Berding’s Big Fat GOP Bash
Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding, a Democrat, is planning a campaign fundraiser to mark his upcoming 40th birthday — and the host committee for the event reads like a Who’s Who of Republican corporate power brokers.
The list, which is circulating via e-mail among many rank-and-file Democrats in the city, is being cited by Berding’s critics as bolstering their case that the freshman councilman is a DINO, or “Democrat in name only,” who shouldn’t receive the party’s endorsement in this fall’s election.
Some local Democrats are troubled by Berding’s actions in recent city budget negotiations, his tendency to hold important policy discussions out of public view and his past campaigning against a fellow Democratic candidate, as well as his day job as an executive with the Cincinnati Bengals front office.
Berding is the de facto leader of a council faction known as the “Fiscal Five.” During recent budget debates, the faction pushed for steep cuts to the Cincinnati Health Department and wanted to put a $4.5 million surplus into Cincinnati’s cash reserves, a rainy day fund to cover emergencies that also affects the city’s credit rating.
The faction’s opponents, mostly Democrats, wanted to use part of the surplus to fund items such as the city’s non-profit, private health clinics, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission and the recycling program, all of which had been slated for cuts. After a bitter fight, a compromise eventually was reached to fund some of the programs.
Berding’s faction consists of Democrat Laketa Cole, Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel, and Charterite Chris Bortz, who also is a registered Republican.
The recent invitation to Berding’s fundraiser stated the event would commemorate his 40th birthday and listed two suggested contribution levels, $140 and $500 per person. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a Democrat, is the featured speaker.
But the invitation lists about 25 members of the host committee who are active Republicans or have strong ties to the Cincinnati business community. They include financier Carl Lindner Jr.; Reds owner Bob Castellini; Jim Zimmerman, Federated Department Stores CEO; Stuart Dornette, Bengals attorney; John Taylor, PNC Bank CEO; John Schiff, American Financial CEO; and John S. Leffler, a major contributor to President Bush’s campaign.
Also on the host committee are a few Democrats, including former Mayor Charlie Luken, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, some labor union leaders and Francie Pepper, mother of Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper.
The mass e-mail, sent by local Democrat Bill Joiner, states, “While it is nice that for once, a ‘Democrat’ will have substantial financial backing, and this is a list that has provided substantial financial backing for Republican candidates at every level, I believe that a price must be paid for this kind of support, and I believe that a price already has been paid by Jeff’s actions in his first year on council.”
Later, the e-mail continues, “The majority of electorate in Cincinnati is now Democrat. We elect a majority of Democrats to council. We deserve to be governed by true Democrats, who believe in and act on Democratic principles.”
The e-mail has been sent to members of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee, Democracy for Cincinnati and precinct executives, among others.
Berding’s supporters counter that his support shows an ability to work across party lines and that Berding doesn’t follow ideological positions.
Still, some Democrats are upset by the endorsement process the local party used during Berding’s first campaign in 2005. Some nominating committee members said they felt bullied by Burke to endorse Berding, and at least one critic was booted from the committee for complaining about the process.
During the 2005 election, Berding’s endorsement was opposed by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, the first Democrat elected to the commission in nearly 40 years. Portune took the stance after it was revealed that Berding had campaigned for Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus, the Republican then-incumbent who negotiated the Bengals stadium lease, against Portune in the 2000 campaign.
Also, Berding was involved in the campaign for the 1996 half-cent sales tax increase to build a $458 million stadium for the Bengals, which involved $51 million in cost overruns. The deal alienated many voters and has strained the county’s finances, prompting a lawsuit.
— Kevin Osborne