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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Friday, February 10, 2006

Boehner hires new staff for leadership office

House Majority Leader John Boehner has announced several new hires for his leadership office, many of which have either been with him for years or are veteran Capitol Hill staffers.

Avid readers of political news in Greater Cincinnati may recognize two names: David Schnittger, a graduate of Moeller High School in Kenwood who has been with Boehner since he came to Congress in 1991 - and Kevin Madden, who previously worked as the Ohio spokesman for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2004.

Schnittger will serve as deputy chief of staff in Boehner's leadership office. Schnittger most recently served as Boehner's chief of staff in his personal office and ommunications director for four years at the House Education & the Workforce Committee, which Boehner chaired. Schnittger served as press secretary in Boehner's congressional office from late 1996 to 2000 and worked as a field representative in Boehner's Butler County district office from 1994-96.

Madden will be the chief spokesman in Boehner's leadership office and will oversee the development and execution of its media strategy. Madden most recently was spokesman for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Before that, he was a spokesman for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Ohio. He also served previously as press secretary for Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y.

Madden, who was born in New York City but raised in Yonkers, said it's great to be back with all his Buckeye state friends: "Even Boehner's current staff recognized how much I missed Ohio when I held forth about the political makeup of the I-75 corridor during one of our conversations. That and the fact that I'm the only Cincinnati Bengals fan to ever grow up in a New York zip code means this was probably fate getting its way."

He's a Bengals fan?

"Other than winning on Election Day, meeting Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz at a rally in West Chester was the highlight of the whole campaign," Madden said.

Here are the other recent staff hires in Boehner's new leadership office:

Paula Nowakowski has been named Chief of Staff for Majority Leader Boehner. Nowakowski has been staff director for the House Education & the Workforce Committee since Boehner became chairman five years ago. Nowakowski previously served for four years as communications director for the House Republican Conference and has held various other positions, including research director at the Republican National Committee.

Kevin Smith will be communications director for Majority Leader Boehner. Smith will supervise the overall development of the majority leader's internal and external communications strategies. He has been Boehner's communications director at the Education & the Workforce Committee since July 2005. Before that, Smith served as the Committee's senior communications advisor since Boehner's election as chairman in January 2001. He completed an earlier stint with Boehner as a legislative analyst at the House Republican Conference and previously worked for Internet startup Voter.com and formerly for Rep. Randy Tate, R-Wash.

Jo-Marie St. Martin has been named general counsel. She was general counsel at the Education & the Workforce Committee under both Chairman Boehner and Chairman Bill Goodling. She previously worked in private practice at Wilson & Worley in Kingsport, Tenn.

Brett Loper, who served as chief of staff for former Majority Leader DeLay, will serve as an adviser during the Boehner's transition.

Anne Bradbury Thorsen will remain on staff in the majority leader office. She served as deputy director of legislative operations for former Majority Leader DeLay and previously as legislative director for Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Brinkman still thinking about run

Ohio state Rep. Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati just posted a letter on his campaign Web site telling supporters that he's still thinking about challenging U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township, in the May 2 GOP primary.

Read his letter here.

Brinkman said last month after Bob McEwen, a former Ohio congressman, got into the race that he might also run. The filing deadline is in exactly one week - Feb. 16 at 4 p.m.

Behind closed doors...

Rep. John Boehner of West Chester was elected House majority leader by fellow House Republicans exactly one week ago on a secret ballot behind closed doors.

Check out these photos from the House Republican Conference blog that show what it was like in the room where the vote took place - the room where reporters were not allowed inside!

Mason, Ohio: Democratic goldmine?

The fact that Mayor Mark Mallory went to the Urban League headquarters in Avondale Thursday afternoon to wrap his arms around Ted Strickland endorse his candidacy for governor sort of falls into the category of Dog Bites Man.

After all, the Strickland campaign has more endorsements than Hershey has candy bars.

What was more interesting was where Strickland was headed after his lovefest with Mallory - due north on Reading Road to Mason, one of the most solidly Republican suburbs in the state.

Why, you ask, would Ted Strickland waste his time in Mason?

Because he had a fundraiser scheduled there.

Strickland brought along David Leland, the former Ohio Democratic Party chairman legendary for his ability to raise lots of money. As Leland said Thursday at the Urban League, he has signed on with Strickland to "help him raise a buck or two.''

If there is such a thing as Democratic campaign money in Leland, trust us, Leland is the only bloodhound who could sniff it out.

Even lawmakers get caught up in Bengals

When the U.S. House voted this week on a resolution honoring Superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati’s two members of Congress – Steve Chabot and Jean Schmidt – refused to go along with it.

Citing what many Bengals fans think was a dirty hit on quarterback Carson Palmer, Chabot and Schmdit joined eight other lawmakers – mostly from Washington state, home of the Seattle Seahawks, who lost the Superbowl to the Steelers – in voting "present" instead of "yes."

"I kept picturing Carson Palmer writhing in pain on the ground and I just couldn’t bring myself to vote ‘yes,’" Chabot told the Enquirer.

Said Schmidt: "While I congratulate the Steelers on winning, as a die-hard Bengals fan, I voted with Carson Palmer in my heart. ... I very much look forward to seeing Carson back on the field and welcoming the Steelers back to town next year as World Champs."

Palmer was forced to have major surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee after he was hit by Steelers defensive end Kim von Oelhoffen in last month’s playoff game in Cincinnati.

Chabot said he hopes the hit was an accident and explained that voting "present" was a more dignified way to oppose the resolution than voting "no."

"I didn’t want to be unsportsmanlike, but I did want to send a message on behalf of the Bengals fans," he said. "We’ll get them next year."

Said Schmidt: "This was a no-brainer. The folks back home are not very happy with the Steelers."

Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana who is a big Indianapolis Colts fan also voted "present."

"I have my limits," Pence said.

The House resolution was sponsored by four Pennsylvania lawmakers – and Ohio Rep. Mike Oxley, a Republican from Findlay, the hometown of Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, who graduated from Miami University.

A similar resolution passed the Senate this week on a unanimous voice vote.

Deadline? What deadline?

Cincinnati's interim city manager, Dave Rager, allowed the deadline to apply for the $191,000-a-year city manager position to come and go without submitting his resume and applying for the permanent job.

When asked Wednesday if he had applied, Rager said: "The mayor (Mark Mallory) and I haven't talked, so I haven't decided yet."

Wasn't Monday the deadline? "Yeah," Rager said. "They may say the deadline has passed and I can't do it."

Rager was appointed by former mayor Charlie Luken on September 12, replacing Valerie Lemmie. Before the appointment, Rager served as director of the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, where he directed some 700 employees.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chillicothe mayor rallies in Washington

Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, a Vietnam veteran, rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol today with 40 other veterans who also are running for Congress to eradicate corruption and bring change.

Sulzer, who is seeking to unseat troubled Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, told a crowd of about 100 that he's concerned about the state of democracy in Washington.

"I am running against a congressman who stands for this corruption," Sulzer said.

Ney has been linked to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in federal court to using free trips, meals and campaign contributions in an attempt to bribe Ney and others for official favors. Ney has said he did nothing illegal or improper.

Still, many candidates at the rally - all Democrats - spoke of ridding Washington of lawmakers with questionable connections to lobbyists, saying that they would take back one more hill - Capitol Hill. They said it's time the country was led by veterans who understand the meaning of sacrifice.

Former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a Vietnam veteran who lost both legs in combat, told the group from his wheelchair that together, they represented more than 400 years of military service for the United States.

"All of you have been there, done that and gotten a few holes in your T-shirt," Cleland said. "That makes you a part of a very few Americans who have done the fighting and the dying for this country."

Sulzer, who was drafted at age 19 and served for one year in Vietnam in the late 1960s, said veterans understand the price that was paid for democracy.

"I am honored and proud that we have such a great group of veterans who are willing to once again answer the call of their country in service and restore this democracy that has fallen to the special interest groups," he said after the rally.

More on the rally from the Democratic National Committee blog here.

Sulzer, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, planned to spend Wednesday and Thursday meeting with congressional leaders and political action committees.

"Hopefully, we'll take some money back with us," Sulzer said. "Unfortunately, with these campaigns, that's what it comes down to, money."

Sulzer had planned to hold a fundraiser Thursday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., but the event was postponed until March due to scheduling conflicts.

Still, the fact that the DCCC is planning an event with Sulzer is significant because it indicates that he already has the party's backing despite a three-way primary May 2 against Dover lawyer Zack Space and Bellaire technical writer Jeff Woollard.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh: "It's interesting that he mentioned special interests because he is in Washington to raise money from special interests," Walsh said.

Petro: Please don't endorse - if it's Blackwell.

Howard Wilkinson reports:

Attorney General Jim Petro’s gubernatorial campaign is trying to derail a home-county endorsement of opponent Ken Blackwell expected Thursday.

Six local Republican elected officials this week sent a letter asking the Hamilton County party to remain neutral.

“For the sake of party unity, we recommend that we not endorse, but let our neighbors and friends determine who the Republican nominee is,’’ said the letter which went out to members of the Hamilton County Republican Party’s executive committee.

The letter was signed by Hamilton County commissioner Phil Heimlich, who quit as Petro’s lieutenant governor running mate last month, and five Cincinnati area state legislators – state senators Patricia Clancy and Robert Schuler, and state representatives Tom Brinkman Jr., Jim Raussen, and Bill Seitz.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, all of those Cincinnati area state legislators except Seitz had endorsed Petro’s candidacy, according to Petro campaign spokesman Bob Paduchik.

The party’s executive committee is scheduled to meet today to decide first whether or not to endorse and, if so, who to endorse. Both Petro and Blackwell will be given 15 minutes to address the executive committee before the vote.

Paduchik said the Petro campaign “has no expectation that we’ll get that endorsement. Ken Blackwell is the hometown boy.’’

The Petro campaign has already picked up six county party endorsements, including Franklin County and Petro’s home county of Cuyahoga.

Blackwell campaign spokesman Gene Pierce called the letter “hypocritical.’’

“They didn’t do this in any of the counties where they did get endorsements,’’ Pierce said.

Paduchik said there was a simple reason for not asking the other counties to remain neutral.
“They weren’t Ken Blackwell’s home county,’’ Paduchik said.

Boehner gets negative press

Less than a week after West Chester Rep. John Boehner was elected House majority leader - the No. 2 Republican in the House - he’s already been targeted for connections to lobbyists.

"It’s open season," said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University specialist on Congress. "When you reach a degree of prominence like that, it follows that you are going to get snipped at."

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Boehner is renting a two-bedroom basement apartment on Capitol Hill from a veteran lobbyist whose clients have an interest in legislation that Boehner has worked on.

Boehner, whose primary residence is in West Chester, pays $1,600 a month for the unit, which is fair market value in Washington’s expensive Capitol Hill neighborhood. He pays his rent on time and pays his own utilities, said landlady Debra Anderson, who lives in the townhouse with husband John D. Milne.

Boehner also was the subject of a separate story on Wednesday from The Associated Press because his former chief of staff, Barry Jackson, who is a native of West Chester, had planned to take a trip in 1996 to the Northern Mariana Islands - a trip organized by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to using trips and gifts in an attempt to bribe lawmakers for official favors. However, Jackson, now chief deputy to White House senior adviser Karl Rove, didn’t end up going on the trip.

Boehner's spokesman Don Seymour: "These are both non-stories being pushed by John's opponents on the left. One of Boehner's staffers DIDN'T go on a trip 10 years ago? Boehner rents an apartment at fair market value from a guy who DOESN'T lobby him?"

Boehner is leaving tomorrow for a weekend retreat with House Republicans to discuss their agenda, which is to include lobbying reform.

Ohio Attorney General David Pepper?

Many Hamilton County Democrats are hoping that, when the filing deadline for candidates rolls around next Thursday, former councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate David Pepper walks into the Hamilton County Board of Elections to file petitions as a Hamilton County commissioner candidate.

Ohio Democratic Party officials have other plans.

They have been quietly pushing Pepper to jump into the Ohio attorney general's race, even though there are already two announced candidates on the Democratic side.

One is Subodh Chandra, the former Cleveland law director, who has never run for statewide office before and who is a virtual unknown in the rest of Ohio, except among lawyers, who uniformly speak highly of him. But many in the party believe he won't be able to compete with a candidate as well-known and well-funded as Betty Montgomery.

The other announced candidate is State Sen. Marc Dann, the Youngstown Democrat who made a name for himself last year by holding the Taft administration's feet to the fire over Bureau of Workers Compensation mess and the governor's own indiscretions.

Ever since, the leadership of the Ohio Republican Party has been salivating over the possibility of the Democrats nominating Dann.

State GOP chairman Bob Bennett has fired off several salvos in Dann's direction. Bennett argues that a lawyer who has been reprimanded by the Ohio Supreme Court for misconduct and who had to go back and amend his ethics report to report a gift from a lobbyist (after beating Gov. Bob Taft over the head for the same thing) is probably not a good candidate to campaign on a platform of cleaning up state government.

Many Democrats agree, and the state party has apparently landed on Pepper, who lost the Cincinnati mayor's race to Mark Mallory last fall. They see him as a squeaky-clean candidate with a good name who can raise great boatloads of money, thus turning the race against Montgomery into a competitive contest.

Asked if he is considering the possibility of running for attorney general, Pepper offered a response that included neither the word "yes'' nor the word "no.''

"Until I decide if I am going to run for anything at all, I'm not going to say anything about it,'' Pepper said Wednesday afternoon.

Setzer to chair national task force

Michael Setzer, the general manager of Metro, Cincinnati's only bus system, has been named chairman of the American Public Transportation Association's new Emergency Preparedness Task Force.

The goal of the task force is to plan for a coordinated transit industry response to catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina, that require evacuation and mutual support beyond the capacity of a local transit system. The task force will study best practices and come up with a plan to deal with evacuation support and restoration of service.

The task force includes transit leaders from New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Salt Lake City, and Miami, along with representatives from smaller transit systems.

Setzer has served as Metro’s general manager and CEO since July 2004, and has more than 30 years of transit management experience.

Ted Strickland's Ohio

In today's Enquirer, reporter Howard Wilkinson wrote about Rep. Ted Strickland rolling up county party endorsements in his quest for the Democratic nomination. Here's the map:

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Chillicothe mayor headed to DC

This post is in honor of those Ross County residents who read The Cincinnati Enquirer. We know there are some of you all out there!

Thought you'd want to know:

Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, a Democrat who is challenging troubled Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Heath, is headed up to Washington, D.C., tonight so he can rally with other veterans who are running for Congress on the National Mall tomorrow.

The event is sponsored by the Band of Brothers.

Sulzer then will spend Wednesday and Thursday meeting with lawmakers and political action committees in Washington.

A fundraiser with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had been scheduled for Thursday, but the event has been postponed, probably until March.

FYI, here is the fundraising picture in Ney's 18th Congressional District, where several other candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, also are running in the May 2 primary.

Turner gets challenger - UPDATED

Two-term Congressman Mike Turner, a Republican from Centerville who represents the 3rd Congressional District, including northern Warren County, now has three Democratic challengers:

Veterinarian Stephanie Studebaker, veteran David Fierst, who has apparently been in the race since last April, and Charles Sanders, a former mayor of Waynesville who has run unsuccessfully in the 2nd Congressional District about four times already.

Studebaker announced today that she'll be holding a fundraiser at her Centerville home with Phil Donahue, an Emmy award winning journalist (19 Emmys) and Cleveland native (The Phil Donahue Show first aired on WLW-D in Dayton), this Saturday to kick off her campaign.

The V.I.P. Reception for this event starts at 2 p.m., followed by the official campaign announcement at 4 p.m. A "Meet and Greet" will follow. The "recommended" donation to attend this event is $100. More details on the Montgomery County Democratic Party site.

The Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics has a good breakout on the money that's been raised so far in this race on their Web site. In a nutshell: Turner has nearly $188,500 to Studebaker's $8,800 and Fierst's $4,700.

In an e-mail to media, David P. Little of Cincinnati called Studebaker is a "committed activist" and a "savvy, successful businesswoman" who also is a mother of two young girls.

A quick Google search reveals that Studebaker got into politics in 2003 as the volunteer communications director for Howard Dean's failed presidential campaign operation in Ohio. She then worked on behalf of Sen. John Kerry's failed presidential campaign and the recent Reform Ohio Now proposals, which also failed.

But Studebaker is "determined to offer a positive choice in the 3rd Congressional District," Little wrote. "She deserves the support of all genuine progressives in this region."

Little, who worked with Studebaker on the recent Reform Ohio Now initiative, said he circulated details about her upcoming event because she is "much deserving."

There was no comment out of Turner's camp, which is abiding by government rules that members of Congress can't use official equipment or staff for campaign purposes.

From Turner's press secretary, Andy Bloom: "Since this is a government computer and e-mail, and as I'm not working for the campaign, I can't make any comment regarding campaign issues."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Where's Dallas?

Reporter Janice Morse of the Enquirer's West Chester bureau filed this report:

You can’t help but be curious about what happened before – and after -- an officer discovered none other than ex-judge Dallas Powers at the Washington Township home of Libbie Gerondale Sexton, his alleged former lover, recently.

A Warren County sheriff’s report says that, someone at the residence dialed 911 and hung up – but told an dispatcher that "everything was fine" just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 27. Nevertheless, a deputy showed up at Sexton’s doorstep, and she told him he wasn’t needed.

But a man – whom the officer identified as Powers – came to the door. Sexton told the deputy that another man pulled into the driveway, but then left without causing a problem.

Sexton kept shushing the ex-jurist, the deputy said: "Mr. Powers would try to talk and she kept telling him it was her house and she did not want a report."

The judge may have been Sexton’s boss at one point, but this exchange suggests she’s the one in charge now.

Powers, a Warren County Court judge since 1989, resigned late last year after he and Sexton – who had worked for Powers as a probation officer -- were convicted on several misdemeanor charges stemming from overtime paid to Sexton, their courthouse trysts, Powers’ treatment of witnesses against them.

Powers, 71, was convicted of intimidation, public indecency and aiding and abetting the receiving of improper compensation. Sexton, 35, was convicted of attempted theft in office and public indecency.

The road heavily traveled

You might think of Interstate 75 as a lousy, potholed asphalt ribbon that alternates between being a drag racing strip and parking lot, depending on the time of day, but Republican politicians in Ohio have a different view of it.

For them, it is a road that leads straight to the Statehouse.

J. Kenneth Blackwell, front-runner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, is hauling his newly-named running mate, State Rep. Tom Raga of Mason, up and down I-75 Monday, with stops in Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati.

The choice of these three media markets is no accident. From the 1-275 beltway here to the Ohio Turnpike just south of downtown Toledo, I-75 cuts through a stretch of suburbs, exurbs, small towns and rural counties that Blackwell sees as the key to winning not only the May 2 GOP primary, but the general election as well.

That stretch of real estate has twice made George W. Bush president; it has the potential to make Blackwell a governor.

Blackwell has gone to school on the late Republican Gov. James Rhodes, who had a formula for winning statewide elections that included ceding northeast Ohio to the Democrats, rolling up big numbers in southern and western Ohio and doing no worse than breaking even in central Ohio.

Blackwell has to play a bit of a modified Rhodes game this year. His likely Democratic opponent, Ted Strickland, has, at one time or another, represented all of southern and eastern Ohio from Warren County to the south suburbs of Youngstown. He's likely to be a very strong candidate in the southeast Ohio counties where Rhodes made his living.

So, watch for the Blackwell to focus on the I-75 corridor; and the especially the suburban counties that ring the I-275 loop - Butler, Warren and Clermont.

In 2004, those three counties gave Bush 69 percent of their votes, in an election where Bush won Ohio (and, thus, a second term), by only 118,599 votes out of about 5.6 million cast.

Take Butler, Warren and Clermont out of the equation, and Kerry would have won the state by about 14,000 votes and Bush would have plenty of time to clear the brush on the Crawford ranch.

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