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

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12 Comments on “Berding’s Big Fat GOP Bash”

  1. moment of truth Says:

    Shame on the Dem’s if they endorse Berding. He undermined a Democratic mayor and our Democratic Finance chair. He voted against a motion in support of raising the minnimum wage. His donor-base in republican/big business. Let’s see if the Party actually behaves as a party with principles and refuses to endorse.

  2. The Dean Says:

    Glad you picked up the scent from The Beacon again!

    I hope you do some follow up and get this story into CityBeat print. We need a concerted effort to out Berding!

  3. Kevin Osborne Says:


    I received the same e-mail this morning. As you might imagine, I am on political mass mailing lists for both the local Republican and Democratic parties, as I assume you are.

    And for the record, I was the only reporter covering this general topic during Berding’s first run, in spring and summer 2005, for The Cincinnati Post. Check the Web for the articles. Unfortunately, no one else picked up on the issue at the time. Glad oto see you’re interested.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Berding is a liar.

  5. yellow dog Says:

    We voted for Berding but never again. He betrays the working man and is now in bed with the big business republicans and that crazy woman Leslie Ghiz. Hell the republicans don’t even like her but he sure does.

  6. Firestarter Says:

    The endorsement process for Council is just beginning-constant pressure needs to be applied to members of the committee and Tim Burke. There are too many good Democrats running for Council for one of the spots to go to the Republican Berding. I have heard that all endorsements supposedly must be earned this year, and that there will not be automatic endorsement of incumbents. Several members of the committee are openly opposed to Berding. They need our support, and lets just hope that they dont get kicked off the committee! Kevin Osborne needs to be commended for his continuing effort to ensure that all know the truth about Berding.

  7. fact checker Says:

    The Post articles by Kevin were published 4/18/05, 5/2/05, and 5/11/05.
    Not sure if Post charges for archived articles. I have the articles but they are too lengthy to post here.

  8. Kitty Says:

    This column about Berding should also be in the print edition of City Beat
    as well as the on-line blog. A cover story would be nice!

  9. I may have the worst rep of all who are running for council this year, but I would never vote to cut funding for a city health program.
    Berding needs to go, plain and simple. He has spit in the face of the voters who thought they were electing a Dem when they voted for him.
    The Dem party is going to endorse him again, it is up to us voters to get the word out about Berding to all those who are in the know.

  10. who are “not” in the know. Just noticed that little/huge mistake in wording.

  11. fact checker Says:

    I wish your statement “There are too many good Democrats running for Council…” was true. There are only 2 viable new candidates, Garry and Harris, in addition to the incumbents, so there aren’t even enough good Dems to fill 9 slots.

  12. WTF? Says:

    SEE message below from HCDP-
    Please join Hamilton County Commission
    President Todd Portune and Commissioner David Pepper
    for a 40th birthday fundraiser to
    kick-off the RE-ELECTION campaign for
    to Cincinnati City Council
    With Special Guest
    Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher
    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    WHY in the world is Portune hosting the Berding party after what Berding did to him? Wonder if Pepper or Burke pressured Portune to make nice for the appearance of party unity.

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