Friday, July 06, 2001

DCI drops its backing for study of gay issue

Heimlich puts pressure on at budget time

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Downtown Cincinnati Inc. dropped its support for an independent study of the city's controversial ban on gay-rights laws after being questioned by Cincinnati council members.

        DCI had joined four other groups pledging support of a study to gauge public opinion eight years after city voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 3, a charter amendment blocking any laws protecting the rights of homosexuals.

        But after inquiries from Cincinnati City Council members, DCI dropped its support of the study. Days later, council unanimously approved the downtown advocacy group's budget.

        DCI is primarily funded by a council-approved special improvement district of downtown property owners.

        John Hurley, president of DCI's board of trustees, said his group decided to untangle from a political fight.

        “This is an issue more appropriate for the political arena,” said Mr. Hurley, an executive with Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc. “They (council members) had some concerns about public funds being used for the study.”

        DCI wanted to determine whether Cincinnati — the only U.S. city with an amendment preventing gays and lesbians from appealing to City Hall for protection against discrimination — is suffering economically because of Issue 3.

        The Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau said Issue 3 has cost the city millions of dollars in lost conventions.

        Councilman Phil Heimlich met with DCI officials and questioned their use of public funds for the study. He also discussed his concerns with Mayor Charlie Luken, a Democrat, and with other Republican council members.

        “I just expressed
concern that this seemed outside their area of responsibility,” Mr. Heimlich said. “They're responsible for economic development, not social policy.”

        Mr. Heimlich disputes the convention bureau's assertion that business groups canceled meetings here because of Issue 3.

        “I see that as an excuse more than anything,” said Mr. Heimlich, adding that a convention bureau audit released this week cited inadequate funding, poor facilities and other shortfalls with the city's chief tourism agency.

        During a meeting with DCI Chief Executive Officer Rick Greiwe, Mr. Heimlich inquired whether the downtown group's support of the study stepped beyond its city-appointed powers.

        Mr. Greiwe consulted DCI's lawyer and sent Mr. Heimlich a letter June 12 confirming that funding the study would exceed DCI's powers. DCI dropped its support, and City Council later approved a four-year, $7 million budget for DCI.

        The local chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice will launch the study this month despite DCI's withdrawal, executive director Chip Harrod said.

        Mr. Harrod said other groups supporting the study are the convention and visitors bureau, Cincinnatus Association, Cincinnati 2012 and the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. No public funds will be used.


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