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Death by a Thousand Budget Cuts

By Kathy Y. Wilson · May 2nd, 2013 · Kathy Y. Wilson
I do hope city and county voters aren’t distracted and blinded by neither the sheen and shimmer of a rebranded Vine Street nor the seizure-inducing flicker of casino lights.

Politicians here are like helicopter parents, mishandling the city in the same blatantly narcissistic manner as parents who bear children for the sole purposes of shaping those children in their images.

Genetic pet projects.

However, more dangerously than micro-managing every measure of thought, activity and social interaction, our politicians pass this city back and forth between brand-name family dynasties like a bong.

Some even treat elected office like it’s just something to do, a pastime paradise until something else comes along — an appointment to a higher post, say! — or some place to be for a few years until, and only until, expired term limits force them into the private sector to work alongside the folks whose agendas they pushed while in office. Then these careerists return to politics after they’ve bored of the mundaneness of being unable to “lead.”

And the city — and the county — get used up and left to wallow in epic budgetary crises as a result of paying for lawsuits from gross police misconduct (remember the riots?); ill-conceived pet projects (can you say Streetcar to Nowhereville?); and years of corporate bullying (Kroger, Paul Brown Stadium).

All this deserves some serious thought as politicians — especially Democrats passing themselves off as barely liberal Republicans — begin peeking their heads above ground to trash talk other politicians and make pronouncements they hope we’ll forget halfway through their terms if they get elected.

If you’ve been around long enough you have institutional memory of some of these names: mayoral hopeful and former councilman John Cranley, David Pepper, the former ATM stick-up victim/councilman and county commissioner wannabe, and former four-term mayor, current vice mayor and soon-to-be (again) mayoral contender Roxanne Qualls.

This is a good pace to discuss filiation, because Qualls is the bridge between two of the most well-known and nepotistic political dynasties in Cincinnati playing, as she does, unabashed supporter and kingmaker on the black-hand side and long-time nemesis and political foil on the other side.

Qualls, a formerly progressive Democrat, was a councilwoman from 1991 to 1993 and mayor from 1993 to 1999.

While mayor, the seeds for her battle royal with the Lukens were planted when Rep. Thomas Luken — Charlie Luken’s father — took his council bow from 1993 to 1995. Then, in 1996, when Qualls ran against Trump-haired Steve Chabot for Thomas Luken’s seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, Thomas spearheaded a “Democrats for Chabot” faction.

Qualls lost to Chabot.

Meanwhile, Charlie Luken’s 1984 to 1990 mayoral tenure book ended with Qualls beginning with her 1991 to 1993 council stint. (She was a Charter council appointment in 2007 then ran and won repeatedly until 2011 when Mark Mallory appointed her vice mayor. Luken served one term in his father’s former congressional seat, a post Thomas held for nine terms.)

Qualls and Luken passed off council seats then passed one another in the halls of council on their way to their respective mayoral terms.

Qualls was mayor from 1993 to 1999; Luken was again mayor beginning in 1999, derailing the city during and immediately after the 2001 riots.

Then, with Qualls at his side as his “surprise guest” in the summer of 2004, Mallory announced his 2005 bid for mayor 11 months before any other candidate.

Qualls’ announcement of support felt more like an anointment and a pre-emptive strike against Charlie, her old foe lurking in the wings mulling over another run for mayor.

Her handing over of then-state senator Mallory to us as mayor was a furtherance of yet another political descendant.

His father, the regal William L. Mallory, Sr., was a 13-term state representative. Mark succeeded his father with his 1994 election as state representative to the ninth district.

Before that Mark Mallory was, in my memory, the affable guy walking around in the suit and tie when we both worked at the Main Library. 

He made the morning announcements and gave the weather forecast.

Fatigued by Luken’s apathy, his non-mayoral gravitas and the palpable aggravation with which he led this city during what was surely our most history-making, law-changing worst, I supported Mallory in an editorial in this paper when he ran for mayor.

I recall it was as fluffy as a cloud and an at-least-he’s-not-the-other-guy shoulder shrug, like Mallory’s platform.

This may all read like useless political genealogy but it’s of the utmost importance to frame local politicians and their politics in identity.

No Cincinnati politician — regardless of race, gender, sexuality or class — exists in a vacuum. Further, the ones who’ve been around long enough to pass themselves coming and going on and off council, in and out of the mayor’s office and occupying the seats and offices of their forefathers display the worst case of abandoning progressive and exciting ideas in favor of status quo self-preservation.

Balancing city budgets must be a herculean task, but Mallory’s attempted gift of double-digit raises to his four aides — one each was to get 11 and 16 percent, two each to receive 20 percent before Mallory caved to the public backlash — while 149 officers face the hatchet and the city stares down a $35 million deficit is akin to a governor signing reprieves for murderers at the 11th hour of his diminishing tenure. 

Only, instead of releasing evil back onto his former constituents, Mallory is turning out rancor, unlocking dissension and unleashing aggravation among us.

There’s nothing like disgruntled, angry, underpaid cops patrolling city streets.

We lived through that already a dozen Aprils ago.

See, in this case it’s not merely the budget cuts, it’s the sting of the budget cuts badly finessed by a careerist.

At his 2004 announcement for mayor, Mallory said: “I’m not trying to be the black mayor. I’m trying to be the mayor.”

Not even.

He’s trying to be slick.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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