Halloween is here. I’m taking an informal poll: how many folks are dressing up as Union Terminal and/or Music Hall tonight? I’m not knocking ya. I just wish I’d thought of that in time. Instead I have an Abraham Lincoln mask, American flag aviators, and a bow tie for a costume, so I will probably look like a very unappealing, election-themed male stripper. Procrastination is lame, folks.
These are painful times for the Cincinnati Enquirer. A reorganization has been happening for a while now, but recently, news broke that a number of newsroom veterans are leaving the paper, including No. 2 in command Laura Trujillio and social issues reporter Mark Curnute, whose stories I've always been impressed with. Over the past couple months, employees have been asked to reapply for their jobs under new, more digitally-oriented job descriptions. That's definitely ruffled some feathers, and has caused the biggest shake-up in the paper's history. The departures probably have something to do with the fact Gannett brass have been wrapping layoffs at the Enquirer and other papers in the disingenuous corporate speak of an exciting new opportunity to create "the newsroom of the future", but who knows?
• Right now the Ohio Department of Transportation is having its Southwestern Ohio town hall meeting on the future of public transit in the state. In Lebanon, because everyone knows that is the absolute hub of public transit in the region. You can watch the proceedings live here if you’d like to follow along at home. It’s standing room only there, maybe because I spread a rumor that there’s an ODOT party bus shuttling folks to some killer Halloween parties right after the meeting. That’s false, as far as I know.
• You’ve probably already heard about the controversy over a proposal by outgoing State Sen. Eric Kearney to change the name of State Route 562 from the Norwood Lateral to the Barack Obama Norwood Lateral Highway. I bet you can guess some folks’ reaction to that idea. Norwood Mayor Tom Williams doesn’t want a name change, but did throw out another, much different suggestion: naming it after Norwood-raised business magnate Carl Lindner, who died in 2011. Williams called Lindner, who owned Chiquita, Great American Insurance, and a number of other businesses “a beautiful individual” and said the several times he got to hang out with him were “an absolute thrill.” Hm. Maybe let’s just keep calling it the Norwood Lateral.
• More than 400 people in eastern Ohio were forced to leave their homes this week after a fracking operation there began leaking and “shooting an invisible gaseous discharge into the air.”
…no, I’m just not even going to go there. The blowout happened about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Homes within a 2 mile radius of the site where evacuated, though officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say no permanent environmental impact was caused by the leak and residents were back in their houses by midnight. No word on the cause of the accident.
• Is the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party on the way out? Could be. Some say those within the party are furious at the monumental disaster that Dem gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s campaign has become, and party chair Chris Redfern could take the heat for that. We’ll see.
• Almost a year exactly after political brinksmanship and partisan wrangling ground the U.S. government to a halt, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says if voters in Kentucky choose him, it’s because “they want divided government.” It may be true, though. New polls heading into the Nov. 4 election show McConnell up five points over his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
• Finally, I want to introduce you to perhaps the weirdest online quiz ever. Can you distinguish the wisdom passed down by ornery, Texan tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz from the golden, learned lessons of rapper and self-proclaimed genius Kanye West? The Washington Post wants to help you find out.
That’s the opinion of John Sanphillippo of San Francisco, in this recent article from newgeography.com about how acquaintances from there who, upon finding that city too expensive, moved to Cincinnati and discovered a similar environment, only affordable.
His point is very provocative — young people who want but can’t afford the progressive, stimulating urban life that is such a lure for cities like San Francisco, Brooklyn, N.Y., Seattle or Boston aren’t giving up on their dreams and retreating to the familiar dullness of Great American Suburbia.
Instead, they’re finding that all cities now — and especially what he calls “Rust Belt” cities — are alive with examples of progressive New Urbanism. And he singles out Cincinnati as a choice example.
The photos aren’t marked, but you can see Shake It Records, the Suspension Bridge, East Walnut Hills, Vine Street. And the author doesn’t even mention the streetcar.
This article ran Saturday on the New Geography site, a joint venture of author Joel Kotkin (The City: A Global History) and Praxis Strategy Group devoted to “analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work.”
According to his bio, Sanphillippo “lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at granolashotgun.com. He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for faircompanies.com, and is a regular contributor to strongtowns.org. He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long- term prospects.”
All right! So I’ve got some great Halloween parties lined up and it’s really hard to sit still and focus on important things. But since that’s pretty much what being a grownup is about, and since they pay me to (kind of) be a grownup around here, let’s talk about news for a few.
• Though most of the action happened in committee meetings, City Council made final a bunch of things it has been working on, including funding the mayor’s Hand Up initiative. The jobs program has been controversial since the funding will come in part from other programs. Get the back story on that here.
Council also gave the thumbs up for City Manager Harry Black’s proposals for the city’s $18 million budget surplus. The city will stash most of it away in savings or emergency accounts for weather and such, give some to a new data analysis office, use some to fight infant mortality and to repay neighborhood programs.
Council also gave final approval to an ordinance that would make getting expungements easier for those convicted under Cincinnati’s old marijuana law. Lingering criminal records for a number of city residents mean difficulty finding jobs and getting school loans, something the new law looks to address.
Finally, council passed new regulations on Uber and Lyft. You can read more about that here. Busy day.
• A while back I told you about outspoken Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones taping an interview for The Daily Show. Well, this probably goes without saying, but… it didn’t go so well. It’s gotta be hard when you’re diametrically opposed to the viewpoints of the show you’re going on, and they have all the editing power, but still. It was rough. Jones, who made his way down to the belly of the liberal beast, Austin, Texas, for the taping, continually insisted that illegal immigrants get all sorts of free stuff the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’ll let you watch the results yourself if you haven’t already.
• Also a while back, and also something you should watch — the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial meeting at which Gov. John Kasich more or less ignored beleaguered challenger Ed FitzGerald. I also, because I’m thoughtful like that, linked you to a page with a video of the exchange, or, well, lack thereof. Only the Plain Dealer later took that video down, which is weird, right? So here it is again. Warning: strong language in the article accompanying the vid, including the terms "douchecanoe" and "asshat."
• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from the Clintons in her nail-biter of a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Hillary Clinton will appear with Grimes today in Louisville and Saturday in Covington at 11th-hour campaign rallies. No word what their Friday plans are, but I’m going to some great Halloween parties if y’all are reading and interested.
Two relatively new Ohio parks, Cincinnati’s Washington Park and Columbus’ Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, were among the four finalists for the non-profit Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Urban Open Space Award.
According to the Institute, the award “celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community.”
The 2014 winner was Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, described by the Institute as a “5.2-acre deck park built over a recessed freeway in Texas” (similar to what Cincinnati planners want to do with downtown’s Fort Washington Way). It bridges “the downtown Dallas cultural district with burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods, reshaping the city and catalyzing economic development.”
The award was made at the Institute’s October meeting.
The two other finalists were Tulsa’s Guthrie Green and Santa Fe’s Railyard Park and Plaza.
To be eligible, parks had to meet these criteria:
▪ Be located in an urbanized area in North America;
▪ Have been open to the public at least one year and no more than 15 years;
▪ Be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public;
▪ Be a lively gathering space, providing abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, and trees and plantings, with attractions and features that offer many different ways for visitors to enjoy the space;
▪ Be used intensively on a daily basis, and act as a destination for a broad spectrum of users throughout the year;
▪ Have a positive economic impact on its surroundings;
▪ Promote physical, social, and economic health of the larger community; and provide lessons, strategies, and techniques that can be used or adapted in other communities.
Phew! Our election issue is done and out in the world, I just wrapped up a draft of next week’s cover story, and I have literally hours before the next City Council meeting. Let’s hang out for a minute and talk about what’s going on.
Mayor John Cranley has endorsed former City Councilman and Human Rights Commission head Cecil Thomas in his run for state Senate, but it’s understandable if you were thinking otherwise. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, running against Thomas, has pulled a Cranley quote from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published back in April praising Winburn and put it in campaign material. That kinda, you know, makes it look like Cranley is endorsing him.
Cranley’s standing behind his fellow Democrat, which would be kind of awkward for Winburn if he wasn’t just plowing right on through it.
“His endorsement won't matter at this point," Winburn says. "He has to let everyone know he's a Democrat."
• Iconic Cincinnatian Leslie Isaiah Gaines passed away on Monday. Gaines was a Renaissance man the likes of which we rarely see these days— a larger-than-life lawyer, preacher, songwriter and Hamilton County municipal court judge. Gaines broke down barriers as a black lawyer and judge, as well as standing up for the legal rights of people of all colors.
• The Vatican has removed three Cincinnati catholic priests for sexual abuse offenses involving children. The decision to permanently remove Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Feldhaus and Ronald Cooper from the priesthood was announced yesterday, and while advocacy groups say they’re glad some justice is being done, they also heavily criticize the long, slow nature of the process. The three had been suspended for years and were still collecting paychecks from the church. Feldhaus’ offense dates back to 1979, and Cooper’s to the 1980s. The three are among more than a dozen Cincinnati-area priests investigated following a national scandal involving child abuse in the Catholic church that surfaced more than a decade ago.
• I’m only surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Ghost Hunters, the popular SyFy channel TV series, recently filmed an episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., in Music Hall. The building is supposedly one of the country’s most haunted locations. Music Hall was constructed starting in 1876 on a former orphanage and burial ground for indigent citizens, and thousands of bones were found during the process. More remains have also been found in subsequent updates of the building, as well as in neighboring Washington Park. So if anywhere has ghosts, it’s Music Hall. The only question is whether any of those ghosts have tons and tons of money and want to like, chip in on some home repairs.
• Cincinnati may end up losing a $4.3 million federal grant for a bike trail on the city’s east side if it follows through with a plan to build on a route along an old train line instead of along the river. Part of the Ohio River Trail has already been built, but continuing to build along the river could be complex and expensive, requiring purchasing property from private owners and building a flood wall. Instead, council is considering shifting to the Oasis Line, a stretch of seldom-used train tracks. Supporters say that plan would be much cheaper and faster to build. But that plan has its own complications, including approval from the Federal Transportation Authority and Genesse and Wyoming Railroad, which holds some rights to the tracks. There’s also the fact that the federal grant money at stake can’t be moved from the Ohio River Trail to the Oasis Line.
• As a candidate, this is not the kind of news you want to hear a week from election day. Cuyahoga County Inspector General Nailah Byrd released a report on County Executive and Democratic candidate for Ohio governor Ed FitzGerald yesterday slamming the fact he drove without a driver’s license for 10 months after taking office. Byrd, who was appointed by FitzGerald, said the Democrat committed “a breach of public trust” for driving his own vehicle and county vehicles without a valid license. The inspector general doesn’t have any disciplinary powers over FitzGerald, but it’s the last thing his sagging, ill-run campaign needs at this point. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich has a towering, double-digit lead over his challenger, and has run circles around him in terms of fundraising, which basically means we’re doomed to four more years of having a governor who defends Ohio’s gay marriage ban, pushes abortion restrictions, refuses federal funds for food aid, and so forth. Great.
Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.
• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4.
“These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.”
Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.
“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”
• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.
“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld.
• That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.
• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.
• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.
• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.
If you got caught with a joint that one time in college here in Cincinnati and now you're applying for jobs, that youthful indiscretion can make it much tougher for you.
But that could change. Some of the 10,000 Cincinnatians convicted under an unpopular and now-repealed marijuana law may soon be able to put the past behind them.
City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee today passed an ordinance that, if backed by a full Council vote Wednesday, would allow some city residents convicted of having less than 200 grams of marijuana to have the charges removed from their criminal record.
In 2006, the city passed an ordinance making it a criminal offense to have even small amounts of the drug. A first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. A second offense could net someone a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Under Ohio law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor charge akin to a parking ticket. Those charges are much easier to get expunged. But municipalities can pass tougher laws against the drug, leading to a patchwork of penalties from one place to another.
Cincinnati’s law was repealed by City Council in 2011, but the after effects remain for many in the city. The drug charges stay on a person’s criminal record, are difficult to get expunged and could inhibit them from getting jobs or school loans.
“Our goal to seal these records so citizens can get on with their life and get jobs," said Councilman Charlie Winburn at the Monday meeting. Winburn, a Republican, has been pushing the ordinance as he runs for state Senate in Cincinnati’s largely Democratic 9th District.
Hey all! We’re hustling this week to put together our election issue, which will be just overrun with everything you need to know before Nov. 4 or, heck, right now if you’re doing the early voting thing. In light of that, I’m going to hit you with a brief, just-the-facts version of morning news.
• Some folks in the city, including advocates for the poor, are upset with the way Mayor John Cranley’s new job training program, called the “Hand Up” initiative, will be funded. That initiative is getting some of its funding from federal grants originally slated for other established programs in the city. Cranley says those programs aren’t the best use of the federal funds, and that his program will help up to 4,000 Cincinnatians reach self-sufficiency. Others, however, challenge that assertion.
• Seven Greenpeace activists were scheduled to stand trial today for hanging a banner protesting P&G’s use of palm oil from the company’s headquarters in March. But that trial has been postponed until Jan. 20. Another activist who was also facing charges died Oct. 6. A ninth took a plea deal Sept. 8 and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining activists could face more than nine years in prison on felony burglary and vandalism charges.
• Yet another development deal may be happening soon on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. Have you ever driven down Central Parkway near Liberty Street and wondered what the building that says Warner Brothers on the front was all about? Developer Urban Sites is considering turning the 40,000-square-foot historic building, which was used by the film company as a vault, into offices or apartments.
• Democrat Senate candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is still running neck and neck with Sen. Mitch McConnell in one of the country’s most-watched races. Recent polls put the two dead even, and, in a sign that folks who follow such things think she still has a chance, Grimes was endorsed by two of Kentucky’s major newspapers over the weekend. Both the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have backed Grimes. McConnell’s challenger made a last-minute swoop through Covington over the weekend, showing up to hang out with a few dozen supporters at the MainStrasse Village Dog PawRade.
• Let’s zoom out to the bigger picture on the Senate. This AP story explores how weak Republican governors in some states could hurt the party’s chances of taking back the Senate, which it desperately, desperately wants to do so it can keep President Obama from doing really communistic type things like making sure people have health care and stuff.
• Finally, while we’re talking about elections, could the national attention focused on civil unrest Ferguson, Mo., spur greater black turnout in this midterm election? I normally don’t pay too much mind to the Daily Beast, but this article is thought-provoking.
Cranley’s “Hand Up” job initiative will be funded in part by cuts to other anti-poverty and blight mitigation programs. That has some advocates for the poor up in arms.
The Hand Up program, which has an overall budget of $2.3 million, will provide education, job training and other services for Cincinnatians experiencing poverty. It will fund nonprofit job training organizations Cincinnati Cooks, Cincinnati Works and Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention.
Cranley says the program will eventually provide more than 4,000 Cincinnatians with jobs making at least $10 an hour. But it will do so by redirecting more than $1 million from federal Community Development Block Grants that was budgeted to other well-established Cincinnati programs that serve the poor.
Former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, who now works for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, says the cuts are short-sighted and unfair.
“The programs the mayor has recommended for elimination are the few we have that are able to address systemic discrimination and inequality faced by our citizens,” she wrote in an Oct. 21 editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer. She also noted that there are other more pressing concerns the funds could be used for.
“Block-grant funds could also be used to create more units of affordable housing,” she says, “an especially acute need given than homelessness in the city is increasing and the average age of a person receiving emergency shelter last year here was 9.”
Cranley says the cuts have been vetted by a board that approves the city’s use of CDBG funds. CDBG grants, which come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow cities some flexibility in how they’re distributed. But HUD hasn’t prioritized job training over the kinds of programs being cut, critics like Dillingham say.
The cuts include $40,375 from Housing Opportunities Made Equal, which does tenant advocacy work, tenant education and other services. About $152,000 will come from People Working Cooperatively, an organization that provides home repairs, energy efficiency help and other services to low-income people.
Some critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say Cranley’s message of job training over assistance for the poor mirrors regressive conservative talking points about poverty, including Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal last year, which slashed spending on food aid and other anti-poverty programs.
Cranley has said that the program is designed prioritize teaching people to provide for themselves over “traditional welfare handouts.”
Councilman Chris Seelbach has been skeptical of the cuts and has drawn up a motion to restore funds to some of the programs. He’s hoping to get the motion before council at its Nov. 3 meeting.