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Enquirer reporters give the scoop on what your politicians are doing

Jessica Brown,
Hamilton County reporter

Jon Craig,
Enquirer statehouse bureau

Jane Prendergast,
Cincinnati City Hall reporter

Malia Rulon,
Enquirer Washington bureau

Carl Weiser,
Blog editor

Howard Wilkinson,
politics reporter

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Friday, May 18, 2007

DeWine invites you to meet Harper

Pat DeWine's speaking up for City Council candidate Andre Harper at a Harper fundraiser Tuesday.

DeWine says he's excited about the Republicans' "very strong slate" of candidates this year and says he's been trying to help all of them in hopes of picking up more of the nine seats. (Two of the nine council members are Republicans now - Chris Monzel and Leslie Ghiz)

He credits Harper, whom was on the tax levy review committee, for "adding accountability to the levy process. As a result of the strong review process we had in place, we were able to reduce property taxes by over $100 million below inflation-adjusted levels over the next five years. Andre's efforts were a big part of our success."

The invitation asks for a donation of at least $20. It's Tuesday, 6-8 p.m. at Mr. Pitiful's, 1323 Main St., Over-the-Rhine. RSVP by Sunday to michele@andreharper.com.

Harper's Web site: www.andreharper.com


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Republican no more

Steve Black knows he has some explaining to do.

The Indian Hill lawyer has voted in Republican primaries every two years for his adult life, as recently as 2006. In a state where you declare your party loyalty by choosing either a Democrat or Republican ballot in a primary, that pretty much settles the issue - you're a Republican.

But Black says he is a Republican no more. Thursday afternoon, standing on the back deck of his Indian Hill home before a crowd of about 30 Indian Hill friends and neighbors - some of whom we know to be Republicans - he announced he is a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.

Before the event, Black sat on the back porch waiting for his guests to arrived and acknowledged that, yes, the biggest challenge he will have is convincing Democratic voters in the seven-county district that he is, in fact, one of them.

"I've had enough of the Republican party,'' Black said. "I'm disturbed by the direction that a Republican in the White House has taken this country. I'm done with them.''

Yes, Black has been a Republican, but he comes from a family that has not always followed the party line.

His mother, Helen Black, is a long-time environmental activist and a bona fide Democrat. His father, retired judge Robert L. Black, ran as a Republican for decades, but, in the middle of the 2004 election season, he wrote a blistering op-ed piece in the Enquirer, blasting George W. Bush and the party and declaring his political independence.

Thursday, the brand-new Democratic candidate gave a speech lambasting the Bush administration, calling himself "angry and frustrted that the Bush administration has led us so astray.''

He made it clear he doesn't have much use for the woman who now represents the 2nd District in Congress - Rep. Jean Schmidt. Schmidt, Black said, has made the 2nd District "the laughingstock of the country because (she) has failed to behave with dignity and decorum."

Too soon to tell if this conversion will lead to a Democratic primary win next May. There are lots of hurdles to jump - the biggest one being Victoria Wulsin, his Indian Hill neighbor who managed to come within a whisker of beating Schmidt last fall.

More candidates may jump in the race. Jeff Sinnard, who has run twice before, says he is in. Russ Arey, a party leader from Schmidt's home county of Clermont, and State Rep. Todd Book of Scioto County said to be mulling it over.

Lots of competition for a newly-hatched Democrat to deal with.

The Bad Pitch, But For Good

Mayor Mark Mallory's bad Opening Day pitch gets revived, again, this weekend when he takes a load of squishy balls to Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers convention. Get it? He's "pitching" the city....

Anyway, on the balls will be the Web site for his Shop 52 effort to attract stores to the city's 52 neighborhoods. The site's not up yet, but it will be soon: www.cincyshop52.com.

He's also taking with him something else to throw at the retailers, shopping center owners, marketing specialists and others at the convention - demographics done by a national not-for-profit group called Social Compact. The numbers say Cincinnati's more populated and richer than the census thinks.

Here's the rest of the data


New Faces on the Third Floor

After two years working for Laketa Cole, aide T.J. White is leaving to finish his master's in public administration. He was supposed to be gone a couple of weeks ago, but stayed around to see Council on Wednesday night unanimously approve something he worked a lot on - the ordinance that gives a 100% real property tax exemption for new construction or rehabs that fit federal green building standards.

Cole's two new aides are Maggie Ardell and Darina Mays.


Radio ads attack Voinovich

The Democratic-leaning activist group Americans United for Change just unveiled today two radio spots attacking Sen. George Voinovich, a Cleveland Republican, and calling on him to put an end to the war in Iraq.

Voinovich has said he does not support the recent troop surge in Iraq but has declined to vote for measures in the Senate designed to stop it.

The ads were produced using a 1-800 number by which regular people were able to leave messages about Voinovich and the war. The group then choose the top recordings for the ads.

CLICK HERE to read the text of the ads.

But you won't hear the ads unless you travel north – they're only playing in Columbus (on WTVN and WSNY) and in Cleveland (on WTAM). The total buy is $30,000.

The group previously launched ads against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, whom the group calls " Obstructionist-in-Chief."

Strickland signs anti-discrimination order

Here's the full text of the Executive Order signed by Gov. Ted Strickland this morning restoring a ban on discrimination against current or prospective state employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity:

Executive Order 2007 – 10S

Establishing Policy Against Discrimination
Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

The State of Ohio Should Treat Employees Respectfully. Persons employed by the State of Ohio are a vital part of creating and fostering efficient governmental practices and ensuring that all citizens of Ohio receive the support and services that they need and to which they are entitled. Because of the contributions that State employees make, their colleagues and supervisors should treat them with respect and dignity.

The State of Ohio Should Seek to Attract Top Quality Employees. The government must compete for the best employees it can obtain. Discriminatory conduct in hiring and other employment related decisions undermines the State’s ability to attract and retain the best possible employees.

State and Federal Law Already Prohibit a Range of Discriminatory Practices. Ohio law, consistent with federal law, prohibits employers, including the State, from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, national original, veteran status, disability, age, or sex. However, there are no such laws that prohibit employers from discriminating in employment related decisions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination is Currently Occurring in State Government. Information compiled by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission documents ongoing and past discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in employment-related decisions by personnel at Ohio agencies, boards and commissions. Such discriminatory conduct undermines the effectiveness of employees discriminated against, prevents the State from attracting the best available talent to work on behalf of the people of Ohio, and offends basic notions of human dignity.

Applicable Definitions. The following definitions apply to the requirements of this Order:

a. Sexual Orientation: A person’s actual or perceived homosexuality; bisexuality; or heterosexuality, by orientation or practice, by and between adults who have the ability to give consent.

b. Gender Identity: The gender a person associates with him or herself, regardless of the gender others might attribute to that person.

Prohibition Against Discrimination. For the reasons stated above, I am declaring it to be the policy of the State of Ohio that no person employed by a Cabinet agency or by a State of Ohio Board or Commission may discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in making any of the following employment related decisions:

a. Hiring
b. Layoff
c. Termination
d. Transfer
e. Promotion
f. Demotion
g. Rate of Compensation
h. Eligibility for In-Service Training Programs

Management of Discrimination Complaints. Any person who believes that an agency, board, or commission employee has discriminated against him or her in violation of this Order may file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Division/Equal Employment Opportunity Section of the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. All such complaints will be investigated and resolved within the timeframe allowed for claims of discrimination that are recognized by Ohio law. Persons engaging in discrimination in violation of this order will be subject to discipline commensurate with the sanctions that would be applied to illegal discriminatory conduct.

8. I signed this Executive Order on May 17, 2007 in Columbus, Ohio and it will expire on my last day as Governor of Ohio unless rescinded before then.

You can read more about the order and reader comments here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Guess What City Council Debated Tonight

Update: There were several comments on the original blog that purported to be from Scott Gehring.

They weren't, according to Gehring. They have been deleted.

Arts funding. I know, you're shocked.

For 45 minutes, members talked about Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell and his arts committee's recommendations for grant recipients from the city's capital arts fund. The proposal before council called for giving $6,000 to the American Institute of Architects Cincinnati, $25,000 to the American Sign Museum, $10,000 to Ballet Tech Cincinnati, $50,000 to the Clifton Arts Center, $2,500 to CinStages Web Site, $5,000 to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, $25,000 to the Madisonville Community Arts Center, $1,500 to the Queen City Concert Band and $6,000 to the New Stage Collective.

This is a different pot of money than the other arts capital funding debate over whether to spend $3.8 million for four major cultural buildings in the city (Cincinnati History Museum, Music Hall, Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Cincinnati Art Museum) plus create a $600,000 fund for smaller arts groups that would also pay for festivals and parades like the Taste of Cincinnati.

The former plan was on for passage by council tonight, which made a perfect chance for those who oppose Tarbell's $3.8 million plan (that would be Councilmen Chris Bortz and Jeff Berding and Councilwoman Laketa Cole and Leslie Ghiz) to grill him about this pot of money, too. Basically, Tarbell, as chairman of council's arts committee, chooses the winners. The four didn't approve.

Some pretty harsh words flowed.

Ghiz and Cole both said they're disgusted. Ghiz tried to get the measure referred back to the arts committee for more discussion, but she and her three colleagues were out-voted.

Still, the debate continued.

John Cranley chimed in with: "Let's cut to the chase. We have several members of council who are angry at Mr. Tarbell." To suggest the process for applying for arts grants was flawed or wrong "is absurd. Nothing is being done secretly."

Ghiz said Cranley's "halo is blinding me over here" and "that you're able to spin anything to make yourself look fabulous."

Mayor Mark Mallory cut her off, stopping the proceedings for a few minutes - to let the high school students who were watching the process go home. He got a few laughs when he said they'd gotten a good look at the legislative process.

After council resumed, David Crowley said he'd never before heard any complaints about the arts grant process. He said it was "unpleasant and unfair attacking the integrity of the vice mayor."

Cole said it's her right to ask questions and she shouldn't be accused of attacking her colleagues for doing so.

In the end, all the agencies in tonight's package got their money. None of them got it unanimously, though. Chris Monzel separated out four - the sign museum, Ballet Tech, Clifton and Madisonville arts centers. Everyone but Ghiz voted for them. The money for the other five passed with six of the nine supporting. Ghiz, Berding and Monzel voted against them.

Then, Berding, Cranley and Mallory made plans to go out to dinner together.


Reece calls for action, not more studies

Cincinnati businessman Steve Reece, at his first meeting as a member of the Ohio Commission on African American Males today, said he's tired of studies -- but wants action.

Reece of Monfort Heights said Gov. Ted Strickland didn't propose adding more than $1 million to the commission's budget for more studies and guest speakers. "He increased the budget because he now wants an action program, moving and challenging in these neighborhoods for African-American males."

"We can just have tea and make a report,'' Reece said, but that's not why he agreed to accept the gubernatorial appointment to the commission, as reported here:

High tuition, high unemployment, high incarceration rates, low high school graduation rates and a lack of health insurance for young black males contributes "to the most serious problem in Ohio. This is serious and we don't have time for studies."

Two cabinet members attended today's quarterly meeting, but Reece also suggested inviting hospital executives and the governor.

Other commission members were clearly energized by the remarks of Reece and others.

"Yes, brother Reece, it means boldness. . . You're not asked to serve because you're comfortable,'' said Angela L. Cornelius, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. "You're asked to serve because you can be comfortable in uncomfortable situations."

According to its mission statement, the commission works to improve the quality of life for African-American males in Ohio by identifying problems and solutions in the areas of health, education, employment, economics and criminal justice.


Demolitions, one at a time?

In light of City Manager Milton Dohoney's desire to tear down a bunch of buildings in the city this year, you might find this interesting:

The city bids separately for every single property it wants demolished. Wouldn't that make the process take longer?

Council members Jeff Berding, Laketa Cole and Leslie Ghiz think it probably does. They asked in February for a report from the administration on the possibility of saving time and money by soliciting demolition bids for groups of buildings instead.

Dohoney reported back last week with two ideas:

1. Year-long permits to "pre-qualify" contractors for projects less than $25,000. When a building or group of buildings needed to come down, city officials would seek informal quotes from these contractors, choose the cheapest and request a purchase order. A purchase order takes 24 to 48 hours, compared with an average of 30 days the current way.

The city could even make some money off this one, the report says, by charging a fee for the permit.

2. For projects between $25,000 and $100,000, a new request-for-qualifications (RFQ) process. Demolishers would be chosen based on statements of qualifications they submit and contracts would be awarded to the one with the lowest and best quote.

More costly demolitions, the report recommends, still must be handled by an individual competitive bid process.

The report could be on council's agenda tonight. The administration could start implementing the changes as soon as council approves them.


Fruit vs. Frito-Lay chips

Rep. Jean Schmidt wants to know: Are people using their food stamps to buy apples and bananas or snack food? And if they are choosing snack food, is it because of the price?

"I was shocked to find out that the federal government has no data telling us what types of food are being purchased with food stamps," Schmidt wrote in her weekly column, released today.

Schmidt, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, says she has organized a bipartisan working group of lawmakers to take a closer look at how the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the Food Stamp program, starting with a look at what is being purchased with food stamps.

"Are more snack foods purchased than fruits and vegetables? How often are fruits and vegetables purchased?" asked the Miami Township Republican. "Once we know what is being purchased we can then look at how to foster healthier choices."

"Are purchases based simply on price with little consideration of nutritional value? Certainly when many snack foods cost less than apples or bananas, the decision is an easy one," she wrote.

The House Agriculture Committee is charged this year with writing the nation's next farm bill.

Chabot: Stop high gas prices!

Rep. Steve Chabot is upset: Gas prices are soaring again to over $3 a gallon and he says it's time Congress does something about it.

Recall last summer? Gas prices were high then too. So Chabot introduced a bill to give consumers a tax credit for the high prices. The bill never passed.

Chabot is hoping legislation he and other members of the House Judiciary Committee are pushing has a better chance. Considering that the bill - called the “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act” (“NOPEC”) - has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, it just may have legs.

The bill, which lawmakers will discuss during a House Judiciary Committee hearing today, would allow the U.S. government to sue member nations of OPEC for price gouging.

"OPEC ministers recently announced that they would not increase production or even offer their spare oil capacity to respond to rapidly increasing oil prices. Instead they will stand by while our oil and gasoline prices go through the roof," wrote Chabot, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., in a letter sent yesterday to other lawmakers, asking for their support on their legislation.

"The OPEC nations have for years conspired to drive up prices of imported crude oil, gouging American consumers. Their price-fixing and supply-limiting conspiracy is a clear violation of U.S. antitrust laws, yet we have no recourse for action against these nations," the lawmakers wrote. "It is time for Congress to step in to enable U.S. authorities to take legal action combating these egregious violations."

To read the bill text, go to the Library of Congress site HERE and type in the bill number: H. R. 2264.

Boehner reacts to Falwell death

House Republican Leader John Boehner of West Chester issued the following statement last last night on the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell:

"Today, millions of Americans are mourning the loss of Jerry Falwell, who helped ignite a conservative revolution in the 1970s and 1980s that continues today. His reaction to the high-tax policies of the late seventies helped chart a course that emphasized freedom and patriotism, and sparked a return to family-oriented American values. His legacy will live on through his greatest achievement, the establishment of Liberty University. My thoughts and prayers are with the Falwell family and staff."

New Ohio Poll out today

This one on the presidential race in Ohio.

Read the results here

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

That Mayor, He's A Busy Man

In case you were wondering, here's what Mayor Mark Mallory has been doing lately:

Last Thursday, he went to Hughes High School to remind students he wants them to recycle and that they're in a contest with five other schools. The winner gets $500 to use on an environmental program. His goal is 15,000 pounds of recyclables from the six schools by the end of the month.

Also Thursday, he spoke to inmates at the River City Correctional Facility in Camp Washington. He was impressed that the men and women there referred to each other as "Mr." and "Mrs." and with how supportive they seemed to be of each other.

Also Thursday (Thursday was a big mayoral kind of day), he spoke to officials from the Evansville, Ind., Chamber of Commerce. They gave him a box of chocolate.

Friday, he took the Cincinnati Southern Railway, which the city leases to Norfolk Southern Railway, to Chattanooga. "It was the most relaxing thing I've done in years, years." The ride helped inspire his idea to develop some kind of sense of railroad history here, what with the Cincinnati History Museum being a train terminal and all. He's putting together an advisory group to come up with some suggestions for him.

Monday, Mallory had lunch with Wang Chao, assistant minister of commerce for the People's Republic of China. Chao led a delegation here from China to talk trade and investment.

This morning, he was interviewed by a student at the Value, Learning and Teaching Academy charter school.

Now, for his future schedule.....

Thursday, he speaks at the police memorial ceremony. He doesn't "think we can do enough" to thank officers for keeping us safe.

Friday, he plans to go to the May Festival.

Sunday, he leaves for Las Vegas, where he plans to sell Cincinnati at an International Council of Shopping Centers convention.


Jerry Falwell is dead. Talk about him here.

Jerry Falwell has died. Your comments?

Fundraising, arts and Midwestern hospitality

These things from a conversation over coffee this morning at Enzo's in Over-the-Rhine with Charterite council candidate Joan Kaup:

1. She was shocked when someone told her she'd need to raise $200,000-plus for a successful campaign. She thinks it makes more sense to only spend what a council member makes in a year. That's a little over $60,000.

2. Her first fund-raising mailer, out in the next couple of weeks, will be a letter from Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell, whom she has worked with on arts issues for years. Not surprisingly, she supports his $3.8 million plan for arts spending, which would give $800,000 each to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Music Hall, Cincinnati History Museum and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center and would create a $600,000 fund for small arts groups to share. She calls those big four the city's arts anchors, but the smaller ones the "flavorings, the seasonings" that make the city's arts offerings more diverse and attract different customers than, say, an opera does.

3. A former official of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, she thinks Cincinnati could do better in marketing itself as a cultural tourism spot. A cultural tourist, she says, spends more money - on symphony tickets, dinner and maybe an overnight hotel stay - than, for example, somebody on a trip to Kings Island. "We are full of Midwestern Hospitality."

4. She wants to look into doing more of what she calls "reverse privatization," or marketing city expertise to outsiders. An example: The parks department has some contracts to maintain recreation areas that aren't in the city. "We can make some money that way."

Her Web site, www.kaupforcouncil.com, might be up as soon as today.

A challenger for Wulsin?

The Jean Schmidt-Victoria Wulsin rematch in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District may not be a sure thing.

Schmidt picked up a Republican primary challenger last week in the form of Phil Heimlich, who became unemployed last fall when David Pepper up-ended him in the Hamilton County commissioner's race.

Now Wulsin, who came within a hair of an improbable upset win in the tradtionally Republican 2nd District last fall, may soon have yet another primary opponent.

Steve Black - lawyer at Graydon, Head & Ritchey and son of retired federal appeals court judge Robert L. Black - has been making the rounds among Democratic leaders in the seven-county district and is on the verge of announcing his candidacy.

Monday, he was out in Eastgate, working the crowd of Democrats who had gathered to greet Gov. Ted Strickland, who had come for a roundtable discussion of child health care. All he would say Monday was that he'll make an annoucement later this week.

Wulsin was going to have a primary anyway - Jeff Sinnard, the civil engineer and stay-at-home dad from Anderson Township says he is running - but Sinnard has run in the basement the last two times around and doesn't have two nickels to rub together.

Black, on the other hand, poses a different set of problems for Wulsin. He, like Wulsin, is from Indian Hill; and he, like her, can probably tap into some considerable money.

Black has one more thing that Wulsin might end up wishing she still had - Wulsin's 2006 campaign manager, Mary Huttlinger, who signed on to run Black's campaign.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Strickland's popularity just shy of a record

Gov. Ted Strickland's approval rating of 68 percent is just shy of the highest rating ever recorded for a governor in the 26-year history of the Ohio Poll.

According to Eric W. Rademacher, co-director of the poll conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, here are the top approval ratings for an Ohio governor:

George Voinovich, 69 percent in January 1998.
Voinovich, 69 percent in October 1997.
Bob Taft, 69 percent in November 2001.
Taft, 69 percent in April 2000.

"Governor Strickland and the General Assembly are both enjoying an extended 'honeymoon' with Ohioans,'' Rademacher said today. "This may be, in part, a positive reaction to the cooperative effort that has characterized this year's budget negotiations."

We love the Gov

New Ohio Poll out today shows Gov. Strickland's approval rating at 68 percent.

Among Republicans? 64 percent

Among Cincinnati folks? 66 percent.

Read the full poll results here

Cole: He Wasn't Speaking For Me

When Kevin Johnson spoke before Cincinnati City Council last week as part of an NAACP group urging more African-American participation in The Banks project, he did it as a former employee of Councilwoman Laketa Cole, not a current aide. The paper corrected the error.

But Cole wanted to emphasize that Johnson's statements definitely were not hers.

Among the things he said was that "with great power comes great responsibility. We're watching, we're listening and we're waiting for you all to yield what you promised."

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