With the public outcry over last week's announcement that Cincinnati is losing population faster than any other major U.S. city, Mayor Mark Mallory's honeymoon is officially over.
In office for almost seven months now, Mallory has been given a wide berth by city residents and the media alike to establish himself. During last year's campaign, he contrasted himself against David Pepper's piles o' plans as someone who would consult with experts once elected and then devise his action plans.
We're still waiting for those action plans, and we're trying to be patient. But the future has a funny way of not holding on while our leaders get their sea legs underneath them.
The future reared its ugly head again June 19 when UC's Economics Center for Education and Research presented an economic forecast to city council's finance committee that showed Cincinnati's population dropping below 300,000 by the 2010 U.S. Census. The city's current population is 308,590, down from more than 331,000 in the 2000 Census.
According to Census numbers, the population loss of 6.8 percent since 2000 puts Cincinnati dead last in growth rate among the country's 254 major cities. And, as Kevin Osborne reported June 20 on our Porkopolis blog (www.citybeatporkopolis. blogspot.com), if Cincinnati continues to lose residents at this rate, it could put the city's eligibility for certain state and federal funding at risk and cause cutbacks in government services.
The mainstream media picked up the topic and ran it through the usual cycle -- front-page coverage in The Enquirer, followed by reports on radio and TV news, followed by radio talk show hosts working callers into a lather, followed by another front-page Enquirer story quoting readers asked to "share your thoughts."
Those thoughts included a lot of fingering-pointing and blaming and a litany of complaints: Cincinnati's crime is out of control, the city's public schools are substandard, downtown is dead, the neighborhoods are dying because too much effort and money are spent on downtown, public transportation is poor and the city's bureaucracy gets in the way of creating jobs or being an entrepreneur.
The Enquirer quoted Mallory as saying he thinks the city needs more of a "fun factor" to "attract bright, young minds."
These are all serious, complex problems, and the city's fortunes won't magically improve by tackling just one area, building just the right building or hiring just the right person. Let's shorten the list by one item, though, and maybe inch us forward a bit.
Can we agree to ignore the whining about how there's nothing to do in Cincinnati and it's soooo boring here? It's categorically wrong. With all of its problems, the city has no shortage of fun events, great arts and cool neighborhoods.
"There's nothing to do" is an easy knee-jerk response when the subject of Cincinnati's population loss comes up. Not only is it factually incorrect, it diverts attention from the problems that really matter and are more difficult to articulate and address.
Other cities seem to be able to address problems, offer responses and rally citizens to come together and save their communities. Cincinnati's issues are neither unique nor impossible to turn around, no matter how bleak things look right now.
Should we adopt a city/county form of unified government like Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville and Lexington, Ky. (all growing cities) have? Should we annex adjacent villages and townships, as Columbus (a growing city) has? Should we build a brand new light rail system like Charlotte, Phoenix and Seattle (all growing cities) have?
None of these changes are by themselves the magic bullet to stabilize Cincinnati and bring residents and businesses back to the city. But they can all be part of a master plan to boldly position Cincinnati for a bright future.
And the one person who can articulate that plan is Mallory.
It's certainly not fair that Mallory has to clean up the mess created by years and decades of neglect and mismanagement at City Hall, but guess what? That's the job description that comes with the title of "savior."
CityBeat backed Mallory's contention during the campaign that voters should elect a man (him) instead of a plan (Pepper), and we felt confident that Mallory would bring his considerable talents to bear on the major issues facing the city.
"He supports," I wrote in our election endorsement in late October, "many of the key positions CityBeat has advocated over the years for moving Cincinnati to a better future: improved race relations; better oversight of the police department; full rights for all citizens, including gays and lesbians; full support of the arts, including city funding; improved public transit; full partnership with and support of Cincinnati Public Schools; and support for tolerance and diversity. ... With his contacts in area governments and the business community, he has a good shot at tearing down the economic and social barriers the suburbs tend to build around the city to protect themselves from unknown dangers."
Yet Mallory's beliefs and talents haven't coincided to produce much of an impact so far. His involvement in high-profile issues like The Banks and the search for a new city manager have gotten bogged down in procedural debates. His ideas for dealing with crime, neighborhood services and environmental protections remain mostly words on paper.
With city council about to take its summer recess -- and no one on council dealing with the population loss study -- it's up to Mallory to do something over the next few months to address Cincinnatians' concerns, doubts and fears.
With all the drama over the city's fading population, we actually have an opportunity to galvanize public support for bold, creative solutions. It reminds me of the general feelings after the 2001 riots, when everyone agreed the city was broken and opened themselves to all fixes.
Unfortunately, city leaders squandered that opportunity. They talked of meaningful change and settled for window dressing, simply delaying another crisis of confidence for a time when they'd be out of office and out of sight.
The next crisis has arrived. Do we rally around bold change now, or do we pass the buck again?
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