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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, December 17, 2005

Tarbell and Thomas ran most frugal campaigns

Money is important: Seven of the City Council candidates who spent the most money also got the most votes.

But it's not everything: Democrat Cecil Thomas and Charterite Jim Tarbell made the most of more meager resources to win seats on City Council.

And that's not to mention Mayor Mark Mallory, who overcame a three-to-one fund-raising disadvantage to thwart fellow Democrat David Pepper's $1.2 million campaign.

Here are the cost-per-vote totals for the major-party candidates, as of campaign finance reports filed with the Hamilton County Board of Elections Friday:

Rank Candidate Spending Total Votes Cost
8 Chris Bortz (C) $287,753 27,304 $10.54
6 Jeff Berding (D) $293,783 28,344 $10.36
1 John Cranley (D) $238,834 35,603 $ 6.71
4 David C. Crowley (D) $180,313 29,856 $ 6.04
7 Chris Monzel (R) $143,910 27,911 $ 5.16
5 Leslie Ghiz (R) $131,442 29,758 $ 4.42
11 Christopher Smitherman (C) $ 73,100 24,642 $ 2.97
17 Nick Spencer (C) $ 27,247 9,462 $ 2.88
3 Laketa Cole (D) $ 78,512 29,966 $ 2.62
10 Sam Malone (R) $ 67,305 25,838 $ 2.60
16 Samantha Herd (D) $ 30,065 14,306 $ 2.10
15 John Eby (R) $ 32,939 16,271 $ 2.02
2 Jim Tarbell (C) $ 64,695 32,392 $ 2.00
12 Damon Lynch III (D) $ 43,141 22,556 $ 1.91
9 Cecil Thomas (D) $ 31,161 27,091 $ 1.15

A few special notes:
  • Independent Gerry Kraus spent $30,192 to get 4,719 votes, for a cost-per-vote of $6.40.

  • Democrats Eve Bolton and Wendell Young are not included. They did not file post-general campaign finance reports by Friday's 4 p.m. deadline.

  • Unlike previous campaign finance totals reported here, these are amounts spent, not raised.
Previous stories:

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ethics issue trips up Bortz at second meeting

In just his second City Council session since getting sworn in, freshman Councilman Chris Bortz already faced two potential conflicts of interest.

Bortz, a lawyer for the family owned development company, is recorded as having voted for a routine ordinance related to the financing of $2.8 million in public improvements for Bortz-owned Towne Properties' 18-unit condominium project at Adams Landing in the East End.

Whether he actually voted that way is in dispute. Wednesday's agenda indicates that Bortz was excused from voting on the item because of the conflict of interest, but Clerk Melissa Autry read his name in the roll call. She recorded him in the unofficial minutes as a "yes," even though Bortz said he was silent on the ordinance.

Bortz did audibly abstain from a later vote on a related ordinance, which passed 8-0.

On one level, the episode reflected a mere speed bump in City Council's endeavor to run more businesslike, professional and transparent meetings.

But on another, it illuminates the fine line Bortz will be walking for the next two years as chairman of a new, more active Economic Development Committee.

Bortz said he knew from the beginning that the questions would come up; it was the first thing his uncle -- former mayor and Towne Properties principal Arn Bortz -- told him to prepare for when he decided to run for City Council. Still, Bortz said it was "very unusual" for two Towne Properties-related ordinances to be on the same agenda -- much less on his second meeting.

"I think you have to premise the whole thing by saying my experience in the field of development isn't a disqualifier in taking a leadership role in these issues. It should be considered a positive," he said. "If you want someone who has experience in economic development, you're going to have to accept that the conflict-of-interest question will occasionally come up. And when it does, in those rare instances, then I will have the good sense to rely on advice and recuse myself if there's an appearance of an ethical conflict."

But Bortz cited a rule of council that requires members to vote on all ordinances, unless there's a specific, legal conflict of interest:
Rule 6.1 Duty to vote

Every member present shall vote on all questions unless excused by a majority vote of council; except that no member shall vote on any question in which he or she is financially interested or which in any way directly involves the councilmember's personal or private rights. A member wishing to be excused or excepted shall state the reason for excusal or exception.
"If the connection is too attenuated, I have an obligation to vote," Bortz said.

In other words, Bortz has no compunction advancing an agenda to make the city more developer-friendly, even if Towne Properties benefits indirectly. And he said he'd do everything he can to promote the Banks project, short of participating in the selection of a developer. Towne Properties is on one of the development teams bidding to develop the riverfront site.

"There is currently nothing to be conflicted about because there is no plan for the Banks," he said.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Monzel: Cranley should step down as chairman

Will Finance Committee Chairman John Cranley favor West Side projects in the 2006 budget because he's running for Congress as a Democrat in the 1st district?

That's the suggestion from Republican Councilman Chris Monzel (left), who asked Cranley to step down in his role as council's point man on the budget until after next year's election. In a letter to Cranley Monday, Monzel said it was "particularly troubling" that Cranley filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission the day after being sworn in as a councilman for the fourth time:
While it has been clear to most observers that you are interested in a political career that will go beyond City Council, the speed of your announcement caught many by surprise. John, I think people really believe you had every intention of serving out another term on council. You ran a great campaign and offered a lot of popular policy solutions that you are now expected to fulfill. I believe that the voters deserve nothing less.

I realize that some may suggest that you resign from your current position on council. I do not believe this should be the case. However, my more immediate concern is the potential conflicts of interest that could develop in your capacity as chairman of the Finance Committee. Already, local community leaders have privately expressed concerns that their support or opposition to your candidacy could impact public funding for important projects. This is not good government and this is not something I am comfortable staying quiet about.

Monzel declined to name specific projects or community leaders who are worried about favoritism, saying they're not comfortable coming forward precisely because of the politics. The letter follows a Dec. 5 attack by county GOP director Brad Greenberg that Cranley's congressional announcement "set a record for the shortest amount of time between being sworn into one office and announcing plans for the next office."

Monzel handed his letter to Cranley after Monday's Finance Committee meeting. Cranley insisted that it be mailed to his home.

"He refused to take it," Monzel said. "I promised in that meeting I would not go to the press. I tried to handle this one-on-one. All I'm doing is addressing constituent concerns to him, man-to-man, one-on-one, and he rebuffed me. ... I'm very disappointed about how this is all playing out," he said.

Cranley, reached by cell phone from Akron where he was working with the Ohio Innocence Project, declined to answer Monzel's concerns.

"I'm working on my legal practice today, getting an innocent man out of prison and making sure the person who's guilty is held accountable. And when I'm not doing that, I'm working to get the budget passed next week. So I'm not going to get into that. I don't really care at this moment," Cranley said.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Happy St. Xavier High School Day

St. Xavier football coach Steve Specht accepted a proclamation for "St. Xavier High School Day" today. Councilman Jeff Berding (Class of '85) and the school president, Father Walter C. Dye, flanked members of the state champion football team.

Back during Cincinnati's "weak mayor" days, one of the biggest perks -- and quirks -- of the job was the power to issue proclamations.

When Mayor David S. Mann helped make a statement against peer pressure by proclaiming the week of Oct. 24, 1982 as "I Am Somebody, Period" week, it somehow got covered by the Washington Post.

Not that they were all so momentous. Mayor Roxanne Qualls proclaimed Feb 27, 1998, as "Fat Free Pringles Day." Mayor Charlie Luken issued proclamations for runaway cows, retiring saloonkeepers and visiting CBS correspondents. (The biggest controversies came when mayors refused to issue proclamations, as Luken and J. Kenneth Blackwell did during the 1980s, for Gay Pride Day.)

There may be a learning curve on other parts of the job, but new Mayor Mark Mallory has the proclamations down pat. As a state legislator, Mallory rarely ventured out into the district without a proclamation from the Ohio Senate, honoring pastors' wives, community volunteers -- and even Luken -- with embossed certificates declaring a day.

Today, for example, is St. Xavier High School Day in the city of Cincinnati, honoring the state championship football team. Councilman-alumnus Jeff Berding asked the mayor for the proclamation, which was also cheered by Bomber Councilmen John Cranley and Jim Tarbell.

If you're keeping a calendar, here are other events in Cincinnati you may have missed since Mallory took over the mayor's office:
  • Nov. 13 -- Brother Early McConnell Day, honoring a 78-year-old Jerriel Missionary Baptist Church member.
  • Dec. 3 -- Melvin Angelo Nix Day, honoring the founder of the Old West End Gang Ball.
  • Dec. 7 -- Smart Money Community Services Day.
  • Dec. 8 -- John Lennon Day. This was a promotion for Blue Jordan Records, which was having a tribute for the former Beatle at the Rohs Street Cafe on the 25th anniversary of his death.
  • Dec. 10 -- "City of One" Day, part of an effort to fight the global AIDS epidemic.
  • Dec. 11 -- Northside Community School Graduates Day, for the 23rd anniversary of the school.
  • January 2006 -- National Mentoring Month, honoring the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association of Cincinnati.
  • Jan. 5, 2006 -- Dr. Abdul-Rahman Jazieh Day, honoring the University of Cincinnati oncologist.
  • Jan. 16 -- Martin Luther King Day. (Yes, it's already a holiday, but Mallory was honoring the work of the Martin Luther King Day Coalition.) That kicks off....
  • Week of Jan. 16 -- International Printing Week, in honor of Ben Franklin's 300th birthday.
That's 10 proclamations in 14 days -- putting Mallory well behind Mayor Luken's pace of as many as 600 proclamations a year.

'No controversy' for new city health chief

New Cincinnati Health Commissioner Noble A-W Maseru (center) posed for pictures with Board of Health Chairman Steven J. Baines and Vice Chairwoman Linetta D.C. Collins after being hired by the board Tuesday. (Photo by Jeff Swinger/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Cincinnati's new health commissioner, hired Tuesday by the Board of Health, has "no controversy" dogging him from his current job, his old boss says.

That would go without saying, but Noble A-W Maseru is from Detroit, after all.

The administration of Kwame Kilpatrick, a 35-year-old political phenom dubbed the "hip-hop mayor" by Detroit's newspapers, has been embroiled in scandal almost since he was sworn in four years ago. Aides embezzled as much as $190,000 from a petty cash account. Former bodyguards said the mayor used them to set up sexual liaisons. He ran up more than $210,000 on his city credit card, and used policy money to buy his wife a Ford Navigator.

But Maseru, hired by Kilpatrick in 2002 as the director of Health and Wellness Promotion, has mostly kept his name out of the Detroit newspapers -- unless it was curing syphilis, combatting asthma or promoting prevention.

Reference checks similarly found no whiff of scandal. Here, in an e-mail released by the Board of Health, an assistant to search consultant Jim Mercer relays a conversation with Detroit Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams:

I finally got called back by one of Dr. Maseru's references. This was the Detroit Deputy Mayor.

He has known Dr. Maseru about one year and Dr. Maseru reports to him. He says there is nothing in Dr. Maseru's background that could be considered negative. He calls Dr. Maseru an outstanding individual who that all do not want to lose. He has been involved in no controversy during his time in Detroit. Detroit has a very aggressive media and Dr. Maseru is one of few people who has not been criticized, states the reference.

Maseru said the political intrigue had nothing to do with his decision to leave Detroit. Kilpatrick pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory last month to win a second term as mayor.

City Manager David E. Rager will introduce Maseru to City Council today.

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