Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Picnic kicks off council campaign

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Talk show host Jerry Springer sings on stage before speaking to a crowd during a labor rally and picnic at Coney Island Monday.
(AP photo)
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The candidate filing deadline was last month, the television commercials will hit in October and the election is Nov. 4.

But the real start of the Cincinnati City Council campaign season began, as it has for 18 years, at the Labor Day Picnic at Coney Island.

The picnic is a staple of Democratic Party politics, but Republicans have been known to stop by. Municipal Court Judge Guy C. Guckenberger dropped in Monday, just as he did years ago as a Republican councilman. All four Charterite candidates also made the event.

"As a candidate, why wouldn't you want to be here?" said Jenny O'Donnell, co-chairwoman of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee. "Seventy percent of union members vote."

Republican Leslie Ghiz has few labor endorsements to speak of, but as a labor lawyer - first for the city, now in private practice - she said she has a "healthy respect" for collective bargaining.

She was, however, conspicuously mum on the topic of managed competition as she handed out literature and greeted voters.

Managed competition - a system of reducing costs by having city workers compete against bids from the private sector - is the hottest labor-related topic on City Council's agenda. The issue has been divisive in Democratic camps.

If those tensions weren't already clear, they were on full display Monday. As Councilman David Pepper stood shaking hands and handing out plastic bags at the west gate, a dozen volunteers for his Democratic colleague, Alicia Reece, showed up.

Reece's father, longtime Democratic activist Steve Reece, pointed a bullhorn straight at Pepper: "Anyone who voted for managed competition has sold out the working people!" he shouted.

Pepper, clearly stung, kept shaking hands, and Reece's supporters soon left.

Later, he said managed competition - if done fairly - could help city workers and residents by cutting bureaucracy and reducing the cost of services.

"One week I'm getting bullhorns from Steve Reece. The next week, I'm getting yelled at by (Republican Councilman) Pat DeWine at City Council for going too slow," he said.

Pepper and fellow Democrat John Cranley have gotten the endorsement of key labor groups despite their stance on managed competition.

"We ask our friends who are on the other side of that issue to reconsider," said V. Daniel Radford, executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Cincinnati Labor Council.

Public-sector jobs are important to the labor movement, he said. "The manufacturing base is gone. The public employees could be next. And they're the ones raising the future engineers and teachers," Radford said.

Still, the Labor Day Picnic is more about being seen and shaking hands than debating serious issues.

Few candidates would dare show up without a phalanx of volunteers in campaign T-shirts leading the way.

One exception was Councilman David Crowley, who seemed to be having too much fun to actually campaign.

Former mayor Jerry Springer made an appearance, if only to keep his political irons hot for 2006. Mayor Charlie Luken also made a courtesy call.

Cincinnati boycott leader Damon Lynch III - now an independent candidate for City Council - made the rounds as well. He said City Council should require that the city purchase only from union suppliers.

"The city needs to talk the talk and walk the walk," he said.

Labor endorsements

A number of labor organizations have already made endorsements in the 2003 Cincinnati City Council race. They are:

AFL-CIO Cincinnati Labor Council: Sam Britton, Laketa Cole, John Cranley, David Crowley, David Pepper, Alicia Reece and Christopher Smitherman.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8: Cole, Cranley, Crowley, Pepper, Reece, Smitherman and James R. Tarbell.

Cincinnati Firefighters Local No. 48: Cole, Cranley, Crowley, DeWine, Leslie Ghiz, Tom Jones, Chris Monzel, Pepper and Tarbell.


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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