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, June 08, 2007

Brown reacts to passport change

Sen. Sherrod Brown also has been dealing with a flood of requests for help from people trying to get their passports in time for international trips, his office said.

This is what the Lorain Democrat had to say today about the White House's decision to lift certain requirements:

“The passport situation over the last few months was unacceptable, and it was appropriate that the State Department took this step. Unfortunately, it's going to take time to eliminate the backlog of international passports. Anyone applying for a passport should do so early, and my office can help with applications.”

There's not much on it yet, but

Click here to check out Melanie Bates' campaign Web site.

As one might expect, given that her husband was shot to death right outside their North Avondale house last year, she stresses safety.

She says its essential to elect council members with experience and maturity, who will make decisions to reduce violent crime. She says she has the "leadership ability and passion to get the job done."

She is one of three endorsed by the Charter Party.

Schmidt column on passport crisis

Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township, released her weekly column today. Here's what it says:

For many of us, the start of summer means finally getting to take that long-awaited vacation with family and friends. Unfortunately, for the many people whose travel plans include destinations outside U.S. borders, feelings of excitement and anticipation about summer plans have been replaced with frustration and anger as thousands wait weeks – in some cases up to 20 weeks – for their passports. Others helplessly watch their travel departure dates come and go with no passport in hand or explanation – not to mention thousands of dollars down the drain.

Prior to January, citizens flying to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean were not required to have a passport. This year, however, the State Department implemented the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, to further secure our borders in a post 9-11 environment. This initiative requires passports for anyone traveling to foreign destinations. This new requirement, coupled with a busy summer travel season, has created an unprecedented demand for passports which has overwhelmed passport agencies and created a staggering backlog of passport applications at the State Department. To give you an idea of the volume, in just the first six months of this year, the State Department has processed more than 1.5 million passport applications a month.

My office, and every Congressional office across the country, has been inundated with calls from frantic travelers looking for assistance with their passport applications. These individuals have tried to call or email the passport agencies on their own to find the status. But passport offices are so overwhelmed the lines are jammed or they simply can’t respond. That is when they turn to me for help.

The demand in my office alone has increased nearly tenfold. My office is trying to answer over 200 passport-related inquiries every single week. We’ve heard from individuals who are worried their passports won’t arrive in time for their school trips, family vacations, honeymoons and even weddings. Some individuals and families have been forced to cancel their travel plans altogether. The State Department web site states that it takes up to ten to twelve weeks from the application date to actually receive a passport, but many of my constituents have waited almost twice as long. I have been able to help some, but unfortunately not everyone.

This situation is simply unacceptable. This week, I sent a letter and got 92 of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to sign with me, to the U.S. Secretary of State, Condolleezza Rice, asking that she do everything possible to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. In the letter we also state our willingness to help the State Department fix this problem over the long term, whether it be additional resources or changes to law. We need to make sure we are prepared for the time when North American flight requirements are reinstated, and next year when additional requirements are added.

The State Department has taken action to relieve some of the immediate demands on the passport agency. On Friday, the State Department announced that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda who have applied for, but not yet received their passports, can temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government-issued photo ID and State Department official proof of application for a passport. U.S. citizens with pending passports can obtain this proof of application at http://travel.state.gov/. This temporary accommodation will be in place only through September 30, 2007. Though this is welcome news, it doesn’t do anything to alleviate the problems for travelers headed to places like Europe, Asia, South America, and other spots around the globe.

For those of you planning a trip abroad that need a passport, please leave extra time beyond the anticipated wait periods for both standard and expedited passport processing times. To find out how to apply for a passport, visit http://travel.state.gov/. If you have applied for passports and want to monitor the status of your application online, visit http://travel.state.gov/passport. And, as always, we are happy to assist you as best as we can.

I will continue to seek out ways to address this issue in Congress so that all Americans have the opportunity to travel with less stress and frustration.

Voinovich reacts to passport change

The White House announced today that it's relaxing passport requirements, in light of massive delays that have been wrecking havoc on people's travel plans. Still, Sen. George Voinovich is said he's concerned about a requirement that everyone traveling on a cruise ship also have a passport, a new requirement that is set to to into affect next year.

Here's what the Cleveland Republican said in a letter sent today to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

“I’m pleased the administration agreed that immediate relief was greatly needed. While too many people faced an undue burden during this process, it will hopefully serve as a lesson as we stare down the January 2008 deadline requiring passports for land and sea travel between the United States, Canada and Mexico. While Congress has provided the administration with the flexibility to extend the deadline for land and sea travel until June 1, 2009, they continue to insist on the January deadline. I will work to ensure they reconsider if it looks like what happened this summer becomes a possibility this winter.”

OSU withdraws bid for presidential debate

Ohio State University decided yesterday to withdraw its name from consideration for one of the 2008 presidential debates. The school was among 19 contenders, which also included the University of Cincinnati.

Here's what OSU vice president Curt Steiner wrote in an e-mail sent Thursday to community leaders and the Commission on Presidential Debates:

For several reasons outlined below, I am moving to withdraw Ohio State from consideration as a site for a 2008 U.S. general election presidential debate.

As you know, Ohio State is one of 18 applicants to the Commission on Presidential Debates to host a nationally televised debate. In late February, NPR/PBS approached the university to partner in an application and committed to contributing two-thirds of the $1.35 million Presidential Debate Commission fee. The deadline for submitting a detailed proposal was March 31. The final choice of debate sites will be released in October.

This would be a significant event in Columbus, attracting the presidential candidates and their staff and thousands of members of the media. With the partnership of NPR/PBS, Columbus would be in the spotlight immediately before and during the event. In addition to the economic impact on the community, campus would be the center of excitement and debate-related educational opportunities.

Because time was short in which to develop a detailed proposal to the Commission, extensive conversation with community and university leadership up front was impossible. However, initial reactions were positive enough to justify moving forward. We submitted an application, cautioning NPR/PBS that it would be difficult to make a final commitment without having a university president in place, as a significant amount of money would have to be raised in the community to cover the total cost of the event—estimated at $3.5-4 million.

We have had good reason to think that Ohio State would be considered a top contender as a debate site because of its partnership with NPR/PBS (the only application with a major media partner), its high profile as a major research university, its excellent facilities for the event, and the focus on Ohio and Columbus as major battlegrounds in the presidential race. The Commission plans a site visit to Ohio State and Columbus on July 12.

That is a pivotal date in this process, when Ohio State must demonstrate that it has the capacity to hold a national debate and that it has the level of enthusiasm and community commitment that will put its application ahead of the pack. We do have the capacity, and my conversations with faculty and students have elicited real enthusiasm for the idea.

As we look at the July 12 visit, however, significant concerns remain. Ohio State is soon to embark on a leadership transition. Community leaders are positive and supportive, but with reservations. There is a sense that community fund-raising priorities should be in areas that will have a more lasting and permanent impact on the community. Some also express the view that even without the expense of a debate Columbus will remain a focus for presidential candidates and media.

Another consideration is that the University of Cincinnati also has applied to host a debate, has enlisted community support, and is very eager to win the opportunity. Neither school was aware of the other’s application, but the coincidence sets up an unfortunate competition among two Ohio public universities that I am sure we wish were not the case.

Timing is important in this process, and in several ways the timing does not support our going forward with a debate application this year. It will be very difficult to have a successful site visit without being able to produce fully committed university and community leadership, which is not presently in place. I recommend therefore that we withdraw, regretfully, and possibly consider a re-application in 2012, during the bicentennial of Columbus.

I want to commend the hard work and support of those who developed the detailed application to the Commission, including the university space planning team of Xen Riggs and Vicki Chorman; Paul Astleford of Experience Columbus; and Susan Feeney of NPR. What we learned about hosting this event and the application equirements—and about working together effectively on this project—will be invaluable should we reapply in 2012.

Look For the Councilwoman on the Red Bike

Laketa Cole won't be on her pink motorcycle. She'll be on a red one instead when she rides for charity Saturday with the Jason William Hunt Foundation's Cruisers and Boomers Show & Ride.

Hunt, a graduate of Turpin High School, died in 2001 after a mountain climbing accident in Canada. The foundation attempts to build character in at-risk youth by teaching them outdoor activities. Its Outdoor Leadership Training Center is part of the Anderson Township park district.

Cole supports the foundation's work, she says, because it's important to develop the youth of our future.


Guest blogger Margaret McGurk reports:

Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman, who once held the congressional seat now occupied by Jean Schmidt, got a standing ovation Friday when he stood up to speak at the annual meeting of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (what most of us call OKI).

Portman politely dodged a question about his favorite in the GOP presidential primaries ("I work for the government now, so I can't get involved"), and congratulated the regional officials and contractors in attendance for doing a good job at coordinating their efforts -- which largely involve transportation issues.

For instance, he said, average commuting time in the eight OKI counties has increased by only about 2 minutes in the past 10 years. "Among cities in the U.S., we are blessed -- and those of you who come up 75 every day may not believe it -- to have relatively short commuting times."

With the next five-year federal authorization bill for major road projects just two years away, Portman said that paying for a new Brent Spence Bridge may call for "public-private partnerships."

"That usually means tolls," he said. On the other hand, if gas prices and driving habits remain relatively unchanged, federal road funds could be sufficient to cover the tab.

Nobody, he said, is talking about tapping into general revenues, which are under growing pressure from entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Portman repeatedly made the poin that spending on those programs is growing at an "unsustainble" rate that would, if left unchecked, swamp the federal budget within a few decades.

Small fixes now, he said, could have huge long-term payoffs. One example: Tie Social Security cost-of-living raises to prices instead of wages. Otherwise, he said, entitlement programs could rack up a $34 trillion deficit over 75 years: "It's a fiscal trainwreck."

Civil rights activist wants NAACP to withdraw referendum

The local talk radio shows have been abuzz this week with debate on the Hamilton County public safety plan and the sales tax increase that county commissioners implemented May 30 to pay for it.

In an interesting side note, Cincinnati civil rights activist Donald Spencer called into WDBZ-AM 1230 "The Buzz" to voice his support for the plan after hearing County Commissioner Todd Portune on being interviewed about the project.

He told the Enquirer that he had actually been opposed to the project until he found out that it also included millions of dollars for rehabilitation programs. That's when he changed his mind and called in.

"I said 'That's what we really need,'" said Spencer. "Prisons oughtn't be just places to lock up people and keep people there, but also a place where they're given some structural and educational and other treatments in order to make them be good citizens and not repeat (offenders)."

He also said he is opposing the NAACP's efforts to repeal the sales tax increase. The NAACP and several others have launched a referendum to force a vote on the measure.

"I'm opposed to them getting petitions signed against the thing,"Spencer said. He said the safety plan is needed but if it's put on the ballot, many people might vote against it on principle, without researching what the plan is all about.

NAACP president, Christopher Smitherman has close ties to Spencer and his wife, Marian Spencer, also a civil rights activist. Marian Spencer is a former president of the local NAACP and backed Smitherman’s campaign to be elected the organization’s leader in March.

Smitherman e-mailed this plea for petition signatures today:

Those members who are at work can go by the office on your lunch break to sign the petition. Remember this petition simply puts the issue(jail tax) on the ballot for a vote. This issue can not wait until our next general membership meeting because the time would have lapsed to gather signatures. Your signature is time sensitive.
This is a time that the NAACP membership must move from talking to action. After the issue is on the ballot the NAACP membership will decide if it wants to support the issue or not. If it is not on the ballot we have no choice. The number to the office is 281-1900. Freedom is not free.

Referendum Web Site Changes Warning

Updated 6:30 p.m. - see below

It appears a string of e-mails seeking a retraction of a certain statement on the wedemandavote.com Web site has had its desired effect. The statement has been changed.

The web site is operated by a coalition of groups seeking to force a vote on a commission-imposed sales tax increase to fund a new jail and public safety plan.

Previously the web site contained this "Warning."

"In a recent referendum effort to repeal a Cincinnati City council ordinance, opponents of t he referendum effort engaged in fraudulent counter-petition tactics such as forging signatures of recognized electors including Tim Burke, the Chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and the Chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Election, Cincinnati Reds Owner Bob Castellini and Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Greg Korte."

Equality Cincinnati, a gay-rights group, says the statement is false and sent a press release seeking a retraction. Tim Burke and Gary Wright (of Equality Cincinnati) also sent similar e-mails to Ed Rothenberg, and Dan Regenold who are among those leading the referendum effort.

The result: This morning the web site had changed its statement to say this:

"We anticipate an effort by those who want to avoid a vote on the issue to disrupt the petitioning campaign. Watch for intentionally fraudulent signatures such as "Mickey Mouse," "Fidel Castro," and well-known local and national politicians, businessmen and celebrities. These nefarious activities may also involve harassment and intimidation of circulators.
If you see fraudulent or harassing activity, please notify Ed Rothenberg promptly at Ed@wedemandavote.com"

By the way, if you missed the whole false-signature debacle read the Enquirer's most recent story on it here.

UPDATE: In an effort to get the wedemandavote.com's side of this story, the Enquirer contacted those in charge of the web site to seek comment on the change and try to find out where the initial information came from.

It took awhile to find out what we were looking for. We still are unclear where the original statement came from. But the Web site designer stands by it as factual.

Here's what happened: We were directed by Dan Regenold to Chris Finney, of COAST (which is among the groups involved in the referendum effort). Finney first passed us this written response from COAST chairman Jim Urling:

"WeDemandaVote.com has regularly updated its web site to reflect developments throughout the petitioning campaign. We are unaware of the particular change to which you are referring. There was never any inaccurate information on the web site to our knowledge, and, to our knowledge, no one communicated any complaints about the site to us COAST or WeDemandaVote.com. We stand firmly behind every statement made thereon.
"WeDemandaVote.com has worked diligently to bring to the attention of the voters the gross injustice foisted upon them by Commissioners Portune and Pepper by the unvoted $744 million sales tax increase and will continue to do so. We will update our site as appropriate with accurate information to achieve that end."

We requested further clarification on the specific paragraph that was removed. Finney sent us written responses from Dan Regenold to answer the Enquirer's questions. Here's what we learned:
--Dan Regenold says he is ultimately responsible for web content.
--He says the paragraph referencing "Mickey Mouse and Fidel Castro" has always been on the Web site. But he said the paragraph referencing the Cincinnati Ordinance and Tim Burke etc. was removed so a map could be added.

Here are some of his other comments:
-- Yesterday morning, I created the tax map comparison of the surrounding counties. I wanted that information on the home page of the site, since it graphically and clearly shows the economic disadvantage we will suffer under the Pepper/Portune tax plan imposed without a vote. In doing so, to create space, I removed the second paragraph you noted below.

(He later clarified that the one he removed was the one referring to the Cincinnati Ordinance)

--I never received any calls or e-mails from anyone complaining about our web site content. We have a very loose coalition and it is possible that one of our coalition partners did receive such a communication, but no one e-mailed me directly with such a complaint. I changed the site this morning because I had more important information to convey and for no other reason.

-- To my knowledge, every statement that presently appears on our web site, and has appeared on our web site, is precisely accurate in every single detail. If any inaccuracies are ever brought to my attention, I will fix them promptly. This change was not a result of any thought that the information is inaccurate. WeDemandaVote.com has been and continues to be concerned about fraud being used to disrupt our campaign. Locally and nationally these techniques have been used to discredit those seeing ballot access and we want to educate our petitioners to spot, avoid and report any such activities. We want a scrupulously clean petition drive, and are working hard to achieve that.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Green Party Says No to "Undemocratic" Jail Tax

Josh Krekeler, convener of the Southwest Ohio Green Party, says the party's backing the referendum campaign to put the jail tax on the November ballot.

Local "Greens," he writes in an e-mail, find the county commissioners' decision to institute the tax without a vote "inappropriate, particularly for a project with so much potential social impact...The people of Hamilton County deserve a chance to decide if this is the right approach to public safety."

The group's concerns:

- The Commissioners should implement solutions to the inefficient intake and processing functions of the current system, including ways to keep some non-violent offenders out of the Justice Center altogether, and then assess the usage rate of existing facilities. Until this is done, the claim of "overcrowding" will appear to be a manufactured crisis.

- The County should focus its budget priorities on preventing INITIAL appearances in jail; the need to address recidivism will decrease proportionately. Planning for an increasing rate of incarceration is an ineffective and immoral long-term strategy.

- Funding the plan with a sales tax increase would disproportionately and unfairly impact lower-income citizens.

- Finally, enacting the tax increase directly is undemocratic. The failure of a similar, less costly proposal indicates that this plan may be contrary to the will of the people.

E-mail Krekeler at jollygreenjosh@fuse.net.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mallory's Talking Kentucky, Again

For the bloggers poking at Mayor Mark Mallory's recent pitching - there's that word again - about events in Northern Kentucky, another came today. In a press release about three entertainment events this weekend, he again mentioned Newport's Italianfest and added Rivertown Breakdown, the sixth annual celebration of American roots music. It's Saturday night at the Southgate House. That's in Newport.

But the event benefits the June 16 River Sweep cleanup - of the Ohio River. Although most of the river's actually in Kentucky. But that's another issue.

“It is shaping up to be a fun weekend in the Cincinnati area with lots of different events planned all over the region,” the mayor said in a press release about three events, one of them in his city. “Anytime we can bring attention to the diverse and interesting activities that are going on in our region, it’s a very good thing.”

Here's the third event, which is actually happening in the city: Opera Dogs 2007, at Second Sunday on Main, Washington Park, Over-the-Rhine. Contest, starting at 11 a.m., include best kisser, best owner/dog look-a-like and best doggie diva costume.

Tuesday, Mallory rode in a Mustang GT around the track at Kentucky Speedway to promote a big NASCAR race there.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Group demands retraction on wedemandavote.com

A non-profit gay rights group is demanding the retraction of a statement on the wedemandavote.com web site that alleges signatures were forged in a recent referendum effort involving a Cincinnati City Council ordinance.

The wedemandavote.com site was formed by a coalition of groups seeking to repeal a county sales tax.

The site warns those circulating petitions to be on the lookout for fraudulant signatures. It notes that opponents of a recent effort to repeal a Cincinnati City Council ordinance forged signatures on petitions.

Equality Cincinnati says the statements on the Web site are "simply lies" and blames Tom Brinkman, a state representative and founder of COAST for the forged signatures. COAST is a also part of the sales tax referendum effort.

To read the wedemandavote.com statement, visit www.wedemandavote.com.
To read Equality Cincinnati's press release click here.

He knows he's mayor of Cincinnati

Mark Mallory's hanging out in Northern Kentucky a lot these days.

Today, he rolled around the Kentucky Speedway track with driver Bobby Hamilton Jr., in a Mustang GT. He swears they topped 140 mph. He called WLW talk show host Bill Cunningham during the ride.

Wednesday, he'll help Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli kick off that city's annual Italianfest.

"I am mayor of Cincinnati," he said today, "but as I always point out, this is a region."

The Speedway race he was promoting - the NASCAR Busch series Meijer 300 presented by Oreo, June 16 - is expected to draw between 72,000 and 75,000 people. "That is this area's single largest sporting event," he said. Many attendees will stay in Cincinnati and spend money here.

As for his few laps around the track: "It was exciting, let me tell you. It was exhilarating, it was great. We were six inches from the wall at some points."


There's usually just one politician at Mayor Mark Mallory's press conferences. Him.
But today, as he announced which neighborhoods get ArtWorks murals this summer (Millvale, Roselawn, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, Clifton, Over-the-Rhine and downtown), another Democrat was in the crowd - Tom Luken, former congressman, mayor and councilman.

Luken (at left, talking with The Enquirer's Pam Fisher) was there with his 15-year-old granddaughter, who's going to paint the murals this summer with 80-some other kids. He drove her there.

He also took her to Columbus for Gov. Strickland's inauguration. Maybe she'll be the next Luken family politician?

He laughed at the suggestion. "I hope she sticks to art."

Petitioners being trained

The coalition of groups seeking to repeal a county commission-imposed sales tax increase, is organizing several training sessions for people wanting to circulate petitions. The first is at 6:30 p.m. tonight.

Click on the coalition's web site to find out more.

Last week commissioners Todd Portune and David Pepper imposed a sales tax to pay for a public safety plan that includes construction of a $198 million jail.

The coalition is made up of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST); the NAACP, the Libertarian Party of Ohio, the No Jail Tax Committee, Cincinnati Progressive Action, Unite Cincinnati, and many county residents with no affiliation to the groups. Some are opposed to a sales tax to build a new jail. Others just want the public to be able to decide.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Cranley and Price Hill's Incline District

City Councilman John Cranley has a new job on the other side of development - he's a partner in City Lights Development with two guys from Chicago.

He said he'd been looking around for a job since his loss last fall against Steve Chabot. Also a lawyer, he had discussions with law firms and also with other developers, he said. He chose City Lights because it's the perfect combination of work and home - he grew up on the West Side and once lived in the Queen's Tower, the apartment complex-turned-condos that's at the center of his company's new Incline District plan.

He and his partners announced the plan - it calls for a medical office building and restaurant/retail building replacing what is now the parking lot across from Queen's Tower and Primavista restaurant.

Cranley's house is within the boundaries of the district.

"This is where my heart is," he said, "where my passion is."

He doesn't see any potential conflict with his part-time job as a member of Cincinnati City Council. He plans to excuse himself from any votes that relate to the project - "just like Chris Bortz does with anything related to Towne Properties and like Jeff Berding does with the Bengals."

He's 42 and running for council

In case you missed it, Cincinnati City Council candidate Brian Garry celebrated his birthday with a fund-raiser Saturday in Northside. He promised cake, ice cream and optional singing for the suggested donation of $50.

Garry ran unsuccessfully in 2003 as an independent. This time, he's endorsed by the Democrats.

Want to know more about his ONE (Opportunity, Neighborhoods, Equality) Cincinnati? briangarry@briangarry.com.

He turned 42, by the way.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Report from the Clinton speech

Kimball Perry, who covered the Freedom Center event Saturday night, reports:

Former President Clinton’s theme at his Cincinnati speech Saturday was that, while we all are different, it is our similarities – our common humanity – that binds us and gives him hope for the future.

In trying to make that point, he told a comical story.

Science, he said, has determined that 99.9 percent of the genes and cells of people are the same. Our differences – eye color, build, skin color – are determined by the one-tenth of one percent of our makeup.

Clinton noted that he was proud to be 99.9 percent like Nelson Mandela, the South African who was imprisoned for 27 years fighting his country’s racial divide.

He didn’t feel the same about another well-known conservative radio personality he saw at dinner this week – Rush Limbaugh.

“I wanted to tell Rush Limbaugh that I was 99.9 percent like him,” Clinton joked. “I didn’t because he would have run screaming … so I just shook his hand.”

Seen in the audience at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center award presentation Saturday:

· Federal court Judge Susan Dlott – who was appointed by Clinton -- and her husband, Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley.

· Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory made a small speech. He was accompanied by his bodyguard, Cincinnati Police Officer Scott Johnson. Before he entered the ceremony, Mallory was kiddingly asked if he was going to throw a pitch tonight – poking fun at his infamous “pitch” he “threw” out at the Reds Opening Day this year. Mallory went along with the dig by acting as if he was warming up his arm;

· Elected officials – State Rep Bill Seitz and Tyrone Yates. Cincinnati Council Members Leslie Ghiz, Jon Cranley and Jim Tarbell;

· Steve Chabot decided family responsibilities trumped two former presidents.
Chabot, a Republican who represents Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, attended the event but left early, before Clinton arrived. Chabot had to attend his nephew’s graduation from Elder High and his niece’s graduation party after she graduated from St. Teresa Elementary School in Price Hill.

You can read Kimball's Enquirer story here

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