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

US journalist and commentator Bill Moyers
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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.

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…

 

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

Taming the mighty Mill Creek

DSC_7871

Tomorrow I embark on an adventure few in this area would ever consider doing – canoeing down the Mill Creek.

It won’t be my first time. The last time was May 1, 2007 when we left from Spring Grove Avenue and got out near the Ohio River – in utter filth. What I learned on that trip is that the Mill Creek is in much better shape than it has been since the introduction of industry along its banks. Though it can change from day-to-day, the water for 90 percent of its length is safe for humans to be in and around, which was never the case years ago. That’s why you – if you’re from the Greater Cincinnati area – are probably aghast at what I have done and plan to do again tomorrow.

I was also surprised to find an abundance of life living in and around the creek, including spawning fish, snakes and turtles. I saw rushing rapids flowing over resistant rocks, creating a gorgeous display of one of nature’s enduring beauties – a moving stream. Above us and around us were highways with trucks and cars, plus railroad tracks with giant locomotives moving in and out of town. Along side us were closed factories, a wheat mill, a rail yard and a sewage treatment plant. There were also beautiful tall, green grasses and other vegetation that did not seem to know that common knowledge says they should not be there. All that touches the Mill Creek dies. Not so anymore, apparently.

Trash in the Mill Creek near the Ohio River
Trash in the Mill Creek near the Ohio Rover

Tomorrow, I will be hosted again by Commodore Bruce Koehler, a member of the “Mill Creek Yacht Club,” a tongue-in-cheek “organization” of people who are passionate about our local environment, study it and can teach us about what we are seeing. Dr. Mike Miller, a University of Cincinnati professor of aquatic ecology, will also be on the trip again. His insights are instrumental in educating the trip’s partipants on the transformation of the Mill Creek watershed and what it once was before that much-needed makeover.

We are taking a different trip than last time. This time we are starting farther north, in Sharonville, and ending up in Reading. The whole trip is about 6 1/4 miles and is expected to take about five hours. I plan to bring a notebook, my Tevos, a video camera and a still camera. For now, though, check out the beautiful – and some disturbing – photos from the 2007 trip. Click on the above photo to be taken to the Flickr set.

Sunday morning tune

Caught Lorna Parson of Sharonville this morning as she tapped the keys on a “Play me, I’m Yours” piano on the lawn of the Wyoming Arts Center in Wyoming.

She was playing “Yankee Doodle” from a beginner’s piano lesson book and said she was attempting to hit all 35 pianos before the program officially ends on September 17. She has got her work cut out for her – she only has made it to 10 so far.

“I got a late start,” she said.

Parson said she is not an accomplished player, but enjoyed the experience of playing at the public pianos. Learn more about the program, including the plan to donate the pianos to local schools and needy students needing a piano, at their Web site by clicking this link: http://oncincy.com/ahIlGd

Lorna Parson of Sharonville plays at a "Play Me, I'm Yours" piano outside the Wyoming Fine Arts Center in Wyoming.

Queen City Discovery: The Clifton Friars Club

As my previous post said, I have an interest in discovering unknown parts of Cincinnati.

So, this morning I was happy to see Queen City Discovery’s post exploring the demolition site of The Cincinnati Friar’s Club in Clifton Clifton Heights.

“…the Cincinnati Friars club dated back to 1860 and serves as an organization that provides outreach to disadvantaged children through physical activity. The club relocated and abandoned this structure in 2006. Demolition had just begun earlier that week as “Cincinnati’s 8th Precinct” began climbing over the rubble into what remained of the Friars Club.

via Queen City Discovery: The Clifton Friars Club.

There are some great photos on their site. Click over and check it out.

(NOTE: There are a couple references in the blog post that make no sense to me. “Cincinnati’s 8th Precinct” would one. Is this an inside joke? A reference to themselves or the Friar’s Club as a place for troubled children? I have no idea. Would be nice if the author(s) cleared that and a few other things up.)

Track-walker children in Mariemont

Track-walker kids

I got this shot in Mariemont over the weekend. Liked it, so wanted to share.

I was checking out an old, what appeared to be, foundry near the tracks which I discovered just driving around checking out parts of our town that I have never known before. It’s a hobby and feeds my insatiable curiosity.

Abandoned and laden with graffiti, the building is about half covered in green-leaved vines. The kids I ran into said they had no idea what it used to be, suggesting either a water tower (which seemed unlikely because of all the windows) or a train station (which also seemed unlikely because it is probably 50-feet high from the foundation – which is elevated about 20 feet from the tracks – with no easy in and out points).

Anyone have an idea or actually know the building’s former or intended use?

MEDIA ADVISORY: Clark Montessori UPDATE

MEDIA ADVISORY
Contact: Joe Wessels (513) 549-6397

NOTE: Please do not call the school or the principal directly through tomorrow. Please call Joe Wessels.

Just a few quick updates/notes:

  • We have been informed by The White House that an announcement is forthcoming at 11 a.m. EDT tomorrow, Tuesday, May 4, 2010. At this time we are unaware how the news will come to us.
  • The White House said it will make an announcement at or around 11 a.m. on its Web site at this address: www.whitehouse.gov/commencement
  • The 88 students making up Clark’s Class of 2010 have asked repeatedly that the message be conveyed that no matter what happens tomorrow, they feel they have already won. Though this is a competition they are very proud of the other schools vying for the President of the United States as their commencement speaker, including the two others making into the final three with Clark, Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Mich. and Denver School of Science and Technology in Denver, Colo.
  • An announcement on media availability will be made tomorrow morning at least a couple hours prior to the 11 a.m. announcement. Students will be in class and doing coursework before that time.
  • Schools not winning the President as their commencement speaker will have a member of the President’s Cabinet speak at the commencement instead.
  • Rep. Driehaus spoke to students today for about 30 minutes, answered questions and shared his support for the school and said he had encouraged The White House to pick Clark.

Guy attempts to re-claim bike that he thought was his – while it’s on bus bike rack

A man who thought he was re-claiming his stolen bike off a bus rack was told by a bus rider – and the bike’s real owner – he might want to re-think his action.

This all happened while I was riding a bus downtown from the University of Cincinnati:

While a Cincinnati Metro bus was stopped for a traffic light at West McMilan Street and Clifton Avenue, a man got out of a car heading eastbound on McMillan and walked up and snatched the bike on the bus’s front bike rack off the rack. The man who put the bike there and was riding the bus, saw this happen, immediately got off the bus and confronted the guy who was taking the red, silver and black bike away.

At that exact moment, a Cincinnati police officer was heading south on Clifton, about to turn west onto McMillan. The man from the bus, now in a tug ‘o war struggle with the man who brazenly took the bike off the bike rack, flagged down the police officer, who stopped.

“This is my bike,” the man who took the bike said to the officer.

“No, it’s mine,” the man from the bus said.

The bus driver exited the bus and spoke to the officer. After a few minutes the bus rider, now in possession of his bike, took it and put it back on the bike rack. The officer got each partys’ name and the bus rider boarded the bus. Riders on the bus applauded him as he took his seat. The man who attempted to take the bike continued to talk with the officer outside, appearing frustrated.

The man who re-claimed his bike, got back on the bus and, out of breathe, took his seat.

“He said that I stole the bike. I had that bike for 10 years,” the bus rider announced to the bus, after someone shouted for him to explain what happened. “He told me he got it some place else. There’s a Montgomery Cyclery sticker right on the bike. That was pretty (bold) to do that.”

A younger woman on the bus, who identified herself as a frequent bus rider,  said she had never witnessed someone try to take a bike off a bus’s bike rack before.

“I’ve seen people snatch an iPod and run out the back door as the bus pulled away,” she said. “But never anything like (what just happened).”

She said she has watched as  someone sitting in the seat nearest the rear bus door had their iPod stolen right out of their hands. She said another person exiting the bus snatches it from their hands – from behind their back. The thief then runs off before the driver is alerted a crime has occurred.

Parking enforcement officer writes ticket for after 8 – before 8

Just watched as a neighbor of mine got a ticket for parking in an after-8 a.m. truck loading zone along Perry Street in downtown Cincinnati (even though this alley hasn’t been used for loading trucks in probably 30 years). Only problem was it wasn’t after 8 a.m. – even when the officer handed the neighbor her ticket.

I watched out my bedroom window as she showed the officer her cell phone (which carries a signal from her wireless service that maintains the exact real time, lapse a 10-30 seconds). She was rather upset – the ticket costs $50 – but the officer would not even budge.

So, I went out and said I looked on the two computers I had open and on, both with automatically updated Internet time (also very accurate) and my cell phone and said she was right and he was wrong. His response? Look at the ticket.

She showed me the ticket. “8:00 a.m., April 2, 2010.” No Day-After April Fool’s Day joke here. I told him that even right then, as we “discussed” the ticket, it was only 8:01 a.m. so there is no way it was after 8 a.m. when he wrote the ticket.

I encouraged the woman to go to the ” parking court.” Court, in this case, is a closet with a hearing officer (“judge”), an appointee who also works as a lawyer someplace else, who almost always lets parking violaters off the first time they appear before him (or sit next to him, as is the case in Hamilton County) and usually halves fines if you take the time to go on subsequent visits. I know this from personal experience – I had a few “surprise” tickets when I lived in Over-the-Rhine. The surprise was I never got them, likely removed from the windshield by some board passer-by (and we had more than our share of those types). The excuse took with the judge  because I had actually paid, on time, other tickets over the years.

But this all comes at a cost: The experience for those living in downtown Cincinnati. It is one we cannot afford right now. And this is a stupid way for the city to make up expenses in a gigantic budget hole.

In an effort to beef up parking enforcement, officers (the parking kind, not police) have been armed with electronic ticket-writing devices that dramatically speed up the process. There apparently also have been several new hires in the past 18 months or so, making the force larger than it has been in recent years (this is an observation). Couple that with a more than doubling of the original $14 fine (as it was until 2005, late, as I recall) to the now $35 fine for parking at an expired meter, and I think we have ourselves a grand way for the city to make money for itself.

Good. No new taxes, right? But it comes at the expense of creating massive discontent about living downtown. Parking spaces – like on Perry Street – still reflect an industrial alleyway where trucks needed to park throughout the day. Now, it’s low-hanging fruit for parking enforcement folks and the bane of people who live in the former warehouses and manufacturing facilities now converted into townhomes, condos and apartments – the people who are making downtown work again.

Should parking on the street be made legal for anyone? No, but there are best practices from other cities of similar size that allow for residents to park on the street near their residence.

Cincinnati has a similar ordinance. Why haven’t you heard of it? It’s pretty fascinating, actually. Passed in the early 1980s, but it has never been used once, because the burden for residents to enact is nearly insurmountable. Why? Who knows for sure. It was either an extremely poor piece of legislation or doing exactly what it was intended to do. I have (or had) a copy of the ordinance, and some accompanying complaints by current and former Council members, and will track that down and discuss that in a future post.