Just in time for campaign season to heat up, the Republican candidate for Cincinnati mayor has released his platform of issues, and it focuses heavily on providing incentives to lure new businesses to the city.
Dr. Brad Wenstrup, the orthopedic surgeon from Columbia Tusculum who is the GOP’s contender, announced his platform July 29 in the city’s Westwood neighborhood. The event occurred as Cincinnati is facing a budget crisis due to declining tax revenues, with city officials considering $28 million in cuts this year and up to $40 million in 2010. Those cuts are expected to trigger layoffs among City Hall’s 6,000-member workforce and possible elimination of some services.
Wenstrup attributed the crisis to “a stifling tax environment, which makes us non-competitive to business.” He wants to emulate the model of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), a private economic development agency that uses some taxpayer funding, in all of the city’s neighborhoods. Formed a few years ago, 3CDC is the firm that oversaw renovation of Fountain Square and is doing similar work around Vine Street and Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine.
Also, Wenstrup wants City Council to repeal the recently approved Environmental Justice Ordinance. The law requires an environmental assessment be done for certain types of projects proposed in neighborhoods that are deemed already adversely affected by toxins and pollution, usually poorer areas. Specific categories of businesses and construction are exempt from the review including office buildings and residential projects.
City officials estimated the ordinance’s annual cost at $125,000, which pays for a technically trained staff examiner and outside consultants. But the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce called the estimate “grossly understated” and stated it would cost another $170,000 to $280,000 each year, mostly for appeals and legal fees from businesses that are denied permits.
Further, Wenstrup wants to consider providing unspecified incentives, presumably financial ones like tax credits. “If we are not providing the proper incentives to invite new businesses and greater employment, then we need to change the way we do business so that we all benefit,” he said.
These ideas might be worth exploring, but they don’t address the origins of the current budget crisis.
For starters, almost every U.S. city is experiencing similar problems due to the national recession. Additionally, the Environmental Justice Ordinance hasn’t even been fully implemented yet and it’s doubtful any business decision has been affected by it thus far.
More importantly, it’s hard to claim that Cincinnati isn’t friendly to business and keep a straight face.
A 2008 study by the University of Cincinnati found that the metropolitan region is home to the headquarters of 10 Fortune 500 companies. Several of those firms — like Procter & Gamble, the Kroger Co., Macy’s and Chiquita Brands International — are located within city limits. The Queen City is home to so many top corporations that it ranks above other Midwestern cities like Columbus and Indianapolis and even has more per capita than powerhouses like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Wenstrup’s platform also calls for delaying the proposed $185 million streetcar system, consolidating some municipal services with Hamilton County, selling city assets like golf courses unless they turn a profit and replacing city-owned swimming pools with less expensive “spraygrounds.” One cutback Wenstrup opposes are any layoffs in the Police and Fire departments.
In fact, if Wenstrup’s initial platform is any indication, the local Republican Party seems stuck in the same rut that its national counterpart is: relying solely on tax policy and reducing the size of government. It’s going to take more innovative thinking and a greater vision than that to help Cincinnati thrive in the 21st century.
But the political newcomer does try to tap into the simmering resentment against Mayor Mark Mallory, the Democratic incumbent, in some quarters. Wenstrup criticizes Mallory for not attending the public comment session before council meetings and for what he describes as excessive spending in the mayor’s office.
“Cincinnati currently has a mayor’s office that is out of touch with the concept of government waste and spending,” Wenstrup said. “Personal bodyguards and excessive travel are just symptoms of a fundamental problem. And the mayor’s absenteeism is not appropriate.”
He added, “Worse still, his office seems to be an unresponsive bureaucracy. Residents do not have real access to services. People don’t know where their money is being spent unless they happen to read the paper on the day a story is written about a specific line item.”
To correct that, Wenstrup proposes to have the city’s Budget and Accounting departments place their daily work product online so citizens can track it.
Meanwhile, all we know of Mallory’s platform so far is he supports streetcars and likes fancy suits.
Local activist and one-time City Council candidate Nate Livingston Jr. seems to have prevailed in his legal dispute with the Ohio Elections Commission. CityBeat reported last week how Livingston was sued for not filing campaign finance reports with the state for his 2001 council campaign and was facing $43,042 in fines.
The outspoken Livingston had argued that Ohio’s filing requirements didn’t apply to local elections because Cincinnati had created its own elections commission and filing standards that supersede the state.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Ethna Cooper ruled July 23 to dismiss the state’s lawsuit against Livingston.
He said it never should have reached that stage.
“I wrote to (the attorneys) and attempted to resolve the matter,” Livingston said. “They refused to discuss the matter and threatened to sue me or take my state income tax returns. At every step of the way, I informed the commission and the (Ohio) Attorney General that they were pursuing a bogus claim and sought resolution.”
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