Before Mark Shields Was a Political Pundit, He Was an Influential Governor’s Aide

The late political commentator played a key role in the rise of Gov. John Gilligan.

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
Mark Shields speaks at the Ohio Statehouse during "We the People: A Conversation," a 2017 event presented by the Capitol Square Foundation.

Before he became a beloved PBS pundit, Mark Shields was a political operative—and Ohio was the site of perhaps his greatest triumph.

Shields, who died in June 2022 of complications from kidney disease, was a key figure in the rise of John Gilligan, Ohio’s 62nd governor. In 1970, Shields managed the Cincinnati Democrat’s gubernatorial campaign, which resulted in a landslide victory for Gilligan. “[Shields] was a very ingratiating, charming, go-getting person, and I think he had a huge impact,” says Mark Bernstein, author of the 2013 biography “John J. Gilligan: The Politics of Principle.”

As governor, Gilligan was a transformational leader, modernizing state government and enacting Ohio’s first income tax. But he wasn’t always politically savvy—and perhaps one of his biggest mistakes was choosing a longtime associate, Jack Hansan, to lead his 1974 reelection campaign instead of Shields. Despite being heavily favored against former Gov. Jim Rhodes, Gilligan lost in a squeaker by some 11,000 votes, effectively ending his political career.

Within a few years, Shields, too, had moved into a new field, becoming a syndicated columnist and then a TV commentator, where he gained his greatest fame. But he didn’t forget his Ohio years. In a 1999 column, Shields honored Gilligan for choosing to run for the Cincinnati school board at the age of 78. “With contagious passion and obvious conviction, Jack Gilligan, as he has for half a century, summons the citizens of his city to their high civic duty,” Shields wrote. 

This story is from the August 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.