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

Powered by Blogger

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day weekend open thread

Comment away...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New Ohio Poll

A new Ohio Poll out today from the University of Cincinnati shows Democrat Ted Strickland leading Republican Ken Blackwell, 50 to 44 percent among registered voters.

As always, the other numbers and cross-tabs are interesting too.

Some highlights:

- Both men have good name recognition statewide: Blackwell 92 percent and Strickland 79 percent.

- Blackwell does better with younger voters, while Strickland wins among old folks.

- Blacks prefer Strickland 55 percent to 32 percent, though the sample size there is probably too small to be meaningful.

- Independents prefer Strickland, 46 to 27 percent.

- Blackwell's best region? Right here in Southwest Ohio, where he leads Strickland 53 percent to 42 percent. Strickland's best region: No surprise - Southeast Ohio - which Strickland has represented in Congress for more than a decade. He's crushing Blackwell there, 80 to 20.

Read the full poll results here.

George Vincent can't get enough of this

Some Hamilton County Republican Party chairmen of the past 30 years or so couldn't get away from the job fast enough, but George Vincent, the lawyer from Dinsmore & Shohl who took over the party chairmanship last summer, is coming back for more.

Vincent was re-elected party chairman Wednesday at a party central committee meeting Wednesday at the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center, and is re-upping at a time when the heat is on the Hamilton County Republican Party leadership.

This year, the GOP in Hamilton County faces the possibility of losing control of the Hamilton County Board of Commisioners for the first time since John F. Kennedy was president and Vincent was about six years old. Commissioner Phil Heimlich faces a well-funded and experienced Democrat in David Pepper.

But, while Heimlich-Pepper is a big ticket item, even bigger is the weight the Ohio Republican Party will no doubt dump on Vincent and the party apparatus to turn out GOP voters for the home-town candidate for governor, Ken Blackwell.

Vincent said that the third part of the trinity will be re-electing U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, who is going to have his hands full fending off Democrat John Cranley in a year when the Republican-controlled Congress is only slightly more popular than the Republican president.

While Heimlich, Chabot and Blackwell are the glamor boys, Vincent says the party is equally determined to re-elect Judge Patrick Dinkelacker to the 1st District Court of Appeals. Dinkelacker's opponent, James T. O'Reilly, is expected to run an agressive campaign and have a fair amount of money behind him.

Despite all the problematic races, Vincent said he is glad he signed on for another term.

"I said I'd stay as long as I am effective and I am having fun doing it,'' Vincent said. "And I'm still having fun.''

Pepper blasts Banks news

David Pepper, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, doesn't like the way a recommended developer was suggested today to the Banks Working Group -- and blames Heimlich for it.

Here is a release from Pepper's campaign:


Flawed Process Could Cost the Taxpayer Millions

For the second time in two days, the County Commission—led by Phil Heimlich—has recommended giving away critical county assets without any kind of open, transparent, or truly competitive process. Yesterday, it was Drake (sold to the Health Alliance without a competitive process, and for well under its estimated value). Today, it is the exclusive right to develop the $600 million Banks project.

“Under both deals, the non-competitive processes being used by the County shortchanges taxpayers by millions of dollars while not guaranteeing the highest quality results,” said County Commission candidate David Pepper.

In recommending a Banks developer, the County has only conducted an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) as opposed to a full RFP (Request for Proposals). In an RFP, bidders have to compete on and commit to many terms, including what dollars they plan to bring to the table and how much public money they plan to ask for. An RFQ is nothing more than a glorified resume, with little information or real commitment by the bidders.

“The County’s process has been hopelessly flawed,” Pepper said. “The exclusive right to develop the Banks is a huge money-making opportunity. But the County’s process never forced the bidders to put real money on the table—so far they’ve only asked for their resumes and some fancy photos.”

Pepper urged the Banks Working Group, which received the County’s recommendation today, to conduct a full-blown RFP process to assure the best developer possible, as well as the best deal for the taxpayers.

“I can only hope the Working Group will rescue the taxpayers from the incompetence and high cost of the County’s no-bid approach,” Pepper said.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Long and nasty

Today’s Hamilton County Commission meeting was one of the longest of late and certainly one of the nastiest.

Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune took verbal shots at each of the two Republican Commissioners that brought pointed retorts from Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine.

Portune and the two Republicans often give subtle digs at each other at the meetings, but today’s comments were the most personal in some time.

The biggest issue over which there was disagreement was the resolution calling for the board of commissioners to approve the transfer of the Drake Center Inc. to the Health Alliance.

In that deal, the Health Alliance will get the $10.7 million annual proceeds from a voter-approved levy that runs through 2009. After that, the levy goes off the books.

The deal also calls for Hamilton County – as owner of the Hartwell property and buildings that house Drake – to receive a minimum of $31.5 million from the Health Alliance for those assets. If the Health Alliance doesn’t exercise the option to buy the property, it will pay Hamilton County annual rent of $1 million for up to 60 years.

Currently, based on the 1989 lease with Hamilton County, Drake pays $1 per year in rent and can through 2087.

DeWine, who jumped in in early April when the proposed deal negotiated late last year appeared to be dead, praised the deal as good for taxpayers because it:

· Increases the government’s rent obligation by $999,999 per year for at least three years;
· Calls for the Health Alliance to pay a minimum of $31.5 million for the property no earlier than 2010;
· Ends the levy after 2009;
· Calls for the Health Alliance to also pay about $20 million in debt Drake owes.

The deal also is good for Drake patients, DeWine added, because it allows a rehabilitation hospital that projects to lose $20 million this year and was looking at possibly closing its doors to remain open while continuing its mission of providing for care for patients who have suffered severe head and spinal injuries.

Portune, a Drake patient following his spinal surgery, wasn’t sure it was such a good deal and said the public might not know, either, because there were no public hearings on the deal, formally announced Monday.

Portune was upset that he learned of Monday’s announcement from an Enquirer reporter an hour before it was made.

“As a commissioner, I am afforded no opportunity to get an outside (opinion) at all” on the value of the Drake property, Portune said at today’s meeting.

He called the hospital transfer the “unloading (of) this asset of the county’s,” a verbal dig at DeWine.

Then Portune quizzed the private attorney Hamilton County hired to complete the transfer, asking her if it was appropriate for Heimlich to be involved in the issue because the transfer of the hospital has to be approved by the Ohio Attorney General. Until he dropped off of the ticket late last year, Heimlich was the lieutenant governor candidate for Jim Petro.

Portune then asked that the proposed Hamilton County resolution approving the transfer of Drake be tabled until there can be public input provided.

Portune’s motion failed for lack of a second.

Then it was the Republicans’ turn to jab back at Portune.

Heimlich asked the attorney questions that revealed Drake was in danger of defaulting on about $20 million in bonds it has used for hospital capital projects. Heimlich said the Drake board, with that financial information, approached Hamilton County and the Health Alliance about taking over Drake – points Heimlich wryly noted Portune either didn’t know or failed to point out.

Heimlich also said the agreement was supported by or had been approved by the Drake Board, the majority of commissioners, the University of Cincinnati Trustees and the Health Alliance leaders.

The lone public dissenter to the deal, Heimlich said, “is my colleague Todd Portune.”

DeWine then took “a little bit of exception” to Portune’s suggestion the $31.5 million deal to transfer Drake wasn’t a good deal because, unlike Portune, DeWine said, he’d done his homework on the subject.

“Every commissioner had the opportunity to do exactly what I did,” DeWine said of analyzing the original lease and meeting with health-care experts and private health-care providers.

“If someone hasn’t done that at this point, I have a hard time believing that is someone else’s fault,” DeWine said.

During the same meeting, Portune stopped in the middle of speaking on issues at least twice as Heimlich, sitting right next to him, blew his nose.

Portune also pointed out, as the Drake discussion was at hottest, that Heimlich was talking privately in another part of the room and DeWine had left the room.

Portune also complained that DeWine’s Blackberry rang while he was speaking.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Portman nomination moves forward - UPDATED

Last night, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman’s nomination to become the nation’s new budget director.

This morning, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, said the Budget Committee, of which he is a member, also plans to hold a vote on Portman's nomination.

Bunning, who introduced Portman at the committee's hearing two weeks ago, proclaimed to reporters this morning that he predicts the vote will be "unanimous" for Portman.

Portman, a Terrace Park Republican and former Cincinnati area congressman, won the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's approval on a voice vote.

If approved by the Budget Committee, he still must be approved by the full Senate.

As director of the Office of Management and Budget, Portman would oversee the nation’s $2.8 trillion federal budget and work closely with the Bush administration to reduce the federal budget deficit.


The Senate Budget Committee voted today to back Portman's nomination as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said: "Rob Portman is an excellent choice to lead the OMB. His extensive legislative and executive branch service will be invaluable as we focus on continuing strong economic trends of robust job creation and surging revenues. At the same time, we are facing the challenges of a shifting demographic - the retirement of the baby boom generation - which will put enormous pressure on the nation's fiscal resources. Rob will be a tremendous asset as Congress and the administration work to keep pro-growth economic and tax policies in place, restrain spending, and ensure economic stability for future generations."

Ranking Member Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said: "I voted in the Budget Committee today to confirm Rob Portman as the new OMB Director. I have high regard for him personally and for his skills as public servant. Ambassador Portman has a very tough job ahead of him. He is inheriting a budget outlook of massive deficits and debt. I hope under his leadership the Bush administration will change course from the failed economic policies it has pursued since taking office. We must begin to put our fiscal house back in order."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Voinovich praises new Anti-Semitism envoy

Earlier today, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, attended the swearing-in of Gregg Rickman (pictured at right) as the State Department’s Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism. In 2004, the Senate unanimously passed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, legislation authored by Voinovich that required the position to be created. The bill also requires the State Department to provide a country-by-country report on anti-Semitic acts and harassment and the governmental response.

“I am thrilled that the State Department has finally appointed Mr. Rickman to this vital position. There is an undeniable rise in hate and anti-Semitism throughout the world, and it is critical that we stop it,” Voinovich said. “We are waging the battle not only to protect Jewish people — although the safety of any one group is intrinsic to the safety of all — but also because we want to ensure that we do not again sink into barbarity. ... This appointment is another step in that direction, and it is critical to promoting tolerance and countering messages of hate throughout the world.”

Rickman is charged with working with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union and with other countries to examine this problem, monitor what is happening, and get countries to institute better hate crimes legislation and better education.

Mistaken identity at the Health Alliance

As Ken Hanover, chief executive officer of the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, was praising the agreement that allows his agency to buy Drake Center, Inc., he praised all three Hamilton County commissioners -- even though he didn't mean to.

In a Friday press conference at Drake to announce the agreement, Hanover praised the perseverance of Commissioner Phil Heimlich.

Hanover also intended to praise the "tenacity" of Commissioner Pat DeWine, who personally injected himself into the discussions last month after a previous proposal for Drake to be bought by the Health Alliance failed and helped negotiate the new deal.

But in his comments to the Drake employees assembled at the noon press conference, instead of praising the tenacity of DeWine, Hanover inadvertantly praised the tenacity in the talks of Commissioner Todd Portune -- who wasn't involved in the talks that culminated with the agreement.

In fact, Hanover twice misidentified DeWine as Portune in his comments.

After the first time, Heimlich turned to DeWine -- they were seated next to each other at the press conference -- and asked if DeWine wanted something done to correct Hanover. Heimlich then turned to Karen Bankston, the Health Alliance vice president running Drake, and whispered in her ear. Bankston then rose and stood behind Hanover until he finished his comments.

She then whispered in his ear and Hanover sheepishly told the audience he had confused DeWine with Portune.

Jim Borgman
Today at the Forum
Paul Daugherty
Politics Extra
N. Ky. Politics
Pop culture review
Who's News
Roller Derby Diva
CinStages Buzz....
The Foodie Report
Classical music
John Fay's Reds Insider
High school sports
UC Sports
CiN Weekly staff