How a person reacts in adversity reveals a lot about his or her character.
In a move reminiscent of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding announced last week that he was resigning soon, despite having another year left on his term.
As the reason for his departure, Berding said he needed to focus on his day job as sales and marketing director for the Cincinnati Bengals. Due to an abysmal record during the past season, sales for Bengals tickets have dropped.
More importantly, contracts for many of the 10-year personal seat licenses sold when Paul Brown Stadium first opened have expired or will soon. Not surprisingly, there’s not a huge renewal rate or a line of new fans waiting to pick up the slack.
Berding’s given reason probably is true, but it’s only part of the story.
It’s also true that Berding frequently is on the losing side of debates among City Council. And it’s accurate to note that Berding doesn’t have a party endorsement. Plus, he’s lost his base of conservative, West Side voters.
When the going gets tough, it seems, Berding punts.
“I am not retiring from public life,’’ Berding said at the Jan. 27 press conference announcing his decision. “There will be other opportunities in the future.”
Still, it’s not clear exactly who would support Berding seeking another political office, as he’s waffled and triangulated himself into irritating all segments of his earlier constituency.
In summer 2009, just a few months before the last council elections, a City Council majority oversaw tough negotiations with the police union to get concessions and avoid a $28 million deficit that year. Unless the union agreed to forego a pay raise in 2010 and made other cuts to save $2.6 million, officials said they might lay off 138 people in the Police Department.
Berding wasn’t part of the majority and was upset that layoffs were considered. He held a press conference in front of police headquarters, vowing to fight them. “To many Cincinnatians, it would be unthinkable that we would be laying off police and fire at a time when we have rising crime,” Berding proclaimed before TV cameras. “We’re not going to cross that line of laying off police officers and firefighters.”
But the council majority’s strategy worked and the union agreed to cuts. At least one councilman who led the charge to make police cuts, however, was targeted for defeat by the unions and didn’t make it back into office.
Flash-forward to fall 2010: Council was again trying to make cuts to avoid another deficit.
And again, layoffs of police and firefighters were being considered. This time — without the specter of an election looming large — Berding supported the cuts. Moreover, he backed a secretly hatched, backroom plan to contract out police patrols to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.
That proved the final straw for the police and firefighter unions and conservative groups like Westwood Concern that helped Berding win reelection in 2009, after the local Democratic Party rescinded his endorsement for his election-year shenanigans.
Those groups distributed a flier in December, calling Berding “two-faced” and alleging he flip-flopped on promises made to them. Berding threatened to sue them unless they retracted the claim. The groups didn’t, and he never filed suit.
But feelings still run strong. At a Jan. 25 Westwood Concern meeting, leader Mary Kuhl told the crowd: “Jeff Berding has stuck a knife in our backs so many times … I’d like to stick a shiv in Jeff Berding.”
For anyone who knows the bombastic Kuhl, and Berding knows her well, her fiery wording isn’t a surprise. Much like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Kuhl uses overheated imagery to get her point across and considers herself as much an entertainer as an activist. For example, she calls the mayor “the Insect,” dubs the city manager “Uncle Miltie” and refers to city bureaucrats as “ne’er-do-well goofballs.”
CityBeat has criticized Kuhl for her tactics in the past. In fact, I personally met with Kuhl for nearly an hour, one-on-one in a darkened parking lot, after the Jan. 25 meeting to discuss several topics, including her rhetoric. She dismissed it as her “schtick,” I called it counter-productive and we agreed to disagree.
Once Berding read Kuhl’s quote on CityBeat’s blog, though, he filed a complaint with Cincinnati Police, alleging she had threatened a public official. Police investigators spent taxpayer-funded time and resources questioning me and several of Kuhl’s associates about her remarks and what they meant. As of publication, it’s uncertain whether charges will be pursued.
Let’s be clear: Berding has met with Kuhl dozens — if not hundreds — of times over the years and is familiar with her personality. Berding knows she isn’t violent and doesn’t truly fear for his safety. You, sir, are no Gabrielle Giffords and it’s unprincipled to glom on to her tragedy.
(Truthfully, I found Kuhl somewhat funny and oddly charming in my encounter.)
A day after Berding’s announcement, The Enquirer’s editorial page did its best impersonation of Pravda — the old Soviet Union newspaper — and tried to rewrite history, whitewashing Berding’s reputation.
The Enquirer praised Berding’s “independent-minded, common-sense approach — one that subordinates ideology to serving the city’s best interests.” We’d argue that Berding served the interests of Big Business. This is the man, after all, who wanted to tax panhandlers but never saw a giveaway of taxpayer money to corporations that he didn’t like.
Berding was the campaign manager for the 1996 sales-tax increase that was supposed to pay for new Bengals and Reds stadiums, and he successfully convinced The Enquirer and voters. The tax hike was approved but, as it turns out, it wasn’t enough to cover costs and now county officials are making layoffs and cutting services to residents to avoid a deficit. Thanks, Jeff!
Time for a quick side-note: Six of the nine people The Enquirer endorsed for council in 2009’s elections won. That’s a super-majority on the group; this is almost exactly the City Council that the ultra-conservative, business-friendly newspaper wanted.
The Enquirer’s absurd editorial last week called for new council members “willing to buck the entrenched status quo at City Hall,” but this status quo partially is of the newspaper’s own making.
(By the way, not only did The Enquirer endorse exorcist-turned-politician Charlie Winburn with a straight face back then, but it also chose not to endorse then-incumbent Councilman Chris Monzel for reelection. Strangely, a year later, the newspaper endorsed Monzel, a Republican, over Democrat Jim Tarbell for the Hamilton County Commission — despite Monzel offering almost no specifics on what he would accomplish while in office. I’d love to hear an explanation for that turnabout.)
Nevertheless, it will take baby steps to improve City Council and bidding adieu to Berding is a good start.
His disingenuous filing of a criminal complaint, however, is the last petty, vindictive and mean-spirited act of a petty, vindictive and mean-spirited man.
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