Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory’s response to the controversy over telephone calls made by a city councilwoman during a police traffic stop is drawing fire from local Republicans.
Dr. Brad Wenstrup, the Republican candidate for mayor this fall, issued a press release calling Mallory’s comments “reprehensible.” His comments follow reaction from Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, who called the mayor’s remarks “disappointing."
During his weekly press briefing Wednesday, Mallory defended the actions of City Councilwoman Laketa Cole. Like Mallory, Cole is a Democrat who is seeking reelection in November.
Public scrutiny of Cole began after a police videotape was released of a May 20 traffic stop on Mitchell Avenue. Police pulled over two motorcycles being driven by Cole and her friend, Cornelius Scroggins, for illegally crossing lane lines.
During the stop, Cole used her cellular telephone to call Assistant Police Chief Michael Cureton and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. Cole has said she made the calls to ensure the proper type of tow truck was used to transport Scroggins’ motorcycle, so it wouldn’t be damaged, and to question why it took three police officers to process the violation.
Some people who’ve viewed the tape, however, say it’s clear Cole was trying to intimidate the officers and use her influence as a councilwoman to get out of the tickets.
"I am convinced she did nothing improper,'' Mallory told reporters at the briefing. When asked if an average resident should call the city manager if she or he is pulled over by police, Mallory replied, “Yes, if they have his cell phone number.”
That lackadaisical attitude made local Republicans pounce.
“It is clear that (Cole) has direct access to city officials that the rest of the city does not,” stated Wenstrup’s release. “It is inappropriate for public officials to use their positions in such a self-serving way when the people they serve are unable to do the same. For the mayor to condone such an action is surprising.”
It continued, “We place our trust in our elected officials to live by the rules that we must follow. Cincinnati deserves leadership that will not condone impropriety or the appearance thereof.”
Triantafilou also criticized Mallory on his blog.
“I find Mayor Mallory’s defense of Ms. Cole’s actions disappointing, but not surprising,” Triantafilou wrote. “The mayor’s judgment has been lacking in several key respects and this is just another in a long line of critical mistakes made by his administration.
“Even more disappointing is the mayor's flippancy on the question of whether citizens can call high ranking city officials in the midst of a traffic stop,” the chairman added. “I understand that the mayor was attempting humor, but the abuse of power by a city government official to possibly receive special treatment from law enforcement should not be a source of humor for the chief executive of our great city. It ought to be condemned.”
Mallory and Cole are political allies. Mallory appointed Cole as chairwoman of City Council’s powerful Finance Committee earlier this year after its previous chair, John Cranley, resigned from council.
Also, Cole is a protégé of former Mayor Dwight Tillery, who remains a major player in the local Democratic Party. Before her election, Cole worked as a staffer at City Hall for Tillery and ex-Councilman Paul Booth.
Cole’s companion, Scroggins, was the same person involved in another incident involving Cole and police shortly before the 2007 council elections. In late October of that year, Cole got into a physical altercation with a pregnant woman who claimed to be Scroggins’ girlfriend. Police were called to the scene but neither woman was charged.