Politics Extra
Enquirer reporters give the scoop on what your politicians are doing

Jessica Brown,
Hamilton County reporter

Jon Craig,
Enquirer statehouse bureau

Jane Prendergast,
Cincinnati City Hall reporter

Malia Rulon,
Enquirer Washington bureau

Carl Weiser,
Blog editor

Howard Wilkinson,
politics reporter

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

'Chaos at City Hall' meets the 'mess in Columbus'

To hear the candidates lately, the campaign for Cincinnati mayor could come down to a referendum on this question:

Which is more of a mess? Cincinnati City Hall? Or the Statehouse in Columbus?

From the beginning, state Sen. Mark L. Mallory has painted Councilman David Pepper as "part of the chaos at City Hall." But Pepper launched his counterattack today, linking Mallory to what he called "the mess in Columbus."

The brainstorm hit Pepper after a mayoral debate today at the Christ Church Cathedral undercroft -- a lunchtime forum of liberal Christians who usually discuss issues like campaign finance and electoral reform. Pepper walked up to his campaign manager and said he wanted to start wearing a "Reform Ohio Now" sticker to all campaign events.

Reform Ohio Now is the activist group that has put four state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot changing the way elections are administered. But Pepper's purpose is also political -- to remind Cincinnati voters that the Statehouse, too, has its problems.

Sure enough, the Pepper campaign sent out a news release two hours later. Excerpts below:

Pepper Endorses Reform Ohio Now to Clean Up the Mess in Columbus

... Pepper's opponent for Mayor, Mark Mallory, who has been a legislator in Columbus for 10 years, repeatedly praises the workings and camaraderie of Columbus, and tells citizens to call his fellow politicians in Columbus to assess his leadership skills -- as he did at today's noon mayoral debate.

"I agree with the Reform Ohio Now supporters, not Mark Mallory's rosy view of Columbus politics. Columbus is a mess. Given that mess, Mark's fellow Columbus politicians are not exactly a credible job reference," Pepper said. "Citizens should absolutely call their Columbus legislators -- not to hear them compliment their friend Mark Mallory, but to hold them accountable for their years of ineffectiveness."
In a phone interview, Mallory said he, too, supports Reform Ohio Now -- but took issue with Pepper's characterization of his record as a legislator, saying he's railed against Republican corruption in Columbus for years.

"David is trying to run from the fact that, for the time he has been on City Council, he has been a part of that mess. I like how he has lately tried to spread the chaos over the last 20 years. I'm not trying to hold him accountable for anything beyond the last four years on City Council."

The difference between Mallory's record in Columbus and Pepper's record at City Hall, Mallory said, is this: "He's in the majority. I'm in the minority -- and have been. I have a much tougher time convincing people who are in the majority to buy into my agenda. David, on the other hand, can't convince four other members of his own party to go along with his agenda, his proposals.

"I have much more to show for my time than he does," Mallory said.

Campaigns debate the ground rules for debates

Councilman David Pepper and state Sen. Mark L. Mallory listen to the rules of the evening as given by moderator David Altman at the first mayoral debate of 2005 in March. (Photo by Craig Ruttle/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Last Friday, Mark L. Mallory's chief fund-raiser and David Pepper's campaign manager met over lunch at the Washington Platform Saloon downtown.

The agenda: to work out a set of ground rules for the mayoral debates.

Fresh off their victories on primary election night, both campaigns were getting deluged with requests from television stations, community councils, non-profit organizations and trade groups who all wanted to see the Mallory-Pepper action up close. Today alone, there are two debates scheduled -- one at noon at the Christ Church Cathedral undercroft downtown, and another tonight at Christ the King Catholic Church in Mount Lookout.

So Dan Phenicie, development director for the Mallory campaign, and Greg Landsman, Pepper's campaign manager, began to winnow the list. They're encouraging smaller groups to co-sponsor events with others. An official schedule of joint debates should be released in the next few days.

They agreed on most issues of format. The campaigns will give the following guidelines for debate organizers:
  • There should be podiums at all debates. If that's not possible, candidates should stand with cordless microphones. If they absolutely have to sit, it should be behind a table.

  • Questions from the audience should be encouraged, but they should be written ahead of time and screened by a moderator -- an attempt to screen out campaign plants, audience grandstanding and inappropriate questions.

  • If it's an event where council candidates will also appear, the mayoral candidates should go first.

  • No debates will be scheduled until both campaigns confirm their participation. Both campaigns were finding themselves roped into events their opponent had agreed to.
One point of contention: the length of opening statements. Mallory wants two minutes; Pepper wants five.

"From our standpoint, we found it difficult to articulate our entire vision in two minutes. It’s still the sticking point," said Landsman, of the Pepper campaign. "I guess David just has a more comprehensive vision."

But Mallory's Phenicie said that wasn't the point at all. "The longer you make the opening and closing statiements, the less time you have for questions. We want to have the chance for the candidates to address exactly what those groups want to hear."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What can Cincinnati learn from Dayton politics?

The apparent breakdown of Cincinnati's strong council/weak manager/stronger mayor form of government has people inside and outside City Hall ruminating: Is it the system? Or the people in the system?

Dayton Daily News columnist Martin Gottlieb puts forward another possibility: It's the culture.

He looks at why Valerie Lemmie thrived as city manager in Dayton, but got chewed up by Cincinnati's political meat-grinder.
Whether or not Cincinnati represents an extreme form of urban politics, Dayton certainly does, only the other extreme. Things are peculiarly placid around here. Flame-throwers, political hot-dogs, race-baiters and colorful crooks and cranks are seldom in evidence these days.

Just about everybody is low-key, constructive, focused on solving problems. Many aren't very good at it, but they're at least serious....

While Dayton's political style is, all things considered, probably better for a community than Cincinnati's, it is not entirely good. It's boring. ...

In Cincinnati politics, maybe shame is not such a strong force.

All of which is not to say that Lemmie was out of her league there, but just that some systems chew people up. Charlie Luken, a sober, moderate fellow who didn't like being in Congress, is getting out of Cincinnati local politics, too. For both, the time just came.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bortz overture has GOP buzzing

What was Chris Bortz -- the Charterite candidate for City Council -- doing meeting with Republican Party Chairman George H. Vincent this morning? Is there a cross-endorsement in the works?

Both sides confirm the meeting took place, but wouldn't say what they talked about.

"It sure is a small town!" Bortz said by e-mail after word of the meeting leaked out. "I did meet with George Vincent this morning. The purpose of the meeting was essentially a candidate's opportunity to get to know the Republican leadership in Cincinnati, and vice-versa. I would refer you to George for further comment. Of course, I also intend to meet with (Democratic Party Chairman) Tim Burke. Non-partisan cooperation is essential to an effective City Hall."

He concluded the same way he ends his stump speeches, with a paraphrase of the late New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia: "There is no Republican way to fix a pothole, no Democratic way to collect the garbage."

Here's the account of the meeting from GOP executive director Brad Greenberg: "George and I met with Chris Bortz this morning at Republican headquarters. We talked about a number of issues with him. I don't want to divulge the content of the conversations we had with him, but I think Chris Bortz is a good candidate for City Council, and we are just trying to talk to him and discuss a number of things with him."

Bortz campaign manager Jeff Cramerding -- who's also executive director of the Charter Committee -- pooh-poohed a cross-endorsement. "At this juncture, there's much ado about nothing. We have this discussion every two years, with three parties in the system."

Cross-endorsements are a rare feat. The last to pull it off was Tyrone K. Yates, a former Democrat-Charterite vice mayor who is now a Democratic state representative.

Bortz, nephew of former Charterite Mayor Arn Bortz, comes from a conservative wing of the Charter Committee formerly thought to be extinct.

Word of the meeting quickly got Republicans around town buzzing. Peter G. Witte of Price Hill dashed off an e-mail to Vincent saying that if the GOP endorses Bortz, Charter should reciprocate by endorsing Republican Chris Monzel.

"Anything less, and we will only hurt ourselves," Witte said. "Monzel is in a tight spot. If they don't give us something then no way. Please don't hurt Monzel to promote Bortz.

"Let me add, I like the cross-endorsement. Chris Bortz is a Republican. He and I have met on several occasions and I like him. He is a Right-minded individual."

Will Winburn endorsement help Giuliani?

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani met with former Cincinnati Councilman Charlie Winburn at U.S. Bank Arena on Sept. 7. (Photo courtesy Winburn campaign.)

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's endorsement of Charlie Winburn in the Cincinnati mayoral primary didn't help Winburn much.

Now, the New York media is asking whether the endorsement will help -- or hurt -- Giuliani.

Liberal national blogs jumped on the story immediately, seizing on Winburn's statement in his 1989 book that "only born-again believers" should be elected to public office.

Giuliani, of course, is a liberal Republican who supports gay rights and abortion rights. Winburn opposes gay rights and abortion.

Last week the Forward, a New York-based Jewish newspaper, wrote:

Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel told the Forward last Friday that the former mayor stood by his endorsement. "The mayor is very comfortable with Mr. Winburn's explanations," Mindel said....

Democrats said that the endorsement appeared to reflect naivete on Giuliani's part.

"I would hope [Giuliani] didn't know about this," said the chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, Timothy Burke. "I would ask him before he gets involved in Cincinnati politics that he understands what he is getting involved in."

Julius Kassar, a Jewish Cincinnati-area GOP activist, criticized Winburn's 1989 statements: "If a guy believes you have to be a Christian conservative to hold political office, the guy's nuts."

Political observers said that Giuliani was trying to curry favor with conservative voters in advance of an expected 2008 presidential bid.

"He's trying to position himself as a social conservative around the country, to earn credentials to offset his history of being pro-abortion pro-immigration and pro-gay marriage," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. He added, "People in New York who supported him would not be happy."

The Forward story has given the Winburn-Giuliani connection new life on the national blogs. And now, the conservatives are asking their own questions.

Eric Pfeiffer writes on the conservative blog at National Review Online and asks, "Winburn ended up placing third in the September 13th primary. The question is, were Giuliani's intentions sincere or strictly political?"

Ed Hornick writes on Newsday's politics blog, "Is this the first sign of the former mayor trying to secure the GOP conservative base for an '08 presidential run?"

City workers endorse 7 Dems, 2 Charterites

In any other city, the Democrats would likely have a lock on endorsements from the largest union of city employees.

But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8 has endorsed seven Democrats and two Charterites for election to City Council. The union represents about 2,400 city employees, about 40 percent of the city's workforce.

The Democrats are Jeff Berding, Eve Bolton, Laketa Cole, John Cranley, David Crowley, Samantha Herd and Damon Lynch III. Charterites are Christopher Smitherman and Jim Tarbell.

(For those keeping track, Cecil Thomas and Wendell P. Young -- two former city employees -- are the Democrats not getting the AFSCME endorsement. Both were police officers, but Young went on to work as an employee relations manager.)

AFSCME executive director Robert Turner said the union's political action committee would interview the candidates for mayor next week -- and would likely break its neutrality in the mayoral contest between two Democrats, Mark L. Mallory and David Pepper.

Another benefit of incumbency

It's widely accepted that incumbents keep getting re-elected to Cincinnati City Council because of their huge advantage in name recognition. And that's no doubt true.

But attend any of the dozens of community council forums across the city in a campaign year, and another advantage becomes obvious: The incumbents know their stuff.

While challengers have to spend most of their two- to five-minute speeches just introducing themselves, incumbents dive right into the issues.

Charterite Jim Tarbell and Democrat Laketa Cole are two council members who use their positions to their advantage. Both have a good command of neighborhood problems -- Tarbell a member of the Planning Commission, and Cole is chairwoman of the Neighborhoods & Public Services Committee.

Take Monday night's Northside Community Council candidate forum. Tarbell picked three hot-button local issues:
  • On the redevelopment of the Kirby Road School: "Buildings of that quality always have another life."
  • On the former Colerain Connector site at Virginia and Colerain: "It's one of the key components in the future of Northside."
  • On the proposed Walgreens store at Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Road: "You have to stay focused on what is the highest and best use of that corner.... If they knew what this neighborhood was all about -- if they knew the energy in this neighborhood -- they couldn't help but make the right decision."
Cole was less specific -- she spoke generically of housing and homeownership -- but was able to boast that she had recently brought a busload of city officials to Northside for a neighborhood tour.

Democratic challenger Eve Bolton, a College Hill resident, tried her best to show her local colors. "I would not be able to drive to City Hall without going through Northside," she said. "This city is so divided -- east and west, black and white -- maybe we need someone from the north-central corridor."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Election calendar now online

Want to know where you can get up close and personal with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor, City Council, and Board of Education?

The Enquirer has added a calendar of campaign events to its elections page.

You can also submit political events in the city of Cincinnati. Please include your name and contact information.

The city manager introduces himself

With new mayor and at least two seats turning over on City Council this December, incoming City Manager David E. Rager said that providing stability at City Hall -- and communicating that to the city's 6,000 employees -- is his first priority.

On his first day on the job last week, he sent this e-mail introducing himself to city employees:

From: Rager, David
Sent: Monday, September 12, 2005 3:47 PM
To: #CIN.City Mailing List
Subject: Fellow City Employees

Fellow Employees,

My name is David Rager and today I assumed the position of City Manager. Some of you know me, but for many of you I have not had the opportunity to meet. As you may have heard or read, I have spent nearly 30 years with the City organization and during that time I have had the good fortune to work with some of the most dedicated and competent employees performing all kinds of City services. As I assume the position of City Manager today, I am doing so with the knowledge that it is all of you who make this city great. It is my privilege to lead this city organization in partnership with all of you.

I say a partnership because it takes all of us to make this organization successful. When I think about the city organization I am always amazed at the scope and variety of services we provide. Many are services that immediately come to mind such as police, fire, and garbage collection. But today we, the City employees, will also provide dental services for residents, ceramic classes for senior citizens, and after school day care for children. We will see to it that the traffic lights work, safe drinking water is provided at every tap and the wastewater is collected and properly treated. And at dusk we will see to it that the street lights turn on. We are a big organization of 6,000 employees providing many services to the community and our successes are key to the City's success.

There are a number of uncertainties right now and that can be unsettling. However, what is certain is that we are here to be the most professional City employees we can be. I ask for your continued efforts to work together to be innovative and customer-focused. I will do my best to provide the leadership that you need to achieve these goals.

I have every confidence that we can meet the challenges before us and turn them into opportunities with hard work, creative problem-solving, and determination.

The City's ability to confront the realities we face and remain a positive, vibrant community is dependent, in large part, on our abilities to remain focused on delivering quality City services.

I look forward to working with you to make our City the very best it can be.

David Rager

Rager also made a number of key personnel moves last week. Finance Director William E. Moller was elevated to acting assistant city manager, filling in for Deborah C. Holston, who is on medical leave. Assistant Finance Director Joseph W. Gray IV will fill in as finance director. And Paul E. Tomes, the chief engineer in the Department of Water Works, will take over as head of the utility for Rager.

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