Is it because he's tired of being on the losing side of debates? Is it because he doesn't have a party endorsement and also lost his base of conservative, West Side voters? Is it because the boss at his day job with the Bengals is tired of all the negative publicity?
Whatever the reason, Cincinnati voters won't have City Councilman Jeff Berding to kick around any longer. Like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Berding has chosen to quit the political game before his current term expires.
Confirming rumors first reported on WLWT (Channel 5) last week, the controversial politician announced today he would resign from City Council within the next few weeks. Berding stated the reason is that he needed to focus on his job as sales and marketing director for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Due to an abysmal record for the 2010-11 season, sales for Bengals tickets have dropped.
Berding, 43, who's had an uneasy relationship with CityBeat due to its criticism of him over the years, didn't inform the newspaper of his press conference.
"I am not retiring from public life,'' Berding said today, according to The Enquirer. "There will be other opportunities in the future."
But it's not clear who would support Berding seeking another political office, as he's waffled and triangulated himself into irritating all segments of his earlier constituency.
Berding's endorsement from the local Democratic Party was rescinded during the 2009 council elections, after he bucked heads with Mayor Mark Mallory and other Democrats on City Council, and for his frequent alliances with Republicans. That means he likely would've had to run as an independent, without any party backing or support, as he campaigned for his fourth and final term later this year.
Berding was the leader of the so-called “Fiscal Five,” a council faction that pushed for steep cuts to the Cincinnati Health Department and wanted to close some of the city's health clinics and swimming pools, during budget debates in 2007 and 2008.
Back then, the faction consisted of Democrat Laketa Cole, Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel, and Charterite Chris Bortz, who also is a registered Republican.
Facing term limits, Cole left for a state job and was replaced by Wendell Young, who doesn't vote with the faction. Also, Monzel was elected to the Hamilton County Commission and was replaced by Amy Murray.
Despite losing his party's endorsement, Berding won reelection to his third term in 2009 with the help of the police and firefighter unions, along with conservative West Side groups like Westwood Concern. In fact, Berding only finished in first place in two of the city's 26 wards: in wards 25 and 26 on the West Side.
During last month's budget debate, Berding alienated the unions and Westwood Concern by supporting possible layoffs in the Police and Fire departments to help offset a $54 million deficit, and for providing the fifth council vote needed to advance the city's proposed streetcar project.
In December several groups distributed a flier 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.
Those feelings still run strong: At Tuesday night's Westwood Concern meeting, leader Mary Kuhl said during a presentation, “I'd like to stick a shiv in Jeff Berding.”
As part of last month's dispute, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) wrote on its blog about what allegedly led to the falling out.
“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.”
Reportedly, Berding made tentative overtures through a surrogate about getting the Charter Committee's endorsement for this fall's elections but was rebuffed.
In a final act of defiance to local Democrats, Berding named Bortz — a Charterite — as the council member who gets to select his replacement.
That means it's likely to be one of the two other Charterite candidates running in November's council election: Kevin Flynn and newcomer Yvette Simpson.
Flynn, an anti-abortion lawyer from Mount Airy, ran for council in 2009. He placed 13th out of 19 candidates on his first campaign.
Bortz, however, said today he will pick whoever Berding wants for the spot. We wonder how Charter's leaders feel about that statement?