Sunday, June 25, 2000

Campaign conflict is denied

Bengals staffer not advising

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County Commission President Bob Bedinghaus denied recent media reports that a member of the Cincinnati Bengals staff is an adviser in his re-election campaign.

        Reports last week said that Jeff Berding, director of community affairs for the Bengals, was advising Mr. Bedinghaus on campaign issues.

        But Mr. Bedinghaus said Friday that he and Mr. Berding are just friends who talk frequently about a variety of topics — sometimes politics.

        The relationship is of interest because the county is building a $450 million stadium for the Bengals. Mr. Bedinghaus has led the campaign to build publicly financed, riverfront stadiums for the Bengals and Reds.

        Before taking a job with the Bengals, Mr. Berding was part of the 1996 campaign to pass a half-penny sales tax increase so the stadium could be built. Mr. Bedinghaus said he and Mr. Berding have been friends ever since.

        “Jeff has no official role in my campaign,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “We do talk, there's no question about that. And it's not unthinkable that from time to time I might bounce ideas off him or others.”

        Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, who is chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, said he doesn't see a problem with the relationship.

        “If they were discussing the county's business with the Bengals, that would be a problem,” Mr. Deters said. “I'm confident Bob knows where to draw the line.”

        Mr. Berding, a Democrat, said his discussions with Mr. Bedinghaus never get into commissioners' business with the team.

        “The Bengals have (other people) to talk with the county about that,” Mr. Berding said.

        Team president Mike Brown and his family have contributed heavily to the Bedinghaus campaign — $13,500 at last count. That relationship has raised the eyebrows of Todd Portune, a Democratic Cincinnati councilman who is running against Mr. Bedinghaus this fall.

        Mr. Portune has said the county gave a sweet deal to the Bengals while negotiating the lease in 1997.

        “I'm sure he's getting lots of advice on how to do things from the Bengals, like last week's announcements,” Mr. Portune said.

        Last week, Mr. Bedinghaus announced that the stadium will open on time, relieving any fear that the county would have to pay the Bengals a $2 million late charge if the Aug. 19 preseason game could not be played there.

        Mr. Bedinghaus also said the county and team are negotiating to remove ticket sales guarantees. As part of the team's 30-year lease, the county agreed to buy all tickets necessary to ensure that 50,000 were sold for each game this year and next.

        The announcements smelled of pure politics to Mr. Portune.

        “They should have made this announcement when it would have made a difference, not two months before the stadium is ready to open and untold millions have been spent on overtime to get it ready,” he said.

        The late-charge provision has not been taken out of the lease. After meeting with construction managers, the Bengals have just said they are confident the stadi um will be in shape to host the first game.

        Gene Beaupre, a Xavier University political scientist and local observer, said he doesn't think those announcements will amount to much at the voting booths this November.

        Mr. Portune, he said, has to run his campaign with the assumption that the stadium will open on time and be a huge success. If that happens, he will have to be careful about how he talks about stadium issues, according to Mr. Beaupre.

        “It's a much broader brush that a campaign tries to paint with than specifics about late charges that never came to be,” Mr. Beaupre said. ... “Todd's challenge will be to bring up those issues in a way that doesn't look like sour grapes.”


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