charter candidate Chris Bortz sits at 368 valid signatures at this time, though, as with all candidates, is or is planning to bring in more voter petitions. Bortz has followed a similar pattern in recent election years, but has always turned in enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot fairly close to the deadline.

First-timer Catherine Smith Mills (who, jokingly, I believe is planning to build a fence around our city, which I find to be a little self-serving – who do you think we’d get to build it, huh?), had 411 signatures. But while I was visiting the board Friday, she stopped in with 89 more and asked me to include that in anything I wrote. So, there you go Mrs. Mills. As of this afternoon, she has added 54 more valid names and stands at 465.

Republican mayor-hater Leslie Ghiz sits at 348 valid voter signatures, while Wendell Young, a Democrat appointed to Council, has 461.

First-time candidate Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who helped repeal Cincinnati’s anti-gay Article XII, finished his paperwork on August 2, shortly before NAACP president (or soon-to-be former president) and Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes board member (only in Cincinnati, folks…only in Cincinnati) Christopher Smitherman solidified his candidacy on August 10, 2011.

Cincinnati CityBeat’s former Person of the Year, riding on the coattails of bringing a prominent Latino convention to Cincinnati, Jason Riveiro, sits at just 221 valid signatures. His campaign has been prominent in recent parades, so he appears to be a serious candidate who might need to ratchet things up a notch.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, widely considered to be a strong contender for Cincinnati’s mayor when current Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is term-limited out of office in 2013, has 505 valid signatures, but hasn’t finished filing. Same is true for first-term and former WCPO-TV investigative reporter Laure Quinlivan, who has 508 valid signatures but no paperwork or filing fee.

Democrat Nicholas Hollan, who owns Valley Dental and was endorsed last time by former Congressman Steve Driehaus, has about half of his requirement, with 325 valid signatures.

Republican Council appointee Wayne Lippert – tapped to fill a seat vacated by Cincinnati Bengals employee and once-endorsed Democrat Jeff Berding – has 516 valid signatures, but has yet to complete the process. Same is true for another appointment, Republican Amy Murray. She filled the seat once held by Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel and she has 511 signatures. Preacher and former Democrat-turned-Republican Charlie Winburn (who refers to me as Doctor Wessels… been meaning to ask if that was a PhD. or M.D.), has 526 valid names and finished the process today, making him the eighth person to do so. This doctor says that bodes well for his re-election this fall.

Also on Friday, the first write-in candidate filed. Orlando Welborn will be an official candidate, though his name will not appear on the ballot.

There are also some lesser-known names vying to be on the ballot. These are the people with signatures and how many of them they have so far:

  • Jacqueline Allen – 212 (60 added since Friday)
  • Kathy Atkinson – 426
  • Patricia McCollum – 511

Several others have picked up petitions from the Board of Elections, but haven’t returned any valid signatures. They are:

  • Theo Barnes
  • James Ingram
  • Robert Jacobs
  • George Johnson
  • Roger Marksberry
  • Peterson Mingo
  • Weston Munzel
  • Gary Pierce
  • Eric Thompson
  • Edith Thrower

It’s shaping up to be an interesting election year, as they nearly all are. City politics is entering a particularly interesting era in the next two years, as Council members Bortz, Ghiz and Thomas will be term-limited off in 2013. Speculation that Roxanne Qualls and Charlie Winburn, and possibly others (former Councilman John Cranley), could vie for the mayor’s chair in 2013, and therefore ineligible to remain on Council, means Council’s majority could completely change after the 2013 election – if not before, because of resignations and appointments.

It’s worth noting, too, that former Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell, seen around town in recent weeks meeting with a plethora of political consultants, has decided not to seek election to Council this year, sources have said. This is the first year he’d be eligible after term limits prompted his resignation late in his term in 2007. Qualls was appointed to his seat.

Related articles

School Board Member Parker falls short of being on fall ballot

Cincinnati School Board Member Sean Parker has fallen short of the required petition signatures to appear on this fall’s ballot.

First-time candidate Parker, who was appointed to the school board on April 28, 2010 after former WCPO-TV reporter and comedian Michael Flannery stepped down, fell 43 signatures short of the required 300 needed to appear on the ballot, said Sally J. Krisel, Hamilton County Board of Elections director.

School Board Member Sean Parker (Courtesy of Facebook)

Board officials had originally found Parker was 50 short of the requirement, but further examination, at Parker’s request, revealed an additional seven signatures. That left the figure at 257 valid signatures. The deadline to have all valid signatures into the board was yesterday.

Krisel said she has already informed Parker and Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, and the board will formally inform Parker in a letter sent soon.

Mary Welsh Schlueter, an education activist and founder of Partners for Innovation in Education, or PIE, and a candidate for this fall’s election whose name will appear on the ballot, said she wishes Parker and his wife, who recently had the couple’s first child, the best.

“I sent Sean my condolences, but I know the time spent with his new baby will be treasured by his family,” she said. “Best of luck to him in his endeavors.”

Welsh Schlueter said Parker had helped with recent forums for PIE and she considers him a friend.

“He’s a good guy,” she said.

In addition to Welsh Schlueter, the following candidates have filed to run this fall and their names will appear on the ballot:

  • Current member, Eve Bolton
  • Alexander Poccia Kuhns
  • Current member, A. Chris Nelms

Though candidates often have political party connections, the board race is officially non-partisan. Three seats are up on the seven-member board this year. The remaining members run for re-election in 2013.

UPDATE (12:07 p.m EDT, 8/12/2011): Parker sent an email to his campaign list, thanking them for their support and encouraging them to continue supporting the district because “they need us.”

“There are many factors that contributed to this and I take full responsibility,” Parker said in the email. “If you have contributed your time or financially, I truly appreciate it and will never forget your support.  I will continue to do my part in helping to move the district forward in a positive way.”

A phone call to Parker has not yet been returned.

Event Friday discusses the narcissism of social media users

PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 06:  Facebook founder ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Recently, I asked to be subscribed to a local list of interesting things to do called “Tri-State Treasures,” curated by Jim Kesner. It was after a friend shared a copy of her copy of the weekly email.

It’s chock-full of great little events and happenings in town that seem to be all together missing from others places – plus notices about the usual or more widely-publicized ones. It’s only been about a month since I started receiving it and have been very pleased with what I have found, including this little gem I got today about discussion around social media. I, of course, was interested and laughed out loud when I read the description:

Social Networking – Discussion [Friday 17 June @ 6:30pm]: The Association for Psychoanalytic Thought presents this discussion featuring William Wetly & Matt McBride. Mr. Welty will focus on how online social networking & interaction is characterized by narcissism, leading to both antagonistic & self-punishing superego relationships which, within that framework is the possibility of obscene jouissance. Mr. McBride will examine how Facebook, as a medium, is constituted & how it uniquely serves to facilitate a kind of hysteria. Drawing on cultural theories, Matt will explain why Facebook is a departure from previous media & how those differences rob users of their subjectivity in ways heretofore unseen in earlier media. Free admission. Wine & cheese reception @ 6:30pm; discussion @ 7pm. At Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute, 3001 Highland Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45219. More info at 513.531.0415 & AssnPsaThought at aol.com.

I can’t wait! I’m going to be there and very much look forward to hearing what they have to say. What about you? It’s free! I just created a Facebook Event, too…

 

Family headed to Germany

Seven members of my family – including my Uncle Rick, his wife and three kids, my grandmother and my Dad – are about to head to Germany. We’re from there. My Dad and grandmother immigrated to the United States in 1954 when my Dad was about 7 1/2 years old. This will be his second-ever trip back to his homeland – the last being in 2000 – since he left after attending kindergarten and first grade in the tiny town of Breddenberg. That’s where my grandmother grew up.

I have been there three times – in 1999, 2000 and 2008 – and loved every minute of it. I wish I was going this time. There is so much to share with my cousins and I wish I could hang out with my cousins over there. But, I’m happy my cousins are getting the chance to visit there now – they’re all in high school now – while they’re young. I would have loved to have gone back then and I have no doubt this experience is going to have a lifelong impact on them.

Safe travels, guys! See you in two weeks.

Best Cincinnati hairdos

20110531-111057.jpg
I keep seeing that commercial for the law firm of Elk and Elk. I don’t know what they specialize in professionally (probably personal injury), but do know they specialize in bad comb-overs and odd haircuts. That is completely obvious.

How can anyone take them seriously? They give a stern stare at the camera… and I want to chuckle.

Who else in Cincinnati has bad hair? Post your nominations in the comments section.

A conversation with Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn

I will be live-Tweeting and/or covering the “Meet the Editor” with Cincinnati Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at Northern Kentucky University.

It will be live on uStream and I will be using Cover It Live to report on the event. Both streams can be found below.

 

Streaming Video by Ustream.TV
 

Doctor “hero” at Giffords shooting says he and others are just “normal people”

Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic nominee and gen...
Image via Wikipedia

I heard this quote on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” today and I really liked it. Choking back tears, Dr. David Bowman, who was shopping with his wife at the Safeway store in Tuscon, Arizona where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six others were killed by an alleged lone gunman, including a 9-year-old girl who was born on September 11, 2001, said he is not particularly comfortable with being called a “hero:”

“I think that there were maybe heroic things done by normal people. That means we’re human beings. And I think that’s, to me, one of the lasting impressions, is to see what people were doing for someone else – injured people – helping someone else more injured. Not concerned about themselves. And not screaming and not yelling, “Medic! Medic!,” and helping the person next to them. It gives you a lot of hope that we are doing it the right way, somehow.”

-Dr. David Bowman, aided Rep.Gifford at shooting, on being called hero

We have a hero culture now. Anyone and everyone who acts is, by default, a hero. A woman, who also is being called a hero for yanking the second gun clip out of the alleged shooter’s hands, said if she is a hero then the retired Colonel who tackled the gunman to the ground is a “super hero.” She said that her son told her that Tuscon needs heroes right now and that she needs to embrace the moniker.

I think we needed “normal people” that day – and that is what we got. Calling everyone a “hero” makes it sound like only “heroes” respond to desperate situations like that. Do you consider yourself a hero? I don’t think I am a hero. I bet you don’t either. But, I believe I would try to help in a situation like that. And I’m just a normal guy.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County Election Night coverage using Qik video

I will be running around downtown Cincinnati – including the Hamilton County Board of Elections and various campaign victory parties – reporting on what I am seeing using Qik video. Check out the video below to see the latest:

http://qik.com/joefoto

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-09-24

  • "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it… in bed." #
  • Down at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati with my cousin, Marianne. #
  • Joe…. Like, Joe the Plumber…! Um, well, not exactly… #
  • Final packing and tying up a few loose ends today for two weeks in Austin, Texas. Also, a mid-afternoon break with a brewery tour. #
  • I'm on a brewery tour of Over-the-Rhine. #
  • A quick, last stop at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, #
  • Megabus to Chicago at 1:25 am. Breakfast with @kclmoneycoach then train to Austin, Texas to see @engagingindeed and Quinn C. Brady! Yea! #
  • On the Megabus in downtown Cincinnati. Bound for Chicago. #
  • Sitting in a cafe near the "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis" Tower (formerly just "Sears Tower"). Who knew Todd Bridges had so much money? #
  • If anyone sees Schwarzenegger in Cincy today I'll be a little peev'd. "I'll be back" in 2 weeks. Once lived 2 blocks from Cali statehouse. #
  • Have new book "Over-the-Rhine: When Beer Was King" w/ me for the trip. Equally excited re: Jake Mecklenborg's Cincy subway book next month. #
  • Back on @Amtrak again, this time headed from Chicago to Austin, TX. Scheduled to arrive 6pm Tuesday. Follow here: http://oncincy.com/cb79Y7 #
  • Talking about creating a viable, in-depth news source for Cincinnati around town I hear frustrations akin to this: http://oncincy.com/cqc7h7 #
  • Southern Illinois train sunset over a harvested cornfield. http://twitpic.com/2qfuyj #
  • The people who come on @Amtrak trains because of their speed, on-time averages and amazing equipment bug the hell out of me. Whiny, whiny. #
  • Forgive me @kclmoneycoach for what I am about to say: I feel like I boarded the moron train. It's like a rolling idiot farm on rails. #
  • I'm at Amtrak/Greyhound St. Louis Station (430 S 15th St, St. Louis). http://4sq.com/6uqtJO #
  • Just a few blocks from the State Capitol Building… (@ Amtrak Little Rock) http://4sq.com/94D3i7 #
  • Federal law says, "Passenger trains get priority." In reality, railroads say, "Screw federal law." This has to be fixed for rail to work. #
  • New Metro CEO works for co. providing services to Austin, TX transit. Previous: worked in Lexington, Ky, where Cincy city mgr was in charge. #
  • I'm at Temple, TX Amtrak Station. http://4sq.com/cCC8DI #
  • I have arrived at my final destination. Nice ride, mostly. (@ Austin Train Station – Amtrak) http://4sq.com/6pK3CB #
  • A new learning module from @JLab! Launching a Nonprofit News Site: http://t.co/cd0x8bK #
  • At the Austin mothership. I could get used to that. (@ Whole Foods Market w/ 3 others) http://4sq.com/2NtLcy #
  • Damn hippies! (@ Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park Visitor Center) http://4sq.com/anG7Rk #
  • Another woman who wouldn't give me the time of day. http://twitpic.com/2r9chb #
  • Good night from the woods at Enchanted Rock Natural Area. They even have the Internet here. #

Random thoughts from a freelance reporter and photographer living and working in Cincinnati, Ohio.