Pureval blasts Winkler for hitting up employees for her campaign

Repulsed by work-hours campaigning by the incumbent court clerk, the Democratic challenger calls for a purge of office politics.

click to enlarge Aftab Pureval, Democratic candidate for Hamilton County clerk of courts, speaks to reporters outside the courthouse Oct. 11.
Aftab Pureval, Democratic candidate for Hamilton County clerk of courts, speaks to reporters outside the courthouse Oct. 11.

One day after CityBeat reported that employees of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Tracy Winkler were pressed into helping her re-election campaign, her opponent Aftab Pureval condemned the practice and vowed to rid the office of “machine politics.”

Speaking to reporters this morning in front of the county courthouse, Pureval said he was disappointed to learn from the CityBeat article that clerk of courts employees were asked to plant yard signs, wear T-shirts and stand in a parade in support of Winkler, a Republican who took office in 2011. The solicitations were made during business hours Sept. 1 through personal email accounts, including Winkler’s.

“If this isn’t a clear example of coercion in the workplace, I don’t know what is,” said Pureval, a Democrat and an attorney at Procter & Gamble.

“You have to wonder what might happen if you don’t contribute to the Winkler campaign,” he said of the agency’s 220 employees. “That’s the kind of culture of corruption that Winkler has created in the courthouse. Public employees whose jobs are funded by taxpayer dollars feel bullied and stressed into supporting a political candidate to keep their job. This kind of pay-to-play, machine politics of the past is outrageous and shameful, but unfortunately is not surprising.”

Winkler did not respond to a request for comment this morning.

An employee who gave the Sept. 1 emails to CityBeat provided the impetus for Pureval’s call for a politics-free work environment. The employee expressed a fear of being bullied into campaigning for Winkler, even though neither Winkler nor the other email sender, chief deputy bailiff Donald Robinson, ordered anyone to do so. Critics of the practice say the solicitations put employees in a difficult position because they don’t know if refusal will lead to reprisals.

“When you are the head of the office sending out these emails, there is an implied coercion there,” Pureval said.

Pureval also cited a Cincinnati magazine article that said Republicans were eight times more likely than Democrats to work in the court clerk’s office. The article stated that 85 employees or their relatives have contributed money to Winkler’s campaign.

“There is a litmus test you have to pass to get a job in our courts,” Pureval said. “It’s not about your qualifications and resume; it’s about whether you’ll pledge allegiance to one political party and donate your time and money to keep them in power.”

The emails asking Winkler employees to help her campaign directed them to contact her head of human resources, Jeffrey Baker. Baker is also president of the Colerain Republican Club.

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