government major and an Oberlin Athletic Hall of Famer in track
and football, Todd Portune '80
now spends his time doing a different kind of running: Elected
three times to Cincinnati's City Council, he's currently the Democratic
hopeful for commissioner in Hamilton County, Ohio. In this heavily
Republican area, Portune is positioning himself as a social liberal
and fiscal conservative.
record is one of socially liberal causes. He pushed through the
city's hate-crimes ordinance and has tried unsuccessfully to add
sexual orientation to it. He's championed equal economic opportunity
by directing city funds to businesses that benefit the poor regions
of the city and has promoted after-school programs designed to
keep kids safe and out of trouble. "As a public official, you
try to establish a moral compass of the community," he says.
But isn't morality the purview of conservatives? Issues of social
justice and equality, long considered liberal tenets, are fundamental
to most religious traditions and deserve a prominent spot in
public policy, Portune points out. "Public office is still one
of the most noble callings that exists," he says. "You have
such an opportunity to do good, to improve the human condition.
If you have a passion for it, you actually can get things done."
Even as a social liberal in a conservative environment? Sure,
he nods, even then. "As long as you stay focused on the nuts and
bolts services that local governments are responsible for--sewers,
streets, police and fire protection--and have a genuine interest
in the well-being of the community, people will tolerate someone
who may be a bit more liberal in certain social areas," he says.
"People vote their pocketbooks and self-interest more than social
issues. Yet it affords me a forum to speak out on things I'm passionate
about. I even win a few now and then."