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Contest for HALF A TERM
1-on-1 City Council race may be intense
Wednesday,  October 3, 2007 3:38 AM
By Robert Vitale
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Until July, Heidi Samuel was best known in political circles as the Columbus City Council candidate who announced her campaign with cookies.

Then came the dough.

The Republican moved beyond the sacrificial status of past GOP candidates when she raised more than $18,000 -- nearly $5,000 more than her incumbent opponent -- between January and June.

Now, the smallest prize on the Nov. 6 ballot -- half a term, which must be defended again in 2009 -- could become one of the election's most intense contests.

Democrat Priscilla Tyson, appointed in January after the resignation of Councilwoman Mary Jo Hudson, is fighting to keep the seat for her party, which hasn't lost citywide since 1999.

"That race is a real tossup," said Brad Sinnott, chairman of the GOP central committee for Franklin County.

"She's going to be fine," predicted Tyson supporter Les Wright, a former councilwoman and longtime friend.

Unlike the usual multicandidate council races, where three or four seats go to the top finishers, the partial-term contest between Tyson and Samuel is one-on-one. Hudson was elected in 2005 but left the City Council with more than half her term remaining to run the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Tyson has held the seat for eight months, but Republican polls show she enjoys no advantage in name recognition, Sinnott said. Like Samuel, she's running her first political campaign this fall.

Democrats think that equation is about to change. Last week, the Ohio Democratic Party began airing the first of what campaign officials say will be $200,000 in TV ads for Tyson and other 2007 appointees. That wipes out Samuel's earlier financial edge; the Republican says she's not sure if she'll have the money for TV ads.

Until now, the two women have campaigned quietly, door-to-door and meeting-to-meeting. They live less than two blocks away from each other on the East Side, but they look at Columbus from different perspectives.

Samuel, a former Eastmoor Civic Association president who takes credit for helping to close a nearby strip club and motel, says she'd turn City Council's focus to neighborhoods that are fighting their own battles against crime and deterioration.

She wants the city to hire more police and code-enforcement officers. Crime and blight feed off each other, Samuel says, and lead to a "silent exodus" to the suburbs.

"If we don't pay attention to quality-of-life issues, those who can afford to leave are going to go," she said.

Tyson, who founded a company that promotes artists and advises collectors, is running as part of City Hall's all-Democratic team. She says Columbus is headed in the right direction and needs to stay the course.

Tyson agrees with Mayor Michael B. Coleman that the city is adding police officers as quickly as its budget allows. She supports Coleman's strike forces and anti-gang initiatives as strategies to stretch crime-fighting dollars.

She also says she wants to expand city recreation programs.

"Yes, you have to have the forces and people who are able to fight crime," Tyson said. "But what kinds of things do you do to deter people from getting involved in it?"

Tyson touts a 29-year business career -- she was a vice president at both National City Bank and Ohio Health, ran the City Year Columbus volunteer program and served on the city Civil Service Commission -- and she says the City Council needs wide-ranging experience like hers.

Samuel says Tyson's experience is "notable" but says that a City Council where six of seven members gained their office through appointment owes more to colleagues and party leaders than city residents.

The Republican worked in the 1990s for the Ohio Department of Transportation and later ran her own event-planning business.

rvitale@dispatch.com

The challenger's early fundraising advantage may be offset by a big TV buy by Democrats.

 

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