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Berding Campaign in Trouble

By Gregory Flannery · July 18th, 2007 · Porkopolis
  Michael Moore (L) and a doctor in a scene from Sicko: Activists hope the film builds momentum for universal health coverage.
The Weinstein Company

Michael Moore (L) and a doctor in a scene from Sicko: Activists hope the film builds momentum for universal health coverage.

The status of two people who helped Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding win his hard-fought endorsement from the Democratic Party in his re-election campaign has changed, underscoring the difficult time Berding is having with some members of his own party. Freeman McNeal, who as co-chair of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee's nominating group for city council endorsements publicly backed Berding, recently took to the airwaves on WDBZ (1230 AM) to withdraw his support. McNeal -- a longtime political activist who is well-known in the city's African-American community -- accuses Berding of reneging on a promise to give some campaign money to help the Cincinnati Democratic Committee (CDC) take a more active role in party politics and assume some of the duties from the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

McNeal said Berding made the promise during this spring's endorsement process, but Berding has told party members he made the pledge after the endorsement process. Because Berding said he couldn't get specific enough answers about how the money would be used by the CDC, he decided not to give any cash, party sources said.

As a result, an angry McNeal bashed Berding on a talk radio show and questioned his integrity. The issue came to a head last week during a heated Democratic caucus meeting attended by some city council incumbents, CDC members and county party leaders. Berding and McNeal were among those who spoke at the session.

Meanwhile, Berding recently replaced Miles Lindahl, his campaign manager, with the more experienced Dave Schaff, who previously worked for Todd Portune while Portune was a city councilman and a county commissioner. During a private CDC meeting in early April, Berding barely received the nominating committee's recommendation; the tally was 9-8, with some members abstaining. Among those voting to support Berding was Lindahl, whom Berding later hired as his campaign manager and who previously worked for Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper.

Taking -- and Making -- the Cure
Sicko could be healthy for the body politic. That's what Dr. Don Rucknagel, emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, hopes. As Sicko -- the new Michael Moore documentary about health care in the United States -- plays at the Esquire Theater in Clifton, Rucknagel and other members of the Single Player Action Network (SPAN) see opportunity. SPAN activists have been circulating petitions among people entering or leaving the theater. The petitions are part of a referendum initiative to put the Health Care for All Ohioans Act on the ballot.

"We've been at it for several years now," Rucknagel says. "We've set either 2009 or 2010 for when we submit the petitions. We don't want to do it in 2008. It's a presidential election year, and there will be a lot of negative campaigning. We are concerned we won't be able to get our message out."

The proposed law would provide comprehensive care for everyone in the state for any services provided by a licensed practitioner, including chiropractic and acupuncture, Rucknagel says. Organizers need 120,000 valid signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. The signatures, of course, are just the start. Then comes the real work.

"We'll need a ton of money to fight off the insurance companies," Rucknagel says.

After 12 years of serving as the founder and CEO of the Health Resource Center of Cincinnati, Connie Wilson is stepping down. The Health Resource Center, founded in 1995 and located in Over-the-Rhine, is a full service, nurse-managed clinic, focusing its work with the mentally ill homeless throughout the city.

Wilson (formerly Connie Ragiel) founded the clinic to help relieve the University Hospital's psychiatric emergency room of the burden of care for clients that had nowhere else to go. With the help of the FreeStore/Food Bank and the College of Nursing, she created a model that now serves 300 patients, providing 3,600 office visits a year. As a full-time nursing faculty member, Wilson spent more than half of her time running the clinic. She also was instrumental in founding the Respite Center, which provides long-term care for chronically ill homeless people; and Anthony House, an outreach for homeless youth.

Nurse Mary Elizabeth Earle is now in charge of operations at the Health Resource Center, and Wilson remains in an advisory capacity as president.

A celebration of Wilson's work will be at Six Acres Bed and Breakfast in Northside in the fall.

For more news about Jeff Berding and others who call themselves Democrats, visit CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at blogs.citybeat.com/porkopolis.

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