Dr. Jean Siebenaler is a Democrat, but she's drawing support from Republicans and business leaders in her campaign for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.
Among her backers is John Pepper, retired chief executive officer of the Procter and Gamble Co. A registered Republican, Pepper held a social event at his house for Siebenaler and has been making calls on behalf of her campaign.
"People are ignoring the partisan label," Siebenaler says. "This isn't about Ds and Rs. What's happening is this is becoming a very issue-oriented race."
But the issues don't always divide according to traditional party lines, either. For example, union supporters used to be vehement about not crossing picket lines. Even if it meant your family lost its house, you just didn't cross a picket line. But when civil rights activists picketed the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education dinner Sept. 20, Democrats — including Siebenaler — crossed the picket line.
The prospect of doing so didn't please her.
"I'm going to be forced to cross a picket line, which doesn't make me happy," she said.
But happy or not, Siebenaler crossed the line and attended the union dinner.
Republicans tend not to like unions, but former Cincinnati City Councilman Phil Heimlich — running against Siebenaler — praised the AFL-CIO for holding its dinner in defiance of the boycott.
"I respect anyone who stands up to the boycott," he says. "I give them a lot of credit for hanging tough on that. I think it's very unfortunate that the NAACP caved into the pressure from those individuals."
The AFL-CIO had refused to move the dinner, held at the Westin Hotel downtown, because it wanted a venue that employs union workers, as does the Westin. But Siebenaler opposes the boycott in any event.
"I find that the boycott is inflaming and dividing more," she says. "We've got to get back to civil dialogue. The overall issues are worthy of discussion — and they're getting lost in the hyperbole of the boycott."
That differs little from Republican nominee Heimlich's position.
"I respect Mayor Giuliani in New York for his approach in dealing with similar situations," Heimlich says. "He recognized if you reward divisive behavior, you damage the fabric of your city. As a rule we shouldn't be rewarding people who use inflammatory rhetoric and are tearing the city apart."
Both candidates have ideas for drawing and keeping businesses.
Heimlich, true to his tax hawk status, sees taxes as a big part of the problem. He says tax rates need to be brought under control.
"What shocks me is how much even the working poor have to pay in taxes," he says. "It blows my mind. The fact that the government still takes 20 to 30 percent of their income is outrageous. This tax issue is not just one for the wealthy, this is one for everybody who works."
Heimlich says he would not add to the tax burden.
Both Heimlich and Siebenaler have pointed to county tax levies as an issue. Heimlich wants agencies that want to put a tax levy on the ballot to submit it well in advance for outside review.
Many of the agencies covered by tax levies already have money that's not being tapped into, according to Siebenaler. For example, she wants to see the county encourage parents to enroll their kids in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a state program, thereby saving money on the county's health care levies.
Heimlich believes the county should quit relying on government to promote development and seek help from business people. He says Clermont County pretty much defers to its Chamber of Commerce for development leadership.
"We need to turn over development to the private sector," Heimlich says. "The bottom line goal is jobs. When you are able to attract a business to move into this area from New York, New Jersey or wherever, that means jobs for Hamilton County."
On a trip to Portland, Heimlich saw how the private sector can help.
"Roxanne (Qualls) mentioned to me that there was a time when people in Portland would come to Cincinnati and see what we were doing," Heimlich says. "Now we go there to see what they're doing."
He wants to see the Port Authority of Cincinnati and Hamilton County work countywide. He would also like to see more marketing of the region.
Disturbed to read about the closure of Grote bakeries in Cincinnati, Siebenaler wants to see the county help small businesses.
"I thought how sad — a 50-year family tradition," she says. "What are we doing out there from the county standpoint that's going to reach out to these small businesses?"
The county contracts with the Hamilton County Development Co., and the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce gets money from the county.
"That means that taxpayers, including businesses, have to know to come to these people," Siebenaler says.
She wants the county to let businesses know assistance is available and suggests a one-stop help line that businesses can call.
"It could potentially prevent more heritage types of businesses from leaving or just simply going out of business," Siebenaler says. ©