Sterne Remembered As A "Giant" In Cincinnati Politics

Dec 6, 2017

The late Bobbie Sterne's legacy as a Cincinnati council member and mayor was remembered by hundreds of her friends Wednesday at Memorial Hall.

Sterne died Nov. 22 at the age of 97. She had been living in Santa Clara, California, in recent years to be near her daughters, Lynn and Cindy Sterne.

She will be remembered for many things, not the least of which is that she was a pioneering woman in the world of Cincinnati politics at a time when women running for and winning office were rare indeed.

Her daughter Lynn told the crowd that her mother, even as a girl and later as an Army nurse during World War II, "always perceived herself as being able to do anything a boy or a man could do."

Vice Mayor David Mann, who served with Sterne on city council in the 1970s and 1980s, said Sterne etched her place in the city's history during her 25 years on council and two years as the first woman to serve a full term as mayor.

"When I was appointed to council in 1974, there were two giants that I had the privilege to serve with – Charlie Taft and Ted Berry," Mann said. "When I left to go to Congress in 1992, I realized that there was another giant that I had the privilege to serve with."

That giant, Mann said, was Sterne.

She made an indelible mark on the city as a member of council and as mayor, Mann said, particularly when it came to her passion on public health issues.

She was adamant, Mann said, that the city's public health clinics be fully funded. And she was also responsible for the curb cut-out on city streets that made life easier for Cincinnati's wheelchair-bound citizens.

There were many at Memorial Hall Wednesday who had worked on Sterne's campaigns in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Maureen Babbitt, a former council aide to Sterne, told the crowd that she first met Sterne when she volunteered for one of her early campaigns in the 1970s.

Sterne, she said, "inspired a generation of young women" to become involved in politics."

She had the courage of convictions, as well, Babbitt said. As mayor in the 1970s, Sterne issued a declaration of Gay Rights Day in Cincinnati – something that was unthinkable for a Cincinnati politician prior to Sterne coming along.

And, she said, she "stood up for the reproductive rights of women, at a time when it was not a popular stance,'' a statement that drew applause and cheers from many in the crowd.

She was also dedicated to the Charter Committee, Cincinnati's independent political party which fought for and established the council-manager form of government in the 1920s. Sterne was fiercely devoted to the Charter belief that council's job was to set policy and leave the day-to-day operations of the city to the city manager and the department heads.

Lynn Sterne told the crowd that she and her sister were raised in a home where all people were accepted, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background.

Sterne met and married her husband, Dr. Eugene Sterne, in France during World War II. She was a native of Portage County in northeast Ohio, but they settled in her husband's hometown of Cincinnati. They lived in North Avondale, where they raised their daughters.

Her husband died in 1977, six years after his wife was first elected to council.

Sterne served on council from 1971 through until 1998. She lost her seat in 1985, but won it back in 1987.

Mann said he still believes Cincinnati voters made a mistake in the early 1990s when they voted in term limits for council members.

"I've said many times, I did not understand how a change in the city charter that limited the service of someone like Bobbie Sterne could possibly be considered a good thing,'' Mann said.

Sterne, Mann said, "would often say that the purpose of politics was to make the lives of people better and to make our city more just."

That, he said, is precisely what she did in her 25 years on council.