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A Decade of Bullies

By John Fox · March 8th, 2006 · Editorial

Phil Heimlich can kiss my ass. The Hamilton County Commission president is the latest in a long and undistinguished line of politicians over ther past decade who have overpromised and underdelivered on downtown riverfront projects. As his predecessors did, Heimlich has now taken the offensive to try to bully the rest of us into accepting his ideas for spending our money.

He's set deadlines, threatened consequences, excluded key stakeholders, engaged in name-calling and made unilateral decisions without consulting even his fellow county commissioners. And he's made mistakes, the key one being his rush to award riverfront development rights last summer to a partnership of two local companies that eventually fell apart.

The mistakes are the least of Heimlich's problems -- plenty of mistakes have been made trying to coordinate two new stadiums and The Banks. But there's no excuse for his refusal to learn from those mistakes or to partner with the city of Cincinnati, 3CDC and others in charting the riverfront's future.

He says the city isn't pulling its weight on funding The Banks and derides city council's efforts to control the fate of city tax money earmarked for the project. As a city resident, that attitude pisses me off.

Ten years ago this month, Hamilton County voters passed a ballot initiative to raise the county's sales tax by one-half cent to fund the stadiums and related riverfront development. I was against the tax, and CityBeat endorsed a no vote -- mostly because there was a serious lack of details surrounding how the money would be spent.

Still, I've been paying that half cent on every local $1 purchase I've made over the past 10 years -- the same half cent a resident of Norwood or Indian Hill or Green Township has paid. Cincinnati residents have contributed as much as anyone, yet somehow Heimlich thinks we should shut up and let him get on with the important business of deciding our collective future.

Listening to that kind of know-it-all scolding, you could easily close your eyes and think Bob Bedinghaus was still on the county commission.

You'll recall Bedinghaus as the architect of the stadium funding scheme when the rookie commissioner scratched out a one-cent sales tax hike plan in his modest kitchen in his modest Delhi home. The tax increase, which would have also funded a new jail, was to be rammed through the county commission until a citizen group signed enough peititions to put the matter before voters. Facing a public referendum, the tax was reduced by half and the jail component eliminated.

In the campaign to convince us to spend our money to help millionaire sports owners build new stadiums in order to increase profits, Bedinghaus became the point person. His main job was to paint a rosy picture of a "reborn" riverfront complete with housing, retail, hotels, parking and, of course, new stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds.

Utilizing a barrage of studies, consultants' reports, cost/benefit projections and hazy promises about jobs and economic growth, Bedinghaus and allies presented a simple message: There's only one plan, ours, and if it doesn't pass the world will come to an end.

They used the same tactic two years later to swing the Reds stadium site debate between Broadway Commons and The Wedge their way.

That legacy has now passed from Bedinghaus to Heimlich, with plenty of white, male Republican enablers along the way: Commissioners Guy Guckenberger, John Dowlin, Tom Neyer and Pat DeWine; Party Chair and County Prosecutor Mike Allen; Prosecutor Joe Deters; and financier Carl Lindner.

It's easy (and maddening) to envision a poker game with all of those players and more -- Marge Schott, Mike Brown, Bob Castellini, William Williams and his sons Thomas and William Jr. -- sitting at the table with We the People, who are betting $1 billion on a pretty good hand while the others are passing aces to each other under the table. Guess who walked away winners?

Schott made millions selling her Reds shares to Lindner, who made millions selling his shares to Castellini, who made millions selling his riverfront land to make way for the stadiums, and to the Williamses, whose Western Southern real estate holdings on Third Street have certainly gained value because of the stadium development. Bedinghaus works for the Bengals, whose net worth has increased dramatically since Paul Brown Stadium opened, and Guckenberger is a judge.

The losers? Well, Deters' statewide political career ended with a pay-for-play scandal in the Treasurer's office (oops), Allen's political career ended with a sex scandal in his office (oops) and Dowlin and Neyer got kicked to the curb by their own party for not being conservative enough (oops). They're all getting along just fine otherwise.

Oh yeah, and Hamilton County continues to lose residents and faces huge budget deficits that could be solved if Heimlich and friends just get this "rebirth of the riverfront" thing going ASAP.

Like his predecessor bullies, Heimlich is serving We the People for a short period, and yet we'll live with his actions and decisions for the rest of our lives. He's probably going to lose his re-election bid this fall to David Pepper, which means he has about eight months left in his political career.

He can use his remaining time to reach out to all willing parties to build consensus on what remains this region's signature development opportunity, increasing the odds that The Banks actually will be worthwhile. Or he can kiss my ass.

Contact john fox: jfox(at)citybeat.com



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