Ulrich campaign getting rich from Rumpke donations

The Cincinnati Post

Rumpke is hauling in tons of campaign cash into Colerain Township trustee race.(Mahoney Performance Institute.)

There’s plenty of political mite and money being strewn like garbage down the Colerain Strip this election season. There are huge competing signs most everywhere an eye can see. Surprised there isn’t a sign on top of Mount Rumpke considering they donated a brash $8,000 to the campaign of 1 candidate. That's more money than the other 3 candidates have raised combined. The Colerain trustee race is setting records in campaign donations.

One candidate is hauling in cash like Rumpke hauls in trash. Cathy Ulrich, first-time candidate, newly registered Republican, and a successful realtor who, "loves to sell Colerain" is front and center in the race. I doubt we'll see a giant “SOLD” sign on top of Rumpke Mountain any time soon. It isn’t something most Colerain residents would appreciate. Like Rumpke or not – and, it’s a mixed bag depending on whether you live downwind or not – they are a political force to be reckoned with when they have something at stake and they'll stake a lot of money on it.

This year, Rumpke has something at stake.

The Solid Waste Policy Committee passed a resolution to impose rules on landfills within Hamilton County. This will be the first time any landfill will have to abide by rules in the county and require that the Board of Commissioners approve any construction, expansion, or operation of a landfill. It's a big deal. The proposal was first submitted in May, this year. In June, Rumpke started investing in their future. Township trustees will each have a vote on whether to ratify the rules. Dan Unger, another candidate, has already pledged his allegiance to Rumpke, if not his vote.

It’s consequential. It's been done before. And, like trash – it stinks.

About a decade ago, Rumpke really found their political prowess. There was an issue on the ballot to make the Colerain Strip a JED Zone, a retail/commercial district that imposes a 1% tax on workers who do not live in the township to offset the costs associated with the township’s business district. Rumpke spent $70,000 to defeat the measure. (That's a link you'll want to read.) Decades ago, Colerain was a “company town” of Rumpke workers. Their employees could have just used their voting block to defeat any political issue.

Not anymore.

Things have changed since back in the day. The majority of Rumpke’s workers don’t live in Colerain Township anymore and can’t vote on the issue. Like a lot of Colerain’s native resident stock, Rumpke workers have moved outward, away from Rumpke's dump, while the company continued building upward the size and negative consequences of the landfill. Colerain residents and leadership took it personally when Rumpke sited their recycling center in St. Bernard instead of keeping those jobs here. Community and public support faded with one battle after another to increase the size, nuisances, and life of the landfill.

Rumpke made a political impression bigger than their heap of trash in getting the measure voted down – with money instead of votes. Candidates seeking office took notice. Back in 2009 when Rumpke launched their political identity, they were in a legal fight with the township to expand the landfill, once again. One former trustee had said he:

believes Rumpke is spearheading the anti-JEDZ initiative in an attempt to force the township to allow the landfill to expand.

Rumpke dumped a lot of cash into politics to defeat that initiative and won. They also hamstrung the township, financially, into accepting a settlement that allowed another expansion. Since then, Rumpke has controlled, at their pleasure, most of what and who moves forward in Colerain Township. The impact on losing that JEDZ was immediate, resulting in:

a slate of cuts and fee increases in the wake of the loss of the issue. Included in that list was the elimination of the township’s public services director, increased fees for teams using township fields, cuts to programming at the township’s senior and community center and a hike in the cost of parking passes for Colerain Township parks.

Shortly after, the township balked and took a settlement offer from Rumpke allowing them to expand the landfill, yet again.

Over the last 5 years, Rumpke and their family have contributed nearly $200K to political campaigns. Their donations include about $23K to the scandalous Larry Householder (First Energy) campaign. Rumpke greased the palms of Colerain politicians. “Bill” Blessing got a whopping $9K, newly elected Cindy Abrams already hauled in her cash-trash donation of $1K, Jeff Ritter hauled in a mere $1,400 for his campaign when elected. This year, Rumpke went big – real big – donating $8K to the Ulrich campaign, dubbing her a “Rumpke Girl.” It will be hard to convince voters she didn’t just sell the township to Rumpke.

Ulrich was completely honest about the donation. She’s a really nice person, incredibly active in her church, and working hard to win this election. Ulrich is a very successful realtor who sincerely “loves to sell Colerain”. She was honest, forthcoming, and unapologetic about accepting so much money from the township’s biggest corporation and sings their praises – as well she should. Rumpke is undoubtedly a great corporate citizen that supports the community, creates good jobs, and provides an essential service to the region. Residents just wish this great corporate citizen would be a good neighbor, as well. Ulrich is well aware that if she wins she will be asked to cast a vote on the rules issue that will come before the trustees within the next year or so. She maintains her vote is not for sale.

Ulrich’s political coffers overflow like a Rumpke garbage truck coming from Kentucky to dump their load on Colerain residents. She has set a record in campaign donations for any Colerain Township campaign. She’s received almost $30K in donations. Almost all of her donations come from the west side of the Colerain Strip, where the winds don’t blow the stench from Mt. Rumpke so much, the wealthier side of the township.

Unlike another first-time candidate for trustee, Chuck Klosterman is financing his own campaign. He doesn't want to feel beholden to anyone, but the residents. Unlike Ulrich who has hired a campaign manager at 500 bucks a month, Klosterman is weeding his way through how a political campaign works. Klosterman is the only candidate of the 4 who lives on the east side of the Strip and his family hails from Northbrook, the most densely populated neighborhood in Colerain. Klosterman will likely learn the hard way that you don’t win elections just because your intentions are good and values are high and that elections can certainly be bought.

Ulrich is attempting to un-seat “Raj” Rajagopal who the Republican Party dissed when it came time to endorse. Generally, the GOP always endorses the incumbent, but in spite of “Raj” winning more votes than any other candidate in decades and always being a “good Republican”, the Colerain Central Committee gave “Raj” the heave-ho in June in favor of Ulrich at the urging of a bitter Ritter- Inderhees controlled committee. No particular reason, just that “Raj” isn’t much of a political puppet. He has been dubbed, “the Resident’s Choice”. Rajagopal won over residents 4 years ago without the GOP endorsement and now has a track record of “promises kept” that he believes will put him in office again. "Raj" has refused any corporate donations and has brought in about $1,500 for this campaign.

However, it’s all for naught if Dan Unger retains his seat. Unger is a good campaigner, if not a good fundraiser. He ran his campaign last time around on just $500. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he rode in on the coattails of Rajagopal, who aligned with outraged residents who opposed the incumbents, Ritter and Inderhees. Their reign was newsworthy due to the board’s disrespectful treatment of residents frustrated by a lack of progress in Colerain. Unger and Ulrich share the same voter pool. If Unger pulls this election off, it will be because he rode the coattails of another candidate.

Four years ago, the endorsed Republican incumbents were rejected by voters, handily. Colerain residents have a good memory and they know which candidates are supported by the Ritter - Inderhees endorsement. The future of Colerain essentially boils down to the unendorsed, Rajagopal / Klosterman versus the endorsed, Ulrich / Unger choice. The latter is betting that voters will remember those big signs and their names on the little pink sample ballots. The former is betting that voters remember what that endorsement got them last time around.

However, Rumpke is the big gamer in the political race and has waged the biggest bet in this campaign. An $8,000 donation to 1 candidate seems a little arrogant and - well - a little trashy. This election will be a real test of Rumpke's buying power and their clout with residents. Colerain voters have wised up a bit since 2009, thanks to the Inderhees-Ritter board, the real bet is if residents are falling for that garbage anymore.

UPDATE: We mistakenly reported that Ritter received a $1,200 campaign contribution. It was actually $1,400.

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