Ohio grandmother caught in middle of union fight

AP News
Posted: Oct 13, 2011 6:53 PM
Ohio grandmother caught in middle of union fight

The plea of a 78-year-old grandmother urging a repeal of Ohio's overhaul of collective bargaining rights is being distorted by an opposing group using her statements in an ad to defend the new law.

Marlene Quinn's great-granddaughter was saved from a house fire in November, and she told the story in a statewide television spot paid for by We Are Ohio, the union-backed coalition that's fighting the law signed in March. Now, she's suddenly at the center of a high-stakes battle over the future of public labor unions in the state.

Ohioans will vote Nov. 8 on whether the law should be tossed out. Quinn, of Cincinnati, urged repeal because she said the law jeopardizes firefighters' ability to negotiate for safe staffing levels.

Defenders of the law operating as Building a Better Ohio recut footage of Quinn for their own ad and used it to say the bill would help, not hurt, firefighter staffing.

Both ads open with the same images of a burning building. Quinn then appears before the camera. "If not for the firefighters, we wouldn't have our Zoey today," she tells viewers.

The ad by the law's supporters doesn't include the next line of her comment: "That's why it's so important to vote no on Issue 2."

The referendum on the law will appear as Issue 2 on the ballot.

About 30 television stations in Ohio media markets have pulled the commercial, according to a count by We Are Ohio.

Quinn has called on Building a Better Ohio to take down the second ad, saying she feels violated by its use of her image without her permission.

"I've lived a long time and seen a lot of things, but I've never seen a group of people sink so low," Quinn said in a statement. "I think it's dishonest and downright deceitful that they would use footage of me to try to play tricks and fool voters."

Doug Stern, a Cincinnati firefighter who has appeared in different ads supporting the repeal, told The Associated Press that he was with Quinn when she watched the second ad.

Stern described her as teary-eyed and apologetic about the use of her image.

"I think this resolves a lot of our firefighters to work even harder," Stern said. "They've disrespected us from the beginning. That's fine. We're big boys. ... Now they are disrespecting an 80-year-old grandmother who stood by the firefighters that saved her granddaughter in a way that I think goes beyond the pale."

Building a Better Ohio maintains its ad is appropriate and lawful. Its attorneys have reached out to stations to get them to put the ad back up.

"We absolutely stand by the ad, and we will not agree to pull it or replace it," Building a Better Ohio spokesman Jason Mauk said in a statement.

We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas said the campaign is discussing with Quinn whether she wants to film another ad to respond to how the law's backers used her remarks.

Firefighters, police officers and opponents of the law Thursday blasted the commercial as morally wrong, saying it has re-energized them to make more phone calls to voters and knock on more doors to turn out a repeal vote.

"I have never seen them so angry," said Jay McDonald, president of the state's largest law enforcement organization. "This is the straw."

Among other changes, the Ohio law bans public worker strikes and limits the collective bargaining abilities of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees. Workers could negotiate on wages, but not on their pension or health care benefits.

Both campaigns have used the ads with Quinn to solicit donations.

On its website, the We Are Ohio campaign says it wants to raise $22,000 by Saturday to keep the ad on the air in two of the state's largest media markets, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Building a Better Ohio urged its supporters Thursday in an email to donate to help get its message out.

"We're grateful for the attention and debate this ad is generating," the email says. "Help us fight the lies. Stand up for free speech and let's take this ad directly to the people."