Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Inside City Hall

City to employees: Butt out of election

The memo has gone out to Cincinnati employees: stay out of the City Council race.

The Aug. 8 directive from City Manager Valerie Lemmie was addressed to all city departments, but Cincinnati Firefighters Union president, Joe Diebold, suspects it's aimed at his union.

A memo from Fire Chief Bobby Wright to all firefighters cites a "complaint from the public concerning firefighters canvassing a neighborhood, within the city, for the political endorsement of a political candidate."

That candidate, Diebold says, is Leslie Ghiz, who has been critical of the Lemmie administration.

Diebold disagrees with the city's interpretation of restricted political activity by civil service employees, and said the union will continue to support Ghiz and other endorsed candidates "in every way we can that is legal."

And Diebold may have a loophole big enough to drive a ladder company through. Section 2.2 (2)(F) of the employee policy manual explicitly allows "campaigning for a nonpartisan issue or running for office in a nonpartisan election" as long as employees are off duty and out of uniform.

While City Council candidates carry their party affiliations on their sleeves - Ghiz happens to be a Republican - there are no partisan primaries and no party designations on the ballot. Hence a city employee could conceivably run for City Council, but not campaign for another candidate.

Think that's a stretch? At least one member of the Civil Service Commission might buy it.

Dan Radford, executive secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO, notes that the commission reversed the firing of firefighter Joe Schickel on the same grounds, when he ran for City Council in Loveland.

"There was a time when city employees were the most active in the city electoral process. And I always thought it was healthy," Radford said.

And no one complained when the firefighters union walked door to door on the west side for Mayor Charlie Luken two years ago.

• • •

Ad watch: The first television ad of the 2003 campaign season hit the airwaves Monday. And at 15 seconds, there's time for just four short sentences:

"Had enough of crime, wasteful spending and bureaucracy in Cincinnati? Nothing will change unless we elect new leadership. My name is John Connelly. I'm running for Cincinnati City Council, and I want your vote."

The ad, produced by Gary Kirschner, sacrifices a longer message for more repetition - a key factor for any challenger hoping to build name identification. Connelly, 32, is a Republican running for the first time.

• • •

Be true to your school: Why, oh why, would any self-respecting Moeller grad go to The Pit and hand out purple Elder flags?

That's what Republican Chris Monzel has been doing. His campaign printed 20,000 of the handheld "Go Panthers" flags and will hand them out at Elder home games until they're gone.

"We are strengthening our west side base," said campaign manager Dick Hammersmith.


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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