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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Tom Luken at 80

Thomas A. Luken -- the former councilman, mayor, congressman, councilman again and now semi-retired lawyer -- was born on this day in 1925.

His public service career spans five decades, from Deer Park city solicitor in 1955 to regional transit commissioner in 2005. He's been in Cincinnati's public eye longer than all of today's City Council members combined.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has written his political obituary many times, only to have Luken add another chapter to his career. So what's new to say? Here are 10 things you never knew -- or maybe forgot -- about Tom Luken:

  1. According to Trivial Pursuit's Cincinnati edition, he was the first Democratic mayor in the history of the city. (Not true, but that doesn't stop him from telling people he was. Luken was actually the first Democrat since Henry Thomas Hunt in 1913, in the pre-charter era.)
  2. Mark Shields, now a television pundit, managed his second 1974 congressional campaign after Luken won a March special election to replace William Keating. In the general election, Luken was one of only three Democratic incumbents to lose his seat in a post-Watergate tide that swept dozens of Democrats into Congress.
  3. He admits to "voting the district" earlier on in his congressional career to get re-elected, but said his more liberal nature came out as he became more entrenched in the seat.
  4. During the height of the congressional sex scandal involving Middletown Congressman Donald E. "Buzz" Lukens in 1989, CNN accidentally put Tom Luken's photo on the screen.
  5. In a district that Republican presidents won by 60 percent or more, Luken routinely beat a who's who of big-name Republicans: Mayor Donald D. Clancy, Ohio Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff, WLWT anchor Thearon "Tom" Adkins, Hamilton County Recorder John E. "Jake" Held, former Hamilton County Commissioner Norman A. Murdock, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Fred E. Morr, and the current officeholder, Steve Chabot.
  6. Luken turned around to support Chabot in 1998, leading a "Democrats for Chabot" campaign. The group was ostensibly motivated by Chabot's anti-abortion views, but Luken made no secret of his dislike for Democrat Roxanne Qualls, who beat him out for mayor in 1993.
  7. He had a reputation -- on Capitol Hill and City Hall -- as one of the most difficult bosses in politics. A 1988 Washingtonian Magazine poll of congressional staffers named him the worst boss in Congress, though again he might have been confused with "Buzz" Lukens. In his 1992 tell-all Hill Rat: Blowing the Lid Off Congress, former Luken staffer John Jackley described him as having "a minotaur's bellow fused onto a legendary temper." And any staffer who worked for him more than a week had measured out the exact length of the phone cord and learned to stand beyond it. "He will deny all of them, but some of those Tom Luken stories are legendary," said his son, Mayor Charlie Luken.
  8. Despite that, Charlie said, his dad isn't so tough. "He would not want me to say this about him, but he's a softie in many ways. He tutors an inner-city kid in the West End. He's a rough-and-tumble politician, but he's got a soft spot."
  9. A lifetime opponent of the death penalty, he still makes occasional trips to Lucasville to protest. (As a news reporter at WLWT, Charlie once covered an execution and was surprised to see his dad there by the bonfire, leading the protest songs.)
  10. Though Charlie is his most famous child, Tom and his wife Shirley want people to know they have eight children: Mary, Charlie, Annie, Timothy, Peggy, Elizabeth, Marty and Matthew. Annie is a prominent Columbus Republican; Peggy works for Cincinnati in the Office of Budget and Evaluation. Word has it that they and about 40 other Lukens will gather at Deer Creek State Park this weekend for the big bash.
(Photo by Glenn Hartong/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Who's responsible for solving crime?

Filling in for Lincoln Ware on WDBZ today, Mayor Charlie Luken (file photo, above) gave a belated response to Hamilton County Prosecuter Joseph T. Deters' June 24 broadside putting the weight of the city's crime problem squarely on the shoulders of the mayor and City Council.

"We can debate that," Luken said. But he said Deters should also look at problems with the county's criminal justice system.

"If you would do that, you would ask yourself how does somebody like that -- 24 years old and with four violent offenses -- end up back on the street? While Mr. Deters has criticized City Council for not supporting the police, I would hope he would look at the probation and parole policies of Hamilton County and the state of Ohio," Luken said.

The back-and-forth between city and county governments on the crime issue is likely to escalate through November. It's already become a key theme in Democrat David Pepper's mayoral campaign.

While one of his opponents, Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, has focused on a reorganization within the Police Department as the solution to gang violence, Pepper has increasingly laid the problem on the doorstep of county government. Pepper advocates a citywide "Court Watch" program for neighborhoods to keep an eye on judges, tougher prosecution of gun crimes and putting more probation officers in neighborhoods. He told the neighborhood activist group Westwood Concern last week that expanding the jail would provide the single biggest boost to the city's crime-fighting efforts.

Luken also said today that he supports attempts by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune to get Sheriff Simon L. Leis Jr. more involved in patrolling inside the city. "If it can be done in a coordinated way…. Why not?" Luken said, calling the sheriff's patrols in the city would be "unprecedented ... at least in my memory." (The sheriff did begin patrols around the county "campus" in 2002.)

City and county governments have only rarely been able to put aside political differences on development issues. Can the crisis of urban violence bring them together?

(Photo by Michael E. Keating/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Police union to council: We know where you live

In 2003, then-Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman took credit for knocking Councilman Pat DeWine down a few pegs with an 11th hour campaign of recorded phone calls to registered Republican households. "Pat DeWine pretends to support law enforcement, but he does not," Fangman told likely voters, citing DeWine's vote against a police contract over the issue of civil service reform. DeWine, who finished third in 2001, dropped to sixth in 2003.

If the FOP will do that for a council campaign, what will they do when the mayor's office is at stake?

It's already started. The June edition of "FOP 26," the newsletter of the Queen City Lodge No. 69, lists the home addresses of the seven council members
"responsible for targeting and injuring our families." At the top of the list are Democratic mayoral candidates David Pepper and Alicia Reece, followed by every other Democrat and Charterite on City Council.

No apologies from FOP President Harry Roberts.

"They are hurting us. They are hurting us where it really counts," said Roberts, upset at the 7-2 vote March 2 to accept a state mediator's report. That report ultimately resulted in the city cutting health care benefits for officers who use their health insurance most often. (Other city unions have gotten similar cuts.)

"That newsletter is just the beginning," Roberts said.

Roberts said the FOP plans to invite all the mayoral candidates in for interviews with the endorsement committee. And while a formal endorsement won't come for several weeks, it's no secret that the FOP likes Republican Charlie Winburn."It will be refreshing to have a police supporter in the race," Roberts said.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Portune: If the Banks fails, Dems will get blame

It would be easy to dismiss the most recent city-county squabbles over development on the Banks as just so much partisan bickering, except for one thing: Todd Portune, who has become the county's most vocal advocate for the Bill Butler/Rob Smyjunas development plan, is a Democrat. So is the majority of Cincinnati City Council -- including some of the plan's most vocal critics.

So when City Council's Community Development, Education and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee called a special hearing three days after the county's "surprise" announcement of a new developer, the county needed someone who speaks the language of City Hall to smooth things over. Portune, a former four-term councilman, volunteered.

It didn't go well, and the Democratic council leadership -- Mayor Charlie Luken, Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and President Pro Tem Laketa Cole -- were the most blunt in their criticism. "It was about what I expected," Portune said afterward.

Two days later, Portune e-mailed Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Timothy M. Burke during the weekly Democratic council caucus meeting. He defended the secrecy of the county's plan, accused City Hall of leaking it the day before the announcement, and chastized Democrats for airing their criticisms of the county in public.

The full e-mail is 1,700 words and, in typical Portune style, mind-numbingly thorough. Read it if you care about CMAQ funding, multi-modal connections and "the 15% guarantee of MBE and WBE participation at GABP."

Otherwise, here are excerpts:
For the past five days my Democratic friends on City Council have made a point to spare few opportunities to criticize Hamilton County. We have been called unprofessional at a public meeting. We have been accused of being unprofessional. Our integrity has been attacked. People have said that our announcement runs the gamut of being a slap in the face to the community to perhaps even being illegal.

For our part, and for the most part, we have not responded in kind, including refusing to get into pitched battle at David Crowley's committee on Monday. We have adopted this posture because the larger issue -- actually advancing this project with an established timetable and with a reasonable possibility of getting it done -- is far more important.

But the facts are important and to the extent we as Democrats can find a posture that allows us to work together the region will be much better served. I needn't have to remind you or anyone on Council that had we been meeting regularly as a Democratic Caucus, city and county together, we might all be on a much better page on this and many other issues. But I digress and that was a proposal long ago dismissed by, or not really taken seriously by, others....

Where it goes from here though is largely up to the city and I would note, the Republicans have been silent, so if it falls apart it will be the Democrats who get the blame. Only Councilman (David) Pepper has been what I would call fully supportive on this.

There remains a lot of work to be done on this project. The fine points of what would be involved in a development agreement have to be worked out, but the development team has consistently said it will abide by the previously approved principles and guidelines. Those features include not only what gets built but how it gets built. We can focus on developing that approach together, or Council members can continue to levy public attacks against me and the others at the county. But I can assure you, from the e-mails I am getting, the general public sees it very clearly and in easy to understand terms.

I apologize if some of my remarks herein are taken personally by any of my colleagues at the city. My intent is to offer them in a constructive manner and, as I hope they appreciate, in a private setting. I can assure you being labeled unprofessional and the many other things that have been said in a public meeting and in a public setting do not sit well personally, especially when there are other ways to communicate a point. I won't dwell on it, but only suggest that there should be other ways for us to move on from here and I hope they are done in ways that also advance the project.

(Photo by Ernest Coleman/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

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