Thursday, November 02, 2000

'Liberal Portune' TV ad a stretch

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Hamilton County Republican Party is spending about $100,000 to trash Democrat Todd Portune and claim that he is too liberal to sit on the county commission.

        One television ad says that as a Cincinnati councilman, Mr. Portune supported gay marriages, opposed juvenile curfews and wanted to allow “crooks” to turn in their guns and receive sneakers instead of jail time.

        The ads are designed to appeal to the county Republicans who outnumber the city Democrats but may be reluctant to vote for Republican commissioner Bob Bedinghaus because of his sponsorship of stadium construction.

        Tactics aside, are the claims in the Republican ad accurate?

        An analysis of the claims and Mr. Portune's voting record shows that, like so much political advertising, the answer is somewhere in between:

        • Gay marriages: Mr. Portune voted against a motion by Republican councilman Charlie Winburn in 1996 that urged the state to

        “uphold and protect the traditional institution of marriage.”

        Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Joe Deters says that vote shows Mr. Portune supports “gay marriages.” Mr. Deters says the issue is important because, if elected, Mr. Portune could vote to extend county health benefits or insurance to same-sex partners.

        But the commercial doesn't tell voters that Mr. Portune voted in favor of not extending health care benefits to domestic partners of city employees in 1995.

        The 1995 vote, which had real impact on city policy, was supported by a unanimous council. Mr. Winburn's motion, which would have had no impact on city policy, was “tabled,” or set aside, by a majority of council.

        Tim Burke, the county's Democratic Party chairman, said Mr. Winburn's motion was made for “blatant political purposes,” to force then Mayor Roxanne Qualls to vote on the issue. Ms. Qualls was running for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot's congressional seat at the time.

        “We never had a substantive debate on same-sex marriages and we wouldn't have a reason for such a debate,” Mr. Portune said.

        • Guns for sneakers: In early 1994, Mr. Portune and then-councilman Tyrone Yates asked the city's Safety Department to draft a proposal for an exchange program whereby youngsters could turn in guns and receive sneakers or some other sports apparel.

        Similar programs had been implemented in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis, where the guns were taken with no questions asked. Dallas also implemented an exchange program, trading Cowboys tickets for guns, but did not offer immunity.

        The programs were supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, along with law-enforcement officials in those cities.

        Neither Mr. Portune nor Mr. Yates asked specifically that immunity for a crime be granted when the guns were turned in, according to the motion drafted on Jan. 5, 1994. They left it to the city's Safety Department to work out the details.

        But Mr. Deters, then county prosecutor, blasted the idea and said it would never work if immunity were granted.

        Six months later, the Safety Department wrote its recommendation, which read: “Police will respond to pick up the firearms, an investigation will be conducted, applicable laws will be enforced and the firearm will be disposed of through the Police Division.”

        The program was never enacted.

        • Juvenile curfew: Mr. Portune was one of four council members in 1994 to oppose aspects of the curfew because he thought it would be unfairly enforced if community centers in certain neighborhoods were used as “drop-off” sites.

        Mr. Portune also wanted the parents of the detained juveniles punished, either with community service or fines.

        After changes were made to the proposed law — such as rotating the neighborhoods where the sites were located and including a parental responsibility clause — Mr. Portune voted in favor of it.

        Mr. Deters said looking at the specifics of each charge “misses the point.”

        “The guy has no place on the county commission,” Mr. Deters said. “I told our people doing this that the No. 1 rule is that it is all accurate. There were a lot of things they wanted on there that there wasn't sufficient documentation for, and we told them no.”

        Mr. Burke said the commercial is an attempt to sully Mr. Portune and deceive county voters.

        “The voters of Hamilton County know there is one central issue in the commissioner's race — the mismanagement of the construction of Paul Brown Stadium and the sweetheart lease Bob Bedinghaus gave the Bengals.”


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