Although no one seems to want to comment directly on the situation, more details are emerging about the bitter political dispute between Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding and several anti-streetcar groups.
The groups — which include the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and the city's police and firefighters unions — this week distributed a flyer in which it's alleged Berding promised them privately to oppose the city's $143 million streetcar project. In response, Berding denied the allegation and threatened to sue the groups for defamation unless they retracted the claim, but they refused.
CityBeat sent e-mails Thursday afternoon to COAST leaders and Kathy Harrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69, asking for details about Berding's alleged promise, as nothing was specified in the flyer. No responses have been received.
But some details were posted today on COAST's blog.
Under an entry entitled, “Berding Auctions Off His Principles,” the group states Berding is "selling-out public safety and the same police and firefighters who fought for his election.” Berding was embraced by the police and firefighters unions and Westwood Concern during the 2009 campaign after the local Democratic Party voted to rescind its endorsement of him, following a history of criticizing his Democratic colleagues.
(In fact, Berding only finished in first place in two of the city's 26 wards: in wards 25 and 26 on CIncinnati's West Side.)
“FOP President Kathy Harrell asked (Berding) during a recent closed-door meeting specifically why he became the fifth vote for the streetcar after promising in his endorsement interview not to unless the project was completely funded by federal grants,” the blog item stated. “He answered that Mayor Mallory strong-armed him into committing local dollars to the streetcar in exchange for bringing Berding's Port Authority give-away to a vote.
“There you have it,” the blog adds. “Berding agreed to support Mallory's boondoggle, if Mallory would agree to support Berding's boondoggle. Berding auctioned of his principles, and financed the sale with your tax money.”
Berding didn't reply to an e-mail sent to his council office seeking his response. An e-mail sent to the Cincinnati Bengals' front office, where Berding is employed as sales director, bounced back. It stated CityBeat's address was blocked by the recipient.
Berding first ran for City Council in 2005, and has had mounting problems within the local Democratic Party since that time, due mostly to his fractious relationship with some of the party's elected officials and activists.
To win the party's endorsement for his 2007 reelection bid, Berding told a meeting of precinct executives, “I have tried to work with any and all members of council and our mayor to get the job done. I admit sometimes I have done well in that area, and other times I’ve been less successful,” before vowing to work better with fellow Democrats.
A month later, Berding publicly criticized then-City Councilman David Crowley for wanting more time to review details in the case of a convicted cop killer before sending a letter to state parole officials. Berding then went on Bill Cunningham’s radio show to criticize Democrats for passing a climate protection plan.
Last year Berding angered many Democrats when he proposed budget cuts that included delaying a promised $2.5 million payment to Cincinnati Public Schools. The annual payments were pledged to help win voter support for the stadium tax that Berding pushed in the mid-1990s.
Democratic precinct executives voted 47-17 in September 2009 to rescind Berding’s endorsement. He still won reelection in the at-large race, placing fourth in a field of about two dozen candidates.