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Which Came First, the Chicken or the Streetcar?

By Danny Cross · October 30th, 2013 · Election
election_streetcaressay_juliehillIllustration: Julie Hill
It seems like only yesterday we at CityBeat were preparing our endorsements for the 2012 presidential and congressional races, with important state and local issues like redistricting and City Council’s four-year terms on the ballot. 

We covered Republican Josh Mandel’s ridiculously misleading campaign against Sen. Sherrod Brown and declined to endorse anyone against Rep. Steve Chabot for fear of legitimizing the GOP gerrymandering of his district. Mitt Romney brought “binders full of women” into the public vernacular and Barack Obama murdered a fly on TV. It was a fun, important time, and the eyes of the world looked on as the most important people in politics came through Southwest Ohio, scooping up our cash and arguing about the 1 percent, 47 percent, 99 percent and all sorts of other amusing theories about what was wrong with America and which man was best fit to fix them.

Is it just us, or did these issues seem more authentic than this year’s local drama?

For the past few weeks consumers of local media have read over and over about who thinks the streetcar and parking plan suck, with mayoral candidate John Cranley repeatedly saying he will stop it in its tracks (some of which are literally already laid in the ground) if he’s elected. Even though it would waste millions of dollars, cost millions more in litigation, give away more than $40 million in federal funding and make us look like real dicks to the federal government and people who live in cities that can build something without a bunch of angry suburbanites trying to stop it five times, he says he will magically turn its funding into something for everyone (if by everyone you mean people who drive on I-71).  

It’s going to be a while before American elections really respect their constituents’ intelligence, so it’s not without a modest understanding — and reluctant acceptance — of the system’s weaknesses that we look back at this year’s mayoral and City Council races with frustration. 

Cranley’s mayoral campaign was an exercise in dividing and conquering, taking advantage of a voting bloc irritated by way more things in life than a streetcar or parking plan. The real reasons behind many people’s contempt for the streetcar and the politicians supporting it were on display last week, when a local TV news station quoted a random Cranley supporter named Jim Kiefer who had insulted Councilwoman Yvette Simpson with racist messages on Facebook one day prior. Kiefer had also posted racist imagery of President Obama in tribal regalia on his publicly viewable Facebook page and another image mocking former congressman Barney Frank for being gay.

Simpson later posted responses from other locals active in low-level social media political commentary calling her a “dumb bitch.”

These people are all voting for Cranley. And although they don’t speak directly for him, they do speak for the people at which his regressive talking points were aimed.

And let’s not forget Cranley’s accidental COAST endorsement. On Oct. 8 the anti-gay, pro-lawsuit organization tweeted support for Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn, only to quickly backtrack and say they weren’t official endorsements. Cranley then tried to distance himself from the group because its leaders are some of the biggest anti-progress and pro-Republican voices in the city. 

Still, their votes count. 

Catering to naysayers is somewhat of an election-year tradition in Cincinnati, and no amount of social, economic and development progress will end it anytime soon. Despite our nationally recognized successes in recent years — and this newfound thing many of our most engaged citizens are feeling called “pride” — our estimable river city is still the sum of many parts, a city of neighborhoods, many of which resent investment in urban infrastructure. This is a nice way of saying that there are still a lot of sexist, racist and homophobic constituents in this city, and there’s not much that annoys them more than the recent momentum of Over-the-Rhine, a mostly black inner-city neighborhood where their tax dollars are going to fund transit infrastructure they don’t understand for people they don’t really like (poor people and whatever they think a hipster is). 

The needs of our neighborhoods are important, but so is building a dynamic urban core that can support the most Republican theories of what makes a city prosper: business, development and a growing tax base. 

Which is all to say that the mayoral campaign and its dramatization by local mainstream media was pretty tiring for anyone close to it. 

Still, some candidates this year actually did show the courage to speak out about issues that really matter, like the city’s child poverty rate recently rising above 50 percent, infant mortality rates in poor neighborhoods rivaling those in third-world countries, our lack of affordable housing or ways to reduce homelessness and recidivism.  

You can read about some of them in our endorsements and the features we produced on challengers Michelle Dillingham, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski . We still believe Councilman Chris Seelbach has been one of the most impressive local politicians this city has seen in a long time, and we hope to see him and fellow incumbents Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young back on council. 

And it goes without saying that we’d prefer Cincinnati to be led by Roxanne Qualls, the mayoral candidate who actually took the city’s future — and those of us who live in the areas between Green and Anderson townships — seriously during the campaign. Qualls is a well-respected leader who has maintained her integrity through every attempt by the Cranley campaign and local media to discredit her positions and experience. She is well-prepared to manage the serious issues facing Cincinnati and to work well with what is likely to be another Democratic majority on council.  

The next City Council will for the first time serve four-year terms, offering a renewed opportunity to see new ideas through without facing such surface-level campaign criticism every other year.

As we look ahead to 2014 and beyond, Cincinnati’s continued progress is hardly in doubt, despite any candidate’s hollow promises. 

The only question is who will be around to take the credit and how much angrier the haters will be when they don’t get the trolley canceled no matter who gets elected. ©



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