Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Stadium dominates Bedinghaus-Portune debate

Comissioner defends role as point man

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Republican incumbent Bob Bedinghaus and Democratic challenger Todd Portune squared off in Xavier University's new Cintas Center Monday night, but that wasn't the sports facility the two Hamilton County commission candidates had on their minds.

        That would be Paul Brown Stadium, the $450 million riverfront football stadium that Mr. Bedinghaus regards as the keystone to the “rebirth” of Cincinnati's
riverfront and his opponent calls a monument to mismanagement.

        “He has betrayed the public trust and mismanaged the county's resources,” said Mr. Portune, the Cincinnati city councilman who is locked with Mr. Bedinghaus in what has become the most high profile and most contentious of this year's Hamilton County races.

        Mr. Bedinghaus, before an audience of about 120 in an auditorium adjacent to the Xavier Musketeers' new basketball arena, defended his role as the principal cam paigner for the stadium sales tax increase and the county's point man on the Bengals' stadium, which was plagued with cost overruns and stirred considerable public discon
tent over the lease deal the Bengals received from the county.

        The Republican incumbent made the argument that the stadium construction — along with completion of The Banks development and a new ball park for the Reds — will pay long-term dividends for not only the city, but the entire region.

        “This election is clearly about leadership — the ability to lead and the style of leadership,” said Mr. Bedinghaus. “As we stand here today, we have a downtown that is clearly on the move.

        “Leadership,” Mr. Bedinghaus said, “isn't just about telling people what they want to hear.”

        Monday night's debate — sponsored by Xavier Student Government — was the first of many head-to-head matchups between the Democratic and Republican candidates between now and the Nov. 7 election.

        There is a third candidate on the ballot — Libertarian Paul Naberhaus. Mr. Naberhaus was not invited to participate in Monday's debate, but he was introduced from the audience and spoke briefly. He, too, talked about the stadium projects.

        “I believe those big spend ing projects should be handled by private investments,” Mr. Naberhaus said.

        Most of the one-hour debate — with questions from the audience and a media panel — focused on stadiums, the central issue in this race.

        The two argued about the Republican county commissioners' refusal to allow Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a Democrat, to audit construction con tracts for Paul Brown Stadium.

        “It is beyond me why the county commissioner will not allow the county auditor to do his job,” Mr. Portune said.

        Mr. Bedinghaus said that auditing public projects is the job of State Auditor Jim Petro — a Republican — and said Mr. Portune and his supporters “wouldn't be making that suggestion if the county auditor was a Republican.”

        “I think we should keep politics out of the process,” Mr. Bedinghaus said.


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