Gov. Kasich's visit sparks car wars at Cincinnati's City Hall

Police dispute councilman's tale of towing threat

CINCINNATI -- City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said his car had to be abruptly moved from its parking spot in front of City Hall Wednesday to make space for a vehicle carrying the visiting Gov. John Kasich.

If the car wasn’t moved quickly enough, it would’ve been towed, according to Sittenfeld’s version of events.

But both the Cincinnati police officer who handled the parking arrangements and a Kasich spokesman said that’s simply not the case.

Kasich visited City Hall about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday for a private meeting with Mayor John Cranley. Kasich was in town for a manufacturing forum earlier in the day at a facility in Norwood.

About the same time, an aide interrupted Sittenfeld’s lunch at Via Vite, a restaurant on Fountain Square.

The staffer, who ran seven blocks to reach the eatery, told Sittenfeld that he needed the councilman’s car keys to move the vehicle from a parking space in front of City Hall.

If the car wasn’t moved, the aide told Sittenfeld, it would be towed.

“I couldn’t help but think that this is the same governor who has blown a $20 million hole in the city budget by raiding our local government fund; the same governor who tried to take away the collective bargaining rights of our brave cops and firefighters; the same governor who unilaterally yanked $52 million of transportation dollars from the city; the same governor who tried to chase Pure Romance jobs out of Cincinnati – and now he’s going to tow me from my own parking spot,” Sittenfeld told another media outlet, in relating the incident.

“He’s certainly got an unorthodox approach to intergovernmental relationship-building,” Sittenfeld added.

Police Sgt. Richard Antwine, the officer assigned to handle council matters and oversees City Hall’s security guards, said he asked that vehicles parked in front be moved for Kasich. Antwine never ordered their removal, he said, and never threatened to have any vehicles towed.

“We requested people move their cars. There were no orders,” Antwine said. “None of my people ever told anyone they were going to tow their cars.”

The request is standard when dignitaries visit City Hall and has been made before, he added.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Antwine said. “But we never said we were going to tow any vehicles. That’s not what we do.”

Asked whether council members complied with the request, he said, “Some of them moved their cars, some didn’t. I really don’t want to get involved in this.”

Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman, said he was unaware of any request to move vehicles. City officials suggested the governor and his entourage park in front, he added.

“Absolutely not,” Nichols replied, when asked if the governor or anyone on his staff requested vehicle be moved.

“If there’s a car where we want to park, we park somewhere else,” Nichols said.

"We don't get too worked up over half-baked hissy fits over parking spots," Nichols added. "We have a state to run."

When asked about the incident later, after his initial remarks to the media, Sittenfeld downplayed the matter.

“By the time my aide got back, the governor's black SUV had already arrived and parked outside City Hall and it was decided that my car could stay put,” Sittenfeld said.

“Everything I said is 100 percent accurate,” the councilman said. “It seems to me there is some face-saving going on. Whether this was silliness or bullying, I don’t know. I think (Kasich) probably wanted the closest spot to the door.”

Sittenfeld disputed a statement Nichols gave to a local newspaper, in which he said there were no vehicles present when Kasich’s SUV pulled into its spot.

“There are a number of Cincinnati police officers whom I know could confirm that as false,” the councilman said. “As for what Mr. Nichols motivation to lie is -- especially a lie where he's so easily proven wrong -- that's for him to explain.”

Nichols said he merely meant there was a space open for the governor’s vehicle.

“There were spots for us, we just drove right in,” Nichols said. “It’s not like we checked everywhere for cars. I just know there were none where we wanted to be.”

Nichols called Sittenfeld’s statements “absurd” and “silly.”

Sittenfeld is a Democrat, while Kasich is a Republican. The difference is probably what prompted Sittenfeld’s remarks, said City Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican.

Most council members moved their vehicles without incident, he added. “I was asked to move my Ford Focus and I moved my Ford Focus,” Winburn said.

“We should be good ambassadors to dignitaries when they come to our city,” he added.

Noting that some council members make snide remarks about Kasich while they also ask him to restore cuts he made to the Local Government Fund, Winburn said, “That's asinine, that's crazy.”

For more stories by Kevin Osborne, visit www.wcpo.com/osborne . Follow him on Twitter at @kevinwcpo

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