Hamilton County voters will have a rare opportunity Nov. 2 -- the chance to re-elect a Democrat to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.
Four years ago Commissioner Todd Portune became the first Democrat in 36 years to win a seat on the three-person commission. His opponent, David Grossmann, hopes to remove the monkey wrench in the county's Republican machine.
Grossmann, a former juvenile court judge, won the five-candidate Republican primary in March. He is CEO of Greg G. Wright & Sons, a stamp, dye and engraving company along the Mill Creek. He's also a managing member of Perry Street Real Estate, a company that has redeveloped several downtown buildings into luxury apartments.
Grossmann takes it back
Grossmann is banking on the county's conservative leanings by promising to encourage free enterprise. He wants to reform the Metropolitan Sewer District to allow private plumbers to help fix the county's aging and overburdened sewer system. He also wants to encourage private development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown by removing restrictions that he says hinder private developers.
Grossmann is also relying on suburban voters for support. A slogan on his Web site urges, "Don't give it all to City Hall."
Portune is a former Cincinnati City Councilman. So is County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, a Republican, who isn't up for re-election. Grossmann suggests suburban voters will be ignored if Portune is re-elected.
But that claim is absurd, according to Portune, who grew up in Colerain Township and who will move into a new Green Township home this week.
Grossmann's slogan inadvertently supports Eve Bolton, the former Hamilton County Recorder who is running against Cincinnati City Councilman Pat DeWine for the other county commission seat. Bolton is a Democrat.
"Don't give it all to City Hall," Portune says. "Vote for Eve Bolton."
Grossmann's campaign has a pattern of misrepresentation and other questionable behavior, Portune says.
Last month Portune's campaign manager Kathy Binns wrote a letter to Grossmann regarding campaign literature that she called "patently false." A leaflet distributed by Grossmann's campaign as late as July 30 calls him "the only candidate with any administrative experience in county government" and "the only candidate to have ever won a countywide election."
Grossmann had printed the leaflet during the primary campaign, which ended March 2. Now that he's competing against Portune, the literature is outdated and misleading, Portune says.
"They were circulating untruthful literature in the general election," he says.
If Grossmann's campaign kept using the same literature for economic reasons, it sold out the facts, Binns' letter suggests.
"Your effort to simply save money at the expense of the truth in many respects makes the transgression even worse," she wrote.
In an Aug. 12 written reply, Grossmann's campaign pledged to stop circulating the literature. But last week the same misinformation remained posted on a candidate information Web site sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Taxes are down
The campaign has only grown nastier since.
While Portune began running television advertisements earlier this week that don't even mention his opponent, the Republican ran a full page ad in a daily newspaper bashing Portune, barely mentioning Grossmann himself. The headline says, "Todd Portune Broke His Pledge To Limit Taxes. Now You Can Pledge To Limit Todd Portune."
But that assertion is another untruth, Portune says. The commissioners pledged to keep 2004 increases in general fund spending and property taxes at or below the rate of inflation, 2.1 percent.
"Spending is down," Portune says. "We're spending less money this year than we spent last year. Inflation's going up and taxes went down. The tax rate a property owner pays in 2004 is less than what it was in 2003."
But Grossmann insists Portune broke the pledge by voting to put a tax levy for the Drake Center on the Nov. 2 ballot.
"Portune was one of the ones who voted for that levy, and that levy is going to bust the budget," Grossmann says. "When you analyze all the tax levies and their funding, it breaks the rate of inflation."
But Grossmann has it wrong, according to Portune.
"Because of the Drake and MRDD levy, taxes will go up in 2005 from where they are in 2004, but they will be below the rate of inflation in 2005," he says.
Portune says he's considering filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.
"I can't overlook this second violation as just an innocent mistake," he says. "My opponent has no respect for the truth."
Portune also plans to have his lawyer send a notice to newspapers warning them about what he calls "false statements" in Grossmann's ads.
Even Grossmann's choice of campaign manager, Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Steve Goodin, is under fire. Ohio law designates the prosecutor's office as legal adviser for the board of county commissioners under most circumstances. Portune sees Goodin's management of Grossmann's campaign as a conflict of interest.
"Whether he likes my politics or not, he owes me a duty to represent my interests until such time as I am not county commissioner," Portune says. "You can't be out there running campaigns against me."
Portune says it's further indication of a prosecutor's office and a GOP county machine that's out of control.
"If that machine is able to have complete control of county offices again, the type of scandals we've witnessed over the years have the potential to continue unabated," Portune says.
Grossmann, however, sees no conflict.
"We see no conflict of interest if Mr. Goodin is doing this on his own free time," he says. ©