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, May 25, 2007

NAACP, FOP agree: no to jail tax

The NAACP and FOP may not agree on everything, but they do on this: they don't want Hamilton County to raise the sales tax to pay for a new jail and anti-crime plan.

Jessica Brown reports in today's Enquirer:

Two groups voiced opposition to Hamilton County's comprehensive safety plan to raise the sales tax to build a new jail on Thursday, though for different reasons.

The Cincinnati police union voted not to support the plan because it includes $2.3 million to expand Hamilton County's sheriff patrols. The Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69 says Cincinnati officers should be patrolling city streets, not county deputies.

The Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP said it would oppose any move to increase the sales tax without voter approval.

Commissioners are expected to decide Wednesday whether to put the tax issue on the November ballot or enact it themselves without a vote.

Here is NAACP president Chris Smitherman's letter:

May 25, 2007

Dear Commissioner Portune:

Thank you for attending the general membership meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on May 24, 2007. We appreciate your willingness to present the Comprehensive Safety Plan directly to the NAACP members.

This is one issue of many. The general membership previously voted not to support funding should it appear on an August ballot. Last night, the membership voted not to support a sales tax increase by County Commissioners without voter approval. Also, during the discussion, the membership connected the Banks Project's lack of inclusion of African Americans in contracting, procurement, and employment with the proposal to build a jail for the "increasing criminal population".

On behalf of the NAACP, we look forward to working cooperatively with you and the Hamilton County Commissioners to provide the best options for our community.


Christopher Smitherman
President, NAACP

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Quick and Decisive Action"

If you follow Cincinnati politics at all, you've probably heard about the letters to George Vincent. He's the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party and, if you believe everything you read, his mailbox has been pretty full lately with calls for a thrashing of Chris Monzel because he voted with Democrats to give $800,000 each to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati History Museum and Music Hall.

One letter, purportedly from Terry Deters, says the writer is "tired of working for turncoats like Monzel."

Key word here: purportedly. Two of the alleged writers, Westwood activist Mary Kuhl and Price Hill activist Pete Witte, say they wrote no such thing.

"It's a sad forgery," Witte said.

The first giveaway, he said, was that the letter was on "From the Desk of Peter Witte" letterhead. He has no such letterhead.

"I'd be more likely to have a Dilbert cartoon in the corner," he said.

Plus, if he wanted to talk to Vincent, he'd pick up the phone or send him an e-mail. Does he have any suspects?

"I do, but I won't tell you," Witte said. "It's not worth stirring it up."

As for the implication that POWR PAC would withdraw its endorsement of Monzel: "It would be an unbelievable thing to happen. I don't want to speak for everybody, but in my mind Chris Monzel and John Cranley are the most consistent in voting for middle-class values on the West Side."

Others point out that Deters hasn't been active in party politics for some time. They also spotted some handwriting and verbiage similarities, suggesting all the letters came from the same place, and noted that the letters are dated the day after an e-mail from past Blue Chip Young Republicans president Betsy Sunderman that urged members to contact Monzel's office to try to stop him from voting the way he did.

That email contained the sentence "This is not a fiscally responsible."

Two of these letters say that almost that exactly, though corrected to "This vote is not a fiscally responsible vote."

Whoever did write the letters seems to love the phrase "quick and decisive action."

The "Witte letter" says Q&D action "will show the grassroots party activists that you take such egregious abuses seriously."

The "Kuhl letter" says Q&D action "by party leadership will show the community that you care about the concerns of the taxpayer in the neighborhoods."

And again from the letter purported to be from Deters: Q&D action "by party leadership will show the grassroots members of the party that you care about our concerns and you will enforce party discipline."

Party discipline?

Read the whole letters here.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Freedom Center: $$ or Not?

Now that City Council's fight over arts funding has been somewhat settled, there's a new question:

What happens with funding for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center?

The first plan, which supporters say dates back to late last year when council members finalized the budget, called for the center getting $1 million in capital funds, just like the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati History Museum and Music Hall.

But that plan didn't have a five-vote majority. Jim Tarbell's plan did. But it called for something different - $800,000 for each of the four, plus $600,00 for smaller arts groups to share. That money also would pay for festivals and parades.

But Chris Monzel was clear from the start - he wouldn't support the freedom center, no matter what. So to get Tarbell's plan to pass, the vice mayor had to take the freedom center out of it.

So Wednesday, the Tarbell plan passed. With no other council members expressing non-support for the freedom center, it had been assumed that the center would get its money, just separately and later. The ordinance to give it $800,000 got a first reading at council Wednesday.

But after the meeting, Bortz said he was considering voting against the money for the freedom center - a "principle vote," he called it, because he still wants the center to get the full $1 million he says was discussed during budgeting. Leslie Ghiz said something similar, that she might have to consider voting against it also. "We had a deal," she said, referring to what she said were prior commitments to give the freedom center more than $800,000.

Laketa Cole, who was out of town and missed the meeting, said later she wanted to talk to her colleagues to find out more about what happened at Wednesday's meeting before saying what she might do regarding the center. Jeff Berding left the meeting early to pick up his daughter from school and couldn't be reached later on how he plans to vote.

This morning, Monzel tossed another plan out there - redirecting the $800,000 now pending for the freedom center into a fund to put speed humps on residential streets. The city gets a bunch of request for the humps but has no money to do them anymore.

Bortz called that idea just another example of the kind of reneging he says has gone on ever since all nine council members agreed to the current budget, which called for $4 million for arts facilities, and since six of them - including Tarbell and Cecil Thomas, who later changed their votes - signed a motion agreeing to divide that $4 million four ways, giving $1 million each to the two museums, Music Hall and the freedom center.


An Apology At City Hall?

Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell would like to hear someone say they're sorry. Well, sort of.

Chairman of council's arts committee and generally regarded as one of the biggest supporters of the arts in Cincinnati for decades, he's feeling a little stung by the weeks of debate over his plan to give $3.8 million to arts groups for capital projects.

He said he asked Chris Bortz, a fellow Charterite, for an apology, but said Wednesday he really was looking for more of an explanation from Bortz or any of the rest of the four (Jeff Berding, Leslie Ghiz, and Laketa Cole) who favored their own plan to spend $4 million. That plan did not include anything for smaller arts groups nor for parades and special events.

If you haven't been following the issue, Tarbell's plan originally gave $800,000 each to Music Hall, the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati History Museum and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It also proposed to create a new fund of $600,000 for smaller arts groups to share. That money also would pay for some parades and festivals.

Part of that plan passed Wednesday after a dizzying back-and-forth battle over whether it should have been voted on or not. Tarbell pushed; Mallory said no. Tarbell pushed again; Mallory said it was holding, again. Finally, after aides for Tarbell, Cranley and Crowley buzzed around council chambers consulting with Solicitor Rita McNeil, the vice mayor pulled out Article 54 of some such city rulebook, which allowed him to - and no one could remember this happening in years - appeal the mayor's decision to hold the item. With his vote and four others (from Chris Monzel, John Cranley, David Crowley and Cecil Thomas), the appeal passed. Then the plan passed too.

But back to the apology-type thing. Tarbell says what he really wanted - and still would be interested in hearing - is an explanation of the Bortz/Berding/Ghiz/Cole strategy.

"I'm looking for some kind of sign from them that they knew what they were doing and that they had a reason for it," the vice mayor said after the contentious meeting.

He said he pushed so hard for the vote Wednesday because he knew he had the five votes he needed to give $800,000 each to all but the freedom center and to create the $600,000 fund. Those two issues will be voted on separately. He went ahead for three of his five pieces, he said, because he was afraid minds would change again and then the arts groups would be without any of it.

Cole, who was out of town and missed the meeting, was surprised and disappointed when reached tonight. Last she heard, she said, there was a new deal that everyone planned to agree on.


John Boehner's take on the immigration bill

Malia Rulon has the story here

Yes, it was the "s" word.

Strickland joins governors' plea for gas price relief

Gov. Ted Strickland joined Democratic governors from 16 states in a letter sent Tuesday to President Bush urging him to help relieve escalating gas prices.

“We are calling on the president to stand up for consumers and help alleviate the heavy burdens facing Americans at the pump,” Strickland said. “I join my fellow governors in urging the president to act on our concerns and begin working with Congress and pressing oil companies to find a long-term solution to this issue.”

The governors’ letter comes as gas prices in Ohio and across the nation reach record highs.

In the letter, the 17 governors called on Bush to work with Congress to relieve gas prices by supporting federal legislation that penalizes gas price gouging and ordering the administration’s agencies to pursue anti-trust and commodities violations.

The governors urged the president to press oil companies to invest their profits to improve refinery capacity.

Nobody suggested eliminating taxes on gas, however.

In addition to Strickland, the 16 governors who signed the letter are Govs. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Mike Beebe of Arkansas, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, Chet Culver of Iowa, Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, Phil Bredesen of Tennessee and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin.

"Here in Ohio I am committed to making Ohio the epicenter of alternative and advanced energy production, innovation and research," Strickland said. "The more energy we produce right here at home, the less dependent we will be on foreign oil and the more likely our energy prices are to remain stable and balanced."

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Mallory in Vegas

If what happened in Vegas this week stays in Vegas, Mayor Mark Mallory won’t be happy.

He’s hoping the retailers, developers and restaurant representatives he met with this week at a convention of the International Council on Shopping Centers convention will visit here soon in a second step toward getting them to invest here. Mallory went to the annual meeting of 50,000 people with a team of brokers, new economic development director Holly Childs and others to try to show Cincinnati is all about attracting new development.

“We’ve sort of been on people’s radar screens for the wrong reason,” he said Tuesday. “We’re making a pitch to change that.”

By “pitch,” he’s referring to his tossing out 200 baseballs to people at the convention, as a takeoff on the Opening Day pitch for which he gained national attention. Some people got the joke, he said, some didn’t.

He had 15 meetings set up with businesses he hopes to attract here, but said it was too soon to say what businesses those were. His staff already has started following up with the people he met, however, and will be scheduling visits here for the representatives. A couple of them, he said, are close to making final decisions about locating here, so he hopes his personal appeal might help them choose Cincinnati.

He also ended up giving an impromptu talk during a panel discussion about underserved retail markets.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chabot oil bill passes House

The House passed a bill today from Reps. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., that will pave the way for the U.S. to sue members of OPEC, the Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels. The measure passed 345 to 72.

“The NOPEC legislation that passed today is just one component of a broader energy policy needed to lower gas prices and bring relief to consumers,” Chabot said. “While it is important to target the anti-competitive practices of these price-fixing oil cartels, we must continue to press for increased domestic energy output, better alternative energy sources and greater energy efficiency.”

This bill was the subject of a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week. A companion bill has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Do hot dogs come with that jail?

Hamilton County commissioners Todd Portune and David Pepper made the rounds to the city's safety committee Tuesday to present their comprehensive public safety plan. When it was time for questions, councilman Jim Tarbell asked "Does this come with a lifetime supply of hot dogs?

"This is the Kahn's site," he reasoned.

"Only if you cook them," quipped Portune.

The safety plan calls for a sales tax increase to fund a new $198 million, 1,800-bed jail on the site of the old Kahn's plant in Camp Washington, and a host of rehabilitation and public safety programs. It was met with interest and support from most safety committee members, though no vote was taken.

Here's some of what some of them said:

Cecil Thomas: "For a long time the philosophy in Hamilton County was to lock them up. The most important hing in your whole plan is the re-entry(rehabilitation program.) You walk in that door knowing you'll do your time serve your time, but that your time will also serve you."

Jeff Berding: "Public safety is the issue we all need to address if we want this community to be a long term success. This plan is bold. It's new. It squarely tackles this No. 1 issue and tackles the status quo that hasn't served us well in the past."

Leslie Ghiz: "This plan has my full support."

Other than the hot-dog issue, Tarbell seemed to like it too.

Fischer Campaign Gears Up

If you live in Cincinnati, you might soon find Patrick Fischer on your stoop.

His term as president of the Cincinnati Bar Association ended last week, and now he's taking his campaign for city council door-to-door.

Check him out at www.patfischer.org.


Lots of Support For Cincinnati Billboards

Councilman Chris Monzel's proposal to keep any new billboards at least 200 feet outside a residential boundary drew a lot of opposition today from some popular local businesses.

He spoke very passionately about this being a quality of life issue. He said he understands that billboard companies do good things for the community in terms of donated advertising, "but they also hurt in some ways...I mean, how many times have we gone in a neighborhood and seen a billboard that says, We Buy Ugly Houses'?"

But of the 14 speakers at economic development committee today, a dozen spoke against the change. Among them: officials of Cappel's, Busken and John Nolan Ford.

Rob Nolan, who also owns a Harley-Davidson store, said he is concerned that limiting billboards will just make advertising cost more on the existing ones. Richard Cappel, co-owner, said his family company has used billboards almost exclusively for the past decade to help Cappel's compete with national chains.

Dennis Smith, president of Paper Products Co. in South Fairmount, said the income he gets from the billboard on his property helps him keep the property in good shape. As a provider of boxes for Busken and Graeter's, he said he thinks "the city needs to develop a pro-business attitude."

After an hour of talk, the issue - on council's agenda for almost a year - returns to economic development again in two weeks. That time will allow the solicitor's office to weigh in on any legalities and for more discussion on whether the billboard restriction should be measured by a radius or by linear foot.

Monzel still prefers a 200-foot radius, which is more restrictive than the 100-foot radius or 150-foot linear counter proposals from billboard companies. He did agree to lowering that to 150 feet, but company representatives rejected that, saying it's still too restrictive.

Two options are on the table now - a 200-foot radius and 200 feet, linear.

Chris Bortz, committee chairman, said officials have to strike a balance between protecting residents from having billboards too close to their houses and not hindering local companies from doing business. "We're walking a fine line between the two pressures."

"We've been discussing it for a year because we want to get it right," he said.

Others, like Carl Uebelacker of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, believe the issue has dragged on because officials are letting billboard companies have too much control over the debate.

On a related note, Jeff Berding announced that Lamar today had the sign boards taken off the billboard at Delta Avenue and Columbia Parkway, where Neyer is building the Columbia Square development. Now, Neyer's free, he said, to take down the poles and proceed.


Boehner weighs in on immigration bill

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester, released the following statement today about the Senate's pending immigration bill. But while he doesn't give the bill his ringing endorsement, he doesn't specifically say that he OPPOSES it either.

Read for yourself:

“Securing our borders and stopping the flood of illegal immigration into the United States must be the first priority of this Congress. The American people understand that securing our borders is critical, not only to prevent terror attacks but also to re-establish basic respect for upholding our illegal immigration laws. That’s why House Republicans are united and clear on the need for stronger border protections and full enforcement of our immigration laws.

“America is a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws – those laws must be obeyed and enforced. The Senate agreement appears to recognize that additional border security measures and more effective immigration law enforcement must come before any other issues are addressed, but I have significant concerns about parts of the Senate proposal - particularly provisions that would reward illegal immigrants who have consistently broken our laws. Republicans look forward to working with our colleagues on common sense reforms to shore up our borders and put a premium on enforcing our laws.”

Schmidt Q&A on immigration bill

Senate Republicans and the White House announced an agreement on a broad immigration bill last week, which the Senate is poised to consider this week.

The bill is similar to legislation the Senate passed last year, which stalled in the GOP-controlled House: It would give immediate, temporary legal status to most undocumented immigrants, but require them to pay fines, leave and apply from their home countries and wait at least 13 years to become citizens. It also would set up a new program for hundreds of thousands of foreigners to come here temporarily to work.

Finally, the bill would overhaul an immigration system that for years has given preference to relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Instead, a point system, similar to what is used in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, would be used that would give applicants for green cards credit for education, experience in jobs the U.S. labor market needs, ability to speak English and family ties.
In her weekly column, Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township, explained where she stands on this bill.

In her own words...

QUESTION: Does Congresswoman Schmidt support the agreement reached among members of the Senate?

ANSWER: I strongly oppose the compromise being considered by the Senate. I believe the proposal rewards illegal behavior and does not do enough to secure our borders. It is important to note that this debate has just begun. The Senate must complete its consideration of this bill before it is sent to the House of Representatives. More importantly, the House is not bound to consider the Senate’s version of immigration reform. We are free to consider any proposal or none at all.

Q: Does the Senate proposal provide amnesty for illegal aliens?

A: My main problem with this agreement is that, immediately upon enactment, anyone here illegally as of January 1, 2007, will automatically receive a legal work permit – exactly what they broke the law to obtain. To me, that is a form of amnesty. This proposal rewards illegal behavior. The foundation of our nation is the rule of the law, and those who enter our country illegally violate the law. By granting amnesty to illegal aliens, we are sending the message that it is okay to break the law, and encouraging others to do the same. In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in our country. At that time, we let 1.1 to 1.3 million illegal immigrants become United States citizens. Today we have more than 12 million immigrants living here illegally. The less we control our borders, the more we sacrifice our national security. When millions of law abiding people are following the law and patiently waiting to be granted U.S. citizenship, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to the millions who instead came here illegally and place them at the front of the line.

Q: Are there any components of the Senate proposal that Congresswoman Schmidt supports?

A: I believe that strengthening our borders is the number one priority for our homeland security. I understand the Senate agreement provides important border security and enforcement provisions that I support. The Senate agreement calls for expanding Border Control agents by 18,000; constructing 200 miles of vehicle barriers; and building 370 miles of fencing along the border. It also calls for deploying state-of-the-art technology including 70 ground-based radar and camera towers on the southern border and four unmanned Aerial Vehicles. I believe that we must do more to improve border security and enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) already has 15,000 Border Control agents and the 370 miles of fencing is less than the 700 miles of fencing that Congress approved last year. However, including these and other border protection initiatives is at least a tacit agreement that we must secure our borders.

Q: What will Congresswoman Schmidt do to address the illegal immigration crisis?

A: I will vigorously oppose any legislation that grants amnesty to illegal aliens. I have in the past and will continue to support initiatives to strengthen our border security.

For more details on this bill, read THIS STORY from Mike Madden of Gannett News Service.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Schmidt passes two bills

Rep. Jean Schmidt had a big victory today. Well, sort of.

The Miami Township congresswoman announced that two of her bills - H.R. 2077 and H.R. 2078 - passed the House. The bills weren't that controversial. Both passed on a voice vote. So what were the bills?

Actually, they were to name two post offices in Ohio after two Adams County natives.

"I am proud to honor these men. Sergeant Hawkins is an American Hero who gave his life in service to his country in Iraq. George Lewis dedicated his life to his community and public service," Schmidt said. "I am pleased to have the support of the entire Ohio delegation."

H.R. 2077 would designate the U.S. Post Office at 20805 State Route 125 in Blue Creek as the "George B. Lewis Post Office Building."

H.R. 2078 would designate the U.S. Post Office at 14536 State Route 136 in Cherry Fork as the "Staff Sergeant Omer T. 'O.T.' Hawkins Post Office."

The List of 1,500

The jury's still out on whether The List of 1,500 potential killers exists. When council candidates Melanie Bates and Charlie Winburn pitched it last month, Bates said she had a copy of the list of those living in her neighborhood. But after news broke about their list, they and supporter Todd Portune started saying the list didn't actually exist yet. They've declined requests from The Enquirer to produce it.

Yet, Winburn still wants to talk about it. In a letter to Mark Mallory and city council members, he reminds that council, in 1995, passed something called the Registration of Convicted Persons Act.

Here's some of the letter:

"As you may know, I recently developed a website, http://www.thecriminalnextdoor.com/, which uses the most dangerous criminal list model as a framework for encouraging effective community dialogue about public safety issues. In addition, Chris Kearney and I developed a new screening process to track the most violent criminals in Cincinnati. This system will enable citizens, law enforcement and regional governmental leaders to serve as an effective broker in bridging the gap between the law and order and intervention mindsets. It is important that we track violent criminals—not only from the standpoint of where they offend, but also where these persons live—in order that the citizens realize “true community control”, so that law enforcement agencies can have better criminal intelligence, and so that social service agencies may more effectively and efficiently connect these persons with important social services, such as drug and mental health treatment and job training.

When I was on Cincinnati City Council, I strongly supported legislation, along with Mayor Qualls and Council, requiring the most violent and repeat criminals register with the City of Cincinnati so our citizens know who they are and where they live. This rule of law supports the criminal next door concept as well as the so called "Killers List" The Cincinnati Enquirer referred to on April 23, 2007. We passed City of Cincinnati Ordinance No. 291-1995, now codified as Chapter 717 in the Cincinnati Municipal Code (the “Registration of Convicted Persons Act”), which requires repeat felons—as well as persons convicted of aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, felonious sexual penetration, kidnapping, abduction, and child stealing—to register with the City. These are some of your most-dangerous criminals in Cincinnati. It's a good place to start effective monitoring and tracking. According to most criminologists those who commit two or more felonies are highly likely to commit another violent crime. Specifically, with respect to sexual offenders, U.S. Department of Justice statistics show sexual offenders are 7.5 times more likely to recommit these crimes.

Pursuant to the Registration of Convicted Persons Act (the “RCPA”), once a violent or repeat felon registers, the City is required to notify the neighborhood where the felon is moving. If properly implemented and executed, the RCPA will assist law enforcement and citizens in tracking the most violent criminals. The RCPA is consistent with our recent efforts on improving public safety through community participation. The RCPA and the tracking system Mr. Kearney and I are proposing do not violate any constitutional rights of violent and repeat criminals. If this is the case then maybe the Council should repeal this Ordinance. If we can effectively implement and execute this Act, our law enforcement will be able to better manage the approximately 1500 most-dangerous criminals in the City."

The item's on the agenda for Tuesday's 2 p.m. law committee meeting.


No new arts funding deal

Rumors of a new deal to end City Council's debate over arts funding are not true, says Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell.

His plan to give $800,000 each to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati History Museum and Music Hall should pass Wednesday on third reading and with five votes, he said today. That plan also calls for $600,000 for smaller arts organizations to share. That money also would pay for the Taste of Cincinnati and other festivals and parades.

Arts supporters are doing an e-mail campaign to try to get as many artists and arts activists as possible at Tuesday's finance committee meeting, 4 p.m. in council chambers.

The battle over this money has been the most contentious at City Hall in months, with last week's council meeting full of heated comments, including Leslie Ghiz saying she was fed up with the "blinding" halo over John Cranley.

Those who oppose Tarbell's plan - Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz, Laketa Cole and Ghiz - say it goes against the promise they feel was made when all nine signed the budget late last year. In the budget, it says $4 million goes for arts capital funding - not $3.8 million, and not any money for parades and festivals.


The Mayor's in Vegas

But you can hear him talk in absentia about his Shop 52 plan to bring retail to neighborhoods via his new Web site for the program, www.cincyshop52.com.

In a video, he holds a baseball and refers to his Opening Day pitch, saying Shop 52 is his pitch that Cincinnati is a good place to do business and invest.

The site also shows a map of available downtown properties.


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