BEST 'COINCIDENCE' THAT PLEASES THE 1 PERCENT:
In an act of fortuitous timing, Cincinnati police decided to arrest nearly two-dozen Occupy Cincinnati protestors at downtown’s Piatt Park during the early morning of Oct. 21 — just hours before a parade was scheduled to pass by that marked the life of local billionaire Carl Lindner Jr., who died a few days earlier. Occupy protestors, who had camped at the park for 12 days, issued a statement that said, “We aren’t hurting anyone, except maybe those who are threatened by our message that the richest 1 percent of our country are controlling our government and our financial system.” Yes, they are, even from the grave.
BEST PROOF WE'RE TIRING OF BILL CUNNINGHAM:
Despite success in other markets nationwide, Bill Cunningham’s syndicated Jerry Springer rip-off TV talk show bombed in his hometown. The show has proven to be more popular in New York, Chicago and Dallas than in Cincinnati, prompting the struggling CW network to pick up the chatfest later this year. If we’re lucky, Cunningham will become so busy with his TV work that the aging conservative eventually will relinquish his local radio talk show. (Hey, we’re allowed to dream, right?)
BEST MESS CAUSED BY PROGRESS:
If you drove through the intersection of Liberty and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine during the last few months, you might think the neighborhood was invaded by giant gophers. That’s because a nearly three-story high mound of dirt was stored on a vacant lot. The dirt came from the large excavation project at nearby Washington Park, where an underground parking garage is being built before the park is expanded and renovated. When the park reopens, it will feature a new playground area, water features, a performance stage, event plaza and dog park. That seems worth a little mess to us.
BEST IGNORING OF DOGMA FOR CONVENIENCE:
West Chester’s favorite son, House Speaker John Boehner, drew the ire of Catholic scholars last May as he prepared to give the commencement address at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Dozens of faculty members from the school and other Catholic universities wrote to the Orange One, sharply criticizing him for gutting social programs while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy. They noted it contradicts official Vatican doctrine: “The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the state.” It’s time for an act of contrition, Mr. Speaker.
BEST HYPOCRITICAL MEDIA BLITZ:
City officials and the Cincinnati Police Department spent a large part of spring 2011 issuing repeated warnings to motorists who had unpaid parking tickets. Either pay up by June 30, and get a 50-percent discount on the fine, or face an aggressive impoundment program. What City Hall didn’t publicize was that 429 of the nearly 62,000 unpaid parking tickets were issued to municipal employees, including some cops and firefighters. The whole incident served as an embarrassing reminder that City Hall should get its own house in order before going after others.
BEST NEW HIRE AT CITY HALL:
Almost a full decade after Cincinnati voters passed a charter amendment that allowed city officials to hire police chiefs from outside current ranks, it was used for the first time last summer. That’s when City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. selected James E. Craig for the job. Craig, who was serving as chief in Portland, Me., at the time, had a 28-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he retired as a captain in 2009. Craig, who is Cincinnati’s first African-American police chief, is bringing fresh approaches to dealing with youth violence and increasing public involvement with the department. Welcome to town, chief.
BEST TALL TALE ON A POLITICAL FLIER:
The Heritage Foundation’s political action committee spent $300,000 on mailings last summer thanking 11 House members for their vote in favor of Congressman Paul Ryan’s so-called “Path to Prosperity” budget plan. One of the beneficiaries was our own congressman, Steve Chabot (R-Westwood). The flier claimed, “the plan saves Medicare” — except it doesn’t. The Ryan plan would increase costs for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities currently enrolled in Medicare. Also, it would put private insurance companies in charge of the program for future enrollees, under a voucher system that would shift thousands of dollars in costs onto individuals. Speaking of Chabot…
BEST EXCUSE FOR CONGRESSIONAL SHYNESS:
The congressman did a quick flip-flop in August, just a few days after he prohibited the use of cameras at a supposed “town hall” meeting in North Avondale and had a Cincinnati police officer stop offenders. The Big Brother-style tactics garnered the attention of national media, prompting Chabot to rescind the rule for future sessions. A Chabot spokesman tried to explain the heavy-handed tactic by stating that citizens sometimes ask questions about their own “personal situations” and the lawmaker didn’t want them videotaped for all to see. Or he just didn’t want a video record of his obfuscations and lies. Whichever.
BEST DOUBLE-TALK ON THE FLOOR OF CONGRESS:
Before we stop picking on Chabot, we must note a speech he gave Nov. 30 to a House subcommittee about the then-looming withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. Although President Obama initially wanted to leave about 10,000 troops, the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant those troops immunity from criminal prosecution for any future wrongdoing ended that plan. Chabot, though, wanted all troops to remain, stating, “Although I understand that Iraq is a sovereign country, I believe there is much more we could have done to secure a reasonable troop presence beyond the end of this year.” Please, someone explain the meaning of “sovereign” to the congressman.
BEST BARGAIN ON A USED PRINTING PRESS:
In an effort to cut costs, The Enquirer announced last summer it would move its printing operations from Queensgate to suburban Columbus and eliminate about 200 local jobs, beginning in late 2012. The Gannett Co., the Virginia-based owner of The Enquirer, struck the deal with The Columbus Dispatch to have the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky editions of the local paper printed at The Dispatch’s more modern production facility, located in Westerville. The shortest route there from Cincinnati is 124 miles, so Enquirer editors better hope for mild winters in the foreseeable future, or at least provide their delivery trucks with the best snow tires available.
BEST LETTER-WRITING BY AN ELECTED OFFICIAL:
The late-year arrests of Occupy protesters at Piatt Park were unfounded, according to one local judge. Municipal Court Judge David Stockdale sent a letter in November to city prosecutors and his fellow judges that stated his reading of the city’s charter revealed no section that codifies the breaking of park rules into a misdemeanor criminal violation. Further, he believed the city’s Park Board lacks the legislative authority to make the violations a criminal offense. Although the city prosecutor sputtered at the news, a few months later he cut a deal to drop all charges against the protestors.
BEST PROOF THAT LOSER CAN BE WINNERS, TOO:
Just a few months after he lost his congressional seat, Steve Driehaus continued his long stint of public service by rejoining the Peace Corps. The Price Hill Democrat, who once served with the corps in West Africa, took a new job as director of HIV and AIDS education in the African nation of Swaziland. The ex-lawmaker will spend about two and a half years in Swaziland, which has the highest percentage of AIDS cases in the world, with his wife and three children. Good luck, Steve: That work is at least as important as politicking, and far more gratifying.
BEST INCIDENT IN SUPPORT OF REGIONAL LIGHT RAIL:
Then-State Rep. Robert Mecklenborg (R-Green Township) was arrested shortly before midnight in late April for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated near Lawrenceburg, Ind. Mecklenborg — a “family values” conservative who is married and the father of three children — had a woman in his vehicle that some media outlets said worked at Concepts Show Girls, a strip club near the Hollywood Casino. Toxicology texts showed Mecklenborg had Viagra in his blood, according to police documents. The tawdry arrest ignited the blogosphere and, not long after, Mecklenborg resigned from the Ohio House.
BEST 'KARMA IS A BITCH' MOMENT:
The past 12 months haven’t been kind to U.S. Rep.
Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township). It began last spring, when Schmidt’s spiteful lawsuit against an ex-opponent got the attention of Politico, which described it as miring the cantankerous congresswoman “in politically treacherous territory as a legal battle she launched drags into its third year.” Then, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named her as one of “the most corrupt members of Congress” for accepting more than $400,000 in free legal assistance from a special interest group. Later, the House Ethics Committee ruled it was an impermissible gift that she must repay. Finally, GOP primary voters had enough: They selected Brad Wenstrup as their nominee, bringing Schmidt’s seven-year congressional career to a close. We recommend a warm bath and a stiff drink, Jean.
BEST CURVE BALL THROWN AT REDS AND BENGALS:
Led by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, a group of activists last year formed the Citizens’ League Against Subsidized Sports (CLASS), which is trying to place an initiative on the ballot to create a city admissions tax at Reds and Bengals games. The group wants a new tax to help cover the operational costs that the teams refuse to cover themselves. The action is calculated to bypass provisions in the teams’ leases for the county-owned stadiums that prevent county commissioners from enacting such a tax. The daily operating costs for the two facilities total about $9.5 million annually. So far, CLASS hasn’t had much success, but we’re for anything that places some pressure on miserly millionaire team owners like Mike Brown.
BEST PANDERING TO IGNORANCE (PART ONE):
Some angry right-wing bloggers caused the Cincinnati Archdiocese to move a long-planned interfaith dinner at Mother of Mercy School in Westwood to an off-site location. Students at the all-girls school had been planning to co-host a dinner tied to the Islamic holiday of Ramadan since the previous spring with the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). But Archbishop Dennis Schnurr decided to move the event after receiving unspecified complaints from people who live outside the region about CAIR’s involvement. A few parents of students also said the Aug. 26 dinner was too close to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Listen up: Extremism of any type is un-American. Jesus didn’t live his life guided by fear and hate.
BEST PANDERING TO INGNORANCE (PART TWO):
Perhaps the region’s most uninspired columnist, The Enquirer’s Krista Ramsey, sunk to new lows with a January piece that defended Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow for kneeling on the gridiron and praying before games. Missing the point about why so many people find Tebow’s displays disturbing, Ramsey instead mollified The Enquirer’s conservative, evangelical readers with tripe like, “The idea that Tebow should (stop the public prayers) because his beliefs make others uncomfortable is truly an arrogant one.” Would Ramsey be as tolerant of such public displays if Tebow was Muslim, knelt on a prayer mat and faced Mecca before a game? I think we all know the answer to that one.
BEST 'BETTER LATE THAN NEVER' MOMENT:
The city’s Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division posted a citation in January 2012 on the door of Old St. George Church in Clifton Heights. A city staffer said the owner of the vacant, crumbling church hadn’t corrected several problems since an August 2010 inspection, some 18 months earlier. (Hey, let’s not rush into anything, fella.) The church, which was built in 1873, is owned by the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. It was damaged in a fire on Feb. 1, 2008, which caused about $2 million in damages.
BEST LOCAL ATTACK BY A DECEPTICON:
Like many stations, WCPO-TV (Channel 9) is turning to automated systems to help cut costs. But computers can be just as prone to screwing up as humans, maybe more so. That’s what happened on the 11 p.m. newscast Jan. 4 when WCPO’s Ignite system crashed just before airtime, causing an eight-minute delay before it could begin — a veritable eternity in TV circles. Ignite pre-records graphics, camera shots and transitions between segments and stores them so they can be managed by a single operator, instead of a crew, when it works properly. Still, we hear staffers have started calling the system “Ignite-mare” because of its assorted glitches.
BEST DOG AND PONY SHOW FOR THE CAMERAS:
Cincinnati City Council’s Republicans orchestrated a tempest in a teapot last August when they held a press conference at a Skyline Chili in Oakley. Steve Misleh, the franchise owner, was angry that city inspectors didn’t responded quickly enough to his request for an exemption from zoning rules for his $250,000 expansion. As it turns out, inspectors followed the timeframe spelled out in city procedures, although this wasn’t noted in a much-hyped WCPO I-Team report. In fact, two of the four council members at the conference pushed the budget cuts that dramatically reduced the number of inspectors doing zoning reviews. There is some justice, though: Three of the four members at the chili parlor lost reelection in November, proving voters know a con job when they see it.
BEST FILL-IN PERFORMANCE:
When Denny Bowman stopped showing up as mayor of Covington, he left the city in a position where the people most qualified to fill the office already were running for it. To fill the gap, commissioners asked businessman Chuck Scheper to serve out Bowman’s term. Retired as chief operating officer of Great American Financial Resources, Scheper is board chairman of Bexion Pharmaceutical. Scheper also authored the 1999 “Scheper Report” that included more than 90 recommendations to generate millions of dollars per year in savings for Covington. Ignored for years, the report is finally getting some overdue attention.
BEST REASON TO PUT A FENCE AROUND BUTLER COUNTY:
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones was inducted into a bipartisan political action committee’s “Hall of Shame” last summer for exploiting public fear about undocumented immigrants. The Immigrants’ List PAC said Jones was selected for his unsuccessful attempt to sue the Mexican government for the cost of detaining undocumented immigrants in his jail, along with arresting 18 Latino workers at a construction site while lacking the authority to charge anyone. Just be thankful that you can’t be deported for demagoguery, sheriff.
BEST MONEY-SUCKING MAKEOVER:
Fancy new parking meters were installed throughout downtown Cincinnati so people who don’t carry $14 worth of quarters in their pocket every day could at last give street parking a try with the simple swipe of a credit card. Sure, it included a slight boost in price to offset the city’s expense to install new meters and help close looming deficits, but that’s a small price to pay for a major increase in convenience.
BEST UNSOLICITED LEGAL ADVICE:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio sent a letter to the Springboro Community City School District in August after a school board member said she was interested in exploring ways to integrate creationism into the district’s curriculum. The ACLU warned of potential legal action if that occurred, reminding the board that the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have ruled that teaching creationism, intelligent design or other religious-based ideologies unfairly promote one belief system over others, which is unconstitutional. The idea was quickly and quietly dropped. Thank God.
BEST BACKFIRE BY A POLITICIAN:
When Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel introduced a proposal in September to prohibit the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) from spending any funds to accommodate construction of Cincinnati’s streetcar system, he probably thought he would derail the project. Not so: City officials already had allocated $3 million to relocate manholes out of the path of streetcar tracks. The additional money that would’ve been spent by MSD was aimed at making sewer upgrades at the same time. Monzel — a streetcar opponent — merely succeeded in ensuring that streets would be dug up a second time when MSD makes its own improvements. Better luck next time, Chris.
BEST PANIC-RIDDEN VOTE THAT WILL BE REGRETTED LATER:
Speaking of Monzel, he and Commissioner Todd Portune decided in December to sell the county-owned Drake Center rehabilitative hospital for $15 million to the University of Cincinnati, over the opposition of Commissioner Greg Hartmann, county administrators and virtually everyone else. Although the hospital’s value is at least $45 million, Monzel and Portune want to sell it at a bargain price to pay for a one-year extension of a property tax rebate. The rebate was pledged to homeowners as part of the 1996 deal to raise the county’s sales tax. Wisely, Hartmann and others preferred reducing the amount of the rebate for one year, until a more permanent and fiscally prudent solution could be found.
BEST FIGHT BY AN UNDERDOG:
Hats off to Cincinnati Union Bethel and City Council for standing up to a local corporation that’s trying to throw its considerable weight around. Union Bethel operates the Anna Louise Inn, a battered women’s shelter that’s operated on Lytle Street since 1909 with nary a problem. It rebuffed a request from Western & Southern Financial Group, which wanted to buy the shelter so it could use its land to build upscale condos. Although W&S wanted council to block federal funding for the shelter’s long-planned renovation, the group instead reaffirmed its support. Meanwhile, Union Bethel continues to fight against the corporate behemoth in court.
BEST EXAMPLE WHY SOME PEOPLE SHOULDN'T TWEET:
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) regularly engages in over-the-top and inaccurate invective against its enemies, but it finally went too far on Sept. 11, 2011. That’s when COAST Treasurer Mark Miller tweeted, “3% of FDNY died 10 yrs ago by terrorism. Today Cincinnati lost 17.5% of fire companies by brownout to pay for a streetcar. Which is worse?” (Umm, the deaths in New York, Mark.) After public outcry, Miller told The Enquirer, “Invoking 9/11 was a mistake. It was stupid. That was insensitive, and I apologize.” Maybe Miller had a stroke that affects his judgment, like Sophia on The Golden Girls.
BEST RADIO REUNION:
Longtime deejay Eddie Fingers finally returned to local radio airwaves in January, rejoining partner Tracy Jones for the afternoon drive-time slot on WLW (700 AM). Fingers’ rehiring happened just 16 months after Clear Channel fired him, which ended his 28-year run on Cincinnati radio that included stints at the old 96 Rock and WEBN (102.9 FM). The return meant that Scott Slone, who proved to be perhaps the funniest man on WLW, was moved back to mornings, replacing the insufferable Doc Thompson, who left the station.
BEST MOMENT WHEN A VIDEO CAMERA WAS NEEDED:
A sanitation worker accused then-City Councilman Chris Bortz of using a racial slur during an incident in May. Shawn T. Allen said he blew a garbage truck’s horn outside of Bortz’s Mount Adams home when the councilman’s parked vehicle blocked his path. Allen then alleged Bortz yelled at him, “Nigger, stop blowing that horn.” Bortz adamantly denied the allegation, offering to take a lie detector test on a radio talk show, while local NAACP President Christopher Smitherman called for Bortz’s resignation before an inquiry was completed. Ultimately, although a second African-American sanitation worker on the scene said she didn’t hear any slur used, the city manager said the charge could be neither proven nor disproven so it was dropped as “unfounded.” Still, Bortz lost a reelection bid in November, while Smitherman was elected to City Council.
BEST DISPLAY OF POSSIBLE SCHIZOPHRENIA:
Speaking of Smitherman, he waged a tireless campaign this fall to support a charter amendment to block construction of Cincinnati’s streetcar system. Issue 48 would’ve stopped all planning and construction of any type of passenger rail project within city limits until Dec. 31, 2020, even if it was privately financed. Smitherman pushed for the measure even though the NAACP’s national office approved a resolution in 2009 supporting passenger rail, including streetcars. It said such projects would improve access for the poor and reduce pollution. Maybe Smitherman didn’t get the memo. No matter: The charter amendment failed 52-48 percent.
BEST UNVEILING OF TRUE COLORS:
Although Chris Bortz spent much of his time on City Council posing as a moderate and butting heads with COAST about the streetcar project, the once and possibly future politician had a quick change of heart after voters booted him from office. Bortz appeared on Channel 12’s Business Watch program Jan. 8 and said the city should delay the streetcar project until public sentiment is firmly behind the project. (I guess two public votes aren’t enough.) Shortly afterward, Bortz teamed up with COAST leader Chris Finney to co-host a fundraiser for Republican Brad Wenstrup. We’re worried that Bortz’s head might have snapped making that quick turnabout. Maybe the rumors are true that Bortz is going to run as a Republican against Todd Portune for the Hamilton County commission.
BEST ROMNEY-ESQUE ANSWER BY A CANDIDATE:
P.G. Sittenfeld is a bright person, but while he was campaigning for Cincinnati City Council last fall, many people criticized him for refusing to give a straight answer about whether he supported the streetcar project. Here’s how P.G. answered a CityBeat questionnaire: “The city’s focus right now needs to be on basic services ahead of streetcars but the reality is, this project is now in the hands of the voters, and I will respect the direction they give us in November.” Yep, that was a classic sidestep, but it didn’t matter; Sittenfeld easily won election in November.
BEST REASON TO READ THE FINE PRINT:
Speaking of Sittenfeld, the newly elected city councilman raised a few eyebrows three weeks into his term when he emailed an update to supporters that included a small disclaimer at the bottom that it came from the “Office of Congressman P.G. Sittenfeld.” He told CityBeat that the error was made by Constant Contact, the email marketing and social media company hired by Sittenfeld to handle such communications, and he wasn’t being delusional.
BEST IMPROV BY A CANDIDATE:
And speaking of CityBeat’s questionnaire for council candidates, deciphering the answers from independent Sandra “Queen” Noble proved difficult but they also were good for some laughs. Noble’s answers rarely matched the questions she was given. For example, when Noble was asked what she thought about a garbage fee proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., she replied, “He’s a morpher, over-charging folks for the grand larceny committed by public and staff officials dipping in the till. In ‘05, I ran for mayor. I offered a guaranteed cure for male-pattern baldness. I’d still do Mr. Dohoney, damn!” (He’s not all that, Queen.)
BEST COMEUPPANCE FOR A GOVERNOR:
Shortly after taking office, Ohio Gov. John Kasich began lobbying the supposedly independent Transportation Review Advisory Council to pull $51.8 million in state funding for Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The advisory panel eventually complied, even though it rated far higher on a ranking system than other projects that were funded. That caused city officials to postpone planned segments to the riverfront and to the uptown area near the University of Cincinnati. But the pro-transit Obama administration stepped in a few months later and awarded a $10.92 million federal grant to restore the riverfront link. The whole debacle should only cause about a six-month delay in the project’s opening.
BEST MOVE BY AN OLD-GUARD CONSERVATIVE:
Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. finally announced plans to retire later this year, ending a 41-year career in public (dis)service. Before he was sheriff, Simple Simon was also a county prosecutor and a judge, but he’s best known for his 1977 prosecution of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and helping to temporarily shut down a photographic exhibit by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1990. Cincinnati’s conservative leaders have been gradually losing power and influence over the years, and Si’s retirement is another positive step in that welcome direction.
BEST INTRANSIGENCE BY A POLITICAL PARTY:
This is one instance in which we’re glad Democrats and Republicans couldn’t reach an agreement. Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou announced in December that the local GOP wouldn’t be cutting another deal to let Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune run unopposed this fall. In 2008 when Portune — a Democrat — was last up for reelection, the two parties reached a deal where it agreed to let Portune run unopposed in his race in return for letting Republican Greg Hartmann run unopposed in a separate county commission race. Both men were elected amid outcry that democracy was being subverted for expedience. It’s time to toughen up and campaign, boys.
BEST UNEXPECTED HELP WITH BUDGET CUTTING:
Mother Nature proved to be a real dear this year to local governments that were strapped for cash. She decided to play nice and gave us a winter with mostly moderate temperatures and hardly any snow, meaning there was no overtime needed for snow removal crews and they could sell their salt or stockpile it for next year. It also served as welcome relief for many shop owners, who didn’t have to close when they desperately need as much sales as possible to help weather the bad economy.