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Vote the CityBeat Ticket or Die!

Endorsements for local elections and ballot issues

By John Fox · October 28th, 2009 · Editorial
One of the results of the city of Cincinnati’s budget crisis is the necessity to cut costs, particularly personnel costs. Mayor Mark Mallory and a majority on City Council decided to spread the pain across city departments, asking employees and worker unions to accept unpaid days off and reduced benefits in order to save full-time jobs. When the police union balked at doing their fair share, Mallory and council threatened to lay off 138 officers.

The union eventually agreed to concessions, averting layoffs for now. But the budget deal reopened a festering sore in the local political world: the opportunity for certain politicians to jump on the police layoff debate, declare their opponents “soft on crime” and raise the spectre of criminals running amok throughout the city.

Scaring voters shitless is a classic political tradition. Whether it’s convincing us to fear crime, poor people, public transportation, African Americans, foreigners, gays, nuclear power or the flu, politicians often win elections by playing to the darkest human instincts.

“Vote for me or die” is the underlying message of these sorts of campaigns. That’s an easy choice most of the time.

But where does that manipulation of fear get us? A few lowlifes get elected, “others” (both people and ideas) are shut out and nothing ever changes. Fear begets fear begets fear.

You could reject the fear-mongering, of course. You could understand that crime in Cincinnati is down and that the police are doing a good job getting drug gangs — responsible for most serious crime here — off the streets.

You could realize that many different aspects of society contribute to making our neighborhoods vibrant, attractive and, yes, safe. You might come around to the idea that economic development, new housing and entertainment options put feet on the street, create activity and chase away crime more than extra police patrols do.

You might have been at the recent MidPoint Music Festival under a tent at Grammer’s with hundreds of other people, where three nights of activity at Liberty and Walnut — just blocks away from what a national Web site called the country’s most dangerous intersection — produced zero reports of crime. Zero.

If you think this way, if you value hope over fear and progress over the status quo, you’ll join us in rejecting political candidates and organizations that prey on our fears. Plan to vote the CityBeat ticket below.

Here’s to hope and a better future!

[Note: For the local tax levies, all millage amounts, annual revenue projections and homeowner property tax estimates are provided by the Hamilton County Auditor’s office.]

Cincinnati Mayor: Mark Mallory

His first term has been long on style, short on substance, bland, uneventful, businesslike and buttoned-up — and none of that’s necessarily bad. In fact, a quiet, efficient four years under Mallory has been good for Cincinnati.

The down economy, however, has flipped all of the best-laid plans upside down, and like the rest of us Mallory is trying to keep Cincinnati hanging on by its fingernails until things turn around. Now is the time for him to step up and inspire this city to dig in, take a deep breath and plan for a hopeful future. Instead, he often appears to be trying not to screw up, an approach that might keep us from losing but rarely produces a win.

Mallory is inspiring and engaging in person but aloof and removed from day-to-day city operations in his job. He’ll certainly win a second term, and we recommend that he work hard over the next four years to lay out a hopeful vision for Cincinnati’s future and inspire us all to attain it.

His main opponent, first-time candidate Brad Wenstrup, is unqualified to be mayor. When he said Cincinnati’s high crime rate made him feel safer in Iraq, where he served with the U.S. Army, he lost any hope of consideration.

(See CityBeat's profile of Brad Wenstrup here.)

Cincinnati City Council

Eight of the nine current members of council are running for re-election. Councilman David Crowley is unable to run again due to term limits. Greg Harris was appointed to fill the seat of John Cranley, who finished second in the 2007 council election.

Greg Harris: A reliably thoughtful, imaginative and progressive voice in the city, he finally made it to council via appointment and now tries to get elected for the first time. The Democrat’s top priorities would fire up any CityBeat reader: streamlining government via consolidation, combating blight and protecting the environment.

Nicholas Hollan: This young Democratic first-time candidate has impressed with his interest in neighborhood revitalization (he was president of the Westwood Civic Association board), childhood health, economic development (including the streetcar) and combating blight.

Amy Murray: The first-time Republican candidate has worked both for Procter & Gamble and for herself (as a consultant) and was president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, offering an experienced business perspective on attracting and retaining jobs, budgeting and taxation.

Roxanne Qualls: She served as a council member and mayor in the 1990s, took a break to learn more about and teach public policy, then returned to council two years ago as a Charterite. Her command of and enthusiasm for progressive neighborhood development, public transportation and overall quality of life choices are second to none in Cincinnati.

Laure Quinlivan: An investigative journalist inside city government? At least we know she’s not afraid to ask tough questions and will demand answers. Following the theme with our other endorsed first-time candidates, she also served on neighborhood councils in the city. She's endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Bernadette Watson: She served as Mayor Charlie Luken’s chief of staff and on the staff of Councilwoman Minette Cooper, so she’s familiar with how city government works with neighborhoods. She’s also experienced the other side as president of the Avondale Community Council, giving her a unique point of view for developing a vision and plan for the city as a whole. She's endorsed by the Democratic Party.

(Check out Kevin Osborne's profiles of Cincinnati City Council challengers here. Find his follow-up Q&A sessions with the candidates on the Politics/Issues blog.)

Cincinnati School Board

Four of the seven Cincinnati Board of Education seats are up for election to new four-year terms, with one incumbent, Susan Cranley, not running for re-election. The three other incumbents — Melanie Bates, Catherine Ingram and Eileen Cooper Reed — are running again.

An interesting twist in this year’s large field of first-time challengers is the number of current full-time teachers (Jason Haap, Lisa Share) and part-time or substitute teachers (Ceair Baggett, Curtis Wells) along with a UC adjunct professor (Mary Schlueter). Their day-to-day real world experiences would be a real asset for district leadership.

Ceair Baggett: He proposes more and better partnerships between CPS and local corporations, modeled after Cincinnati Bell's involvement with Taft Information Technology High School. The idea makes a lot of sense, given the business community's continuous interest (and occasional meddling) in affecting the district's leadership, funding and goals.

Melanie Bates: She's focused on student achievement above all else, with no excuses — a good attitude considering that how poorly CPS neighborhood schools do compared to the magnet schools. She also wants more action on school safety issues and fiscal accountability.

Jason Haap: The blogger known as The Dean of Cincinnati is a political gadfly who came close to running for mayor this year but decided to pursue a Cincinnati School Board seat. His thoughtful proposals, particularly cutting administrative costs at the same proportion as any cuts for student services, are alternative and progressive.

Catherine Ingram: The board veteran is a strong advocate for continued academic achievement and student-centered focus across the district. She's been a watchdog on budget and administrative oversight.

(Check out the news article on the Cincinnati School Board race here.)

Issue 1: Ohio Constitutional Amendment to Compensate Veterans of Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persion Gulf: Yes

The state legislature placed this measure on the ballot in order to issue $200 million of bonds and use the money to compensate Ohio military veterans of the Persion Gulf (1990-91), Afghanistan (2001 until whenever) and Iraq (2003 until whenever) wars. Recipients had to be Ohio residents when they began their active duty for these wars and must currently be Ohio residents.

Veterans who served during these wars in locations other than the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq would receive $50 per month served up to a maximum of $500. Veterans who served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or Iraq would receive $100 per month served up to a maximum of $1,000. If a veteran is missing in action, was held in captivity or died as a result of injuries sustained in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or Iraq, his or her family would receive $5,000.

We’re sure that Ohio’s military veterans would appreciate any financial help they can get during these tough times, but $1,000 sure doesn’t sound like a lot of money to “compensate” someone for getting shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan. And once the bonds are issued, they’ll be repaid out of Ohio’s general fund, adding as much as $18 million a year to the state’s debt service.

Bottom line: Another hit to the state’s precarious annual budget that doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in easing a veteran’s transition back to civilian life. And we’ll be interested to see how much of the $200 million is diverted into funding an administrative board to oversee the program.

Still, Ohio voters have approved previous bond issues to compensate veterans of WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Why wouldn’t we do so again? Issue 1 is a matter of heart over mind.

Issue 2: Ohio Constitutional Amendment to Create Livestock and Poultry Care Standards: No

The state legislature placed this measure on the ballot in order to create the Livestock Care Standards Board to establish standards for the care and well-being of livestock and poultry on Ohio farms. The board would consist of 13 members: 10 appointed by the governor and approved by the Ohio Senate; one each appointed by the Speaker of the Ohio House and the Senate President; and the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which would administer and enforce the new standards.

The governor’s 10 appointed positions are described in ballot language that makes the board appear fair and balanced: “one member knowledgeable about food safety,” “two members of the public representing Ohio consumers,” “one member representing family farms,” etc. But once you understand that Issue 2 was created because the state’s large farm conglomerates are scared of the U.S. Humane Society’s push to ban controversial livestock cages — as voters have already done in California, Arizona and Florida — you see that this is simply a battle for power and money.

In essence, 12 of the board’s 13 members will be political appointees, and their mandate will bend to whatever political wind happens to be blowing strongest.

Since factory farm corporations will always have more political clout than individual family farms, expect this board to enact standards that favor the big guys at the expense of the little guys and consumers … exactly the opposite of the concept of progressive reform.

(Check out the news article on Issue 2 here.)

Issue 3: Ohio Constitutional Amendment to Build Casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo: Yes

A petition drive placed this measure on the ballot in order to authorize casinos at specifically designated locations in the four cities; to levy a 33 percent tax on gross casino revenues (revenues minus payouts to winners); and to distribute the tax money to a variety of specific sources, with 85 percent being split among every Ohio county and public school district. Five percent of the annual tax money also will be split among the four host cities.

The Cincinnati and Cleveland casinos will be built by Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans, owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and operator of its downtown home, Quicken Loans Arena. He has no prior experience owning or operating casinos. Cincinnati’s casino will be built on the downtown parking lot known as Broadway Commons, where Broadway, Eggleston Avenue, Central Parkway and Reading Road converge across from the Hamilton County Justice Center.

The Columbus and Toledo casinos will be built by Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood Casino (formerly Argosy) in Lawrenceburg. Penn National helped fund the campaign that defeated a statewide issue last year that would have authorized a single casino in Ohio, to be built near Wilmington.

Leading the anti-Issue 3 effort is MTR Gaming, which owns casinos in West Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as Scioto Downs racetrack in Columbus. They claim that the $50 million one-time fee the state is requiring for each of the four gaming licenses is too small — other states demand hundreds of millions of dollars for such licenses.

Gilbert counters that Issue 3 also requires that he and Penn National invest at least $250 million in building each casino, a big shot of economic activity in the state’s four largest cities. The total private investment, between gaming licenses and the casinos themselves, is thus required to be $1.2 billion.

A majority of U.S. states now offer casino gambling, including four of the five that border Ohio: Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Casino gambling is likely coming to Kentucky’s horse tracks at some point.

It’s difficult to ignore the reality that millions of dollars flow out of Ohio every week as residents travel to gamble in neighboring states. It’s also difficult to face the fact that those spending (and losing) money gambling often are our friends and neighbors who can least afford it.

But the casino genie isn’t going back in the bottle. They’re on almost every border, sucking out potential tax revenue that Ohio could use in these tough times.

CityBeat endorsed “no” on the previous two statewide casino ballot issues (the 2008 Wilmington plan and the 2006 plan to put two casinos in downtown Cleveland) because they weren’t comprehensive enough. Issue 3 is the best plan so far, and now’s the time to make casinos happen in Ohio.

Issue 4: New Hamilton County Tax Levy for Health and Hospitalization Services: Yes

This new levy takes the place of the county’s Health and Hospitalization/Drake Hospital levy, which expires this year under the county’s 2006 agreement to sell Drake to the Health Alliance. This new levy basically funds all the non-Drake programs from the prior levy (drug abuse, alcohol abuse and mental illness education and rehabilitation efforts through Talbert House, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and county courts) as well as several new programs, including the successful “Off the Streets” anti-prostitution effort.

The levy’s property tax rate is .34 of a mill for five years, raising approximately $6.8 million a year. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay $10.09 per year for this levy as opposed to $20.73 per year under the expiring Drake levy.

The programs covered by this levy help provide alternatives to jail time for criminals with substance abuse problems and/or mental illness, keeping them from taking up limited jail space and working to cut down on repeat offenses. They’re effective tools in the big picture of the Hamilton County criminal justice system.

Issue 5: Hamilton County Tax Levy Renewal and Addition for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Programs: Yes

This levy renews and increases the county’s MRDD levy, which funds programs that serve almost 8,000 children and adults with mental retardation and/or developmental disabilities and their families. Many of the programs are mandated by state law. The Hamilton County MRDD Board provides its own programs and services and contracts for others with more than 300 community agencies.

The levy’s property tax rate is 4.13 mills for five years, raising more than $80 million a year. This levy renews the existing 3.62 mills rate and adds a .51 increase. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay $104.46 per year for this levy as opposed to $89.32 per year under the expiring levy.

More than 73 percent of the county’s MRDD funding comes from this levy, with the rest provided by federal and state sources. State subsidies are projected to drop by $8.7 million.

The MRDD Board estimates that by the end of this new five-year levy the county will have served an additional 3,000 people due to increased autism rates, longer life spans and improved medical technologies. Thus the increased tax levy amount seems necessary.

Issue 6: Hamilton County Tax Levy Renewal for Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal: Yes

This issue renews and decreases the county’s Union Terminal levy, which funds maintenance, operation costs and repair of the publicly-owned building, now occupied by the Cincinnati Museum Center. Museum Center officials have identified significant capital expenditure needs for repairs and renovations, but this levy funds only day-to-day operations.

The levy’s property tax rate is .18 of a mill for five years, raising approximately $3.4 million a year. The rate is a decrease of .02 from the expiring five-year levy. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay $4.44 per year for this levy as opposed to $4.93 per year under the previous levy.

Union Terminal is a Cincinnati treasure, and its rehabilitation as the home to local museums has been a huge success. We could go on a rant here about how crazy it is that local cultural institutions have to compete against each other for individual tax levies (Museum Center, Cincinnati Zoo, Public Library) while the arts fear jumping into the fray, putting our region’s incredible cultural treasures at risk, but we’ll save it for another day.

The Museum Center at Union Terminal deserves this support. Let’s put pressure on Hamilton County, Cincinnati and state officials to devise a separate plan to take care of the facility’s long-term capital needs.

(Check out the news article on Issues 6 and 7 here.)

Issue 7: New Hamilton County Tax Levy for Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County: Yes

This new levy would offer local funding for the first time of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, covering basic operating expenses and facility maintenance. The library system receives 90 percent of its annual revenue from the state, which is reducing its Public Library Fund from 2.22 percent of general tax revenues to 1.97 percent with next year’s budget. State support for the local library system has already dropped 28 percent since 2000.

The levy’s property tax rate is 1 mill for five years, raising $20 million a year. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay $29.68 per year for this levy.

Our library system consistently is rated one of the best in the U.S., and the main downtown location is the country’s busiest single public library in terms of items circulated. And yet for some reason it’s the only metropolitan library system in Ohio without a local source of funding.

This isn’t the best time to ask voters for a property tax increase, but state budget cuts have pushed the library system to the brink, with branch closings and more staff layoffs on the horizon. Deciding to maintain the quality of one of the nation’s best library systems is a no-brainer.

(Check out the news article on Issues 6 and 7 here.)

Issue 8: Cincinnati Charter Amendment to Prohibit City from Selling Water Works Assets Without a Public Vote: No

A petition drive placed this amendment on the ballot to enact a new article in the Cincinnati Charter to prohibit the city from selling any of its assets to a water or sewer district without first getting approval from city voters. City Council is considering the results of a study that suggest creation of a Regional Water District to buy the assets of Greater City Water Works, which the city currently owns and operates.

Under Ohio law, creating a new water district requires a long process that begins with petitioning the County Court of Common Pleas and involves hearings, studies and public input. The process also allows for a voter referendum to be held to approve or negate the court’s decision.

So there’s no reason to amend the city charter to require a public vote over selling the water works to a newly created water district. That vote can occur anyway.

(Check out the news article on Issue 8 here.)

Issue 9: Cincinnati Charter Amendment to Prohibit City from Spending Money on Passenger Rail Transportation Without a Public Vote: No

A petition drive placed this amendment on the ballot to enact a new article in the Cincinnati Charter to prohibit the city from spending money to construct any kind of passenger rail transportation, including streetcars, without first getting approval from city voters. City Council is working on a plan to build a streetcar line connecting the downtown riverfront with Over-the-Rhine and the Uptown area near UC, while Gov. Ted Strickland wants to include a Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland line on the Obama administration’s proposed high-speed rail network.

No one knows if either of those plans — or any other rail-based proposal for Cincinnati — will ever come to fruition. But the doors to these potential projects certainly will shut if Issue 9 passes.

Rail projects such as Cincinnati’s streetcar proposal or the “3-C” high-speed line use a heavy dose of federal funds and often state funds, with local cities required to add their own dollars to the mix. If city officials have to stop plans for every rail project until the next election, the federal and state matching funds will move on to another project in a more willing city.

If the groups behind Issue 9 really wanted the public to have a voice in making transportation spending decisions, they’d demand a vote for every highway, street and bridge construction project in the city. If we were allowed to vote on whether to go ahead with the $3 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement — significantly more money than the proposed streetcar line — we’d support a vote on rail projects as well.

As it is, Issue 9 is intended to slow down Cincinnati’s city planners and transportation experts who have embraced passenger rail, from streetcars to light rail to high-speed trains, as a viable option in the future. It’s intended to keep Cincinnati shackled to a car-first, highway-construction-forever mentality that will cripple this community as we grapple with 21st-century transportation issues.

Whether you like the current streetcar plan or not, you must vote down Issue 9 and keep Cincinnati’s options open.

(Check out the news article on Issue 9 here.)

Issue 52: Cincinnati Public Schools Renewal Tax Levy: Yes

This levy renews one of the school district’s existing levies and will contribute about 14 percent of the total CPS budget, funding basic operating costs. The levy’s property tax rate is 9.11 mills for five years, raising more than $65 million a year. The owner of a $100,000 house in the city would pay $270.42 per year for this levy, which actually ends up being a decrease from the current annual tax bill of $274.88.

The school district continues to show improvement in test scores and enrollment, the building program continues to produce new schools in neighborhoods throughout the city and Mary Ronan was an excellent hire as the new superintendent. CPS deserves a secure funding stream.

Get further informed for Election Day by checking out CityBeat's WHO'S ENDORSING WHOM charts here. Look for Election Night results, analysis and photos of the winners and losers early on Nov. 4 at our Election Central.

OHIO POLLS are open 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Tuesday. If you have questions about voting in Hamilton County, check out www.hamilton-co.org/BOE or call the Board of Elections at 513-632-7000.



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