Why would a parking lot developer want to serve on a city’s Historic Conservation Board? And what role did major donations play in securing P.G. Sittenfeld’s personal support and his lobbying fellow City Councilmembers play into it? After the disaster of Ed FitzGerald, could this be the very kind of thing that could doom the Democratic Party if Sittenfeld, and not former Governor Ted Strickland would be the U.S. Senate candidate in the general?
Last fall, Chris Wetterich of the Cincinnati Business Journal, reported that the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, a non-profit historical neighborhood preservative group, opposed the appointment of Shree Kulkarni to the Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board. Kulkarni is a parking lot developer who had unsuccessfully battled with the board for two years when it prevented him from demolishing a 102-year old building to turn it into a parking lot. Kulkarni turned to Twitter to publicly blast the decision:
“Another example of how historic preservation, with no economic interest, is making economic decisions,” Kulkarni wrote. “Terrible result for developer.”
Two years later, he would be appointed to the board over a local historical preservation group’s objections. Other council members remained concerned about matters apart from Kulkarni’s views on historic preservation. Simpson noted several Kulkarni tweets that used profanity or referred to male and female genitalia. None the less, one of Kulharni’s chief advocates to City Council was Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
“I completely respect each individual council members whether they seem to agree with Mr. Kulkarni’s preservation philosophy,” Sittenfeld added. “I will say as a matter of character, I think he’s an outstanding member of our community.”
Days after the City Council approved Kulharni, the Cincinnati Business Journal, noted that he had donated money both to the Mayor and . . . PG Sittenfeld in 2013. On top of that, just months before City Council was called to vote on Kulharni’s appointment, Kulharni, his wife, and another executive from his company (and likely another relative to Kulharni) donated over $15,000 to Sittenfeld’s struggling U.S. Senate campaign.
According to FEC records, Kulharni is one of the largest single individual donors to Sittenfeld’s campaign. And what would motivate Kulharni to go from donating $1,000 to Sittenfeld’s 2013 city council race to over $10,000 to his U.S. Senate campaign before his appointment came before Sittenfeld and City Council other than the appointment to a board that had frustrated his business?
In the City Council meeting, Sittenfeld never disclosed to his fellow councilmembers that Kulharni, his wife, and CEO of his construction company had donated over $15,000 to his Senate campaign just months earlier. Sittenfeld urged his colleagues to appoint Kulharni no matter what disagreements they might have with, as Sittenfeld described it, with his “preservation philosophy.” Sittenfeld openly lobbied his colleagues to support Kulharni and voted to appoint one of his largest donors, a parking lot developer, to the very historic preservation board that he had clashed with over “preservation philosophies.”