A Fight for the Local GOP's Soul

It's only the first week in January, but already political campaigns are gearing up for what likely will be the most high-profile local race this year. Cincinnati City Council colleagues Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel are running in the GOP primary for the

Jan 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

It’s only the first week in January, but already political campaigns are gearing up for what likely will be the most high-profile local race this year.

There was little surprise this week when Cincinnati City Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz (pictured) finally confirmed months of speculation by announcing her candidacy for the Hamilton County commission.

Ghiz, a Republican, is running for the seat now held by Democrat David Pepper. He’s not seeking reelection, opting instead to run for Ohio auditor.

Pepper is one of two Democrats on the three-member county commission, along with Todd Portune. Republican Greg Hartmann rounds out the group.

When Pepper was elected in late 2006, he helped form the first Democratic majority on the commission since 1962, when pillbox hats and cigarette smoking were still in style. Like Janet Jackson, the local GOP wants to be in control once more. To do so largely depends on running a strong candidate that can appeal to voters in places as diverse as Indian Hill, Norwood, Sharonville and Delhi Township.

Ghiz is getting a major boost by using Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. as her campaign manager. Love him or hate him, blustery old Si almost always ranks as the most popular local Republican in polls and still retains a lot of clout among party members.

Hoping to deflect some of Ghiz’s attention, Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Monzel announced the same day that he’s also running for the county commission, although he hasn’t yet formally kicked off his campaign.

The race is shaping up to be a fight for the local Republican Party’s soul, and could impact its direction for years.

On one side is Ghiz, who represents traditional “law and order” Republicans but is generally centrist beyond that.

She’s consistently opposed police layoffs on council and endorsed county tax levies in 2006 and 2007 that would’ve paid for a new jail. Besides her focus on public safety issues, Ghiz also wants to reduce government spending but isn’t dogmatic about it. Other than those core issues, Ghiz is something of a moderate, as witnessed by her frequent endorsements by Log Cabin Republicans, and is open to negotiation with her colleagues.

On the other side is Monzel, who is a hardcore conservative. He’s supported by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and activist Chris Finney.

That’s the same crowd who held sway over county government when their last pet candidate, Republican Phil Heimlich, was a county commissioner. Heimlich followed COAST’s advice and did things like appointing Finney as the chairman of the county’s Tax Levy Review Committee and cutting lopsided deals to rent jail space from Butler County and to sell the Drake Center, all of which ended up driving county government in a fiscal ditch and doing little to solve a financial crisis that’s been brewing for more than a decade.

In fact, the situation was so bad that voters booted Heimlich from office after a single term, preferring Democrat Pepper.

Like the national GOP, the local Republican Party needs to decide whether it wants to hitch its wagon to ideological conservatives and so-called “values voters” or take a more mainstream course that could appeal to a wider base. Unfortunately, as local GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou recently booked loony U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) as speaker at a major fundraiser next month, the signs don’t appear good for rationality.

As someone who’s covered Ghiz and Monzel for years, I can say both are genuinely nice people, no matter their policy positions. It will be interesting to see if their demeanor and campaigning styles change and toughen up once primary campaign season rolls around.

Already Ghiz has received some criticism for her style during last year’s City Council campaign. That’s when she took on a harder edge and began frequently using Twitter to harshly criticize Democrats on council. Her prime target was Councilwoman Laketa Cole, who Ghiz tweeted never shut up during meetings, and provided red meat for her followers.

Never one to let an opportunity for publicity pass him by, the Rev. Charlie Winburn — the third and final Republican on City Council — also hinted publicly that he’s considering a run for the county commission. Charlie must have a good sense of humor, because there’s no way he will launch a campaign. First, Ghiz and Monzel are starting their third council terms, having served more than four years on council. By comparison, Winburn is just starting his first term and has been in office for 35 days. Crazy.

Also, there’s little chance that conservative voters in rural areas like Crosby Township would back a flamboyant politician of Winburn’s ilk.

Of course, county Democrats might not be facing the current predicament of losing control of the commission if it weren’t for their poster boy, Portune.

Before the last commission election in 2008, Portune cut a deal with Hartmann to eliminate competition in their separate races. Under the backroom deal, the Democratic Party promised not to run a candidate against Republican Hartmann in his race, and in return the GOP wouldn’t endorse any candidate who challenged Portune, who was seeking his third term.

Why an incumbent like Portune, who had eight years in office under his belt, felt he needed the extra protection is anybody’s guess.

Many rank-and-file Democrats were angered by the deal, stating it forfeited the party’s best chance to win all three seats on the commission in a presidential election year that had a record-setting Democratic turnout. If a party-endorsed candidate had run two years ago, the entire issue of retaining control likely would be moot.

Instead, heavy-hitters like attorney Stan Chesley pushed party Chairman Tim Burke into supporting the deal, and ex-Cincinnati Mayor Dwight Tillery endorsed it as well.

Swift move, fellas.

The least Portune can do to atone for his selfishness is work his ass off for whoever emerges as the Democratic candidate in the race later this year.


A federal appeals court recently upheld a judgment that dismissed a defamation lawsuit against CityBeat’s fellow alt-weekly newspaper that was filed by the co-developer of the controversial Heimlich Maneuver.

As reported by Toledo Legal News, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found Dr. Edward Patrick didn’t demonstrate the threshold requirement of falsity regarding an article published by Cleveland Scene. The initial article noted that a supervising doctor refused to sign Patrick’s residency certificate for his time spent at Jewish Hospital and that the hospital refused to certify Patrick had obtained any training in emergency medicine there.

“And the record supports the district court’s conclusion that although Dr. Patrick made some attempt to rebut this evidence, the rebuttal evidence is wholly insufficient to make the showing of falsity necessary to survive summary judgment,” wrote Chief Judge Alice Batchelder.

Patrick, 72, claims to have co-created the maneuver with Dr. Henry Heimlich, a Cincinnati resident and father of Phil Heimlich. Critics have complained that some uses for the maneuver advocated by the elder Heimlich are unsafe and questioned the credentials of both him and Patrick.