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Friday, August 10, 2007

OH-02's Steve Black: He's Cozying Up To The Influential Vern Riffe Clan

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Newly minted Democrat Steve Black is sponsoring a reception in Indian Hill -- the toney Cincinnati suburb that could be Ohio's priciest Zip Code -- for Vernal G. (Skip) Riffe III, political heir of the late legislative baron who has a 32-floor, $153 million state office tower graced with his name in Columbus. The August 15 event unites Ohio 2nd District Congressional candidate Black with Scioto County Commissioner Riffe, who is a Democratic power broker on the rural eastern edge of OH-02 in Appalachia.

In that part of the district, the Riffe name is still tall cotton. There used to be signs on the state highways proclaiming the area "Vern Riffe Country," and his legacy includes Ohio Route 32, Shawnee State University, and a chair in the Ohio State University political science department -- plus far more impossible to list. Let's just say he was the Kingfish in southern Ohio.

Skip Riffe has been travelling across the state recently hawking his father's autobiography, Whatever's Fair. Vern Riffe, who died in 1997, was speaker of the Ohio House for 20 years and pretty much called the shots over state government during his unprecedented reign. Nobody has ever held that position for so long. The Ohio Historical Society has compiled an encylopedia about Ohio's movers and shakers and describes Vern Riffe as "a dominant force in state politics for his 36 years in the Ohio House." That's an understatement.

Black is a Cincinnati lawyer who switched from the GOP to run in OH-02 against Victoria Wulsin, the Democratic nominee in 2006 who is running again. Black appears to have scored a coup by signing up to sponsor the reception.

For those who don't know about Riffe there's a good bit of information in this Portsmouth Times story about his birthday last June. They still celebrate it in the hill country even though the man everyone still calls Mr. Speaker has been gone for a decade.

The Ohio Historical Society's take on Vern Riffe is here. He was a Democrat all his life. And if Black is making inroads with Vern Riffe's clan -- with a possible endorsement nearly in hand -- it could be another sign that Wulsin has a huge task ahead if she hopes to reclaim the nomination.


  1. Hamilton County Dems thought Steve Black would drop out of the OH 02 primary race in a matter of weeks. They didn't realize Steve Black is an astute force to be dealt with.

    Victoria Wulsin has had two chances in elections, and lost both of them, first in 2004 against Paul Hackett and then in the general election against Jean Schmidt. She blew it. I think it's time for some new blood in the Democratic party.

  2. Hi RobertZ --

    I know lots of Hamilton County Dems and not one thought Black was going to drop out "in a matter of weeks." I have never heard that until you posted it.

    Can you give us some details. I do see that Dr. Wulsin has a battle, or serious challenge, in the weeks and months ahead until we get to primary day. And most of the Dems in Hamilton County, or the 2nd District, who were aware, or are aware, know that. Even the Wulsin supporters. They didn't think that he was quitting -- again, that would be the ones that I know and have spoken with.

  3. Looks like Steve Black is buying his way to get Democratic support. It could win him the primary but I don't see it getting him any further than that. Just helping to keep a Republican in that spot. And I do not mean Steve Black.

  4. Anon 11:33 PM --

    Many of the old line Dems, not all, but a significant number that I have spoken with have doubts about Black's conversion, they question its extent. Although I did hear something that went like this from a Dem who is running for another office this year (and shall remain anonymous, too): "Jim Webb was a Republican. But he couldn't stand what they were doing. Now he's the Democratic senator from Virginia. He was so Republican he worked for Reagan." There can be political conversions. Abe Lincoln, by the way, began as a Whig. And I don't know of any Whigs out there who are sellling tickets to Lincoln Day Dinners.