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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2002

Tavares gets strength from her mother

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - When the Democratic statewide ticket went on a bus tour last July to make its “declaration of independence from one-party rule,” Charlotte Bell was at the side of her daughter, Charleta Tavares.

“My mom has had a lot of hurt in her life,” said Ms. Tavares, a Columbus city council member who is the running mate of Tim Hagan, the Democratic candidate for governor.

“She's had two children die, and that's not the natural order of things. She's my hero. She's the strongest woman I know,” Ms. Tavares added.

Shortly after that campaign swing, the 68-year-old Mrs. Bell left the campaign trail to care for a friend who had the beginning stages of Alzheimer's Disease.

Mrs. Bell retired at the age of 55 as a supervisor at Xerox Corp. Active as a volunteer, she started the first urban lupus support group in Ohio and the first support group for minorities who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Ms. Tavares' younger sister, Rene, was mentally retarded. She died of complications from pneumonia on Charleta's 12th birthday.

Her younger brother, Jeff, committed suicide in 1992 at the age of 37, two days after Ms. Tavares won election to the state House of Representatives from Columbus.

Ms. Tavares, who is running for lieutenant governor, said her mother has shown what can be accomplished “when you focus on the needs of others.”

Her father worked at the General Motors plant in Columbus, was a member of the United Auto Workers, and a Boy Scout leader. Her mother was leader of her Brownie and Girl Scout troop.

In April 1975, her father, Edward, died of a heart attack at the age of 48.

At the time, her younger brother, Jeff, began to show signs of mental illness.

“He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” she said “Sometimes a tragic incident will impact and bring on these severe mental disorders.”

In October 1975, Ms. Tavares met her future husband, Michael Tavares, when she was working at the Sears distribution center in Columbus. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last month.

A 1973 graduate of Eastmoor High School, Ms. Tavares attended Spelman College in Atlanta. She returned after a year to enroll at Ohio State University. Her goal is to finish her college degree.

She became involved in politics during high school and began to work in 1981 as a volunteer to state Rep. Ray Miller, a Columbus Democrat. Two years later, she became a legislative aide. She succeeded him in the legislature, serving from 1993 to 1998.

She said the deaths of her younger brother and sister have given her a sensitivity to mental retardation and mental health issues.

“Mental health parity certainly is one of the causes I've tried to champion to explain why people need insurance coverage so that they don't have disrupted care,” she said.

Ms. Tavares said she wants citizens to understand that she chose government as a career, just like people choose to be a doctor or an engineer.

“Government is a lot like social work. You look at the challenges and problems of a community and you try to find solutions, whether it is a local community or the state of Ohio. It is a choice that I made,” she said.

COLUMBUS - Four years ago, Democrat Charleta Tavares ran for secretary of state and lost to Republican Ken Blackwell.

Now she's competing with Republican Jennette Bradley to become the nation's first black, female lieutenant governor. Both are Columbus city council members and both believe they're qualified for the job.

Ms. Tavares said one of the reason is the lessons she learned by running statewide in 1998.

“This is a giant step,” she said. “It takes a lot of time and energy to get out there and get your message across. I also learned that it takes a lot of [campaign] money. I still believe too much money is spent and people have gotten lazy.

“It's easier to spend millions of dollars on television and not go and visit the counties. People are crying out for their officials to spend some time with them, espeically in the small, rural counties. They feel like they are taken for granted,” she said.

From 1988 to 1992, Ms. Tavares was associate director of the Public Children Services Association, a job she said gave her a look at the legislative role from the advocate's side and gave her experience working with officials in all 88 counties.

After serving as chief of the children's protection section for Attorney General Lee Fisher, Ms. Tavares succeeded her mentor, state Rep. Ray Miller, when he stepped down. She was elected to the House in 1994 and 1996.

After losing to Mr. Blackwell in 1998, she was appointed to Columbus city council.

She said her experience as a state legislator, working for the attorney general's office on children's issues, and her track record on city council qualifies her to become lieutenant governor and governor, if need be.

“Not everybody understands the state budget and policy development,” she said.



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