When P.G. Sittenfeld all but admitted that he lied to multiple senior Ohio Democratic Party leaders, elected officials, and activists that he would support Ted Strickland and drop out of the race if Strickland got in, some dismissed it as such “inside baseball” that it wouldn’t really hurt Sittenfeld to backtrack on his word with so many high profile Democrats (including Governor Strickland himself.) When Sittenfeld’s publicly touted hire of a campaign manager walked off the job after only two months, Sittenfeld’s campaign initially tried to play it off as all part of the plan (despite giving no indication as such when they were touting the hire) and that a new hire announcement would soon be forthcoming. When four months passed with no announcement, the Sittenfeld campaign lamely declared that he had suddenly decided not to hire a replacement campaign manager and instead will stick to the leadership of his out-of-state/Beltway political consulting firm to manage the day-to-day operations of an Ohio statewide campaign. In reality, the likely reality is no Democratic campaign operative wants to have Sittenfeld’s campaign on their resume given how its isolated and alienated itself with Democrats in Ohio and nationally and seen its fundraising shrink by nearly two-thirds since the last quarter.
Regardless, six months in, and Sittenfeld’s credibility with the press is already incredibly strained, to say the least. Given that Sittenfeld’s fundraising is so poor and he’s largely unknown (a supermajority of even Democrats polled say they don’t know of him), Sittenfeld needs to rely on earned media to help increase his name recognition on favorable terms. Therefore, anything that hurts his credibility with the press makes it even harder for Sittenfeld to end his current cycle of digging himself into a deeper ditch with his spinning wheels to nowhere.
On Thursday, the Sittenfeld campaign went to the press and began an attack of labor itself on what may prove to be a red line political moment in the campaign. After prematurely blast ODP Chair David Pepper over an answer he gave about Sittenfeld to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s editorial board, an answer which reflects what Pepper has said about what all elected Democrats not named Sittenfeld should do, the campaign followed up two days later with a press conference by Sittenfeld’s senior political adviser and former ODP Chair Jim Ruvolo in what some reporters questioned may have been nothing more than a cynical attempt to milk another news cycle to try to raise Sittenfeld’s name recognition. The Sittenfeld campaign tapped Ruvolo to prosecute its case in the media.
When Ruvolo became Chair in 1983, Democrats held not only the Governor’s office, but all statewide offices (as it had done for the decade prior), the Ohio House, and all but two seats of the Ohio Supreme Court. When he left, Ohio lost the governor’s race (by double digits), the Secretary of State’s Office, and the Apportionment Board, which led to the end of the Vern Riffe era in the Ohio House of Representatives. In other words, Ruvolo steered the party into the very oblivion that David Pepper is working to rebuild the party from the ground up.
Not only did the press seem highly skeptical at Ruvolo criticizing Pepper only seven months on the job with no elections under his watch at Chair, but reporters pointed out that Ruvolo’s conspiracy theory that Pepper was trying to push Sittenfeld out was based on false portrayal of what Pepper said and the context of what he said it. For example, Ruvolo alleged that Pepper went to the Enquirer editorial board with the specific intent to attack Sittenfeld in Sittenfeld’s hometown. However, many reporters on the call had sat in on similar editorial board meetings where Pepper had made similar comments that had nothing to do with Sittenfeld at all. Others pointed out that Pepper’s comments were more about council in general and that Pepper, too, is from Cincinnati. And finally, a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out it was her editorial board, not Pepper, that brought up Sittenfeld specifically at all. As Henry Gomez of the Cleveland Plain Dealer later reported, Pepper was able to point out that Sittenfeld himself was not only not outraged by Pepper’s comments, but Sittenfeld seemed to have taken Pepper’s advice to heart.
It got so bad that Ruvolo essentially all but abandoned his criticisms about Pepper’s comments and instead tried to relitigate ODP’s endorsement of Ted Strickland. Ruvolo again tried to suggest it was done against the bylaws (even though Sittenfeld himself supported the party doing the same thing in 2013) and that it was done with no notice (even though the party had notified members nearly a week before the meeting that such a motion may be made and the Sittenfeld campaign itself criticized the endorsement before it happened.)
As Plain Dealer columnist Thomas Suddes pointed out over the weekend, Ruvolo criticized the influence of public unions have over the Ohio Democratic Party and how much financial support they give to the party. At no point during or since that call has its Communications Director Dale Butland or the candidate himself distanced the campaign from those comments, which were made in a press conference call organized and promoted by the campaign featuring a senior adviser to the campaign. So it would appear that the Sittenfeld campaign has made a conscious decision to criticize public labor unions and their influence in the Ohio Democratic Party as part of their primary campaign strategy.
While Sittenfeld was quietly running for his first city council election in 2011, Ted Strickland didn’t let his narrow defeat in ’10 stop him from publicly coming out and strongly defend the middle class families that were under assault under Governor Kasich’s SB 5:
On the other hand, I could find only one article in 2011, a survey of council candidates on SB 5 by the Cincinnati Enquirer, in which Sittenfeld said he opposed SB 5. And Sittenfeld was the highest rated incumbent and highest rated Democrat on Cincinnati City Council by the regional Chamber of Commerce in his second campaign. In that scorecard, the Chamber ranked Sittenfeld as one of the highest candidates running on agreeing with the Chamber on labor issues:
Note that the actual progressives on Cincinnati City Council (Seelbach and Simpson) are rated in red on labor issues. The Cincinnati Chamber was one of the regional chambers that publicly supported keeping SB 5 and continued to push for components of it to be adopted since its repeal.
Sittenfeld, as a novice candidate with only one and half terms behind him, has a very weak record on labor issues. What little record he does has is somewhat troubling for those who believe in organized labor as a force to deal with income inequity in this country. For his senior campaign adviser to attack the Ohio Democratic Party for its support by and for public unions in a press conference organized and conducted by Sittenfeld’s campaign is deeply troubling. The fact that Sittenfeld himself, nor his campaign did not immediately (or since) disclaimed or distanced itself from Ruvolo’s anti-public union remarks says a great deal about Sittenfeld’s character. If public labor supports Ted Strickland, it’s because they remember he was willing to stand up to them when middle class families were under assault by SB 5. If Jim Ruvolo thinks that is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
SB 5 was an attempt by Governor Kasich to basically eliminate the rights of collective bargaining won by public employees in 1983 thanks to the work of Democrats like Governor Dick Celeste and Speaker Riffe. That’s why they were not as influential before Ruvolo became chair: they were legally kept politically powerless. For a former high ranking Celeste campaign aide to now blast the Ohio Democratic Party for supporting public unions only four years after the victory to repeal SB 5 shows how some people not only forget their political history, but apparently forgot who they used to be.
And Sittenfeld is no progressive so long as he continues to allow his campaign to stand behind these remarks. If he were a true progressive leader, he’d reign in his consultants. Time will tell.