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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Landsman's campaign was prepared for GOP attack ad

Greg Landsman during a swearing-in ceremony for Cincinnati's new council and mayor at Washington Park, Tuesday, January 4.
Jason Whitman
Greg Landsman during a swearing-in ceremony for Cincinnati's new council and mayor at Washington Park, Tuesday, January 4, 2022.

There are only two choices for a candidate when confronted by a bully.

Run away or fight back.

Cincinnati Council Member Greg Landsman, the Democratic candidate for Ohio's 1st Congressional District, has chosen the latter path.

Respond immediately, and forcefully.

The bully in this case is the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which has dropped at least $250,000 on a dark and foreboding 30-second TV ad attacking Landsman — an ad that is running heavily on news broadcasts and televised sporting events in the Cincinnati TV market.

All of this for the benefit of Republican incumbent Steve Chabot, who has held the 1st District seat all but two of the last 28 years.

It is about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer to the head; and as about as accurate as Donald Trump's election math.

This ad may set a record for the most name-calling in a 30-second period in Ohio political history.

The NRCC, with shadowy, grainy photos of Landsman, accuses him of just about everything but being the real-life Freddy Krueger.

Landsman, according to the NRCC, is "corrupt and dangerous," and "unfit for Congress."

"Only crooks and extremists want to defund the police," an ominous-sounding narrator intones. "Greg Landsman is both."

Landsman, as one might imagine, doesn't like being called names.

"If someone came up to me and asked, 'Is Steve Chabot a criminal?' I would say 'No, not to my knowledge and please don't say that,' " Landsman said. "I would never call him a crook. But I do have some very real differences with him on issues and the way he does his job."

Chabot and his allies in the GOP have been banging this drum for months now, accusing Landsman of wanting to "defund" the police.

The drumbeat started in 2020 when it seemed possible that the city might take $200,000 from the Cincinnati Police Department to fund the Citizens Complaint Authority. (That didn't, in fact, happen.)

When Chabot raised this issue a few months ago, Landsman's campaign sent me an audio clip from a council meeting at the time in which Landsman suggested the police department might actually end up with more money rather than less.

"Chabot and the Republicans are going to lie about this," Landsman told me. "If you are willing to lie about a presidential election being stolen, you'll lie about anything."

Camille Gallo, the deputy director for media affairs at the NRCC, insists the "defund the police" charge is accurate.

"Greg Landsman literally wrote a proposal that would defund the police," Gallo said. "It's laughable that Landsman is trying to convince Ohioans he’s anything but a Defund the Police Democrat."

Then there was the "Gang of Five."

Landsman was among the five Democratic City Council members named in a civil lawsuit where they admitted to illegally texting each other about city business in 2018, a violation of Ohio's Open Meetings law. It ended up costing the city $107,000; and the five council members — Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Tamaya Dennard and Wendell Young — got bawled out by Judge Robert Ruhlmann, who told them they should resign and that no one should ever vote for them again.

"My role in this was minimal and I took full responsibility for it," Landsman said.

The NRCC ad, by the way, made it appear that the judge was berating only Landsman when, in fact, he was addressing all five council members.

Landsman was re-elected in 2021, finishing second in a large field of candidates. There were no apparent ill effects from the "Gang of Five" situation, despite the judge's advice to Cincinnati voters.

But, for his role in this mess, Landsman was labeled a "crook" and "corrupt" by the NRCC.

Cincinnati will likely just yawn, roll over and take a nap, in the face of such purple prose by the NRCC.

But the fact is that the Landsman campaign was prepared for the NRCC attack ad.

A spokesman for the Landsman campaign said they had the ad — entitled "Safety" — just about ready to go in anticipation that either the Chabot campaign or the NRCC would unleash a "defund the police" attack ad.

It features some well-known figures in Cincinnati law enforcement — Council Member Scotty Johnson, a 33-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department; Hamilton County Sheriff Chairmaine McGuffey; former Cincinnati police sergeant Cassandra Tucker and former Cincinnati police office Eric Dunn.

The ad starts out with Johnson, pointing over his shoulder to a TV image from the NRCC ad and saying, "This ad from Congressman Chabot's friends is just wrong." It switches to McGuffey, saying "Greg Landsman increased police funding by $20 million."

"Twenty-million dollars," Johnson repeats, just to drive home the point.

Is it true? Well, yes and no. Landsman, as a council member, voted for five annual budgets (including this last one) that collectively increased police funding by $20 million. But, of course, he didn't do it by himself — council as a whole voted on those budgets.

The Chabot campaign fired back with a written statement that went after not only Landsman, but the past and present law enforcement officers in the ad as well.

Landsman's ad, the Chabot campaign press release said, is "desperately trying to obscure his record on public safety by hiding behind fellow left-wing politicians who also support soft-on-crime policies."

“The simple truth is Greg Landsman can’t hide from his record and can’t deceive 1st District voters by hiding behind fellow soft-on-crime politicians,” Chabot campaign manager John Gomez said in the press release.

Believe whom you will. Your vote, your choice.

But the point is that Landsman's campaign knew what was coming, prepared for it and were ready to fire back almost immediately.

And by doing so, they have probably reduced the NRCC ad to just one more thing for voters to ignore when they cast their ballots.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.