BEST ISSUE NEGLECTED BY VOTERS
When Ohio voters said no to Issue 2 last November, they were essentially embracing Ohio Republicans’ heavily gerrymandered congressional districts, and it will have big consequences for the state’s elections for the next decade. Political redistricting is already being attributed as the main reason Republicans managed to keep the U.S. House of Representatives despite losing the overall vote, and it’s readily apparent what kind of impact that’s having on the federal government as President Barack Obama struggles to get anything done after winning big in 2012.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of Ohio’s media outlets did a pretty terrible job covering hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — and the state government’s attempts to regulate it last year, but that didn’t stop State Rep. Denise Driehaus from standing up for people who don’t want to drink poisonous water — aka everyone on the planet. During the General Assembly’s discussions over fracking regulations, Driehaus helped support an amendment that would have tested water sources near proposed fracking wells before and after fracking occurred — essentially offering a means to see if fracking actually pollutes water. State Republicans, in all their wisdom, decided the amendment didn’t fit in a bill that was supposed to regulate fracking and make it safer, and the initiative was rejected down party lines in a 53-38 vote.
BEST NAYSAYER WHOSE STYLE ISN’T TOTALLY PLAYED OUT, WE SWEAR
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) would be pictured in the dictionary next to the word “haters,” if its leaders actually put their names on their blogs, Tweets and childish Photoshop jobs against all things urban. COAST opposes the streetcar, levies for Cincinnati Public Schools, the parking plan and the Blue Ash Airport deal that would provide Cincinnati with revenue, all while its leaders remain holed up in the friendly confines of Cincinnati’s wealthy neighborhoods clutching Ayn Rand books and decrying all the crime they think public transportation causes. The group’s ridiculous press releases and obnoxious tweets can be unintentionally hilarious, and COAST often puts its foot in its mouth, leading to retractions that shouldn’t have been necessary to begin with.
BEST WAY TO QUIT
When former University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams abruptly stepped down from the university’s top position in August, he walked away with a $1.3-million severance deal. Not bad, except some of that money is attributed to public funding. The university never officially said why Williams decided to step down, and a national media blogger wondered why The Enquirer couldn’t get to the bottom of this sketchy scenario when the newspaper’s publisher, who is on the Board of Trustees, was in the room when it happened. There were rumors of tension between Williams and UC’s Board of Trustees, though Williams never said what really happened. Must be too busy counting that $1.3 million.
BEST FAILURE AT POLITICAL
After losing Ohio in a major election last year in part due to a lack of support from women, the state’s Republicans acted in the only way that is apparently reasonable to blindsided conservatives: They lined up against women’s health issues again. Shortly after the election, Republican legislators began considering a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, while reconsidering support for the heartbeat bill, which would have banned abortion in Ohio as soon as a heartbeat is detected — a possibility within six weeks of a pregnancy. Medical professionals and women’s advocates got the bills thrown out of Ohio’s General Assembly, but Republicans are poised to bring the bills back up in 2013.
BEST BILLBOARD BACK-DOWN
Ohio had its slew of stupid billboards throughout the year, but the worst offender were billboards around the state that read, “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” State Rep. Alicia Reece rightly pointed out that the billboards, which were sponsored by a “private family foundation,” would suppress minority voters by scaring them from taking part in their legal right. With her support, a movement successfully convinced Norton Outdoor Advertising to take down the billboards. In a follow-up statement, Norton said the company and the foundation sponsoring the billboards didn’t intend to make a political statement; they just wanted to make voters aware of regulations. Ignorance is a little better than voter suppression and racism, but think things through next time, OK?
BEST LEGALIZED ANIMAL
Until last year, it was illegal to own a pit bull in Cincinnati, but supporters argued the dogs were no more dangerous than other breeds — pointing to the ATTS Temperament Test, which found pit bulls faring better than most other breeds. State legislation early in 2012 removed the automatic designation of “vicious” for pit bulls and pit bull mixes in Ohio, but Cincinnati’s local ordinances still overruled the change at the time. City Council recognized this disconnect in May, when it lifted the city’s breed-discriminatory clause, ending an era of doggy segregation.
BEST ELECTORAL SUPPRESSIONIST
It’s very rare for a state’s secretary of state to garner much attention — particularly at a national level — but Ohio’s Jon Husted was so far-reaching in his not-so-subtle attempts at voter suppression leading up to the presidential election that national media outlets had to pay attention. Among other changes, Husted, a Republican, approved last-minute rule changes on Nov. 2 that shifted the burden of proper identification from poll workers to voters — potentially negating provisional ballots that tend to lean Democratic.
BEST NEW FACES
City Council went through a shake-up in the 2011 election, which led to three new faces: Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Yvette Simpson. Not-so-coincidentally, the shake-up seemed to have a big impact on City Council, which was noticeably positive and productive for most of 2012. Council really did cover a variety of issues in the past year, from gay rights in local government to legalizing pit bulls in the city to advancing the streetcar. Perhaps this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they borrowed the concept of democracy from the Greeks and other smart dead people. Either way, we’ll take it.
BEST FEMME BLOG
That Cortnie Girl, a blog created by local student and activist Cortnie Owens, is a blog about “feminism, queers, fatties, dreams, wishes, body positivity, sex, clothes, culture and so many other things.” A blogger for the former Her Cincinnati magazine who has been featured in Soapbox Cincinnati, her writings about reclaiming the word “fat” have appeared on the website of Lifetime Network show The Conversation, which has featured Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman and Jane Fonda. Owens has also guest lectured for body-positive workshops for GLSEN youth groups, talked about social media activism and sat on a panel with Natalie Portman for the Obama campaign concerning women’s rights and the government/elections in Cincinnati. thatcortniegirl.com.
BEST CAN KICKING
Despite structural budget problems in the stadium fund, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners took steps yet again to avoid reducing the property tax rollback, which disproportionately favors the wealthy, throughout 2012. But the measures, which included spending $300,000 on an insurance policy, were some of the most short-lived attempts at kicking the can down the road, and the commissioners were forced to reduce the rollback by 50 percent for the next two years.
BEST EXCUSE FOR BIGOTRY
Kathleen Quinlan, an unmarried first-grade teacher at Ascension Catholic School in Kettering, Ohio, was fired after she became pregnant.
The Archdiocese also fired Purcell Marian assistant principal Mike Moroski after he wrote on his personal blog about supporting gay marriage. In the Cincinnati Archdiocese’s defense, local Catholic leaders always point to their religion and eventually say something along the lines of, “Well, we’re a private entity, so it’s our right!” True, but because it’s legal to do something doesn’t make it OK. The bigotry ensures the church will continue receiving bad press despite strides to bring back people who have left — likely because its teachings are growing increasingly irrelevant in this modern world.
BEST ELECTORAL STATE
If the dozens of presidential visits didn’t give it away, Ohio was kind of a big deal in the 2012 election. Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns saw the state as essential for securing victory. It turns out Obama won in an electoral landslide and didn’t really need Ohio, but that was long after each presidential campaign set up shop in the Buckeye State and bombarded us with political ads and campaign stops.
BEST 10 REASONS TO NOT SEAL A COURT CASE
Last year, a Miami University student posted a “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flier in his freshman dormitory — sparking outrage and eventual criminal charges. But the identity of the student and even the public record of the crime ever happening are sealed thanks to the actions of Judge Robert Lyons, who routinely seals cases for Miami students. The complete lack of transparency was not lost on local media, and The Cincinnati Enquirer sued to get the rape flier case unsealed in a court battle that is ongoing. Lyons later defended his actions by claiming he did it for the “mental well-being” of the student who posted the flier — providing little comfort to people who were rightly offended by the anonymous student’s total lack of basic human decency.
BEST MISUSE OF AN AGENCY
Chris Smitherman, City Council’s so-called Independent, heads the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). But instead of using the organization to, you know, help minorities work up the economic and social ladder, Smitherman has pushed the organization into needless disputes over the streetcar and parking plan — typically in a bizarre partnership with conservatives like the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and Chris Finney. The distractions seemed to wear down on some members of the NAACP, who led a failed bid to end his charade as the local branch’s leader. Maybe next time.
BEST UNEXPECTED CINCINNATI RADIO STATION
Though a product of Clear Channel, one of the main entities responsible for turning radio into a generic, automated, soulless wasteland, new local channel The Project (heard on 100.7 and 106.3 FM) thrilled a lot of local listeners who desperately miss (or had the misfortune of completely missing out on) the heyday of WOXY/97X, when you could actually hear “Alternative” music on the airwaves. It’s far from the radio revolution some excited listeners have made it out to be, but it’s refreshing to be able to listen to local radio again and not have to change the channel after every “good” song because you know, inevitably, it will be followed by an overplayed Metallica track or “Gangnam Style.”
BEST ELECTION RIGGERS
Ohio Republicans spent much of the run-up to the 2012 election trying to keep young and minority voters out of the voting booth with legislation that limited early voting hours and rules that favored Republican-leaning counties. In an email to The Columbus Dispatch, Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party and close adviser to Gov. John Kasich, wrote, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Unfortunately for Republicans, the “African-American voter turnout machine” turned out anyway — netting Democrats historic victories.
BEST “I TOLD YOU SO” MOMENT
It only took a few weeks for a state audit to confirm many unpleasant findings regarding prison privatization reported by CityBeat last summer. An audit on Corrections Corporation of America’s prison by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found the prison was only meeting two-thirds of state standards — many of the violations rooted in the prison’s inability to keep staff at proper levels. The findings echoed warnings from Policy Matters Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, who both said private prisons tend to cut costs in a way that leads to insufficient staff and higher turnover. After he received the study, ODRC Director Gary Mohr said the state does not intend to privatize more prisons. We can’t blame them.
BEST GAY TIMES (PART ONE)
The past year was a great time to be gay, with the president coming out in support of same-sex marriage and voters approving of marriage equality in multiple states. In Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach, the city’s first openly gay council member, pushed through legislation that offered health benefits to the city’s LGBT employees. A report found the benefits could cost the city as much as $543,000, but City Council deemed the pricetag a small cost for equality.
BEST GAY TIMES (PART TWO)
Despite Republican control of the legislature and governor’s office, LGBT rights also saw progress at the state level. FreedomOhio, an LGBT group, got approval from the state attorney general and Ohio Ballot Board for its amendment to repeal Ohio’s 2006 same-sex marriage ban and bring marriage equality to the state. The LGBT group says it hopes to get enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot as soon as 2013. So far, the amendment’s prospects look good: A poll from The Washington Post found about 52 percent of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage, and with a recent flip-flop from Sen. Rob Portman, both Ohio senators now back marriage equality.
BEST HELP FOR THE HOMELESS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
Tender Mercies, which was started in 1985 by clergymen after they saw two homeless women with a history of mental illness become victims of violent crime (one was murdered), aims to transform the lives of homeless adults with chronic mental illness by providing them with security, dignity and community through transitional and permanent housing. Focusing on providing independence for residents, the housing communities at Tender Mercies are safe, predictable and professionally 24/7-managed spaces where they can develop personal, social and economic strengths. They also offer permanent residents assistance in obtaining case management services, health care, payee services, employment services and psychiatric services from community agencies. 27 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-639-7037, tendermerciesinc.org.
BEST PERSON TO LEAVE OFFICE
Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis finally retired last year, ending a three-decade iron-fisted reign over the county. Leis is known for an ongoing obsession with keeping sex out of Hamilton County, first by prosecuting Larry Flynt back in 1977, then going after the Contemporary Arts Center in 1990 over Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment exhibit. Leis’ puritanical ideals haven’t aligned with the average Cincinnatian for a long time, and the fact that voters chose Democrat Jim Neil over Leis’ hand-picked successor suggests we’re not the only ones happy to see him go.
BEST WAY TO DODGE THE FAMILY BIZ
Becoming a movie star is now an official way to get out of the family business of politics. Jesse Luken, the grandson of former Congressman Tom Luken and the nephew of former Mayor Charlie Luken, has recently landed notable roles in TV and film, including the third season of Justified and 42, the biopic about Jackie Robinson. CityBeat commenters have also labeled the man as “so dreamy,” which some staff members have been forced to agree with.
BEST CONSISTENT DISHONESTY
In his U.S. Senate campaign against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, Republican Josh Mandel often made dishonest and misleading claims. Whether he was discussing Brown’s record or the auto bailouts, Mandel seemed to have trouble finding the truth. Even when he was called out by the media, Mandel kept on trucking: In an interview with The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mandel told reporters that he would repeat his false claims “again and again” because he saw no downside to it. The strategy wasn’t successful, and Mandel lost the race to Brown.
BEST POST-ELECTION FREAKOUT
When President Barack Obama won the 2012 presidential race, a Lebanon tea party group in Warren County responded in the only way they found reasonable: Its members literally wore black in mourning and complained that the country was descending into socialism. Yikes. We’re not sure how accurate that claim to socialism is — recent research suggests the United States is facing higher levels of income inequality than ever before. If President Barack Obama is socialist, he’s doing a crummy job at successfully pushing his agenda.
BEST OHIO WONK
Policy Matters Ohio does all the math and runs all the numbers necessary to keep state legislation in check. Their studies and analyses are invaluable tools for getting to the heart of budgets and the state’s economic trends — particularly for Gov. John Kasich’s proposals, which tend to appear rosier in press conferences than the numbers suggest. Policy Matters does admittedly have a progressive slant, but they can’t help it if reality swings that way.
BEST STREETCAR HATER
Most members of U.S. Congress try to bring federal funds back to their constituents, but Rep. Steve Chabot is a maverick. By maverick, we mean he disapproves of the streetcar so much that he passed an amendment that actually disallows the federal government to send more money to Cincinnati’s streetcar project. To justify his amendment, Chabot called the streetcar a “luxury project” and a “streetcar to nowhere.” That’s cute, Steve, but local voters have now approved the streetcar through two referendums. Maybe it’s time Chabot finds other federal funding to needlessly criticize, like aid to Hurricane Isaac victims that he apparently opposes now — even though he was a big supporter of federal aid when the Ohio River flooded Cincinnati in 1997.
BEST TEST DODGER
Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig has one thing in common with high school students all around the nation: He hates tests. In fact, he doesn’t want to take a state-mandated test required for police officers. Considering Craig has about 37 years under his belt, it might be a good idea for the state to relax test requirements and let the man do his job. For all the complaining about burdensome government regulations, Republicans sure are doing a bad job of letting this redundant law go.
BEST FAILURE OF CORPORATE CHECKS AND BALANCES
Corporations have large leadership chains and many checks and balances to make sure the company doesn’t do anything stupid, but every once in a while, the whole system fails. A good example was a billboard advertisement for Purina’s Tidy Cats litter in Over-the-Rhine that essentially compared the neighborhood to the smell of cat litter. Not only did the billboard miss the great strides Over-the-Rhine has made in recent years, but it insulted potential customers in the neighborhood. The company eventually replaced the campaign because of negative feedback on social media.
BEST EXAGGERATION BY A
It’s sometimes easy for politicians to get caught up in their own rhetoric, but Gov. John Kasich had a hell of a blunder when he claimed oil and gas reserves under Ohio are worth $1 trillion. Arthur Berman, a Texas-based petroleum geologist and independent energy consultant, told CityBeat there’s no way to verify Kasich’s number, which probably means the governor pulled it out of an unpleasant place. For fun, here are a few things that are worth $1 trillion: Australia’s gross domestic product, five years of U.S. oil production, 16 clones of Bill Gates and 45 million Ford Mustangs.
BEST TRAFFIC HOLD-UP
Elmwood Place has learned the most unsurprising lesson of the year: Motorists hate tickets. To bring down enforcement costs and raise revenue, the city tried to use traffic cameras to catch people speeding and running red lights. When people were mailed tickets for going one to three miles over the speed limit, they protested and took the city to court. A judge agreed with the people, and he went as far as saying the city can’t cash in on tickets produced with the traffic cameras. But the city apparently hasn’t fully learned its lesson — it’s appealing the ruling.
BEST MONEY GRAB
Ohio’s attorney general wasn’t pleased with The Beach after the water park closed for the 2012 season and failed to provide refunds to the 8,800 season pass holders. Attorney General Mike DeWine called the money grab “unacceptable,” and he promptly sued the water park. At least Kings Island was smart about the fiasco; after The Beach closed, Kings Island offered discounts to Beach season pass holders.
BEST HATER OF THE BOOTY
Loveland High School Superintendent Dr. John Marschhausen — widely known as “Dr. John” — seemed to have a knack for drawing bad press to Loveland during his tenure as Loveland Schools’ CEO. Back in 2011, Dr. John banned yoga pants because, apparently, students and staff were too drawn to the bodacious pants. The incident, still remembered as “Yoga-gate,” was not received well by at least 50 female students, who protested by wearing the pants anyway. Fast forward to 2012, when the school district was mired in another pseudo-scandal after drama instructor Sonja Hansen had the audacity to present the pre-approved, PG-rated musical Legally Blonde. Some parents complained about racy content, and Dr. John used an anonymous staff member’s notes regarding homosexuality and a “booty bounce” to force Hansen to resign. Fortunately for Loveland, Dr. John was not long for the school district, and he recently took a job at Hilliard City Schools outside Columbus.
BEST REASON TO QUIT TELEVISION
FOX 19 was forced to apologize last year after Tricia Macke sparked local and national furor when she wrote on her personal Facebook page, “Rachel Maddow is such an angry young man.” The level of insensitivity was apparently lost on Macke at first; when she was called out, she responded with two equally asinine comments: “You are right… I should have said antagonistic,” and, “I knew what I was saying.” The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) quickly picked up on the comments, noting Macke’s comments “took issue with Maddow’s gender, revealing an anti-gay (or at least anti-gender-nonconforming?) bias underlying her political beliefs.” Macke has since apologized in a press release, but we’re not convinced she really knows what she’s sorry for.