I’ve been involved in Cincinnati politics for 37 years now, and I’ve never seen anything like that compost heap created by the Gang of Five and their thousands of pointless texts.
Last week, after the five councilors whipped the tongue by Hamilton County’s Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman and about 25,000 text messages were released to the public, I sat with my WVXU peers and went through each one, and so did I. don’t know whether to laugh or cry
I felt like I had to take a shower afterwards.
There were five Democratic city council members – PG Sittenfeld (who wants to become the next mayor), Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young.
In those cases where all five were on a chain of messages, they made up a majority of the nine-member council and by law these were illegal sessions as they were held in cyberspace rather than council chambers.
The abuse, slander, and mean accusations these five made on their mobile devices were disgusting and youthful.
Much 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 on text messaging ways to do so.
And they saved some of their meanness for Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, whose wife Pamela was dying of cancer at the time. Seelbach and Sittenfeld indicated 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 council members who made it clear they will try to replace Cranley if he leaves in two years.
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 Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). Smitherman is a political ally of COAST. Miller was represented by Attorney Brian Shrive of the Finney Law Firm, of which senior partner Christopher Finney was a co-founder of COAST and, like Shrive, a friend and political ally of Smitherman.
Some may think that this “Gang of Five” was prepared 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 show reason by suggesting that they may be breaking the state sunshine law by holding unannounced meetings over cell phones.
But it seems the rest of them just shrugged and plowed forward.
It ended (for now; more texts will follow) last Thursday when Ruehlman signed an agreement between the city and the plaintiff to deal with $ 101,000. Most of the money – $ 90,000 – goes to the Finney law firm.
While the five council members sat in the courtroom (the judge had insisted they be present), Ruehlman walked inside and said they had lost the trust of their council members and the citizens of Cincinnati and should resign.
“No voter in this city should ever vote for any of these councilors again,” said Ruehlman.
Well, that’s great, Your Honor, but I think we can let Cincinnati voters sort this out without the help of the bank. But then again, it’s his courtroom and he can say what he wants.
The Gang of Five was looking for an explanation for their behavior. The question I have heard the most from citizens is simple: what were they thinking of recording all this nonsense?
It reminded me of the secret notes we passed back and forth in my sixth grade at Cleveland Elementary School in Dayton. We made fun of the teachers, the headmaster, the classmates we didn’t like and it got really gross 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 and used by Confederate spies in the Civil War? The notes were often intercepted, but no teacher or principal could decipher them.
We were stupid teenage kids.
They were grown adults who probably should have known better.
They either didn’t know or they didn’t care.
With the exception of Young, the oldest of the Gang of Five, they grew up with the advent of cyber communications and know exactly how it works.
Go to a Cincinnati City Council meeting at some point. Look at the podium and count how many of the nine sit there during a council meeting, playing with their iPhones and tapping the news, parties unknown.
You will find that a lot happens. Actually all the time.
Well, maybe not so much anymore.
Read more about “Speaking Politically” here.