Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Law-and-order councilman draws ire of peers, blacks

Heimlich often stands alone as police advocate

By Robert Anglen and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Cincinnati City Council members filed past Timothy Thomas' casket Saturday, Councilman Phil Heimlich was missing. The reason, he said, was to limit any conflicts his presence might ignite. But his absence revealed how isolated Mr. Heimlich has become from the majority of council — and from residents who say he has nothing in common with the black community.

Councilman Phil Heimlich passes out lunches outside Timothy Thomas' funeral Saturday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Differences about public policies before the shooting death of Mr. Thomas, and the ensuing riots, have led to public disputes between Mr. Heimlich and the mayor this week.

        Some of Mr. Heimlich's peers say his criticism of Mayor Charlie Luken is out of line.

        Others describe the Republican — in his final months in office because of term limits — as being out of touch with voters.

        For instance, he voted against an ordinance last month banning racial profiling. He spoke out Tuesday about the mayor's race-relations commission, saying it would appease rioters.

        He has criticized dozens of social programs as wasteful government spending while being the police division's strongest supporter.

        “I have stood alone on quite a variety of issues,” he says. “Simply put, I am in the minority, and that's OK in a democracy.”

Harsh criticism
        Instead of attending Mr. Thomas' funeral, Mr. Heimlich joined a church group distributing lunches to mourners who couldn't get into the funeral.

        “Some people still came up to me, got in my face and called me names,” he said. “It wasn't pleasant when people were coming up screaming at me, calling me a racist.”

        The criticism is not confined to outside City Hall.

        On Tuesday, Councilman John Cranley said all of council needed to support Mayor Charlie Luken, a fellow Democrat who unveiled a race-relations commission on Monday.

        But Mr. Heimlich distributed statements complaining he wasn't invited to the news conference and criticized the effort as a way to excuse those involved in the riots.

        The city, he added, would be better off repaying business owners whose stores were damaged in the riot before doing anything else

        Later, Mr. Luken snatched up one of the flyers and scribbled a hasty message back to Mr. Heimlich: “My staff called you about this.”

        Mr. Heimlich said Tuesday his office never received the call. But the other Republicans on council, Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel, did appear at that news conference.

Law-and-order style
        A former assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, Mr. Heimlich used his stand for stronger law enforcement in his first bid for council in 1993.

        At the same time, he was pushing a voter initiative that would have required hiring 200 additional police officers over four years.

        The measure failed, but Mr. Heimlich finished ninth in the election, good enough for the last seat on council.

        He also received $245,808 in campaign contributions in 1993, which at the time was the second highest amount ever raised for a council race.

        That race established a pattern for Mr. Heimlich: raise a lot of money, back the police and push ideas that get attention but aren't always successful.

        The highest Mr. Heimlich has ever finished in a city council race is second place. Yet, he is a big spender in campaigns: He has spent $1.5 million in his four races for council with much of money coming from Cincinnati corporate executives.

        The voting districts in which he has fared worst are in the city's predominantly black wards.

        Over the years, Mr. Heimlich has focused on a handful of high-profile, controversial issues. For example:

        • He has clashed with the city's unions by pushing for the privatization of such services as trash collection and highway maintenance.

        • Concerned by the number of homeless on downtown streets, Mr. Heimlich backed ordinances designed to crack down on panhandling.

        • An advocate of school choice, including the use of government-funded vouchers, he helped establish two Cincinnati charter schools.

        Police have come to expect support from Mr. Heimlich during their most difficult times, which has drawn criticism from the black community.

        In May 1998, council asked federal officials to investigate the death of Lorenzo Collins, a 25-year-old African-American man shot by police after escaping from a University Hospital psychiatric ward and threatening officers with a brick.

        Mr. Heimlich was the only member of council not to vote for the investigation, saying calling for the probe was “irresponsible and political grandstanding of the worse sort.”

        And last year, when council was demanding information about the Nov. 7 death of Roger Owensby, an African-American who suffocated while in police custody, Mr. Heimlich told his colleagues to “stay out of this.”

        Such stances — including his lone vote against the racial-profiling law — have drawn the ire of African-Americans. At city meetings, speakers have referred to him with derogatory slurs and accused him of having a grudge against black groups.

        But Mr. Heimlich says his job is to be a watchdog for taxpayers.

        He says he isn't afraid of being a lone voice.

        And he says he won't back down.


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