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, September 22, 2006

Tailgatin' with Mayor Mark

Mayor Mallory to Pay Debt to the city of Pittsburgh

Urges Bengals Fans everywhere to join him on trip to support the team

Cincinnati – Mayor Mark Mallory is heading to Pittsburgh this weekend to fulfill his playoff challenge with the late Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bob O’Connor. On Saturday, Mayor Mallory is leading a delegation of Cincinnati City Officials to Pittsburgh to meet the new Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other Pittsburgh officials. The Mayor is encouraging Bengals fans everywhere to follow him to Pittsburgh and pack the tailgating areas around the stadium to support the Bengals.

“This year, we are the team to beat, and we are going to show that fact to Pittsburgh this weekend. We need to show up in full force to show them we mean business,” Mayor Mallory said. “We are leaving Saturday morning at 9:00. I am calling on everyone who can to join us at Paul Brown Stadium and caravan to Pittsburgh to support the Bengals.”

Last January when the Bengals met the Steelers in the playoffs, Mayor Mallory issued a challenge to the Mayor of Pittsburgh: the loser of the game would have to travel to the winning city be toured around by the opposing Mayor. Mallory was confident that he would be hosting Mayor O’Connor. But, early in the game, Carson Palmer injured his knee and the Steelers snuck out of Cincinnati with a win that would propel them to a Super Bowl Victory.

Sunday will be the first meeting of the two teams since the playoffs. Mallory is eager to settle the bet and show Pittsburgh that the Bengals are back and better than ever.

In addition to going to the game, the Mayor will be leading a team of Cincinnati City Officials to Pittsburgh on diplomatic exchange trip. The Mayor and city officials will meet with their counterparts in Pittsburgh to share information and learn new ideas and strategies. The delegation includes Assistant City Manager Deborah Holston, Fire Chief Robert Wright, and Assistant Police Chief Michael Cureton. The Mayor of Pittsburgh is going to take Mayor Mallory and the Cincinnati delegation on a tour of Pittsburgh.

Sadly, Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor passed away on September 1 after a short battle with a rare form of brain cancer. The new Mayor, Luke Ravenstahl is dedicated to honoring his mentor, Bob O’Connor’s legacy.

“Mayor O’Connor was truly proud of Pittsburgh and his beloved Steelers. He understood how to have fun and promote his city at the same time,” Mayor Mallory said. “I am honored to be able to pay tribute to his life by going to Pittsburgh and fulfilling our wager. I know he was looking forward to showing me around his city.”


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Heimlich and Pepper debate

Kimball Perry reports

Trying to oust the incumbent, Hamilton County Commission candidate David Pepper suggested Thursday that a county department spent $1 million on an efficiency report it never received.

The Hamilton County administration – and Phil Heimlich, the commissioner Pepper is trying to defeat – insist that’s not true.

Pepper, a Democrat, demanded the release of a 2004 efficiency study New Jersey-based A.T. Hudson Co. did for Hamilton County’s Department of Job & Family Services. That department is responsible for providing temporary cash payments, food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized day care and other public assistance to the needy.

At a Thursday debate, Pepper suggested Heimlich “waste(d) another $1 million” because Pepper believed Hudson hadn’t provided a final report despite being paid $958,950 to do so.

Eric Stuckey, Hamilton County’s chief deputy administrator, said that study of Job & Family Services was part of an overall efficiency study A.T. Hudson did on many county departments.
Stuckey called Hudson after the 2004 “draft final report” was delivered by Hudson to JFS to ask for the final report. Hudson told him the draft final was the final report.

“Calling a draft report final doesn’t make it a final report,” Pepper said. “They didn’t complete the process.”

The report resulted in efficiencies Hamilton County’s JFS implemented, saving $946,000 per year.

In total, Hamilton County paid Hudson $2.2 million for all the studies, including JFS.
Hudson’s report suggested massive savings but Stuckey said Hamilton County only counted actual savings.

In 2005, that was $11.6 million, an amount Heimlich insisted was “continuing” or would be saved every year from 2005 forward.

“That’s a heck of a return on investment,” Heimlich said.
The issue, Pepper said, is JFS and what he insisted was Heimlich’s attempt to avoid accountability of that department under his watch.

“The department that everybody is looking at across the state is (Hamilton County’s) Department of Job & Family Services. This doesn’t get to the true problems.” Pepper said.
Those are, Pepper added, the horrendous lack of oversight on JFS, with a $1.27 billion annual budget, Hamilton County’s largest department.

In separate state audits released within the last week, Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services was found to have commingled its money and had such poor accounting practices that one audit found it had to repay $224 million it improperly spent in federal money.
County officials responded they have done nothing wrong, the accounting practices they follow are the ones suggested by the state and that all of the money is question was spent on services for poor children and families.

Heimlich also noted that Hudson was hired based on an initiative jointly pushed by him and fellow Commissioner Todd Portune.

Portune, the lone Democrat of the three commissioners, has endorsed Pepper for Heimlich’s commission seat.

“He just needs to learn more about how government works,” Heimlich said of Pepper.

“Everybody makes mistakes. He’ll do better next time.”

No concrete plans for ad

In Columbus, Democratic and Republican pols all make a point of showing up for the Shamrock Club’s candidates’ night which was held on Wednesday. The Shamrock Club is the city’s largest Irish organization and hosts the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in town, closing downtown streets for three hours.

The scuttlebutt swirling around the party, along with the kegs of beer, was all about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland's supposed faux pas in his Cleveland debate with Republican Ken Blackwell that afternoon.

Immediately after the debate, the Blackwell camp sent an e-mail and video clip to a zillion closest friends saying Strickland had “demeaned” Ohio’s working men and women saying, “Without education, I probably would be doing what my brothers have done with their lives, finishing concrete for a living.”

The story being floated at the Shamrock Club was that labor was “mad as hell” at Strickland and that Blackwell intended to use the clip in a campaign ad.

Bill Anthony, chair of the Franklin County Democratic Party and a local leader of the OCSEA-AFSCME labor union, said it is not so that labor is upset with Strickland. “I used to pour concrete,” he said. “There’s nothing demeaning in that.”

Blackwell’s campaign spokesman, Carlo LoParo, said that “it was a stupid thing to say” but that the campaign has no plans to make an ad out of it.

Schedule of Heimlich-Pepper events

In the next few weeks before the Nov. 7 election, the candidates for Hamilton County Commissioner -- incumbent Republican Commissioner Phil Heimlich and challenger David Pepper, a Democrat -- will appear together at several events. The list was confirmed by Pepper's campaign but Heimlich's campaign hasn't responded to Enquirer requests to determine if the list is complete.

Here’s the list:

* Today (Sept. 21) – Noon 1 p.m., Commissioner Forum
Undercroft of Christ Church Cathedral, 318 E. Fourth St., Downtown Cincinnati.

* Sept. 217:30-8:30 p.m. Greenhills Forest Park Kiwanis Club
Mill Race Lodge in Winton Woods, 151 W. Sharon Road.

* Oct. 2, 7-9 p.m. AMOS Project Forum
Xavier University’s Cintas Center.

* Oct. 3, 7-9 p.m.
Junior League/Kids Voting Debate. Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.

* Oct. 5, 11:30 a.m. Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Music Hall’s Corbett Tower, 1243 Elm St.

* Oct. 10, 6-8:30 p.m. Cincinnatus Association, Xavier and Chamber of Commerce debate. Xavier University’s Schiff Center.

* Oct. 13, 10:15 a.m. 2006 Greater Cincinnati Real Estate Roundtable.
Westin Cincinnati, Presidential Ballroom, 21 E. Fifth St.
Title is “Quality if Place: Urban Amenities, Local Talent, and Economic Impact.” Their panel discussion is entitled “Issues and Opportunities: The Future Vision of Hamilton County.”

* Oct. 26, 7:30 a.m. CrimeStoppers address.

Montgomery Inn Boathouse, 925 Riverside Dr.

* Nov. 1, 7 p.m. League of Women Voters debate.
CET studio, 1223 Central Parkway, Cincinnati.

Chicken dance

Annie Hall of the Enquirer's Columbus Bureau reports from the scene of Wednesday's debate:

CLEVELAND -- Few Ohioans are aware four men are running for governor on the Nov. 7 ballot. And apparently, the two third-party candidates are willing to go to jail over being left out of televised debates.
Independent Bill Peirce and Green Party candidate Bob Fitrakis, however, are not going to be snubbed quietly.
The decision to include only Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican Ken Blackwell was made by debate organizers.
Before Wednesday’s debate, the second of three scheduled, both Fitrakis and Peirce hovered around the well-gaurded doors to WEWS-TV.
They spent their time harassing about 150 Blackwell and Strickland demonstrators, calling the major party candidates “chickens” for refusing to debate them.
Two of Peirce’s friends dressed in chicken costumes. One had the nametag “Ted” and the other, of course, was “Ken.”
However, Ted and Ken, the chickens, made the same mistake many other of the 150 demonstrators made, spending more time in the street than on the sidewalk. Evidently, they had been warned more than once to stay out of the traffic by members of the Cleveland police force. In any event, the chickens were unceremoniously hauled off in a police cruiser after being arrested for failing to comply with a lawful order and failure to use ordinary care.
“It isn’t fair,” Peirce said in an interview, “the crowd spilled into the street. The chickens weren’t at fault.”
Peirce, a member of the Libertarian Party, said his chicken friends were symbols meant to shame Blackwell and Strickland “for refusing to appear on the same platform with me.”
More upset at the chickens’ arrest than Peirce was Fitrakis who also wanted to be arrested.
“I can’t catch a break in this town,” said Fitrakis, who at one point shouted, “Why are police detaining Libertarian supporters but not Blackwell supporters?”
“I’m here because I believe in democracy. In a democracy all four of us would be on that podium,” Fitrakis told the Enquirer. “This crowd here and Peirce and the chickens and I have created a Bill of Rights enforcement zone.”
Unique among this year’s gubernatorial campaigns, foreign affairs is a major plank in Fitrakis’ platform.
“As long as we’re waging war nothing else will get done … our infrastructure won’t get rebuilt, jobs won’t be created. I want to know Blackwell and Strickland’s stand on Iraq. Those two don’t span the space from A to B.”
The third debate will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at the University of Cincinnati.
Peirce, Fitrakas and the chickens plan to be there.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Blackwell spin

From the Blackwell campaign

Strickland Lacks Specifics & Ducks Substantive Discussion

CLEVELAND - The second gubernatorial debate was a study in contrasts. Confident and passionate Secretary of State Ken Blackwell focused on his specific proposals for reform while Congressman and former prison psychologist Ted Strickland offered few specifics and sought to avoid substantive discussion.

“Today, I have been clear and specific on ways to cut waste in education,” Blackwell said. “Mr. Strickland has dodged giving details. I have been clear and specific on how to bring more accountability, flexibility and choice to education. Mr. Strickland has taken a pass on those specifics.”

“Just as a teacher needs a clear and specific lesson plan when teaching, a governor needs a clear and specific plan when leading Ohio to the education reform it critically needs,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell reiterated the major points of the comprehensive education reform proposal he unveiled yesterday. He focused on specific solutions to revamping and reforming Ohio’s education system. Blackwell discussed developing a primary and secondary education funding system that shifts reliance away from property taxes. He emphasized the importance of linking funding directly to students.

“Mr. Strickland is willing to serve a bureaucracy. I am willing to serve our students,” said Blackwell.

Strickland offered few specifics and made only vague references to how he would address deficiencies within Ohio’s education system. He continued to duck how he would pay for a laundry list of unimpressive but costly tweaks to education. Also, Strickland continued to criticize Ken Blackwell’s comprehensive plan, offered no more than ‘sideline sitting’ and empty comments.

“Time in and time out, whether talking education or the economy, my opponent only offers vague generalities,” Blackwell said. “Slogans are not a strategy. Empty platitudes are not a plan. And Mr. Strickland, vague promises are a runaround, not a turnaround.”

Blackwell’s primary and secondary education reforms center on developing a more equitable school funding system and examining innovative solutions such as pooled benefits, statewide purchasing, streamlined service delivery structures and developing a student-centered funding structure. His higher education initiatives focus on making college degrees more accessible, strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, improving cooperation between the Ohio Board of Regents and the state Department of Education, reducing redundancies among public universities and developing a student-centered funding structure.

The Strickland spin

From the Strickland campaign:

Strickland Calls For Strengthening Public Education, Lowering Tuition Costs In Second Gubernatorial Debate

Columbus, Ohio - In the second Ohio gubernatorial debate in Cleveland today, Congressman Ted Strickland highlighted his comprehensive education plan to Turnaround Ohio and pledged to work with the state legislature to once and for all fix the unconstitutional school funding system that has burdened local property owners.

Strickland said Ohio's best economic growth strategy was a highly educated and skilled workforce that studies show are the best indicator of growing economies. Beginning in pre-school and continuing through adult education programs, Strickland laid out steps to strengthen education and access at every level.

"Ted laid out a comprehensive and responsible plan to turnaround Ohio's education system, and every dollar is accounted for," said Strickland for Governor spokesman Keith Dailey. "We heard soundbites, not substance from Ken Blackwell today. Ohioans are tired of gimmicks and Ken Blackwell represents more of the same Republican leadership that has failed our state."

Strickland laid out his plan to expand access to early learning and early care for 3 and 4-year olds, when research shows that spending $1 yields at least $1.62 return on investment by creating more educated and skilled workers. He also discussed plans to strengthen teacher training by expanding access to national board certification, making tuition more affordable and predictable, and providing worker training incentives for companies that create jobs.

In contrast to Strickland's comprehensive plan to Turnaround Ohio, Republican Ken Blackwell offered hollow proposals. His flagship 65-cent education plan has been panned by even his fellow Republicans. Former George W. Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige called it "one of the worst ideas in education" and Chester Finn Jr., an education official under President Ronald Reagan has called it a "gimmick."

While Strickland emphasized universal access to high-quality public education, Blackwell called for expanding charter schools, even though half of them are failing, many lack oversight and accountability and they drain $500 million a year out of our public school system. In fact, one of Blackwell's largest donors, David Brennan, received more than $100 million in taxpayer money last year to operate mostly failing schools.

And even as higher education funding has gone down and tuitions have skyrocketed, Blackwell's higher education plan would offer vouchers that would drain money out of our public research institutions and raise tuitions even higher. In the first year after such a scheme was tried in Colorado, tuitions rose an average of 19 percent.

Despite his transparent attempts to separate himself, it's clear that Ken Blackwell represents a continuation of the failed Republican leadership in Columbus over the last 16 years.

'A magical moment in Ohio history'

Ken Blackwell, while praising his wife, Rosa's, achievements as superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, said, "This is a magical moment in Ohio history."

Blackwell, as he closed, praised Rosa Blackwell for bringing the city school district in so-called "academic watch" up to the state Department of Education standard of "continuous improvement."

"She's done that by focusing on the child," Blackwell proclaimed proudly and confidently.

He said that the Cincinnati schools have pursued bold and innovative initiatives. They also are sending dollars into the classroom, not the bureaucracy, Blackwell said of the Cincinnati schools under his wife's leadership.

"That's where the magic is," he said.

Was that a line from a Wendy's ad???

"Mr. Strickland is worse than, 'Where's the beef,' Ken Blackwell said, referring to the popular fast-food hamburger television ad.

"Here's the bull."

Strickland rips into standardized tests

"The Bible says 'Let not the world squeeze you into its mold,'" Strickland said, noting that Ohio schools currently treat every student too much alike.

"None of us would want to be judged on a single test," Strickland said of standardized testing, presumably referring to Ohio's proficiency tests used to grade schools and advance students to upper grades.

Blackwell countered that some of Strickland's ideas amounted to treating schoolchildren inequitably. "No more soft bigotry of low expectations," he said.

Strickland called Blackwell's statement "a red herring," saying he won't throw away educational standards for young black men.

Back to higher education

Earlier, Ted Strickland said, "The state has failed our college students," noting that four-year colleges now cost 46 percent more than the national average higher education cost.

Two-year colleges in Ohio are running 52 percent higher than the national average, he added.

"That is intolerable," he said.

Strickland has proposed a "knowledge bank" in which parents, employers, churches and other relatives can save money for a child's future college education.

Back and forth

The candidates have begun to test each other's nerves now, and Strickland did begin to fumble over his words.

This after Blackwell accused Strickland of using "smoke and mirrors" with his plans and promises.

Strickland countered that the state needs institutional leadership to solve its massive educational problems at the public school and higher education levels.

Strickland said it's untrue that he has called for spending caps, for instance. "I have never said that I'm for caps."

"Sideline critic"

"Mr. Strickland hasn't done his homework," Ken Blackwell said of Strickland.

"He wants to be a sideline critic," Blackwell said a few minutes earlier of Ted Strickland.

Blackwell reiterated that private schools including charters offer inner city youths and others "a way out of disfunctionality."

"My interest is in serving students," Blackwell said. "I look to empower teachers. He looks to empower unions."

I'm troubled, I'm really troubled...This is intolerable

"I'm troubled, I'm really troubled," Ted Strickland countered. "This is intolerable."

Some people are getting very rich," Strickland said of private charter school operators, naming White Hat Management's David Brennan of Akron as a leading example of someone "getting rich and on the backs of children."

"Charter schools should be held to the same accountability standards," Strickland said.

Ohio taxpayers would be shocked to learn that $500 million in taxpayer money went to private charter schools from public school systems last year, Strickland said.

Balancing the budget with tax increases

Ken Blackwell countered that Strickland "intends to balance the docket with tax increases."

Blackwell said he wants to give children in urban schools to have a choice. The broader basket of schools including private-run charters offers inner city students more, he said.

"His math is quite fuzzy"

Ted Strickland just came right back fighting, picking apart Blackwell's numbers.

"We all want the same thing," Strickland said. "His math is quite fuzzy. It does not add up."

To which Blackwell retorted to TV studio laughter, "Mr. Strickland is a man without a plan."

Blackwell, Strickland have at it...

In a budget of $26 billion dollars, Ken Blackwell said, "anybody who is worth their weight in salt can find money" for educational needs and to make Ohio's economy vital again.

Blackwell said it's clear that Ohio schools have a deficiency in science and technology and math.

"I know how to get that money, but I have every faith in the legislature and the citizens of this state."

"Mr. Strickland is ready to serve a bureaucracy,'' Blackwell said. "I'm ready to serve our students."

Blackwell also stresses state's education needs

Just as he promised in the last debate, Ken Blackwell promised to allocate $1.2 billion to Ohio's public education system without raising taxes.

"Ohio needs a leader," Blackwell said. "I want to lead us there."

For instance, Blackwell said his 65-percent solution would cap public school administrative spending at 35 percent of school budgets.

"Can you be specific Mr. Strickland?" Blackwell asked. "More specifics please."

"Mr Strickland. Platitutdes are not plans,'' he continued.

Opening remarks

As in the last debate at Youngstown, Ted Strickland started by talking about his humble roots in his opening remarks. He said he was the second of nine in his family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college.

"I believe in the value of public education," he said.

College is becoming increasingly unaffordable, he said.

"I want to change that," Strickland said.

No chickening out

The second of four gubernatorial debates is about to begin...but it's busier outside.

As Statehouse intern Annie Hall and I walked into WEWS-TV's Cleveland studio, Green Party candidate Bob Fitrakis was shouting across East 30th Street to police who were warning protesters that they were being unruly and might be arrested.

The Associated Press reported that two people in chicken suits, who are volunteers with Bill Peirce's Libertarian Party campaign had been detained. We do not know yet if they had been arrested, but a student camera crew from Kent State University student newspaper has it on video.

Peirce and Fitrakis have complained about not being invited to the debates along with the two major party candidates. But the television station hosts say they are following guidelines used by the League of Women Voters in which independent candidates polling at less than 5 percent are not included in debate forums.

More on that later.

The debate is about to start between Republican Ken Blackwell and Democrat Ted Strickland.

Ohio Poll: Strickland leads by 12

Democrat Ted Strickland holds a 12 percentage point lead over Republican Ken Blackwell in the Ohio governor’s race, while Democrat Sherrod Brown’ has a small lead over Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, according to the new Ohio Poll.

Strickland lead in the Ohio Poll is smaller than 21 percent lead reported by the Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday, but considerably more than the 5.5 percent lead he had in last week’s Zogby Interactive Poll.

The Ohio Poll, conducted by UC’s Institute for Policy Research, showed Brown, a congressman from Lorain, with a four percentage point lead over DeWine. With the poll’s margin of error 3.8 percent margin of error factored in, the DeWine-Brown race could be considered a virtual dead heat.

In the governor’s race, Strickland was the choice of 50 percent of those polled, while Blackwell took 38 percent. Five percent was divided between independent candidates Bill Peirce and Bob Fitrakis, while seven percent were undecided.

Strickland had the support of 81 percent of Democrats interviewed, while Blackwell had support from 68 percent of Republicans. One of every five Republicans polled said they would vote for Strickland. Strickland also had a large lead among independents – 55 percent to Blackwell’s 30 percent.

The Ohio Poll conducted phone interviews with a random sample of 671 likely voters from Sept. 7 through Sept. 17. No interviews were conducted on Sept. 11, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another coup for Peirce on creativity

Bill Peirce, a Libertarian running as an independent for governor, may not get much media attention but his campaign is definitely thinking outside the box -- or in this case, coop.

In a news release titled "Something’s Fowl in Ohio," Peirce cried foul for the second time this month over being snubbed by the two major party candidates participating in Wednesday's noon debate in Cleveland.

Although he was not invited to debate Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican Ken Blackwell, Peirce plans to join his supporters outside the WEWS-TV Channel 5 studio for an hour before the debate, from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m.

The Peirce campaign said it has invited two "very special guests" to join them at the rally, but didn't elaborate. Peirce, an economist and professor emeritus at Case Western Reserve University, also promised to be available to the media at his office later on.

Peirce said he's happy to answer any and all questions about public school funding, higher education and other topics raised during the debate -- which is supposed to focus on education. The other independent candidate appearing on the Nov 7. ballot, Green Party candidate Bob Fitrakis, also was not invited to the second of four formal debates.

The news release closes, in giant bold letters: "Blackwell, Strickland CHICKEN to debate PEIRCE."

Poll: Strickland way out front

Democrat Ted Strickland holds a 21 percentage point lead over Republican Ken Blackwell in the Ohio governor’s race, according to an independent poll released Tuesday.

The Quinnipiac University poll, conducted Sept. 11-17 , showed Strickland with 55 percent to Blackwell’s 34 percent.

Last week, a Zogby Interactive poll sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, showed a much closer race. That poll, conducted Aug. 29 through Sept. 5, had Strickland with 47.5 percent to 41.8 percent for Blackwell.

Wednesday, the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research will release its latest Ohio Poll on the Ohio governor’s race and the U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Mike DeWine and Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown.

Poll makes Pepper proud

David Pepper has a 12-point lead in the Democrat’s attempt to oust incumbent Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich.

The results are from a Channel 9/Survey USA poll of 479 likely voters.

It showed that 54 percent would vote for Pepper were the election today while 42 percent would keep Heimlich in the job he has had since 2002. Four percent were undecided.

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.6.

“It’s encouraging that an independent poll confirms what we have been saying and hearing all campaign— that people are ready for something new in Hamilton County,” Pepper noted in a press release.

Heimlich didn’t immediately respond to telephone calls for comment.

An August poll paid for by Pepper showed him with a 5-point lead.

Heimlich called to say he'd been told the Channel 9 poll was "not valid" because of the way it was conducted.

How to rev Jesse Jackson's rockets

If you want to see Jesse Jackson get all worked up, ask him about the 30 to 40 percent of Ohio's African-American voters who are telling pollsters they will vote for Republican Ken Blackwell for governor.

Then stand back, plant your feet firmly on the ground and prepare to weather a tsunami of words, none of them particularly complimentary to the candidate who could become the first African-American governor of Ohio.

"Some people might be blurred by pride in having a black man in that office, but they must understand - you choose your leader based on public values,'' Jackson told the Enquirer, standing out on a balcony at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where he was about to address a gathering of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.

"Some people were proud of Clarence Thomas when he was nominated,'' said Jackson of very conservative black Supreme Court justice. "Nobody's proud of Clarence Thomas now.''

Jackson reached in his coat pocket and whipped out a copy of an Aug. 24, 1990 Enquirer op-ed piece written by Blackwell when he was running for Congress. In it, Blackwell called the Civil Rights Act of 1990 "fraudulent" and a piece of "legislative legerdemain,'' and urged President George H.W. Bush to veto it.

Jackson blamed Blackwell, in his role as Ohio secretary of state, for making it more difficult for inner-city black voters to cast their ballots in 2004 and said the situation is getting nothing but worse with new rules restricting voter registration driv es and requiring voters to provide photo IDs.

'He's has a right to be on the Bush-Cheney-Gonzalez team,'' Jackson said. "But people need to vote for candidates who are on their side.''

Jackson also suggested that Blackwell should step aside as Ohio's chief elections officer in an election where he is a top-of-the-ticket candidate.

"You can't be an owner and a player on the same team,'' Jackson said. "Even Michael Jordan couldn't pull that off.''

Monday, September 18, 2006

Watching Wednesday's debate from afar

Many Ohioans complained about the lack of audio and video access to the first of four gubernatorial debates, held in Youngstown Sept. 5.

Well, there are at least two ways to watch Wednesday's debate in Cleveland -- which is supposed to focus on education topics -- between Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

If you are a Time Warner Cable television customer in the Cincinnati market, and your TV goes up to channel 105, you can watch the noon debate live on the Ohio News Network. ONN will rerun the hourlong debate in its entirety at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

For the Internet-savvy, the ABC affiliate hosting Wednesday's debate in Cleveland, WEWS-TV, will broadcast the debate live on its web site, www.newsnet5.com

If any readers know of additional television or radio stations (or Internet sites) planning to carry Wednesday's debate live. . . please let us know so we can let you know. You can e-mail the details to me at jcraig@enquirer.com

Also, Enquirer readers can look for live blog updates here shortly before, during and after Wednesday's debate.

Jesse Jackson's back in town

On the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s way to a reception hosted by the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center this evening, he rallied a coalition of Ohio’s election conspiracists in Columbus.

More than 100 people from 54 Ohio counties met at The King Arts Complex to, among other things, rehash what they called the stolen election of 2004 and enlist a "rainbow of representatives" to stand guard at Ohio’s polls Nov. 7.

Bob Fitrakis, Ohio’s Green Party candidate for governor, gave Jackson credit for bringing the 2004 presidential race in Ohio to the nation’s attention.

Alleged irregularities in the Ohio race have been highlighted in the national media and have clogged the courts with state and federal lawsuits brought by such organizations as the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now and the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

"Ohio is a battleground state when it comes to the integrity of our democracy," Jackson, a Democrat and former presidential candidate, said in an interview with the Enquirer. "We’ve compounded the 2004 schemes here with voter suppression schemes. There is no southern state today with more voter suppression schemes than Ohio."

When asked where he ranks the importance of Ohio’s November vote, Jackson said, "It’s at the very top."

"The Secretary of State rather overtly increased the burdens of voter registration,'' Jackson said. "This state shamelessly is making voter access more difficult."

"It’s absurd," said Carlo LoParo, campaign spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican who is running for govenor.

"Ohio had record voter registration in 2004. Ohio’s voter registration rolls are the highest they have ever been even though the state continues to lose population," LoParo said. "The U.S. Census Bureau found that African-American participation and participation by voters 18 to 24 years-of-age were at record levels during the presidential campaign."

"Jesse Jackson is a partisan operative who is engaging in an unfortunate campaign of misinformation," LoParo said.

The Banks trumps bus service

Upset at paying high air fare at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, two Hamilton County politicians want to see how viable it is to start a luxury bus shuttle service to other airports within 100 miles.

Two other Hamilton County politicians, though, believe that is for the private sector – not government – to decide.

The shuttle idea was presented Monday to Hamilton County Commissioners by Commissioner Todd Portune and Auditor Dusty Rhodes – both residents of western Hamilton County where noise from the airport across the river has caused complaints for years.

Portune and Rhodes wanted the full board of commissioners to approve a plan to set up the framework for a feasibility study for the idea. That study could then be used by private companies who might be interested in starting such a business.

In addition to sticking it to the airport, controlled by the Kenton County Airport Board, the shuttle service would help to provide competition to CVG, dominated by Delta Air Lines, Rhodes and Portune argued.

By allowing Hamilton County residents to shuttle to airports in Dayton, Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville, that also would encourage residents and business to remain in the area instead of moving to areas where airfares are more competitive, they said.

But the two Republican Commissioners – Pat DeWine and Phil Heimlich – believed the study should be done by private interests.

DeWine wondered if the idea was that great why no such business now exists and added he didn’t think government money should be used that way.

“Like The Banks?” Rhodes and Portune countered in separate arguments.

The Banks is the residential, commercial and retail neighborhood planned for the north shore of the Ohio River and seen as vital to the economic futures of Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati with the additional property and sales taxes it would generate.

Hamilton County, Portune and Rhodes noted, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on two professional sports stadiums and still decided to spend tens of millions of dollars of public money to attract a private developer to build The Banks.

Pepper: Blame Heimlich, but don't point fingers

The audit released last week that calls for Hamilton County’s Department of Job & Family Services to pay back $224 million in money spent on poor children and families has become a political issue for Democrats.

David Pepper, the Democrat trying to oust incumbent Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, is holding a joint press conference this afternoon with Barbra Sykes, the Democrat running for Ohio Auditor.

They will “call for an end to the blame game” over the audit’s financing, they announced in a Sunday press notification that had a headline of “Stop Pointing Fingers & Start Providing Answers.”

That came less than a day after Pepper issues a Saturday press release pointing the finger of blame for the audit’s findings at his opponent.

Calling it “Phil’s $2 Billion Dilemma,” Pepper noted the audit – that admitted it’s pronouncement that Hamilton County improperly $1.7 billion in federal funds for poor families and children was speculative because a real number couldn’t be determined – ran from 2002 to 2004.

Those are Heimlich’s first two years as commissioner.

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