Thursday, October 10, 2002

Bush tickets show connections count

Only most influential got invite

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Carl Lindner, Anthony Munoz and Steve Love made the list.

David Crowley, Bill Cunningham and Sheila Adams did not.

The list of who got tickets to President Bush's Monday night speech from the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal gives a rare glimpse into who holds influence in Cincinnati.

(Click to see the guest list)

The audience at Union Terminal Tuesday night included U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park; U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine; Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken; Cincinnati City Manager Valerie Lemmie, and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.
(Gary Landers photo)
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The roster of guests, obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer, is a guide to Cincinnati's most influential corporate and civic leaders, and demonstrates Cincinnati's many connections to the Bush White House. But it also shows how haphazard the invitation process was, with organizers having just 48 hours over a weekend to invite 800 business, civic and political leaders to a major foreign policy speech on Iraq.

Still, so many big political donors are on the list that one Republican suggested that fund-raisers would spend hundreds of dollars for a copy.

White House officials and local organizers emphasized repeatedly that the event — a major foreign policy speech — was “nonpartisan.”

Nonetheless, the Union Terminal Rotunda had a decidedly Republican leaning Monday night.

The White House tapped the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce to distribute 505 tickets, which went to local CEOs and groups such as the Urban League, the United Way and Leadership Cincinnati.

Michael Fisher, president of the chamber, said the business group made an effort to reach out to other community groups, including the African-American and Hispanic chambers, and the Japan-America Society.

“Also, I think there's a self-selection process here. Some people we couldn't reach or they couldn't come,” he said. “Some, for personal reasons or because of their own views of the world, would say that it wasn't something they wanted to take advantage of.”

Beyond those invitations, most of the remaining tickets were distributed by Republicans with close ties to the White House. County party chairmen, Republican elected officials, and big donors filled out the guest list. Many well-connected young Republicans served as volunteers for the event.

Carl Lindner, whose Cincinnati business interests include the American Financial Group, Provident Bank and the Cincinnati Reds, got a block of 21 tickets — many in the front row — from the office of Rep Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park.

When Mr. Bush finished his speech and went to shake hands in the audience, he headed straight for Mr. Lindner. And among all the very important people invited, only Mr. Lindner's guests were explicitly listed as “VIPs” on the guest list.

They included: Sandra W. Heimann, a top Lindner aide; Christ Hospital heart doctors Charles Abbotsmith and Dean Kereiakes, and various Lindner family members, including United Dairy Farmers owner Robert Lindner.

But while there were many big Republican donors at the event, family connections often counted as much as campaign cash. Museum Center director Douglass W. McDonald invited several family members. Four Chabots (as in Rep. Steve, R-Cincinnati), nine Fishers (Chamber of Commerce president Michael), and five Loves (Blue Chip Broadcasting president Ross), took up multiple slots on the guest list.

A small number of big-name Democrats did make the list: Mayor Charlie Luken, who joined the presidential motorcade from the airport, was allowed to invite two staffers and a friend. Dick Weiland, the powerful Democratic lobbyist for (among other organizations) the Cincinnati Museum Center, also got a ticket. Councilman David Pepper, also a Democrat, got a ticket through his father, retired Procter & Gamble chairman John E. Pepper Jr., a Republican. And state Rep. Catherine Barrett, D-College Hill, also got an invite.

“There are legitimate questions that can be raised about how representative that crowd was, either of Cincinnati, the region, or the country,” said Hamilton County Democratic chairman Tim Burke, who was invited but declined. “But I'll give them credit for having them go through the chamber, rather than have all the tickets controlled by the Republican Party.”

He said some City Council members complained to him that they didn't get tickets. (Democratic Councilman David Crowley wasn't one of them. He joined protesters outside Union Terminal.)

On the other side of the spectrum, conservative WLW-AM (700) talk show host Bill Cunningham said the list was too inclusive, and should not have included the Urban League. Blue Chip Broadcasting's Steven R. Love and three other Urban League board members attended, but president Sheila Adams did not.

"Republicans are stupid'

“Could you imagine Clinton coming to town and inviting members of the National Rifle Association? Republicans are stupid,” said Mr. Cunningham, who was not invited. “When George Bush comes back to town in two years saying "Vote for me,' Bill Cunningham is not going to forget.”

The guest list — and its authors — also underscores Cincinnati's many connections to the Bush White House:

Joseph Hagin, a former vice president of corporate affairs for Chiquita Brands, is an assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for operations. He oversees the president's schedule, and was one of the key decision-makers who influenced Mr. Bush's decision to come to Cincinnati.

Among his 20 invited friends and family members were Bill DeWitt of Indian Hill — an investment banker, St. Louis Cardinals owner and co-chairman of Mr. Bush's inaugural committee.

Barry Jackson, a former aide to Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, is now director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives. He works under Karl Rove, the White House political director, and many of Mr. Rove's 34 tickets went to Mr. Jackson's friends and family.

Todd Marks, a Washington lawyer and former staffer to ex-Cincinnati Councilman Charlie Winburn, led the White House advance team. He gave away 42 tickets to the event.

Tickets for Portman

Mr. Portman, who served in the first Bush White House and is one of the president's most trusted allies in Congress, distributed 114 tickets, more than anyone but the Chamber of Commerce.

His counterpart from the west side — Mr. Chabot — got only seven tickets, despite the fact that the event was held in his district.

Mr. Portman's aides were quick to point out that the distribution process was a joint effort, and that many who got tickets had no involvement in politics.

“The way the ticket-distribution process was handled was non-partisan, in terms of getting them in the hands of nonprofit groups,” said spokesman Jim Morrell. “The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is not a partisan organization. The Coalition for a Drug-Free Cincinnati is not a Republican or Democratic organization.”

The guest list shows that the White House viewed the visit as an Ohio event. Almost 84 percent of the guests had Ohio addresses.

Kentucky had little presence (7 percent of the guest list), and most of the Kentuckians who did attend had business connections to Ohio.

The most notable snub came at the airport. While Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and Mr. Luken were there to greet the president on the tarmac at the airport — which is in Hebron, Ky. — no Kentucky officials were included in the greeting party.

Kentuckians at the speech included: outgoing Ashland CEO Paul Chellgren, a big GOP contributor; Erlanger lawyer Bill Robinson, a behind-the-scenes political fund-raiser and organizer; Laura Long of Newport, the head of the Cincinnati Business Committee; Gary Toebben and Steve Stevens, the two top leaders of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; John Williams of Newport, the former president of the Cincinnati chamber; Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn of Fort Mitchell; and Geoff Davis, the Republican challenging Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Richwood, in November.

The U.S. Secret Service got 20 tickets. Those went to undercover agents using pseudonyms, who blended into the audience.


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