One of the primary duties of a journalist, at least in my humble opinion, is to ferret out confidential information that could have an impact on public affairs and the political landscape.
With that in mind, CityBeat recently obtained a copy of an e-mail written by Brad Beckett — chief of staff to Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Monzel (pictured) and a right-wing activist involved in anti-tax and anti-abortion causes — outlining the agenda of a secret conservative group called the Vanguard.
We were fascinated by the wording the e-mail used and what it might reveal about the members’ outlook.
The e-mail, written and distributed by Beckett from his personal account on the morning of Feb. 24, has the subject line of “Topics for today’s meeting of the Vanguard.”
What follows are colorful descriptions of several local elected officials, political issues and candidates. Depending on one’s viewpoint, some of the language could be considered simply humorous or downright derogatory. Either way, it provides insight into what Cincinnati’s far right faction is thinking about these days.
For example, one of the 11 discussion items is about how the federal government recently rejected the city’s request for $60 million to help fund a proposed streetcar system. Streetcar supporters have downplayed the action, noting there are at least two other pending requests for financial aid, but opponents — like Beckett and Monzel — have hailed it as a death knell for the project.
“The feds recently turned down the city’s $60 million request, billed for months as ‘the’ funding request to build their downtown trolley,” the e-mail states. “Dainty Mayor Mark Mallory and his overpaid & overfed City Manager are in Washington this week to plead their case, ex post facto. But the latest spin from the trolley people say that this was nothing and that what they really wanted will come later. What’s going on here? Serious denial? At what point will this thing get killed off? Will it ever?”
Another item refers to the race to win the seat on the Hamilton County Commission being vacated this fall by Democrat David Pepper. Whoever wins will determine which political party controls the three-member group.
On the Republican side, Beckett’s boss — Monzel — is squaring off against Cincinnati City Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz in the May primary. Monzel has the backing of some anti-tax and anti abortion groups, while Ghiz has the endorsement of Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.
Vying for the Democratic nomination in the primary are ex-Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell, City Councilman Cecil Thomas and Whitewater Township trustee Hubert Brown.
Beckett and the Vanguard seem skeptical any of that field will be the Democrats’ eventual candidate, predicting someone will step aside in favor of a better-known figure.
“Are Tarbell, Thomas and some guy named Brown really all the Democrats could muster up to run for Commissioner?” the e-mail asks.
“Are these clowns just a ruse for the real candidate that will step in this summer? O’Dell? Roxanne? John-Boy Cranley? Or are they going to roll over and let the GOP lead the house of cards known as Hamilton County government?”
“House of cards” is probably apt. Commissioners are trying to deal with a looming budget deficit due to debt obligations for the Reds and Bengals stadiums. Between services mandated by the state and a GOP-controlled judicial system reluctant to make cuts, the commission is stuck with a quandary.
So far, Commissioner Greg Hartmann — the sole Republican — has been content to watch his two Democratic colleagues bicker and hasn’t offered any proposed solutions of his own.
The e-mail also weighs in on the GOP race. Not surprisingly, Beckett’s analysis favors his employer: “How is this race shaping up? Rumors are swirling that Ghiz has tapped into a large amount of cash (to be reported later) while Monzel has been firing up the party’s base. There are only 8 weeks left. Could Ghiz buy the election? Will the great silent majority give Ghiz a royal thumping at the ballot box?”
(Note: If someone can identify exactly who the “silent majority” is, please shoot me an e-mail with their names.)
Other topics mentioned in the e-mail include observations about the County Auditor’s race between Democrat Dusty Rhodes and Republican Tom Brinkman Jr., whether the Tea Party has been successful in filling GOP precinct committee seats and whether State Rep. Michelle Schneider (R-Madeira) will pay a price for being labeled “Tax Hiker of the Year” by a prominent GOP blog.
Contacted by CityBeat, Beckett shed some light on the Vanguard, adding that the group is done in the spirit of fun. He founded it “four or five years ago” and tried to keep it low key.
“I’ve always been a fan of The McLaughlin Group since I was a kid, and this is a local version of it,” Beckett said. “It’s a discussion group and I serve as moderator.”
Asked who attends meetings, he replied, “It’s by invitation only, we don’t keep a membership list. It’s nothing official.”
When asked whether certain elected officials participated, Beckett said, “I can’t confirm or deny that. I won’t reveal anyone on the list.”
The Vanguard meets for lunch monthly at the private Cincinnati Athletic Club, located on Shillito Place downtown. Leis and several judges are among the club’s prominent members.
Although Beckett wouldn’t divulge who regularly participates, he was quick to note, “It’s probably safe to say Si Leis hasn’t attended.”
Stressing that the group isn’t a political action committee and has no ties to the Republican Party, he added, “We don’t consider ourselves a Republican group. We’re a conservative/ libertarian group … we have disagreements among ourselves. We disagreed on the gambling issue.”
Beckett doesn’t consider the use of nicknames and adjectives as overly pejorative.
Referring to Mallory’s “dainty” moniker, he said, “He always has a suit on. He always looks perfect and very porcelain. That’s all that’s about.”
But “overpaid and overfed” about City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.? That sounds rather like “the politics of personal destruction.”
“He is overpaid,” Beckett said. “It was just an attempt at humor. If I was going to attack them, it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Regardless, Beckett’s boss apparently didn’t share his attitude in the past.
Back in November 2007, around the time of Dohoney’s first anniversary on the job, Monzel took part in an unanimous City Council vote to give the city manager a 7 percent raise, an increase of about $12,950 annually. (He now receives $232,468 in gross pay each year.)
At the time, many City Hall workers were angry about the large pay hike, while they faced a salary freeze. As one said after the vote, “If they’re going to give the city manager this kind of raise, then every employee who does a great job should get a 7 percent raise.”
Oh, how attitudes can change as an election approaches.
CONTACT KEVIN OSBORNE: firstname.lastname@example.org