Berding, in Black and White

Feb 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm

It took awhile due to some miscommunication about police terminology, but CityBeat managed to get a copy of the incident report that Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding filed late last month against a one-time political ally.

Berding filed a report with Cincinnati Police Officer Jay D. Barnes on Jan. 27, the same day that Berding announced his impending resignation from City Council.—-

Apparently, the councilman filed the report after reading this blog item, which quoted an off-handed comment made by neighborhood activist Mary Kuhl two days earlier.

According to the report, Kuhl is being investigated for aggravated menacing, a first-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, the charge is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Although at least two police investigators have been questioning Kuhl's associates for the past two weeks, police have never spoken to Kuhl or told her she's under investigation. She only learned about it from people who called her after they've been questioned.

(I also contacted Kuhl last week, after I was questioned by Police Lt. Kurt Byrd over the telephone.)

“I've never been contacted about it at all,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl has known Berding since he was first elected to council in 2005. Besides speaking at Westwood Concern meetings, Berding has donated items like money and autographed Bengals jerseys to the St. Catharine of Siena Church's festival, which Kuhl helps organize. Asked how often she met or spoke with Berding over the years, she replied, “probably a hundred times.”

Given their relationship, there's no reason for Berding to feel physically threatened or to take her comments literally, Kuhl said.

“The thing that is really offensive to me is he knows me personally and knows what I'm capable of — having a big mouth and talking a lot of smack, sure — and what I'm not capable of,” she said.

During a Jan. 25 meeting of Westwood Concern, Kuhl had remarked near the session's end that “(Jeff Berding) has stabbed us in the back so many times … I'd like to stick a shiv in Jeff Berding.” The comment was made in relation to the group's allegation that Berding had reneged on a private promise he made before the 2009 council elections not to support the streetcar project unless it was fully funded through state and federal grants.

(In my statement to Lt. Byrd, I said Kuhl's comments “clearly were meant metaphorically and not literally when taken in context. I don't think Mr. Berding has knifed anyone in the back, let alone repeatedly. Surely this would have made the news, if he had.”)

During City Council's contentious budget debate in December, Westwood Concern and other groups distributed a flier detailing the allegation against Berding, hoping to pressure him into changing his stance on the project. In response, Berding denied the allegation and threatened to sue the groups for defamation unless they retracted the claim, but they refused. He didn't sue.

The imbroglio prompted Westwood Concern, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), and the police and firefighters unions — all of whom were once Berding's allies — to turn against him. Not long afterward, Berding announced he would resign from council instead of seeking a fourth and final term this fall.

Although 15 days have passed, Berding still hasn't stepped down, and Councilman Chris Bortz hasn't announced who he's selected to replace him.

Strangely, although it's usually deemed newsworthy when a elected official files a police complaint against someone, no media outlet besides CityBeat has reported on the matter.

“The whole thing is petty, vindictive, nasty and disrespectful. It's horrific,” Kuhl said. “It makes me kind of sad but it also makes me very angry that an elected official would use a branch of government to go after a private citizen.”