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.

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

Sign of the times? Janitor/funeral home driver fired for parking body

I cannot help but wonder if the guy who was working as both a school janitor and a part-time funeral home driver had something to do with the pay at one of his job?

Regardless, life is all about the choices we make. Now this guy is out his funeral home driving pay.

No charges in corpse parked at school

CANTON — A prosecutor said no charges will be filed against a school janitor and part-time funeral home driver who left a bagged body in a parked van outside a school.Prosecutor Ty Hauritz in Canton said Wednesday the action by the janitor at GlenOak High School lacked criminal intent.The van driver was sched­uled to take the body last month from a hospital to a funeral home but was afraid of running late at his school job.He parked the van and body outside the school for 4½ hours.The funeral home has fired the driver. The Plain Local school district won’t discuss any disciplinary action.

via The Chronicle-Telegram – Lorain County’s leading news source.

Driehaus’s Congressional Web site live

Steve Driehaus has his Congressional Web page up and running, though there isn’t much listed on the site yet (plus he has had his new campaign Web site up for a while with it’s new domain name, www.driehausforohio.com, suggesting a possible future run for higher office).

There is on Driehaus’s Congrssional site, I noticed, a crapload of links to just about every social networking and bookmarking site known to man, though. I think this is an interesting and smart step forward for the new Congressman as he faces the challenges of crippled media in Cincinnati and the ever-important need to communicate with his constituents. Now he can easily ask visitors to his site to share what they have read with their social networks.

File photo

I have to mention (being the new media guy that I fashion myself), too, that there is not a link to “Share This,” the locally-founded (still with a local presence) social sharing service, that would take the clutter notch down about 10-fold. I’m sure they will work on this as they tweak the site in coming weeks/months. A quick Google search shows the Congressional site – which currently has a zero Page Rank – has about 42 pages, most of which are empty or needing content. It was likely a pre-packaged template that will eventually be filled with information and finish much higher in Google searches (especially after it gets passed around the blogs and other places).

What is conspiculously missing is any information about the Driehaus’s stances or record thus far in the new Congress (which I admit is new), including any mention, much less a transcript, of the speech he gave after his ceremonial swearing-in Friday in Cincinnati City Council chambers. In it he lobbied for the need to deficit-spend – something President-elect Barack Obama has been saying will be necessary and others have urged him to do once he takes office Tuesday.

“I can’t believe I am saying this,” Driehaus said in his Friday speech when calling for more federal government spending.

After the speech Driehaus shared some about his personal experiences so far in Congress. He told a story about being unexpectedly asked by Congressman Barney Frank to briefly run the Congressional debate as he was about to speak on the floor for the first time. Frank apparently had to rush to a quick meeting out in the hallway and called on Driehaus to take over the debate as he was waiting in line to speak for the first time. The drama only lasted a few minutes, he said, because Frank returned much quicker than either expected.

“It only took about two minutes,” Driehaus said. “I was very nervous.”

A side note: What was missing during Friday’s event? Reporters. There were, I think, two TV cameras there, but, aside from this columnist, no journalists of any stripe. And I had not come to report, but to watch. Further proof that Driehaus will have a difficult time making his case for why he voted the way he did when it comes around to election time next year. The only thing voters will hear will be an overload of political commercials with nary a speck of insight or objectivity. Welcome to the post-apocolyptic journalistic world. Scares the crap out of me.

Hamilton drive-in open on Christmas day

One of the coolest things about living in California for two plus years was the abundance of great drive-in movie theaters open year round. The climate supported being outside watching movies next your car listening to the audio through the radio 365 days a year (aside from rainy days, which were few).

But in southwestern Ohio? Apparently the new owners of the Holiday Auto Theatre – a place I love to go in warmer months – will be open throughout the winter, including Christmas day.

Families seeking entertainment on Christmas night can pile in their car — and stay there.

The Holiday Auto Theatre on Old Oxford Road in Hamilton will show a triple feature Thursday, Dec. 25. Movies slated to air include Disney’s “Bedtime Stories” (PG), Disney’s “Bolt” (PG) and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (PG-13).

Beginning Dec. 26 and running through Jan. 1 will be “Twilight” (PG-13) as the third feature to follow “Bedtime Stories” and “Bolt.”

Holiday Auto Theatre opens at 6:30 p.m. nightly with shots beginning at 7:15 p.m. Admission includes all three films and is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 4 to 11 and free for children ages 3 and younger. The refreshment center now offers apple juice and Hawaiian Punch.

For more information go online to www.holidayautotheatre.com.

via Holiday Auto Theatre to show films on Christmas.