Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Fingergate questions remain

Inside City Hall

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Questions remain in City Hall's biggest scandal of 2002, a caper that has turned 801 Plum St. upsidedown since it unfolded seven days ago.

        The scandal is Fingergate.

        The proximate causes of the episode are well known: Mayor Charlie Luken calls out Councilman John Cranley for giggling loudly during a meeting. Mr. Cranley retorts. Mr. Luken lays down the law. Mr. Cranley gives Mr. Luken a display of his digital dexterity.

        But what was it that caused Mr. Cranley's laughter to break the decorum in the first place?

        Some of Mr. Cranley's colleagues are beginning to distance themselves from the widening shock waves of Fingergate. One of his two neighbors at the council table, Pat DeWine, denied any involvement.

        His neighbor to the left was Councilwoman Alicia Reece, who was seen leaning toward Mr. Cranley just moments before.

        She also denied culpability.

        “I never say anything,” the usually loquacious councilwoman said, wearing her best “who, me?” expression. “I just sit there and smile.”

        Footnote: In his State of the City Address last week, Mayor Luken credited several groups with helping to improve race relations in Cincinnati, including “Cincinnati CAN, the Amos Project, and the JCRC.”

        And what is this group, the JCRC, whose work has been largely unsung?

        Mr. Luken may have been referring to the Jewish Community Relations Council, but aides said it's more likely that he misspoke. He meant to say the CHRC — the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.

        This although Mr. Luken actually wrote his State of the City Address. Even in all the important speeches he gave during last years campaign — up to and including his inauguration as the city's first strong mayor in 75 years — Mr. Luken usually speaks off-the-cuff.

        Trading Places?: If Dayton City Manager Valerie Lemmie moves to Cincinnati, who will replace her in Dayton?

        Early speculation in the Gem City has Tim Riordan — Cincinnati's acting city manager — swapping places with Ms. Lemmie, his former boss when he was a department head in Dayton.

        But Mr. Riordan — who took himself out of consideration for the top Cincinnati job — said it's unlikely he'd move back to Dayton.

        “I've fallen in love with Cincinnati,” he said. “They would have to make me an offer I couldn't refuse.”

        Office politics: The next city manager will keep one of the most plum offices on Plum Street.

        Mr. Luken has dismissed an idea floated by two council members that would have moved the manager's office down the hall.

        But he is reportedly considering a plan that would make the common area between the mayor and manager's offices — long considered a public area — off-limits.

        Henceforth, those entering the hallowed halls of power will need a pass code.

        Statistic: Amount of money spent on the I-471 Eggleston Avenue off-ramp in July 1998, only to have the Ohio Department of Transportation order it demolished less than three years later: $421,632.

        Demolition costs won't be available until the bids come in.

        Gregory Korte covers City Hall for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at 768-8391 or


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