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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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Cincinnati's yard sign law: the devil's in the details

In the other corner of Ohio, the natives have a term for the tree lawn that sits between the sidewalk and the street. They call it the "devil's strip."

Former Akron Beacon Journal editorial writer David C. Cooper explains the etymology in Wheels of Fortune: The History of Rubber in Akron:
The origin of this term is murky; one version has it that a judge was called on to determine whether a homeowner or the city was responsible for the upkeep of the strip of land. In frustration, the judge is supposed to have said, "If it's not the city's upkeep and not the owner's upkeep, it must belong to the devil" -- hence devil's strip or devil strip.
What does this have to do with campaign yard signs in the Queen City?

The regulations regarding yard signs in Cincinnati seem to be as murky as the origins of the devil's strip -- so much so that even City Council can't interpret its own ordinances.

City Council passed a resolution last week urging candidates to follow the ordinance banning yard signs from public rights-of-way, but cited the wrong ordinance. Chief Deputy City Solicitor Roshani Hardin says the resolution should have referred to Cincinnati Municipal Code Section 714-23:
No person shall throw or deposit any commercial or non-commercial handbill in or upon any sidewalk, street or other public place within the city. Nor shall any person hand out or distribute or sell any commercial handbill in any public place. Provided, however, that it shall not be unlawful on any sidewalk, street or other public place within the city for any person to hand out or distribute, without charge to the receiver thereof, any non-commercial handbill to any person willing to accept it, except within or around the city hall building.
Hardin admitted that the 1971 ordinance uses "arcane language." (Is a yard sign a "handbill?") But she said it's been consistenly interpreted as prohibiting campaign signs on the devil's strip. "If you're talking about the right-of-way on either side of the sidewalk, that's considered a public place," Hardin explained.

So to sum up: A homeowner is responsible for maintaining the tree lawn, and homeowners that don't will find themselves in housing court with a weed citation and, eventually, an assessment on their property. But for purposes of political expression the tree lawn suddenly belongs to the city, which can cite you with a $100 fine -- or, on a second offense, possible jail time.

If that doesn't make sense, don't complain to City Council.

Curse the devil.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Mallory is to Livingston as Pepper is to _______?

Peter G. Witte of West Price Hill protests -- alone -- in Mount Echo Park Thursday.

Here's the dossier on Peter G. Witte.

Elder fan. President of the Price Hill Civic Club. Glenway Avenue business owner. Semi-loyal Republican. Former candidate for Cincinnati City Council.

But as the chairman of "Republicans for Pepper," state Sen. Mark L. Mallory stuck him with another title Thursday as Witte walked a one-man picket line at Mallory's news conference in Mount Echo Park.

"He's David Pepper's Nate Livingston," Mallory quipped.

Indeed, Witte's protest of Mallory at Mount Echo Park Thursday might be suggestive of a Livingston production, except for some important elements: Witte's sign was more professionally done (he owns a sign shop, after all). He never raised his voice. He politely greeted people attending Mallory's campaign event. He was the only protester there. (Livingston can usually muster up a few members of the Black Fist.) And he never compared Mallory to Adolf Hitler.

But Witte and Livingston may have more in common than either one of them would like to believe. Consider this exchange of e-mails last month after Witte launched his Republicans for Pepper organization:
From: Nate Livingston
To: Peter Witte
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 2:38 PM
Subject: RE: Republicans for Pepper

I got the release. Many of the Republicans I know hate David Pepper and have told me they'll never support him. Why so fast out of the gate? What does he have in common with Westside Republicans -- his endorsement by the Mayor of San Francisco, his opposition to the flag burning amendment championed by Steve Chabot, his support for repealing Article XII, or his continued refusal to put money into neighborhoods while lavishing tax dollars on downtown projects and companies? David's race wouldn't have anything to do with this would it?


From: Peter Witte
To: Nate Livingston
Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2005 7:47 AM
Subject: Re: Republicans for Pepper

Mark Mallory is the most disengaged, arrogant elected official I have ever met! And due to his lack of involvement in the neighborhoods over here, I'd say most people haven't met him. I have been active for a decade, of which, six as President of a large community council, and very, very active in politics. Is Mark Mallory actually my State Senator? I'll need to call Columbus to find out. He has been in office for ten years and not only did he not accomplish a damn thing, he doesn't even oblige his constituents with nary a phone call, let alone a visit. Arrogance in City Hall we don't need. You play the race game I'll just elect the best man for the job to help this declining city.


ps Steve Chabot always loves knowing you support him on various ideas, I'll pass it along.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Correction: Oba lives in the West End

An entry Wednesday about Kabaka Oba, a "general" in the Black Fist, incorrectly stated that he lives in Deer Park. Oba, who is also known as Omo Oba and Michael Bailey, formerly lived in Lincoln Heights and now resides in the West End.

Mallory gets big boost from labor

Breaking its neutrality in a campaign between two Democrats for mayor, the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council voted 39-9 to endorse state Sen. Mark L. Mallory Wednesday night.

The vote was a surprise even to Mallory, who said earlier Wednesday that he expected the labor council to repeat its 2001 decision to stay out of the race between Democrat Charlie Luken and Charterite Courtis Fuller.

The Mallory campaign's strategy is to run the table on endorsements between now and November to reinforce his image as a "consensus builder." He will announce endorsements from colleagues in the state legislature this afternoon. But he said the labor endorsement was especially significant in a campaign between two Democrats.

“I am honored to have this endorsement, and I look for to continuing to build momentum in this campaign," Mallory said in a written statement after the labor vote. “For 10 years now, I have been in the legislature fighting for working families and organized labor. It is critical that the next mayor of Cincinnati represent the interests of the hard working men and women of this city.”

V. Daniel Radford,the executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said the council's executive board recommended neutrality, but a heavy turnout from public employees unions tipped the balance to Mallory. In fact, he said, the vote would probably have been different before the United Food & Commercial Workers Union split off from the AFL-CIO umbrella at the national convention in Chicago this summer. Local 1099, which always has a large turnout at meetings, had favored neutrality.

The defining issue for many of the other unions, Radford said, was "managed competition" -- Councilman David Pepper's proposal to have city employees compete with the private sector for contracts to provide city services. Mallory calls it "privatization, pure and simple."

"David Pepper would not get off of his agenda of managed competition," said Randal F. Moore, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 250, which represents about 500 city workers in the public services, parks and recreation departments. AFSCME had about half the voting delagates at Wednesday's meeting.

"David’s always been a friend," Moore said. "He asked me the question, 'Does managed competition trump everything else I’ve ever done?' And my response was, 'Yeah.'"

In an e-mailed statement this morning, Pepper said, "The AFL-CIO vote taken last night was a stacked deck by City Hall insiders who want the status quo, and who know I will push for long-needed reform of how the City operates -- something citizens are loudly demanding. These interests know that unlike Mark, I will fight for reform at City Hall -- and for common sense, successful practices that they have resisted for years."

State Sen. Mark L Mallory jokes with Garry White of Northside as he campaigns at the annual Cincinnati AFL-CIO picnic at Coney Island last month. (Photo by Patrick Reddy/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Today's schedule

Candidates for mayor and City Council have a busy day of campaigning in front of them. The schedule:
  • At noon, the nonincumbent candidates for Cincinnati City Council address the Community Issues Forum in the undercroft of Christ Church, 318 E. Fourth St., downtown. The event is open to the public.

  • Also at noon, the mayoral candidates are scheduled to appear at the Mount Auburn Group for Improving the Community at Christ Hospital.

  • State Sen. Mark L. Mallory will announce what he calls a “major endorsement” for Cincinnati mayor from colleagues in the state legislature at 3 p.m. in Mount Echo Park, East Price Hill.

  • David Pepper will address a class on urban lobbying at the University of Cincinnati at 3:30 p.m., talking about his plans for the first 90 days of a mayoral administration.

  • The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce “meet the candidates” reception is at 5:30 p.m. at the Bell Event Centre, 444 Reading Road.

  • The Hamilton County Democratic Party has its fall fund-raiser at 7:30 p.m. at the Cinergy Convention Center. Mallory and Pepper have agreed to jointly introduce the Democratic candidates for Cincinnati City Council.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A council slate within a council slate

Cincinnati City Council field races are such cut-throat, dog-eat-dog affairs that the combatants generally go their separate ways and have little to do with each other, aside from the occasional handshake at a community council candidates' forum.

This year, there are 31 of them, as many candidates as Baskin Robbins has flavors; and they are tripping over each other in pursuit of one of the nine seats on City Council.

It is every man and woman for himself or
herself; and most of them wouldn't spit on an opponent if he were on fire.

Except for Wendell Young and Eve Bolton, who have formed their own campaign tag team. Both are endorsed Democratic Party candidates. But, generally speaking, the members of a party slate do little campaigning together; each pursues his or her own agenda and operates as a free agent.

But Young and Bolton have formed their own mini-slate, a slate within a slate.

When Bolton, a school teacher and former county recorder, gets up in front of a crowd at a community candidates' forum, she sings her own praises for a while, and then adds an unusual chorus - a pitch for her friend Young, a retired Cincinnati police officer.

And when Young's turn comes, he returns the favor.

So far, the two have sent out joint mailings to potential absentee voters, collaborated on a 50-point program called "Uniting to Save Our City,'' and are out raising money for TV campaign commercials that will feature both candidates. On Tuesday, they lunched at Bacall's Cafe on the Avenue in College Hill to meet with an unlikely adviser on their crime plan: former GOP mayoral candidate Charlie Winburn.

"I know it's kind of unusual, but Wendell and I found out we had a lot in common,'' said Bolton. "People seem to like it when they see two candidates they can elect who get along with each other.''

This is more than a mutual admiration society, though. There are some practical political realities that helped make this marriage.

Bolton will need substantial support from African-American voters if she is to win one of those nine seats; Young's base of support is in central city neighborhoods like Avondale, where he once walked the beat as a Cincinnati cop.

Young, on the other hand, could use a little help introducing hmself to the voters in predominately white, West Side precincts where he has never had particularly high visibility.

"We're both people who have some experience in life,'' said Bolton, a College Hill resident who has taught in the Wyoming school district for 32 years. "There are plenty of thin-and-thirty candidates. We're the team with experience."

Abortion and the City Council campaign

The abortion battles that divided Cincinnati City Council in the 1980s are largely over, the result of court decisions that have taken the question out of the city's hands. No longer are there pitched battles over appointments to the Cincinnati Board of Health, or debates about the regulation of abortion clinics in the city.

But abortion politics still plays a role in city politics. The last abortion vote was in January 2004, when Republicans tried to get the city manager to write abortion coverage out of the city's health care plans. It failed, 6-3.

More importantly, the combatants in the culture wars worry that up-and-coming politicians could use City Council as a springboard to higher office that might have more of an impact on abortion -- say, Congress or the governor's mansion.

So with that as background, here's where the candidates stand on the issue:

The Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus has endorsed seven candidates for Cincinnati City Council. They are: Eve Bolton, Laketa Cole, David C. Crowley, Samantha Herd, Jeff Berding, Wendell P. Young and Damon Lynch III. All are Democrats.

"We look for candidates -- both men and women -- who support women's issues, the equality of women," said Kathy Helmbock of the women's caucus. "And we support candidates who reflect that by, among other things, being pro-choice, supporting a woman's right to abortion if she wishes it. Just like opposition to abortion is a hallmark of Right to Life. It's not the only issue, but it's the main one for us."

The Cincinnati Right to Life Political Action Committee won't make its endorsements until Oct. 10, said executive director Paula Westwood. But answers to its candidate questionnaires suggest that the following candidates are in the running for the group's endorsement: Democrats John Cranley and Cecil Thomas; Republicans John Eby, Sam Malone and Chris Monzel; and independents Bill Barron, Paul McGhee, Michael Earl Patton and Robert J. Wilking.

With a few exceptions and qualifications on individual questions, all of them said they oppose Roe v. Wade, taxpayer funding of abortion, stem-cell research and assisted suicide. Most also said they would oppose the nomination of "pro-abortion candidates for the Board of Health" and would refuse campaign contributions from abortion rights groups.

Neither group expects to make an endorsement in the mayor's race. Mark L. Mallory and David Pepper both favor abortion rights.

Cincinnati Politics primer: What is the Black Fist?

The Black Fist's Kabaka Oba protests police outside the Seasongood Pavilion in Mount Adams in August 2003. (Photo by Brandi Stafford/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

(WARNING: This post contains strong language.)

If you've been to a Cincinnati City Council meeting, listened to talk radio, or stumbled across a Fountain Square rally in the last four years, you've no doubt heard of the Black Fist.

If you haven't, you're probably wondering how this small group of African-American activists managed to become a defining issue in Tuesday's mayoral debate in the West End.

David Pepper clearly came into the debate looking for an excuse to bring up the Black Fist, using a question about how he would work with Hamilton County Republicans to discuss Mark L. Mallory's acceptance of the group's endorsement. The Pepper campaign also distributed a statement during the debate calling the group "extremist" and "divisive," pointing to the following statements as evidence:
  • The Black Fist participated in a December, 2002 Fountain Square protest of a menorah which included a sign reading, "Jews killed Jesus, had black slaves, stole our black identities." They also shouted chants of "Die Jews die."

  • At a an April, 2002 demonstration at the police memorial, the Black Fist protested police brutality, the Catholic Church, and Pete Rose. Protesters called counter-demonstrators ''white devils,'' ''snow monkeys'' and ''faggots."

  • A July, 2005 post on the Black Fist's blog accuses police of being aligned with the Ku Klux Klan in a conspiracy to kill African-Americans. "They love sucking the sweat of black people. That's why the Cincinnati police in Ohio love to rape little girls and put fear into black women!!!"
The Black Fist is led by Kabaka Oba, a 47-year-old Metro bus driver from the West End who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Hamilton County Commissioner in 2004. He calls himself a "general," and says the Black Fist is not an organization, but a "movement." The Black fist -- formerly known as the Black Special Forces -- is loosely associated with a number of other pro-boycott groups, such as Amanda Mayes' Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, Nate Livingston Jr.'s Unite Cincinnati PAC, and William Kirkland's African-American Cultural Commission.

Oba, who attended Tuesday night's debate, seemed not at all uncomfortable being thrust into the center of the mayoral campaign.

"What we like about Mark Mallory is that he is not afraid to talk to us about what our positions are," Oba said. "We can't find any middle ground with David Pepper, because he supports the police even when the police are wrong." He said Mallory doesn't agree with everything the Black Fist stands for, but that "consensus-building doesn't depend on total agreement."

Oba denied that the organization was anti-Semitic, saying that black people were the chosen people of God. "Pepper hates black people. He's anti-Semitic."

As for the 2002 protest of the Fountain Square menorah, Oba said it was an attempt to show that the federal court decision allowing the menorah also paved the way for the Ku Klux Klan to put a cross on the square. He said the chants were directed at Rabbi Sholom Kalmanson. "We showed him some anti-Semitic things so he could feel what we feel when we see the KKK cross," Oba said.

Lincoln Ware, the WDBZ talk show host who gave Oba an almost-daily forum for his views for four years before Oba was banned from the radio station last month, said the Black Fist was a small group unworthy of much debate in the mayoral campaign.

"I can't believe they're giving the Black Fist this much credit. There's like four people in the Black Fist, if that many," he said. "They don't have a whole lot of followers. They think they do. They're on the fringes."

UPDATE (Thursday, 10:09 p.m.): A previous version of this entry incorrectly listed Oba's address as Deer Park. He lives in the West End.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cincinnati mayor's job pays better than royalty

Justin P. Jeffre has filed a belated financial disclosure statement with the Ohio Ethics Commission revealing that he made $55,144 in income last year -- mostly from songwriting royalties and interest on investments.

The 32-year-old singer for the pop group 98 Degrees was the only candidate who did not file his ethics disclosure before the election, saying he needed more time for his business manager to compile the information.

Jeffre made $9,961 in songwriting and record royalties, and $126 in residuals from television appearances on the WB Network and elsewhere. Jeffre has partial writing credits on two songs, "My Everything" and "Never Giving Up."

Direct income from his band was a mixed bag. 98 Degrees Music Inc., the recording arm, earned him $2,961. But 98 Degrees Touring Inc. lost money: $3,585. (In addition to being a director and shareholder in the two companies, Jeffre is treasurer of both entities. Andrew Lachey, brother of bandleader Nick Lachey, was chairman.)

Five years removed from his biggest hits, most of Jeffre's income came from investments.

Jeffre, who used his campaign to bemoan the corporate influence on local media and City Hall, also reported owning shares or corporate bonds in the following companies, among others: Viacom (owner of television networks MTV, VH1 and CBS), General Electric (owner of NBC and Universal Studios), SBC Communications, Wal-Mart Stores, Alcoa Inc. and Bank of America.

City Council in New Year's TIF tiff

When Cincinnati City Council scheduled a public hearing on new tax-increment financing districts for Monday night, Oakley property owner Albert E. Lane was furious.

It wasn't just because Lane is convinced that the city would use the new TIF districts to take people's property by eminent domain (something city officials deny). It was that he couldn't make it to City Hall to protest.

It was, after all, the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. And while Lane planned to be on Plum Street, it would be across from City Hall at the Issac M. Wise Temple. "There are a lot of Jewish property owners in the city, and this is a slap in the face," Lane said.

City Council members acknowledged the faux pas, but said it was unintentional. In fact, they said, it was the city's Jewish economic development director, Chad Munitz, who scheduled the hearing.

"Not to disagree publicly with our esteemed City Council members, but last time I looked, the administration does not set committee hearings," Munitz said in an aside to a reporter during the hearing. (Besides, he said, the hearing was scheduled for 6 p.m., and Rosh Hashana didn't start until sundown -- 7:37 p.m.)

So who was responsible? After a little back-and-forth, Munitz and Finance Committee Chairman John Cranley finally agreed to blame state Rep. William J. Seitz, R-Green Township, who shepherded the changes in state tax laws that led to a New Year's Eve deadline (that's the Gregorian calendar) to create new districts.

The city has sent letters to Jewish groups apologizing, and has set a new public hearing for Oct. 17 at 1 p.m.

Church and state: City Hall (left) and the Plum Street Temple (right).

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