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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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fisher gets birds-eye view of hole in the ground

Thursday afternoon, Cincinnati Councilman Jeff Berding took Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher up to the 26th corporate offices of Bob Castellini at 312 Elm Street so he could give Fisher - named by Gov. Ted Strickland to be his director of development - a briefing on the status of The Banks development project.

Democratic political operative Brewster Rhoads, said to be the governor's likely choice to run his Cincinnati office, tagged along.

Berding said he chose Castellini's office for the briefing because Castellini has big picture windows in his penthouse office suite so the lieutenant governor could get an overhead view of the less-than-attractive expanse of mud and asphalt that may someday be The Banks.

After the briefing, Fisher headed to City Hall to meet with Mayor Mark Mallory and, later, planned to join Berding at a kick-off fundraiser for his council re-election campaign.

Ghiz, LLC

Cincinnati City Council member Leslie Ghiz has opened her own law practice.

Ghiz Law, LLC, located at 30 Garfield Place, Suite 600, specializes in labor and employment law, specifically in the areas of employment discrimination and municipal labor law. Ghiz is a member of the bar in Ohio and in West Virginia.

Ghiz has worked as the chief labor negotiator for the city of Cincinnati and then worked for a private firm in the Cincinnati area concentrating in labor and employment litigation. She has trial experience in Ohio and federal courts.

She was elected to Cincinnati City Council in 2005.

Her law office telephone number is (513) 421-4449. Her website, not yet operational, will be www.ghizlaw.com

Ohio's No. 2 to help out Berding today

From the Berding campaign

Berding Kicks off Re-election Campaign
with Special Guest Lt. Governor Lee Fisher

Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding will kick off his 2007 re-election campaign February 22 at the Westin Hotel at 5:00 pm. Councilman Berding has spent his first term on Council focused on cleaning up blighted neighborhoods, creating a long-term vision for City-wide economic empowerment, and streamlining government to improve City services while ensuring that tax dollars are being spent efficiently.

“Two years ago, I promised to bring strong leadership for change to City Hall. After a year in office, I believe it is evident that I have delivered while learning on the job. We’ve accomplished much, but change is hard and the challenges are great so that we have so much more to do. But I believe that Cincinnati can take a quantum leap forward over another two years and am proud to ask the voters to return me to Council,” said Councilman Berding.

Ohio’s new Lt. Governor Lee Fisher will be in attendance to show his support for Berding’s campaign.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Strickland promises money for highways, streetcars

After introducing a $7.7 billion transportation and public safety budget today, Gov. Ted Strickland promised that planned highway projects will remain intact and that his administration will help find federal money for such local projects as bringing streetcars back to Cincinnati.

In his State of the City speech Tuesday, Mayor Mark Mallory proposed a streetcar feasibility study.

"We believe there are federal resources. . .that would be available for those services," Strickland said of bringing trolleys or light rail back to cities like Cincinnati and Columbus.

Strickland told a Statehouse news conference that alternative forms of transportation fit in with his administration's efforts to protect air quality. He said some of his new initiatives will be included in the state's operating budget, when it is introduced on March 15.

The governor said he'll be "as minimally disruptive as possible" to transportation projects already planned, although he's asked for a 90-day review starting July 1 of all new projects. "I’m unwilling to say that there will be no changes or no disruptions."

Although he's concerned about state government's current debt, Strickland said he's willing to increase state transportation department borrowing of up to 15 percent of its total budget, from a current level of 8 percent, in order to protect road projects planned or under way.

Word to your mayor

Word wonk Gregory Korte has crunched some data on the words used by Mark Mallory and Charlie Luken in their State of the City addresses.

Read the fascinating results here

Indian Hill turning blue? (Part 2)

Well, not blue, exactly. Purple. Reddish purple. Magenta, maybe.

But, in the past several months, Indian Hill - the Bush family's home away from home - has seen the formation of its own Democratic club, complete with a ward chair and precinct executives for each of the village's seven precincts. Not many suburban Hamilton County communities have a full set of Democratic precinct executives.

Much of this is due to Marilyn Hyland, the former Democratic candidate for Hamilton County commissioner, who took it upon herself last fall to form the Indian Hill Democratic Club, volunteering to be the ward chair.

Last fall, an initial meeting of the organization drew well over 100 Indian Hill Democrats; and the club will meet again from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Livingston Lodge, 9350 Given Rd. The featured speaker for this event - which Hyland emphasizes is open to all, not just Indian Hill Democrats - is former Ohio governor and Cincinnati school board member John Gilligan, who will hold forth on the 2006 election results and gaze into his crystal ball on the 2008 election.

Meanwhile, Tuesday night, Barbara Gould, who has become one of the Ohio Democratic Party's most reliable fundraisers, hosted Gov. Ted Strickland and Ohio Democratic chairman Chris Redfern at her Indian Hill home for a big state party fundraising event.

But before we get carried away with this Democratic rival in Carl Lindner's back yard, it is worth nothing that Democrats are still outnumbered in Indian Hill. Last November, Strickland took only 31 percent of the vote in the governor's race. David Pepper did somewhat better, taking 39 percent in his successful campaign to knock off Phil Heimlich. Victoria Wulsin, the Indian Hill Democrat who ran against Jean Schmidt in the 2nd Congressional District, also ended up with 39 percent of the Indian Hill vote.

But, in last year's primary, about 400 Indian Hill voters took Democratic ballots - about four times as many as there were only a few years ago.

Got to start somewhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Clash today at city's Rules Committee

Dan Klepal reports in tomorrow's Enquirer

A hearing to grill members of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission on how they spend city money turned into questions about how a member of city council conducts his business.

During the Rules and Government Operations Committee meeting Tuesday, it was revealed council member Chris Bortz made a phone call last week to a city administrator responsible for executing a contract with the decades old human relations organization, telling the administrator to delay signing that contract until after Tuesday.

“I did get a call from a council member, asking me not to sign the CHRC contract,” said Michael Cervay, director of the Department of Community Development and Planning, adding that he has never received such a request from a council member in his two years at the city.
For good reason.

The request appears to be in violation of the city charter which states that, except for asking questions, council members must deal with the city manager and not the administrative staff. It’s a fundamental rule in the operation of Cincinnati’s city manager form of government, dating to 1925. The rule, written by Charterites, is intended to insulate administrators from political pressure.

Bortz is a Charterite.

“I think the question we should be asking is: Does any member of council have the right to interfere with the process?” councilman David Crowley said. “Are we doing our job and are we doing it correctly?”

Both he and council member Cecil Thomas, former chairman of the CHRC, called Bortz’s conversation with Cervay “improper.” Council member John Cranley also expressed concern over the phone call. None of the three council members said they were aware of Bortz’s phone call until days later.

“I don’t care about the hearing,” Cranley said. “Why was there an effort to hold up the contract?”

Bortz denied telling Cervay to not sign the contract.

“Telling Michael Cervay there’s some concern among council members and (he) might have to amend this contract, that’s information he’d probably like to have,” Bortz said. “He made his own decision. I didn’t tell him what to do. In this one instance, because there was a time crunch, I didn’t go through the city manager.

“I called Michael up, with whom I have a close working relationship, and made him aware that there is an issue that might double his workload. It was just a nice thing to do.”

That issue, relevant to members of city council such as Jeff Berding and Laketa Cole who supported a more conservative budget two months ago, was how much CHRC spends on administrative costs. Cole asked why the organization spent $135,000 on salaries and only $19,000 on programs. Cheryl Meadows, the CHRC’s director, said salaries pay for people in the street worker program, which identifies at-risk kids and helps keep them out of trouble. It’s impossible to separate salaries from the program, she said.

Thomas then questioned the purpose for bringing CHRC administrators into the hearing.
“This doesn’t pass the smell test,” Thomas said. “Let’s cut to the chase. We have the head of another African American organization begin dragged down here and grilled. There was a decision by a member of council to call a director and stop an action this council voted on. He went around the city manager, who happens to be African American.”

Berding said the reason for the hearing was to understand how CHRC was spending its money, and to make sure its efforts were aligned with other anti-violence programs. When asked if he was aware of Bortz’s phone call before it was made, Berding said: “I don’t know exactly how it transpired.”

Will Thomas, board president for the CHRC, said he is troubled that his organization is the only social service agency included in the 2007 budget that has been questioned about its spending.
“We don’t have anything to hide, but it did draw a red flag in my mind,” Thomas said. “Are they going to call in other agencies?”

More from Schmidt on airplane delays

Schmidt's latest column is all about her recent probe into airplane delays. Since it's not posted on her Web site yet, we're posting it here. As always, tell us what you think.

Washington, DC - At one time or another, most of us have experienced delays or other inconveniences as we've traveled on our nation's airlines. Whether it's a long line at security, a lost piece of luggage, or a weather delay, we've come to expect - and accept - these situations as part of our travels. But what is not acceptable is when these commonplace delays turn into lengthy ordeals for travelers. We've all heard the horror stories about passengers being stranded on planes for hours at a time without food, water, or access to restroom facilities.

Take the situations that recently happened in Austin and New York City. Dozens of planes loaded with passengers were kept in their seats for hours, and some passengers were trapped for nearly 10 hours. The stranded passengers reported that conditions were "subhuman" with no food, overflowing toilets, and no information. We ask how this can be allowed to happen, when in most cases help is just a short taxi back to the airport terminal.

Many flights are briefly delayed for valid reasons like bad weather or problems with air traffic control, but what causes passengers to be trapped in planes for hours at a time is what I want to understand - and hopefully, address in Congress.

I decided to investigate this matter and get some answers about this situation, and others like it, because I want to learn how prevalent these events are, and under what conditions they occur. I have also begun meeting with the major airlines to try to gain an understanding of how and why this continues to happen.

Some of my initial research found that, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), in the last year alone, passengers on more than 7,600 flights were forced to sit in their seats for more than two hours.

But these numbers don't tell the whole story. My office will randomly select 100 flights from the BTS list of flights that experienced taxi-out delays of more than two hours, and ask the airlines to explain why the flights were delayed. By working with all of the involved parties, I hope to get to the root cause of these horror stories.

Some of the passengers stranded on that flight for nearly 10 hours in Austin are making the news with a proposed "Airline Passenger Bill of Rights" that they are hoping Congress will enact. I admire these folks for taking action and doing something about this problem, but we need to know more about what is causing these delays before Congress can act. Passing more laws may be a short-term fix, and not offer a long-term solution to the root cause.

It is my hope to determine the cause of these delays as soon as possible. I think we need to look closely at our antiquated air traffic control infrastructure, most of which has not been updated since the 1950s. The FAA reauthorization bill is slated to come before Congress this year presenting us with an opportunity to bring this issue to light.

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am looking forward to working very closely with my colleagues to examine our current air traffic control system and identify key areas where we can make improvements. The research I am gathering now from the airlines will no doubt help in this discussion.

One thing is for certain, we simply cannot allow our nation's airliners to trap people inside planes for hours at a time. It is unacceptable and the time to act is now. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on this important issue. If you, or someone you know, has a personal account to share, please email us at
JeanSchmidt@mail.house.gov or submit written statements by fax at 202.225.1992.

Strickland clarifies refugee remarks 'one more time'

A visibly testy Gov. Ted Strickland today clarified his comments on Iraqi refugees for what he hopes would be "the final time." See full story here.

Strickland, on his 44th day in office, told an impromptu Statehouse news conference that he is frustrated with all the media attention he's getting on the topic. "This story has gone on for several days, almost as long as Anna Nicole Smith's death and burial has gone on, or Britney Spears' bald head. . . I think there are a lot of really important issues."

Last week, Strickland said Ohioans could not be expected to have open arms for Iraqis displaced by the war.

"It was an inartful response. This is not an excuse, but an explanation from where I was coming from. I am angry at our Iraq policy. I am angry at President Bush's continued refusal to admit we've got a serious problem," Strickland said today. "There are an estimated 2 to 2 1/2 million refugees as a result of this war. . .This is a Band-aid approach to a huge international refugee problem."

"I'm not worried about national attention, quite frankly. I'm worried about what I've got to do in Ohio to get this state turned around, this economy moving, the system of education improved. . ."

"This is not something that I've lain awake nights and worried about," he said, prompting more questions. "The welcome mat is out."

"Ted Strickland is not going to stand at the borders of the state and turn away any suffering people," the governor reiterated.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Another day, another prez candidate

Today it was Sam Brownback. Read about it here

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