Comment: This is the most embarrassing Cincinnati City Hall episode ever

I’ve been in Cincinnati politics for 37 years now and have never seen anything like this compost heap created by the Gang of Five and their thousands of pointless texts.

Last week, after the five councilors whipped their tongues by Hamilton County’s Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman and some 25,000 text messages were released to the public, I sat with my WVXU colleagues going over each one, and I didn’t do that. I do not know if I should laugh or cry.

I felt like I needed a shower afterwards.

Five Democratic city council members were involved – PG Sittenfeld (who would like to be the next mayor), Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young.

In those cases where all five were on a news series, they made up a majority of the nine-member council, and by law they were illegal meetings because they were conducted in cyberspace rather than council chambers.

The naming, the biting back, the geek accusations these five joked about on their mobile devices were disgusting and youthful.

Much of this was directed at Mayor John Cranley, who wanted to get rid of city manager Harry Black. That was enough for these five to do everything in their power to save Black’s skin, and they planned ways to do so on the text messages.

And they saved some of their malice for Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, whose wife Pamela was dying of cancer at the time. Seelbach and Sittenfeld implied that Smitherman – an ally of Cranley who also wants to run for mayor – used his wife’s illness for political purposes.

Now, Smitherman and Sittenfeld are the two councilors who have made it clear that they will try to replace Cranley when he is on a two-year term.

And if you don’t think this whole fiasco is linked to the upcoming mayor’s race, think again, my friend.


These texts came to light following a lawsuit brought by Mark Miller, Treasurer of the Coalition Against Additional Expenditures and Taxes (COAST). Smitherman is a political ally of COAST. Miller was represented by attorney Brian Shrive of the Finney law firm, whose senior partner Christopher Finney was a co-founder of COAST and, like Shrive, a friend and political ally of Smitherman.

Some might think that this “Gang of Five” was set up for a fall – especially a fall for Sittenfeld that stands in the way of Smitherman and his desire to become mayor.

But if it was a trap, these five went straight in.

Landsman was the only one to make sense by suggesting that they might be breaking the state’s sunshine law by holding unannounced meetings over cell phones.

But it seems the rest of them just shrugged and plowed forward.

It ended last Thursday (for now; more texts will follow) when Ruehlman signed an agreement between the city and the plaintiff to settle for $ 101,000. Most of the money – $ 90,000 – goes to the Finney law firm.

With the five councilors in the courtroom (the judge had insisted they were there), Ruehlman lit them up, saying they had lost the trust of their councilors and the citizens of Cincinnati and that they should resign.

“No voter in this city should ever vote for any of those council members again,” said Ruehlman.

Well, that’s great, your honor, but I think we can let Cincinnati voters do this without the help of the bank. But then again, it’s his courtroom and he can say what he likes.

The gang of five looked for an explanation for their behavior. The question I have heard the most from citizens is simple: what were they thinking when they recorded all this nonsense?

It reminded me of the sneak notes we paced back and forth in my sixth grade at Cleveland Elementary School in Dayton. We made fun of the teachers, the headmistress and the classmates we didn’t like and it got very nasty at times – just like the councilors’ texts.

Did I mention we were only 12 years old when we did all of this?

Or that our notes were written in code I discovered that Confederate spies used during the Civil War? The notes were often intercepted, but no teacher or principal could decipher them.

We were stupid teenage kids.

These were grown adults who should probably know better.

They either didn’t know or didn’t care.

With the exception of Young, the oldest of the Gang of Five, they grew up with the advent of cyber communication and know exactly how it works.

Go to a Cincinnati City Council meeting for some time. Look at the podium and count how many of the nine sit there during a council meeting, playing with their iPhones and listening to the news, unfamiliar parties.

You will find that a lot happens. Indeed, all the time.

Well, maybe not so much anymore.

Read more “Politically speaking” here.

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