Wednesday, February 16, 2000

Stadium a big political problem for Bedinghaus




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

bedinghaus
Bob Bedinghaus
        No one has more riding on straightening out the exploding costs of Paul Brown Stadium construction than the man who persuaded Hamilton County taxpayers to pick up the bill four years ago — county Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus.

        Mr. Bedinghaus' political career depends on it.

        Even some of the Republican county commissioner's political allies say that, unless Mr. Bedinghaus, who led the campaign for the stadium sales tax four years ago and is the county's point man on stadium construction, can find a way to bring the costs under control and get the project finished by the August deadline, he can probably kiss his elected office goodbye.

        “This will determine if he wins or loses this fall,” said Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, the Hamilton County Republican Party chairman. “No amount of (campaign) money that he raises will help him, if he doesn't fix this.”

        Mr. Deters and other Republican supporters say they are confident that Mr. Bedinghaus will come up with a solution that will bring the costs under control and allow the Bengals to take over Paul Brown Stadium in August.

        But in the meantime, he can expect to be hammered by Democratic opponents and even Republicans who are upset with the way the stadium project has gone.

        Four years ago, when 61 percent of the county's voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund stadiums for the Reds and Bengals, Mr. Bedinghaus said the county would “get a good deal for the taxpayers.”

        But now, after a two-month audit of the Bengals stadium construction that showed the “guaranteed maximum price” of $287 million may go up $45 million or more, Mr. Bedinghaus is under political pressure to come up with a solution.

        By tying his own political fortunes to the stadium project, Mr. Deters said, “Bob took what was probably the biggest political gamble ever taken in this county.”

        “He's going to deal with it; he has shown leadership all the way through this,” Mr. Deters said. “He knew there was political risk; and he was enough of a leader to do it, because he believed this would ultimately be good for the community.”

        But lawyer Tim Mara, a Democrat who led the opposition to the sales tax increase four years ago, said he doubts Mr. Bedinghaus perceived it as much of a gamble at the time.

        “This is a situation of his own making,” Mr. Mara said. “He has to pay the consequences.”

        There are two Democratic candidates in the March 7 primary vying for the chance to make Mr. Bedinghaus “pay the consequences” this fall — Marilyn Hyland of Indian Hill, who ran against Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. in 1998 and lost; and Cincinnati City Councilman Todd Portune.

        Ms. Hyland has called for the county commissioners to renegotiate the stadium lease with the Bengals. Since news of the stadium construction audit broke Monday, Mr. Portune has been silent on the subject.

        This fall, Democrats will try to tap into the frustrations of voters like Idella Richey, a 71-year-old retiree from Covedale, who said she finds the news about cost overruns “very depressing.”

        “I think there are a lot of us we feel like we've been tricked over this thing,” Mrs. Richey said.

        Pinkie Williams, a Democrat from Evanston, said most people she talks to “think there should have been better supervision over this project from the start. It's a ridiculous situation.”

        But Eugene Ruehlmann, the last Republican mayor of Cincinnati who pushed for the construction of Riverfront Stadium in the late 1960s, said that no matter what political price Mr. Bedinghaus pays in 2000, “15 years down the road, people will be thanking him for taking the lead.”

        “Anytime you undertake a project of this magnitude, there are going to be pitfalls,” Mr. Ruehlmann said. “And people look for a whipping boy.”

       



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