This is my last article as a staff writer at CityBeat. At the end of the week, I will be leaving Cincinnati for Washington, D.C., to join a new journalistic venture started by Ezra Klein and other bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate.
Although I’m excited for the new position, it’s admittedly a little sad to be leaving Cincinnati right now. The city appears to be moving past the two issues — the streetcar and parking — that held back public discourse for so long. It’s now time to focus on the lingering issues preventing the city from really capturing the momentum it’s built up over the past few years.
Among those first tasks should be ensuring the city’s bond rating doesn’t drop any further. For all his recent faults, Mayor John Cranley is absolutely right the previous city administration did an inadequate job addressing the city’s pension system and operating budget to avoid the first bond rating downgrade from Moody’s last year. Because of that failure, it is now more expensive for the city to borrow money and take on revenue-generating capital projects, including a downtown grocery store and a future expansion of the streetcar project.
Fortunately, the current administration and City Council seem ready to confront those two big issues. It’s an undesirable position, to be sure. To structurally fix the budget, the city has to make some cuts to city services, which will unfortunately lead to layoffs somewhere. And to fix the pension system, the city will likely need to bring down the amount of benefits current and future city retirees receive from the city-run pension system — a scenario that, besides potentially aggravating former and current city employees, falls on murky legal ground.
Beyond those issues, it should fall on City Council and the city administration to finally do something substantial about Cincinnati’s abhorrent poverty rates. With more than half the city’s children living in poverty, the city is officially at a crisis point. It has been too long since neighborhoods like Lower Price Hill got a substantial amount of attention, whether it’s through human services funding or other programs for low-income populations. Cincinnatians should be highly mindful of everything that comes through council in the future to make sure no cuts hit the city’s struggling poor.
When looking at those issues, I also worry Cincinnati will not learn the lessons that it should have gained from the debates over the streetcar and parking plans. Although these are serious issues that demand serious debate, too often the city gets mired down in political squabbles that serve no one.
Not everything Cranley does is bad. Although he opposed the streetcar, the most progressive item on the city’s agenda in years, he’s still a Democrat and highly interested in finally tackling progressive issues like poverty, minority inclusion and long-term unemployment.
Similarly, it’s time for those on Cranley’s side to drop the obsession with items of the past. The streetcar is happening. It’s probably going to expand once the general population witnesses what it does in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. Move on. (To Cranley’s credit, he has made a clear effort since the start of the year to avoid bringing up the streetcar — a major shift from his streetcar-obsessed campaign rhetoric in 2013.)
On a personal note, I would be doing my friends and colleagues at CityBeat a disservice if I didn’t comment on how much they helped me during my two years as a staff writer. Working here was a wonderful learning experience. There really isn’t enough room to praise what Editor Danny Cross, Creative Director Rebecca Sylvester, former Associate Editor Hannah McCartney, photographer Jesse Fox and artists Julie Hill and Ashley Kroninger brought and bring to the news section at CityBeat. And the latest hire, Associate Editor Anthony Skeens, is just as capable as the rest of the team.
So even though I tend to get a lot of the praise for my work at CityBeat — and I deeply appreciate it — readers should know that there are other people behind the scenes that make it all possible. My writing would not be as sharp, my reporting would not be as clear and the layout that carries all of my stories would not be as visually impressive and concise if it wasn’t for the amazing work of my coworkers.
In other words, CityBeat isn’t going anywhere. Even after my leave, readers should expect the same kind of credible, hard-hitting reporting that we fostered over the past few years. Although I’m sad to leave CityBeat and my coworkers, I know I am leaving the news section in the most capable hands in local media.