Sunday, October 5, 2003

Sheriff was left out of Bush's visit

If the Republican Party had its own Marines, Hamilton County Sheriff Si Leis would be John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima. He's the last man I'd expect to protest a visit by President George Bush. But he's firing off an angry letter to the Secret Service to do just that.

"I'm a big Bush supporter," he said. "But taxpayers shouldn't pay for purely fund-raising visits."

Leis said Bush's visit to Indian Hill on Tuesday was a campaign visit. It included no political or public purpose. "I absolutely would have billed him," he said, for security and traffic control provided by his deputies.

"I billed Bush once before and he paid. I billed John Glenn and he paid. Clinton never paid and I couldn't get the prosecutor to file a damn lawsuit." For the record, that unpaid Clinton campaign is $6,082.84.

This time, the Secret Service left the sheriff's office out of the loop for security, Leis said.

"I don't have any doubt about it. They figured we would bill them. They know my policy."

It's the first time the sheriff's office has been stiff-armed during a presidential motorcade that went through the county, he said. And that's why the sheriff is writing a letter to the Secret Service: "They had Amberley Village and Silverton (officers) directing traffic in unincorporated areas of the county where they have no authority whatsoever. If something had happened there, we would have had a hell of a problem."

The county's helicopter has been used in the past, at a cost to taxpayers of $175 an hour. But this time, the Kentucky State Police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Marines provided air cover.

Cincinnati Police Lt. Steve Kramer said, "If there's bad blood between the sheriff's office and the Secret Service, it's news to me."

"But even if I talked to the Secret Service, they wouldn't tell me. I told someone I think they take classes in saying nothing but nice things about anyone they come in contact with."

Cincinnati provided 80 officers, but had no car in the motorcade, he said. "There are far too many law enforcement agencies to hand off the football to every one of them and still get into the end zone."

Kramer said he lobbied to get the Bush route and timing moved so it would not close I-71 during rush hour.

I-275 is under construction, and each barrel is a security risk that has to be inspected and guarded - a job that would require the entire U.S. Army in Cincinnati.

Bush landed at the airport in Kentucky at 4:40 p.m. - and I-75 to the Ohio Bridge and I-71 to the Kenwood exit had to be closed. The freeways were reopened quickly, but some spots were closed from about 5 to 5:30, said Kramer, who rode in the "five minute car" that scouted five minutes ahead of Bush's armored Cadillac.

Kramer said he joked to the Secret Service, "This is going to cost him 100,000 votes. But they said, 'We don't care about votes. All we care about is protecting the president.' "

No doubt, thousands of commuters waited and wondered, "Do they have to protect him right down the middle of my highway at rush hour?" But Kramer said Bush is not to blame: "This particular president does not step into the middle of those decisions. He leaves it to the Secret Service."

During his visit to the home of Carl Lindner III, Bush collected $1.7 million. That's probably enough to offset a traffic jam of voters - and one ticked off sheriff.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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