Monday, November 12, 2001

Council gets a dash of Pepper

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Here's what most Cincinnati voters think they know about David Pepper:

        That he is the son of Procter & Gamble chairman John Pepper. That his father's name recognition helped him in his race for Cincinnati City Council. And that he became the top vote-getter in Tuesday's election.

        All that is true.

        But here's what voters might not know:

        That he was influenced as much by his mother, YWCA president and civic activist Francie Pepper, as by his father.

        That he spent as much time running against his name as he spent running on it.

        And that his first-place finish Tuesday is a political feat rarely achieved by a non-incumbent. The last candidate to do it was Bill Keating in 1967.

        Apparently, voters have decided there's a lot they need to learn about David Pepper. His campaign Web site ( received about 500 hits a day before the election — and as many as 2,500 daily visitors since.

        There his “Pepper Profile” gives the highlights of an impressive career, especially for a 30-year-old.

        He graduated from Cincinnati Country Day and went to Yale, where he majored in history and international studies.

        After college, he got a job at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where he was an assistant to former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

        He then worked on an economic development project in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, he worked with a deputy mayor by the name of Vladimir Putin, now president of Russia.

        Mr. Pepper returned to Yale, entering law school. Judge Nathaniel Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit picked him out of about 400 applicants for a law clerk's position, and Mr. Pepper came home to Cincinnati.

        “He clearly ranks at the very top echelon of law clerks I've had over a period of 32 years,” Judge Jones said. “He brought a degree of maturity, of focus, and breadth of knowledge that very few law clerks bring to this job.

        “He's unflappable, and he is not driven by ego.”

        The Mount Adams resident joined the law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and wasted little time putting together a bid for City Council.

        One of the first people he sought out was class-action lawyer Stan Chesley, who fancies himself as the Democratic Party's “great equalizer” against Republican donors.

        “I wanted to gobble him up as a Democrat as quickly as I could, before the evil forces of the other side took him,” said Mr. Chesley, laughing. “I was impressed from the get-go. He's his own person.”

        Mr. Chesley gave the young candidate some early advice: Run on just a few issues voters can remember. Get an inside track by seeking an appointment to the seat being vacated by Todd Portune. And whatever you do, don't depend on your name recognition.

        “My concern was that I thought it could have been a negative, particularly in the African-American community,” Mr. Chesley said.

        Of course, Mr. Pepper took none of the advice.

        He told Mr. Chesley that he wanted to earn a seat on City Council, and he wanted to run on a broad agenda.

        “We've had candidates run on one or two issues in this town for years. And where have they gotten us?” he said.

        Mr. Pepper started raising money and attending community council meetings in October 2000 — three or four months before most candidates even thought of entering the race.

        He estimated he knocked on nearly 5,000 doors over the summer, leaving yard signs as “bread crumbs” to show where he had been.

        He also proved adept at raising money — at least $242,000 — from a wide array of sources, including talk show host Rosie O'Donnell and hair-care mogul Vidal Sassoon.

        And while Mr. Pepper did run on a name-oriented slogan of “Just Add Pepper,” that campaign worked well only with a small circle of P&G employees and other corporate types.

        For example, there was the candidates' forum in Mount Lookout when he was raked over the coals with three pointed questions in quick succession.

        Weren't you born with a silver spoon in your mouth? Why aren't you a Republican? Don't you favor civil- service reform just because Procter & Gamble told you to?

        “Those are fair questions,” Mr. Pepper said.

        “If I looked at me, I would ask, "Is this person in touch?' That's why I'm glad to answer them.”

        For most of his upbringing, Mr. Pepper said, his family lived a middle- to upper-middle class existence.

        His father, a Pennsylvania native, came to Cincinnati to work for P&G in 1963. He started as a staff assistant and moved on to assistant brand manager, brand man ager, advertising manager, general manager of the Italian subsidiary, international division manager, various vice president positions, president and, finally, chief executive officer.

        And though he said his parents are “Republican but not partisan,” Mr. Pepper said he's a Democrat because he still believes government can help.

        “We've become so fed up with our City Council politics, we've stopped believing that government — good government — can make a difference,” he said.

        Mr. Pepper admits that his father sometimes gives him advice “like any father would give a son.”

        And though he owns P&G stock, Mr. Pepper said he is not beholden to any corporate agenda. He does agree, however, that what's good for Procter & Gamble is good for Cincinnati — and vice versa.

        While he said he's proud of what his father has accomplished, he would prefer that people not refer to him simply as “John Pepper's son.”

        “That's actually chauvinist,” he said. “My mom's done some great things, too.”

        Francie Pepper, one of The Cincinnati Enquirer's 1996 Women of the Year,has long been involved in raising money for youth programs and battered women. She also provides Mr. Pepper's deep Cincinnati roots.

        “She's a real Cincinnatian,” Mr. Pepper said.

        “She's kind of like (Councilman) Jim Tarbell in a way. She knows the history of places like few people in this city.”

        Mrs. Pepper's father, Stanley Garber, an obstetrician, delivered an estimated 30,000 Cincinnati babies from 1935 to 1982.

        “Thirty thousand was always the number of votes I needed to win,” Mr. Pepper said. “I like to think my grandfather got those and I got another 15,000 myself.”

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