Desperation? Berding Resorts to Robo-Calls

Worried about his odds for getting the Democratic Party’s endorsement Tuesday, late this afternoon Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding began bombarding the party’s precinct executives with automated telephone calls that feature a one-time critic speaking on his behalf.

Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune recorded the telephone message at Berding’s request at about 4:30 p.m., and precinct executives began receiving them on their home telephone numbers barely an hour later.

Berding’s campaign paid for the “robo-calls” and used a list of names and telephone numbers for precinct executives that it got from the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s headquarters.

A growing number of local Democrats oppose an endorsement for Berding. Among various complaints, they dislike Berding’s extensive ties to Republican candidates and campaign contributors, his tendency to cut deals outside public meetings and his frequent clashes with some Democrats on council, notably John Cranley, David Crowley and Cecil Thomas.

The Cincinnati Democratic Committee (CDC) will decide on endorsements at a 6:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting in Evanston.

In the telephone message, Portune says he’s forgiven Berding for helping then-Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus in his unsuccessful 2000 re-election campaign. Portune challenged Bedinghaus in that election and won; Bedinghaus later was hired by the Cincinnati Bengals, which also employs Berding.

“It wasn’t my idea, it was Berding’s, but I was willing to help out,” Portune said today.

Since 2000, Berding has helped him on county-related issues, such as ongoing efforts to build a new jail, Portune said.

“The only reason I was willing to do this is because I was told I wouldn’t have an opportunity to speak at the meeting because I’m not a precinct executive,” he said. “I don’t see anything odd about it.”

Some local Democrats already are questioning whether party leaders helped Berding access the data on precinct executives, but Portune described it as a non-issue.

“I think those numbers are readily available,” Portune said. “The party has lists of those names and numbers. If someone wants to go to the time and trouble to plug that information into a call system, they are free to do so.”

In the past few days, Berding also mailed a letter to precinct executives quoting prominent Democrats vouching that he’s a loyal party member. It included remarks from Portune, Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, Councilwoman Laketa Cole and others.

A poll conducted last fall by former Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who is seeking a return to office this year, showed Berding finishing on the “bubble” — placing in 10th place and just missing a seat on the nine-member council. Berding recently told the Cincinnati Business Courier that he had raised more than $300,000 so far and will spend much of the money on television commercials to directly appeal to voters.

Berding, 40, is sales director for the Cincinnati Bengals. He managed the successful campaign in 1996 to increase Hamilton County’s sales tax by a half-cent to build new stadiums for the Bengals and Reds. He later was hired by the team.

Berding is seeking re-election to his second city council term this November.

UPDATE: Although CityBeat initially received information from some leaders in the Democratic Party that Berding used records at their headquarters to get information about precinct executives, Caleb Faux, the party’s executive director, said that didn’t happen.

“Precinct execs are a matter of public record at the (Hamilton County) Board of Elections,” he said. “There are many people who have that information.”

Meanwhile, some other Democratic candidates in this fall’s city council elections have since said — based on Portune’s willingness to help — they will ask him to participate in their campaigns, as well.
– Kevin Osborne

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6 Comments on “Desperation? Berding Resorts to Robo-Calls”

  1. hexagon Says:

    He’s a witch!

  2. Did you say $300,000?

  3. Opportune Says:

    Portune’s quote implies that he was somehow forced to resort to the telemarketing because he couldn’t speak at the meeting. As a former city councilman he should know the rules that only precinct executives are able to speak. I expect these kind of calls in the heat of a significant race like mayor or governor, but to get one for someone to seek my vote at a city council endorsement meeting is ridiculous. If the Dem party gave out the phone numbers that stinks. Those numbers should be used for important calls related to party functions and only given out to a candidate after they have the party’s endorsement.

  4. confused Says:

    Portune says Berding has helped him since 2000 on county issues- Berding was only sworn in as a councilman in Jan.2006. Portune’s comment makes it sound like Berding has been helping him for the last 7 years. In what capacity did Berding help him before he becama a councilman?

  5. waste of air Says:

    his message went on so long my voice mail cut him off.
    it started with him saying he was doing the call since he wasn’t allowed to speak at the meeting, as if it was a personal affront that the rules weren’t bent for him.
    this must be the first time in a long time that Portune and Burke agree on something-is this a sign of the apocalypse.

  6. ragin precinct exec Says:

    Come on Todd! I used to greatly respect you. I was astonished to receive this call last night with your voice campaigning for Berding’s endorsement.

    Why not let the process play out, leave it up for a debate at the CDC endorsement meeting?

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