• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.
Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.
Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.
“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”
Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."
“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.
Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.
Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”
After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.
Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.
Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.
Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.
Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.
"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."
Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.
Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.
• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.
• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.
• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.
• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.
Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.
The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.
Have a fun Friday!
“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”
Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.
Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.
Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.
“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”
Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.
In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.
“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”
While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.
“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”
Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.
“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.
Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.
Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.
“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”
Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.
Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.
A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.
• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.
• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.
"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said. “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”
• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.
• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.
• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.
“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”
Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.
More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.
That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.
In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.
Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.
“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.
The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.
The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.
A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.
Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.
“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”
Hey all. I’m about to run out and cover a bunch of stuff, but here’s a quick hit list of what’s up today.
The streetcar’s contingency construction budget may only have about $80,000 unaccounted for, project executive John Dietrick announced yesterday. It started with nearly $8 million. That low number is a worst-case projection, but with 21 months left until construction is finished, it's a very slim cushion. Part of the problem: The city spent $1 million from that fund covering the costs of delaying the streetcar while fighting over whether to continue the project last winter.
• UC students have been staging so-called “die in” demonstrations over the past few days in protest against police shootings of unarmed black citizens. Another one will take place today at noon in the university’s Medical Sciences Building.
• Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will have to wait for an appeal on her felony convictions from jail, Judge Norbert Nadel ruled yesterday. Hunter was convicted on one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract over allegedly interceding in the firing of her brother, a court employee. A jury hung on eight other felony counts in her trial. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics as the county’s first black juvenile court judge. She faces six months in jail.
• State lawmakers have squashed, for now, a highly restrictive “heartbeat bill” that would have made abortions illegal in Ohio after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A vote on the bill was killed by conservative lawmakers who feel the law may be unconstitutional. They say they fear court challenges to the bill could endanger Ohio’s other abortion restrictions.
• The Ohio Board of Education agreed yesterday to strike down the state’s so-called “5 of 8” rule that required schools to hire specialized positions like art teachers and librarians. Boosters say the move gives local districts more control over their budgets, but opponents say it will make it easier for cash-strapped schools to eliminate necessary staff. The bill will next go to the state legislature for approval before coming back to the board for a final vote in March.
• We all have deadlines. Congress’ deadline is Thursday, when our current, hard-won federal budget expires. And while it looks like there won’t be a big, destructive fight over the budget this year resulting in a weeks-long shutdown like last year, it also looks equally likely that Congress won’t get the job done in time. While key congressional leaders agreed last night on a trillion-dollar deal, there are still a lot of bumps in the road before the legislation makes it to the president’s desk.
The court case is over, but issues of race and politics that made it so contentious continue swirling.
Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter to six months in jail and a year of probation Dec. 5 after she was convicted on one of nine felony counts last month. Hunter asked Nadel to defer her prison sentence until an appeal of her conviction had gone through. Nadel denied that request today and Hunter will most likely be behind bars soon.
Some say justice has been served, but others say the penalty is too harsh and premature. A letter signed by 56 people including many area Democrat leaders to Nadel Dec. 8 asked the judge to defer Hunter’s sentence until after her appeal is heard. The letter says Hunter’s appeal is made on “substantial grounds” and points out that if she goes to jail now and is latter vindicated, it will be a “pyrrhic victory” because she will have already served her sentence by that time. The letter cites the fact Hunter has no previous record and did not stand to gain financially from the crime.
It also points out the racial tension over the case and connects it to larger issues of race relations in the region and around the country, as anger continues over recent police killings of unarmed black men and a refusal by grand juries to indict officers in those cases.
“All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in dealing with matters involving race,” said the letter sent by the Hamilton County Democratic Party and signed by Chairman Tim Burke, State Senator elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece and other notable party members. “To sentence to jail the only African American to ever be elected to our juvenile court, and one of the very few African Americans to ever be elected in a contested county-wide election in Hamilton County … will only deepen that mistrust. That is particularly true in light of the fact that other first-time offenders under similar circumstances would receive no jail time at all.”
Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black judge. After the
election for the seat in 2010 went to her opponent by a very narrow margin, she
fought a year-and-a-half-long court battle in order to get uncounted votes
counted to prove she had won. She came into the position intent on changing a
system where black juveniles are 10 times more likely to be arrested than
Almost 80 percent of children arrested in Hamilton County are black, according to a November federal lawsuit by Covington-based Children’s Law Center against the county.
That resolve ruffled feathers. Among others, The Cincinnati Enquirer sued her for refusing to let reporters into her courtroom. Hunter’s methods as a judge were unorthodox and her opponents say often illegal.
After a long, dramatic trial, Hunter was convicted last month for interceding on behalf of her brother, a juvenile court employee who was fired for allegedly punching an underage inmate. Hunter obtained medical records on that inmate for her brother, prosecutors charged. A jury deadlocked on eight other felony charges involving fraud, misuse of a court credit card, interfering with investigations and forgery. She motioned for a retrial three times, citing three black jurors who recanted their guilty verdicts and procedural irregularities in the courtroom. Judge Nadel denied all three motions.
Critics like Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou say Hunter was quite simply a bad judge and that her indictment and conviction have nothing to do with race. Her stature as a judge only makes her transgressions worse, and she should be disciplined accordingly, her critics say. That means jail time for a low-level felony that usually only gets probation.
“Judge Hunter is a judge and a public official," Nadel said after Hunter was sentenced. "Unfortunately, it may be a felony 4, but that is a double whammy."
All right y’all. After a brief delay while I listened to a presentation about health insurance (as captivating as it sounds) I’m here with the news this morning.
Cincinnati’s 600-strong uniformed police force will eventually be equipped with body cameras after a seven-month pilot program involving West Side officers wrapped up this week. The move comes as activists around the country call for more police accountability in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed citizens. Cincinnati’s body camera program will cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on which vendor the city chooses. Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety committee has pledged to help find funds, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell will be making a trip to Washington to ask the federal government for some of the money as well. Officers involved in the pilot program said the cameras they tested aren’t perfect and expressed concerns about privacy for victims of crime and whether what is filmed will end up as public record.
Some activists around the country have called for federal rules requiring police wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama announced last week an plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help equip police departments with the technology. Others, however, question the efficacy of the method, pointing to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a choke hold by police in July. The officer who placed Garner in a headlock was not indicted by a grand jury despite video footage of the incident.
• Though the streetcar is months away from being operational, you can still give the transit fanatic (or skeptic) in your life a rail-themed Christmas gift. Starting today, SORTA is offering a commemorative early pass for the Cincinnati streetcar allowing unlimited rides for periods of time after the streetcar opens. You can get the $25 card for those members of your family who are afraid of downtown and with whom you argued about the streetcar this Thanksgiving. Maybe some free rides will change their minds. Or they’ll hate it and give it to you to use. Win-win. They, or you, will be able to ride cost-free for the first 15 days the streetcar is operating. You can step it up for the serious streetcar supporter and get the $50 or $100 cards, which give the recipient 30 and 60 days of fare-free riding, respectively. These are the first physical items issued to the public for the transit project, which I’m sure will be interesting to some folks.
• Answers in Genesis, the religious group behind a controversial Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, Ky., has launched a billboard campaign it says seeks to correct “myths” about the project. The park has raised eyebrows because it could receive state tax credits even though its parent company makes its employees sign statements affirming their Christian religious beliefs. If the park did the same with prospective employees, it would not be eligible for help from the state. The state’s Tourism Development Finance Authority has preliminarily approved a 10-year tax incentive package for the park that could be worth up to $18 million on the $73 million project. National advocates for the separation of church and state have cried foul at the deal, saying it violates state and federal non-discrimination laws. The Ark group, however, says they’ll comply with those laws for the park. They’re fighting back with 16 billboards in Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington directing people to their website. They’ve also sprung for an electronic billboard ad running in New York City’s Times Square for some reason.
"With this new billboard campaign, the attention-grabbing wording will get people to visit our website, where they will discover the truth about our full-size Ark and learn how some intolerant people are trying to keep it from succeeding," the group said in an email news release.
• The Ohio Board of Education will meet today and discuss eliminating rules that require public schools in Ohio to hire art and music teachers, librarians and other specialized staff. The so-called “5 of 8” rule could be on the chopping block because some local control advocates say it amounts to an unfunded mandate on local schools from the state. However, those who support the rule say it ensures that all schools have faculty who can teach vital subjects and perform other necessary duties. They say eliminating the rule will hurt low-income students, whose cash-strapped schools will be most likely to drop the positions.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece formally introduced the so-called “John Crawford’s Law” yesterday, which would require toy guns to be brightly colored to distinguish them from real weapons. The bill aims to prevent police shootings like the one that happened in August at a Beavercreek Walmart, where Crawford was shot while holding a BB gun. More recently, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot and killed for holding a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. In a puzzling addition, the law would also limit where a person can carry a BB gun, even though Ohio remains an open carry state where you can tote around your real gun almost anywhere you please.
Hey hey! It’s Monday. Stuff has been happening. Let’s get our news on.
The idea of law enforcement piloting tiny unmanned craft with cameras is pretty unnerving to some folks, which is understandable. No one wants a little flying robocop filming you through your window as you eat Doritos and watch your seventh episode of Adventure Time in your bathrobe. But the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office, which recently purchased a small drone, is seeking to allay such fears. They say the department will only use its tiny, $800 drone for taking overhead shots of traffic accidents and the like. Some call the idea creepy, but others say it’s legit as long as boundaries are followed.
“I don’t think we should be afraid of technology so long as it applies to and is used for a proper purpose,” Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “This seems like it’s a legitimate use of the technology.”
• A rally protesting racial injustice and recent police killings of unarmed black citizens drew more than 100 people outside Xavier’s Cintas Center Saturday night, during a game between the Musketeers and the University of Alabama. The several student groups who organized the rally said attendance was well above what they expected. The rallies protested grand jury decisions not to indict officers who have killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., Beavercreek, Ohio, and New York City.
“While some evidence is unclear, we cannot ignore the reality that yet more White police officers have shot and killed unarmed Black males,” the groups said in a joint statement emailed Saturday. “This is an unfortunate epidemic that is occurring across this nation.”
Another protest at the University of Cincinnati organized by student groups there will take place today at 1 p.m. at University Mainstreet.
• After this summer’s big showdown over the icon tax, efforts to raise the money to renovate historic Music Hall continue. Key fundraiser and philanthropic leader Otto Budig, who is helping lead the Cultural Facilities Taskforce charged with administering the repairs, says right now boosters still need to raise $40 million of the project’s estimated $123 million cost. So far, the taskforce has locked in $45 million in private donations as well as $25 million in tax credits. The City of Cincinnati has also committed another $10 million, as well as $400,000 annually. Budig says raising the rest will be difficult, but he’s vowed to make it happen.
• Over-the-Rhine’s super-popular Rhinegeist Brewery is expanding into Northern Kentucky with a new distribution company called River Ghost. Rhinegeist already runs its own distribution in Southwestern Ohio, and Erlanger-based River Ghost will help the company do the same south of the river.
• So here’s an update about efforts to get quick, daily rail service running from Cincinnati to Chicago. We left off in that story telling you about transit group All Aboard Ohio's push to get local universities on board with the idea, and it looks like that’s starting to happen a bit. The City of Oxford and Miami University recently announced they will send a joint letter next month asking for a train stop in the city. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs through Oxford but doesn’t stop there. It’s a baby step for the idea of daily service in the region. Miami U and Oxford aren’t pushing for that, at least not yet — they’re just asking to be cut in on the already existing route. But the addition could demonstrate pent-up demand for rail travel in the area, especially from Millennials who are less likely to own a car.
• Finally, Congress is stuck in gear. Plenty of folks feel like our elected officials don’t represent the interests of the average American. So let’s get more power to a viable third party to get things moving again and provide a little more competition and representation, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. This Vox article highlights the complexities of that issue. The emergence of a powerful third party could grind the gears of government even further into dysfunction. Depressingly, it’s by virtue of the fact that most all our political structures are designed for, and maintained by, the two major parties that a hypothetical populist third party couldn’t work, according to the piece.
Good morning, y’all. Before we get to the news this morning, I want to plug a cover story we have coming up in a couple weeks. I've been working on it since February, and I really hope you all will take a look when it goes up April 29. It deals with one of the city's forgotten neighborhoods, a group of people fleeing incredibly difficult circumstances and a place where cultures from around the world mix in an incredible way. The folks in the story deserve your attention for their courage and patience. That's all I'm going to say for now. I hope you'll check it out.
There is a lot to talk about today, so I'll stop promoting and get to the news.
Let’s start with the positive stuff first. Cincinnati City Council yesterday declared April 28 John Arthur day in honor of the late Over-the-Rhine resident and gay rights activist who passed away in 2013 from ALS. Arthur’s husband Jim Obergefell has since fought the state of Ohio to get his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate, a battle that will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court April 28. The case will almost assuredly be a history-making event. Look out next week for our feature story on the battle that could determine the future of same sex marriage.
• Council also locked horns, once again, on the streetcar yesterday. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed a motion that would direct the city administration to prepare a report on possible funding for Phase 1B of the transit project. Sound like a small step? It is. But oh, what a fuss it raised. The next hour was dominated by arguments over the project, including recent revelations that revenue won’t be as high as anticipated, Mayor John Cranley again touting a residential parking permit plan as a way to make up some of the difference and calls from at least one council member to can the project entirely. After all the fireworks, the motion passed 5-4. You can read all about it in our coverage here.
• What else is new around town? Well, our own Nick Lachey, of 98 Degrees fame, wants to turn over a new leaf (heh see what I did there?) as a marijuana farmer. Lachey has invested in a ballot initiative by marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio. In return for putting up money for the effort, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by this summer to get its proposal on the November ballot, Lachey will become part owner of a marijuana farm in the city of Hudson, which is in northeastern Ohio. That farm will be one of 10 under ResponsibleOhio’s plan, which would restrict commercial cultivation to a select number of sites. The group also tweaked its proposal after some criticism, and the current plan would also allow home growers to grow a small amount for personal use. Critics, however, including other legalization efforts, still say the plan amounts to a monopoly.
• Representatives from some area school districts, including Princeton City Schools, are lobbying in Columbus today in protest over state budgetary moves that would cut millions from their budgets. Princeton serves Lincoln Heights, Glendale, Woodlawn and much of Springdale and Sharonville in addition to other areas. Some school employees have taken personal days off from work to protest the proposed elimination of a state offset for the so-called Tangible Personal Property Tax. TPP was a big part of funding for many schools like Princeton. It was eliminated by lawmakers in 2007, but the state continued to funnel funds to schools to make up for the loss. Now, with Ohio’s new proposed budget, that offset will gradually be eliminated. Princeton receives nearly a quarter of its budget from the payments. It’s one of a number of schools on the chopping block from the new budget, which is a milder form of Gov. Kasich’s proposed financial blueprint for the state’s next two years. Kasich’s plan would have cut half of the districts in Ohio while increasing funding for the other half, mostly low-income rural and urban districts. State lawmakers have eased some of those cuts, but the prospect of losing money has caused ire among schools like Princeton, Lakota and others.
• There are a lot of other things happening in the state house today. Lawmakers are mulling whether to eliminate funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests. The state’s GOP legislators would like to eliminate the $33 million used to administer the tests, effectively killing them off. Part of the reason lawmakers want to eliminate them is that they’re tied to so-called federal Common Core standards. State Republicans are generally opposed to the standards, though Gov. John Kasich supports them. The tests’ roll-out this year has also been rocky, marked by complaints about glitches and difficulty. But there could be a big price tag for the political statement being made by eliminating the tests: the loss of more than $750 million in federal money for education in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
• Elsewhere in the state house, the GOP is raising ire among its own with other measures in the state budget. Republican State Auditor David Yost has cried foul at an attempt to remove oversight of disputes about public records requests from his bailiwick. State lawmakers say that the auditor’s office is responsible for financial accountability of state offices, not their public records. They want to remove the auditor’s power to receive complaints about public records requests and issue information and citations about such requests. Yost says removing his office’s power to oversee public records request issues weakens his ability to hold other public offices accountable and is unconstitutional. The Ohio Newspaper Association has also come out against the move. Reporters file a lot of public records requests, after all, and I for one don't want to have to sue someone every time I want some information that YOU should be able to know.
• What’s going on in national news, you ask? Stories about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle trip continue, revealing little other than the utter intellectual bankruptcy of some of the national political press. The initial story about the stop in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle earlier this week was a bit of a campaign stunt in and of itself (Hillary’s campaign staff tipped off the New York Times about the stop, leading to this incredibly important breaking news) and now we’ve just spun down into the dregs of mindless chatter about a burrito bowl. Not even a real burrito! Burritos are for eating, not for think-piecing. Why do you folks get paid to do this, again?
Meanwhile, Kasich is getting some interesting press that could boost his chances in the Republican 2016 primary contest for the presidential nomination. National publications are calling him everything from the "GOP's Strongest Candidate" to the "GOP's Moderate Backstop." Ah, national media. Gotta love it.
Cincinnati City Council today passed a motion asking the city administration to draw up a report on possible funding sources for the planning and construction of phase 1B of the streetcar.
But the relatively small step caused a firestorm of controversy, illustrating how politically divisive the transit project remains. The motion, authored by City Councilman Chris Seelbach, launched a contentious hour of debate among council members about whether it was appropriate to look ahead to the next phase of the controversial transit project when the current phase, a 3.6 mile loop around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, has yet to be nailed down.
The motion passed on a narrow 5-4 vote, with council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Wendell Young voting for the measure. Council members Charlie Winburn, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray and Christopher Smitherman voted against having the city produce the study.
Seelbach said the idea was to gather information to make an informed decision about next steps.
“This motion doesn’t say we’re ready to study Phase 1B of the streetcar,” Seelbach said. “All it says is we want some facts on paper about opportunities we may even want to pass up. I think that’s a very fair conversation we want to have. But let’s at least get the facts on paper.”
Seelbach cited the availability of federal TIGER grants, $500 million of which have been made available for fiscal year 2015 to cities proposing transit projects that spur economic development. Supporters of extending the streetcar say the city should start planning now so it can apply for future federal money that would help pay for a route extension.
But streetcar opponents, including Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, said the focus now should be on the project’s beleaguered current phase. They pointed to a recent revelation that the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority projects revenues for the streetcar will be well under earlier expectations.
“I guess my question is, 'Why aren’t the supporters of the streetcar leading the $500,000 new deficit that we discovered yesterday,' ” said Cranley. “Where is the plan to solve the revenue gap we discovered yesterday? Let’s make Phase 1 a success. Instead people want to write more checks and spend more money on Phase 2.”
Early estimates placed revenue from ridership and advertising sold on the streetcar at $1.35 million in the first year. But adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, SORTA told council yesterday. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation. Opponents like Cranley and Smitherman say the project's first phase is a financial mess that will leave tax payers holding the bag.
Cranley used the opportunity to again propose a residential parking pass for residents of Over-the-Rhine. In the past, he's floated proposals to charge as much as $300 a year to residents who want to park in the street in the neighborhood. Citing the number of new high-price condos springing up in OTR, Cranley said the owners of those high-price abodes should have to foot some of the bill for the amenity running past their doors.
But supporters of the project fired back, saying the project is meant to spur economic development and must be looked at through that lens. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said investment spurred by the streetcar,
including new development in Over-the-Rhine, would far outweigh the expenditures the city will make. She chalked up continued opposition to
the streetcar, and the motion to produce a report, to politics.
“I think it really comes down to leadership,” said Simpson. “We made a commitment to a project, and there are times when there are challenges. The campaign is over. Our ability to put our best foot forward on this project will really determine the success of the project.”
Originally, the streetcar was intended to run from The Banks to a location uptown. However, after Gov. John Kasich eliminated millions in state funds from the project, it was scaled back. The route now ends near Findlay Market. Supporters, however, including many who pushed the streetcar through a contentious three-week pause in 2013, haven’t given up hope that the second leg can be completed into the area around the University of Cincinnati and the area’s major hospitals.
The debate over the motion once again opened up old arguments.
Councilman Charlie Winburn called once again for the streetcar to be halted entirely, saying it should be “scrapped altogether.” Winburn told City Manager Harry Black that he didn’t have to follow the motion, which doesn’t have the force of law, and asked the city administration to disregard it. The city solicitor confirmed that the motion was non-binding, and it is unclear whether the city manager will direct city administration to produce the report.
Morning all! Let’s get started on this news thing right away. I’ll be brief today.
Good news for transit drama junkies: The next episode of the streetcar soap opera just dropped, and it’s a double feature. Turns out the 2013 pause in streetcar construction while Mayor John Cranley railed against the project and Cincinnati City Council mulled pulling the plug could end up costing the city $2 million. The city has already spent about $1 million on costs associated with the pause, and now the team responsible for the streetcar is negotiating with a consultant involved in the construction of the streetcars over how much it owes for other costs related to the work stoppage. The cars themselves will be delayed six months because of the three-week pause, the streetcar team says, since the company making the cars thought the project was dead at the time. That cash will have to come out of the streetcar’s contingency fund, which will have about $1 million left after payments related to the pause are made.
Meanwhile, estimates for how much money the streetcar will rake in every year are down, according to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, much less than the originally-estimated $1.35 million. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation.
• We’ve known for a while that the current site of the Anna Louise Inn, an historic women’s shelter downtown near Lytle Park, is slated to become a luxury hotel. Now we know which luxury hotel. Marriott announced yesterday it is bringing its Autograph Collection hotel concept to the site. Autograph Collection hotels are high-end, boutique accommodations. Others include European palaces and swanky hunting lodges. Plans have been in the works to relocate the century-old women’s shelter after a protracted and contentious legal battle between the city, Anna Louise Inn operators Cincinnati Union Bethel and insurance giant Western & Southern ended in 2013. A new CUB facility is being constructed in Mount Auburn.
• Here’s a quick one: Two Cincinnati lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Lou Sirkin and Brian O’Connor of Cincinnati-based firm Santen and Hughes have filed in a California U.S. District Court on behalf of an organization called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project. Three sex workers and a prospective client of sex workers are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which Sirkin and O’Connor say is a constitutional issue. Sirkin has worked on a number of constitutional and individual rights cases across the country.
• Lebanon City School District is facing a civil rights complaint from the mother of one of its students. Heather Allen has filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that issues of racial discrimination and bullying haven’t been taken seriously by the district. Allen says her biracial children, as well as other black children in the district, have been subject to racist jokes, taunting, repeated use of racial slurs including the n-word and an alleged threat from another student who Allen says had a knife. Nine incidents total are listed in the complaint, which comes a few weeks after an Instagram photo surfaced from a district student bearing racial slurs and a threat toward a black Lebanon student. The district thus far has not responded to media inquiries about the complaints, though it did address the Instagram photo, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction over that issue since it happened off school property.
• Former death row exonerees took to the capitol yesterday to advocate for changes to Ohio’s death penalty. Six men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and who spent time in prison for their wrongful convictions gathered to urge lawmakers to adopt 57 recommendations for changes to the way the state administers justice made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Capital Punishment. Among them was Ricky Jackson, who was finally freed last November after spending 39 years in prison for a murder in Cleveland he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated thanks to the work of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative co-founded by Mayor John Cranley in 2003. The Innocence Project is the subject of this week’s CityBeat news feature — it just won a new trial for three other Cleveland men who may have been wrongfully convicted in another murder. Check it out.
• Finally, your 2016 update: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida entered the presidential fold Monday, declaring he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, there is noise about who former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton will tap for vice president. Will it be former San Antonio mayor and current Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro? Some think-piece writers think so. It seems clear that Castro, along with his brother, U.S. Rep Juan Castro, are both being groomed by the Democratic Party for bigger things. The Castro brothers are promising stars in the party, to be sure, but there’s also a pretty calculated element to the speculation: Rubio is strong with Hispanics thanks to his own Hispanic background, and Castro as VP could be a way to counteract that, political pundits say. Ew. Politics is gross.
That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know the drill.
Hello all. What’s up? Let’s dive right into the news today.
If you live uptown and frequently need to hop on I-75 north, I have some bad news for you. It’s going to be another, oh, five years before the already years-old ODOT project to revamp I-75 makes it easier to access the highway from uptown. Let’s ruminate on that length of time for a minute. It’s an entire high school career plus a year of college. Or the amount of time it takes the average person to put 65,000 miles on a car. Or for some folks, multiple long-term relationships. The hang-up comes from a proposed connector bridge that will allow for easier access from I-74 to the area around Cincinnati State College. That construction is in the same area as the planned new northbound ramp, meaning the latter will have to be put off until 2020. That leaves uptown residents wanting to head north with the option of two complicated workarounds that probably add at least a few minutes to commute times. Happy driving y’all.
• In more positive news, it sounds like the city’s July 14 parade for the MLB All-Star Game is going to be something else. Usually, these kinds of things are limited to a few pickup trucks full of ball players on the way to field from their hotels, but Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini says this year will be different. Floats, music and other festivities inspired by our annual opening day parade will fill the mile-long parade route, which goes from the Westin Hotel downtown past Fountain Square to Great American Ballpark. The All-Star Game is a big deal for any city to land — estimated economic impact for the city is somewhere in the $60 million range.
• Over-the-Rhine business course MORTAR will graduate its first class of entrepreneurs today. Locals William Thomas, Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods founded the group last year with a focus on increasing socio-economic diversity in the city’s startup culture. When you picture a startup entrepreneur, you might immediately think of a young white middle class male, which would be understandable since that demographic makes up a large percentage of entrepreneurs, especially in hot new markets like tech. MORTAR’s mission is to go beyond that, founders say, and to extend the opportunity to start a business to anyone in the city with a good idea. Tonight at Elementz, on the corner of Race and Central Parkway, the first class will take their ideas public during a series of presentations lasting from 6-9 pm. First year participants include Black Owned Outerwear founder Cam Means and soap maker Evie Cotton.
• I knew y'all were smart. Cincinnati is among the most literate cities in the country according to a study by Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Jack Miller. Miller measured literacy in America’s 77 biggest cities by studying bookstores, libraries, newspaper circulation, education level and Internet usage to come up with his ranking. Cincinnati ranked 12th, just above Raleigh, N.C. and just below Portland, Ore. We are far and away the best Ohio city on the list — runner up Columbus ranked just 21st. Minneapolis took the top spot this year after a four-year run in the top spot for Washington, D.C., which finished second this time around.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted yesterday to end the state’s stipulation that school districts have at least five of eight specialty positions in each of their schools. Those positions included librarians, music teachers and physical education teachers. The rule change has been hotly debated among educators and officials. Opponents say it will mean that students in many low-income schools will no longer be guaranteed arts, music and other important humanities education. Boosters of the rule change say it allows local school districts more autonomy with how they spend their budgets.
• Is Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal dead? Looks like its prospects are grim, especially when it comes to the tax boosts the governor suggested to make up for his proposed $5.7 billion in income tax cuts. The GOPers in the Ohio General Assembly love the cuts, but hate the offsets, which include a sales tax hike. State lawmakers are expected to tweak Kasich’s budget to cut about $1 billion in income taxes while forgoing the sales tax hikes and some other big measures in the budget. Kasich’s plan has taken fire from both the left and the right. Progressives point out that shifting the tax burden from income toward sales taxes puts a higher proportional burden on the state’s low-income workers and that cuts to taxes on businesses and the tax bills of the state’s top earners is a regressive move that favors the wealthy. Conservatives, on the other hand, say the sales tax hike would encumber businesses and slow the economy. Both the state House and Senate will have to vote to approve a final budget agreement.
• Big news here: While Hillary Clinton was driving around in her Scooby Doo campaign van yesterday, she passed through Ohio and stopped for some Chipotle. Surprisingly, this news story says, no one in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle recognized her, probably because they were too focused on their double barbacoa double cheese double sour cream burritos. Dude, when I’m eating a burrito, the wailing ghost of James Brown could come in spitting fire and singing "Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and I probably wouldn’t take much note, but then the wailing ghost of James Brown isn’t running for president in 2016 (unfortunately).
• Finally, new revelations have surfaced in the shooting death of Walter Scott, North Charleston, South Carolina man, by police officer Michael Slager April 5. North Charleston police have released audio recordings taken immediately after the incident in which Slager tells his wife he shot Scott while the man was running from him and then later laughs about the adrenaline rush to a supervisor. Scott was black, Slager white. The incident is the latest racially charged police shooting to capture the nation’s attention in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.
Hello all. I hope you got out and enjoyed the weather this weekend, which was spectacular. I took a nice six-mile hike organized by Imago, a Price Hill-based nature preserve and environmental education organization and Park and Vine, the planet friendly general store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. It was pretty great to spend the day hiking through the OTR, the West End and the Price Hills.
On to the news! The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced it’s bringing incredibly popular OTR light show LumenoCity back Aug. 5-9, but it’s going to be a lot different this year, at least when it comes to admission. The two-year-old event has up to this point been a free offering to the public. The first year, the light show was open to anyone who wanted to drop by. Last year, however, organizers sectioned off the park and required show goers to claim free tickets online, citing massive demand. More than 30,000 people showed up for the four nights of the show. Those tickets sold out in a flash, and some ended up on eBay for pretty crazy prices. This year, organizers have set up a lottery for tickets. Those who are randomly selected from the lottery will pay up $20 for tickets, which will be limited to four per household and 6,000 per night.
• So this is kinda hilarious. It looks like Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is down one really killer Halloween costume after a recent magistrate’s decision. As you probably know, a year ago, a group of Greenpeace activists staged a protest at Procter and Gamble headquarters over the company’s use of palm oil, the harvesting of which they say has lead to the destruction of rainforests. As part of this protest, one of the activists repelled down the side of P&G in a tiger costume. For whatever reason, Deters wanted that costume. He wanted it bad. He asked a Hamilton County Court magistrate if he could keep it (it had been held as evidence), but the magistrate recently told Deters to give the dang tiger suit back to the dude.
• Normally, the flow in Washington when it comes to making the big money is that you serve in the government side of things, as a legislator or on a legislator’s staff, then move on to the lucrative lobbying positions that big interests groups hire to gain influence in D.C. But it works both ways, apparently. Here’s an interesting piece about how some national politicians with local ties are hiring former lobbyists to join their Washington staffs. Which seems weird and a little shady, right? Well, it’s not illegal, and the former recipients of big corporate cash swear they’re only working for their bosses (read: us) when they make the move to a legislator’s office. Hm.
• Heroin is a big issue in both north and south of the Ohio River. But the legislative ways Ohio and Kentucky deal with the crisis are very different. Kentucky has recently passed a raft of new laws that look to alleviate the drug’s hold on the region, including making things like needle-exchange programs easier. It’s also ramped up penalties for traffickers bringing the drug into the state. But police officers in Ohio are more likely to carry overdose recovery drugs like Narcan, while many Kentucky police departments are still weighing the drug’s benefits against its costs and possible dangers. What’s more, Ohio is poised to pass more measures ensuring addicts leaving prison get the anti-addiction medication they need. Will the two states ever get on the same page? Unclear.
• The Ohio Democratic Party on Saturday officially endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his campaign for U.S. Senate, tilting the party’s primary further away from Cincinnati City Councilman and Strickland primary opponent P.G. Sittenfeld. That wasn’t entirely unexpected — Strickland has statewide name recognition, polling that shows him trouncing incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman by nine points at this early point in the campaign, and the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton — but it stings all the same. Especially brutal is what Strickland said at a meeting of the state party’s executive committee of delegates Saturday.
“This isn’t a Little League Baseball Game,” Strickland said, probably muttering a condescending “son,” under his breath. “This is a U.S. Senate race.” Dang. It’s getting heated in this thing.
• Is cursive making a comeback in Ohio? No, no, not Cursive, the band I spent many of my angst-ridden teen years rocking out to. I’m talking about the squiggly script students used to be required to master in grade school. These days, districts decide whether or not they teach the handwriting method, but that could change with a new proposed law that would make it a mandatory part of public education. I’m against it. Art is hard and so are those loopy letters. Full disclosure, however, my handwriting is absolutely awful.
• Quick, but important and kind of scary: Remember last summer when we had that gross toxic algae thing in the Great Lakes, in part due to industrial fertilizer runoff? It shutdown Toledo's water supply for a minute, and it could be a big problem again this year.
• Finally, Hillary Clinton is officially running for president again after her Sunday campaign rollout. The former secretary of state and Democratic frontrunner is already on the campaign trail, hitting up Iowa as we speak, reportedly road-tripping in a black van she’s dubbed “the Scooby Doo Van.”
Hello Cincy, let’s talk about the news today.
The big story, of course, is the death of Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old Mount Saint Joseph freshman who very publicly and courageously battled inoperable brain cancer. Hill inspired many across the country, continuing to play basketball with Mount Saint Joe even as her illness weakened her. Through her advocacy, she raised $1.4 million for cancer research with nonprofit cancer research agency The Cure Starts Now. Hill passed early this morning.
• Cincinnati’s next big brewery has set its opening date. Northside’s Urban Artifact brewery, located in the historic St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street, will have its grand opening two weeks from today on April 24. The space will also be a concert venue, and has a unique business model: live music every night of the week that will be recorded, if the artists wish, and streamed on the space’s website. Eventually, Urban Artifact will offer a restaurant at the location as well.
• Local high school students in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren Counties will be able to take a free college class and get a textbook free of charge this summer at Cincinnati State Technical Community College, the school announced yesterday. The offer is open to 2015 graduates and those who will be freshmen in the fall at Cincinnati State as well. Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens says it’s a way for the school to give back to the community while hopefully enticing area students to enroll at the school in the future.
• Cincinnati schools are making strides in terms of educational achievement by students, but those gains aren't universal and highlight glaring racial and economic gaps, a new study from Cincinnati's Strive Partnership has found. You can read the full study here. Look for more coverage on educational inequality in Cincinnati from us in the near future.
• There’s a pretty interesting wrinkle in the race for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. Democratic challenger Ted Strickland has polled nine points ahead of Portman and many points ahead of his primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. But Strickland has actually raised less money for his campaign than either of them. Portman has raised over $2 million for the race, Sittenfeld has raised $750,000 and recent campaign filings show Strickland has pulled in about $670,000. That’s not far off from Sittenfeld, and Strickland has much more name recognition from his stint as governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2011. Strickland announced his campaign later than Sittenfeld, a fact his campaign manager says explains why he’s trailing right now.
• Here’s a really informative rundown on the upcoming Supreme Court battle over marriage equality that centers around Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and gay marriage bans in several other states. The case will almost certainly be precedent-setting, and momentum is on the side of marriage equality; many federal circuit courts have struck down other states’ bans, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld bans in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. That’s created a conflict in federal court rulings, something the Supreme Court will have to sort out with its decision. The nation’s highest court already struck down a federal ban on gay marriage two years ago, and now advocates on both sides are holding their breath for this decisive battle. Arguments before the court kick off April 28.
• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president Sunday in New York City, according to a number of national news outlets. Clinton is the decided front runner for the Democratic nomination; so much so that some have accused her of a rather blasé approach to the campaign thus far. Clinton has a strong fundraising network and big support from high-level Democrats, though. But she has already had to tussle with a potential scandal: the revelation she used her personal e-mail account for State Department business while she served in that position. That wasn’t illegal at the time, and Clinton has turned over thousands of those e-mails, but critics say there’s no way to know whether she has turned over all of them. Despite these early stumbles, there are few other Democrats who seem feasible challengers. Those on the left in the party have been pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, but she so far has declined to entertain the idea. More recently, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, has made noises that he might be interested in the race. It’s unclear, however, how Sander’s very progressive politics (he’s an avowed socialist) would play with the mainstream Democratic base.
• Finally, a measure designed to prevent businesses who contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT individuals kicked in Wednesday. The law, which stems from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in July, means that those companies can’t consider sexual orientation when they hire. Outside this measure, which only applies to companies who do business with the federal government, there are not laws against employment discrimination against LGBT individuals federally or in Ohio.
Good morning y’all. How are you? I’m feeling great today because I just polished off a 6,000-word draft for an upcoming cover story that you’re definitely going to want to read. That’s always a great feeling, and a short-lived one — soon comes the editing process. But let’s stay focused on the here and now, shall we, and talk about the news today.
Could $40 million in new development, including a sought-after grocery store, be coming to Avondale? It’s becoming more and more of a possibility. Developer The Community Builders is looking at expanding development plans associated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which seeks to improve individual and neighborhood-level outcomes in low-income communities. Developers and the Avondale Community Council and Community Development Corporation have received $30 million from that program, and by using that money to attract other investment have turned it into $100 million for development in the neighborhood. So far, that money has gone to rehabilitating existing structures, but it could soon be used to build new developments, including the so-called Avondale Town Center, a key mixed-use development including a grocery store Mayor John Cranley mentioned in his State of the City speech last year. The development is still in the planning phases, and no grocer has been selected yet, but so far 118 units of affordable and market-rate housing and 80,000 square feet of retail space are on the table as goals.
• More legal troubles could be in the works for the former officials from a local charter school in the West End. Former Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy Superintendent Lisa Hamm and Treasurer Stephanie Millard were implicated in the misspending of more than $500,000 in a 2013 special audit by the state. On Tuesday, State Auditor David Yost released another report saying the two misspent money even as that audit took place, opening up the possibility more charges could be filed.
I want to make a special note about this story. The Cincinnati Enquirer has called the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy a “magnet school” in at least two articles I’ve seen about it, including the one linked above. That doesn’t appear to be the case at all. Magnet schools are themed public schools run by local districts like Cincinnati Public Schools. (See also: the Department of Education's description of magnet schools.) Charter schools aren’t accountable to local school districts, even if they’re publicly funded. Part of the scandal around CCPA is that its controlling board, which is not the city’s Board of Education, didn’t approve the spending in question. The existence of that stand-alone board shows that CCPA is a charter, not a magnet. The school doesn't appear in CPS' magnet school listings, for instance, because it isn't a magnet under CPS.
Am I missing something? Correct me if you have more insight. In the meantime — why does the distinction matter? Because charter schools have had serious accountability problems in Ohio in the past few years, and we should call CCPA what it is — another charter school with lax oversight and a problematic power structure. To call it a magnet school is to saddle Cincinnati Public Schools with at least one more big problem it doesn’t actually have anything to do with. OK, sorry. Onward.
• Greater Cincinnati developer Jeffery Decker is facing a federal court filing over an insurance claim on a multi-million dollar mansion that burned down in Indian Hill in January last year. Decker filed a lawsuit asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to award his family millions for an insurance policy from Chubb National Insurance Co. The Decker family received an advance $700,000 payment on the insurance policy before the insurance company filed a counter claim asking for the money back after Decker’s phone records revealed he was at the house much later in the day on the day the fire happened than he initially claimed — up until about 15 minutes before smoke was reported on the property. Chubb is alleging that Decker misrepresented his whereabouts the day of the fire in his initial claim and therefore invalidated the insurance policy.
• The Ohio Democratic Party could endorse former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in the state’s 2016 Senate race over primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. So far, the party has stayed neutral on the race, at least officially, though some high-level Democrats have asked Sittenfeld to bow out of the race. Strickland is the favorite, having garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and having the advantage of massive name recognition in the state that propelled him to take a nine-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman.
• President Barack Obama yesterday called for an end to so-called "gay conversion" therapy in the wake of the December death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn, whose given name was Joshua, committed suicide late last year after her parents barred her from getting gender transition treatments and instead took her to Christian-based counseling to try and convince her to give up her transgender status. The Obama administration's call to end the therapy method came in response to a Whitehouse.gov petition that received more than 120,000 signatures.
"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," the response reads. "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
• Finally — ah, the nostalgia. By the time I got around to hitting up Forest Fair Mall as a youngin, it was already a creepily empty shell that housed a Guitar Center, a food court with flickering florescent lights and not much else. Now there are discussions about revitalizing the hulking indoor mall in Forest Park, perhaps with a mixture of uses beyond mall retail. Sounds interesting, though honestly, I’m a bit more entertained by the creepy, zombie apocalypse vibe of the place as it stands. Hm. Do I smell a Walking Dead theme park opportunity? I think so.
Good morning y’all. Let’s get right to the news.
Are million-dollar homes coming to Over-the-Rhine? At least one of the city’s big movers and shakers thinks so. Reds owner Bob Castellini made that prediction last night during a speech at Music Hall for the Over-the-Rhine Chamber’s annual Star Awards, which spotlights the neighborhood’s growth and its business leaders. Castellini is on the board of 3CDC, the developer that is approaching $1 billion in projects completed in the neighborhood and downtown. He’s bullish on the idea that the once-neglected neighborhood will continue to see high-price new developments. He highlighted condos in 3CDC’s Mercer Commons development that have sold for more than $400,000 as one example of growing interest in high-end living in OTR. Following new development, median household incomes and property values have been going up in the historically low-income neighborhood in the last few years. That’s caused a lot of fanfare, but has also stoked fears about gentrification, apprehensions that came up again recently when a developer proposed $400,000 single-family homes in the neighborhood’s less-hyped northern area. Some advocates in the neighborhood say there isn’t affordable housing there.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is shifting gears in his campaign for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld’s campaign manager Ramsey Reid has left the Democrat’s team, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Sittenfeld’s campaign says his departure was planned from the beginning and that a new campaign manager and other new hires will be announced shortly. Sittenfeld recently ramped up his team, hiring a spokesman, a finance director and a polling specialist in his underdog primary battle against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland is a heavy favorite to win the primary. He’s garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and is currently polling nine points ahead of Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Sittenfeld has been steadfast about staying in the race despite pressure from some Democrats to bow out.
• If you need proof that the weather here really is a bummer and that you’re not just a big whiner, here it is. A new study by a popular meteorology blog called Brian B’s Climate Blog shows Cincinnati is ranked 5th in the country for major cities when it comes to dreary weather. The city tied for that… err, honor… with Cleveland and Lexington. Buffalo took the top spot, followed predictably by Seattle, Pittsburgh and Portland. The climate blog considered three factors in its rankings: total number of days with precipitation, total annual precipitation and total annual cloud cover. If you need more anecdotal evidence, just find your nearest window.
• A new bill in the Ohio House would allow concealed carry in the state without a license if passed. The bill, proposed by State Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville, has 20 cosponsors and support from State Rep. Ron Arnstutz, the second-most powerful Republican in the House. Lots of dudes named Ron are into this idea, which makes me think of the ultimate Ron. Anyway, the bill would do away with licensing and training requirements for those who want to carry concealed weapons, limiting concealed carry only to those below the age of 21 or people who aren’t permitted to have guns due to their criminal background or other legal reasons. Five other states, including Kansas, have already approved unlicensed concealed carry, and 10 more states are considering similar measures. Gun rights groups have applauded the bill, but opponents, including law enforcement groups, say it will make the state less safe.
• With bicycle commuting on the rise, both nationally and, I’m hoping, in Cincinnati, do we need better data collection practices from police when it comes to cyclist-car accidents? It seems that way, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study, summarized in this CityLab post, suggests that most data collection methods used by public safety agencies around the country are outdated and don’t consider the differences between cars and bikes and don’t make allowances for the different situations in which the two could collide. Better data could lead to safer bike infrastructure, the authors of the study say.
• Finally, it’s almost becoming a sentence in which you can just fill in the blanks with the latest shooter and deceased. Michael Slager, a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina shot an apparently unarmed black man named Walter Scott over the weekend. The police incident report says that Scott had the officer’s taser and that Slager feared for his life. But a video taken by a bystander contradicts all of that, showing Slager firing eight rounds at Scott as he ran away. After Scott fell to the ground, Slager appears to casually drop something next to him. More officers soon arrived, though none are seen administering the CPR the police report alleges took place. Scott died at the scene. The incident has drawn national attention and a murder charge for Slager — a rarity perhaps brought about by the graphic and shocking video taken by a witness.
Hey all! Upside today: The Reds won last night. Downside today: It’s really gross outside. Now that I’ve covered the perfunctory topical conversation points, let’s get on to the news, eh?
Investigations continue into a deadly drive-by shooting that happened over the weekend near the Walnut Hills YMCA. Seventeen-year-old Kelcie Crow died in that shooting and two other teens were injured. Police say a fight broke out at a birthday party at the Y, after which a white van drove by and fired at least 60 shots at the large crowd of teens. Police say they don’t currently have any suspects in the shooting. The shootings and Crow’s tragic death have drawn a lot of attention around the city, including from Cincinnati City Council. City Council Law and Public Safety Committee Chairman Christopher Smitherman vowed the city would find and bring to justice the perpetrators. He also placed some blame for the lack of leads so far on what he calls a “no snitching” mentality among some in the community.
• Over-the-Rhine based business accelerator The Brandery has announced a unique project with developer Urban Sites that will provide housing in the neighborhood for entrepreneurs coming to Cincinnati as part of the group’s yearly class of new startups. The Brandery has signed a lease with the developer for two buildings on Walnut Street with 14 two-bedroom apartments that will become a housing option for participants in The Brandery’s accelerator program, which connects young startups with funding, branding and design help as well as potential corporate clients. The accelerator’s fifth class wrapped up in October last year. Each year the accelerator accepts 10-12 startups from around the country and worldwide for its four-month program. About half of these companies stay in Cincinnati after graduating from the program, the group says. The apartments will be somewhat subsidized for participants, the group says, and are a way to meet the needs of entrepreneurs while they’re in town focusing on growing their businesses.
• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, a nonprofit bike sharing program that started last year, just got its first big sponsor. UC Health will pay to put its logo on the nonprofit’s bikes for three years, the hospital system announced yesterday. Red Bike is looking for other sponsors as it continues to grow. Currently, the bike share has 33 stations spread around downtown, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. An expansion in Northern Kentucky is planned as well. The bike share was kick-started last year by a $1 million grant from the city.
• At first, I thought this was just today’s weather forecast, but it turns out it’s a real thing. This summer, a Cincinnati street will turn into a giant waterslide for a day when Slide the City brings its 1,000-foot slide to Jefferson Avenue near UC. You can slide on the street, but it’ll cost you: )ne slide costs $20, three times will cost $35 and unlimited slides will set you back $60. But you also get a tattoo, a mouth guard, a bag and T-shirt with that. So yeah.
• Ah, my alma matter never fails to embarrass me at least once a year. Police at Miami University are investigating a slew of racist and homophobic graffiti in a residence hall there and have also discovered similar graffiti at two of the school's frat houses. You can read more about it at the link above. I'm going to go burn all the Miami spirit wear I own, though I actually bought it from a thrift store a few years after I graduated because it was super-cheap and I was broke.
• A nearby university wants to play host to one of the 2016 presidential debates. Wright State University in Dayton has applied to host a debate next year and is one of 16 sites vying for the opportunity. The school has played a role in presidential campaigns in the past. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate at Wright State, and President Barack Obama has also campaigned at the school.
• Speaking of the election, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Paul is vying with a crowded field of GOP contenders for the party’s nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his campaign a couple weeks ago, and others who have yet to formally declare their intentions, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. As we talked about yesterday, Paul has tried to distinguish himself by playing on the Libertarian legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president several times himself. The younger Paul is trying to walk the line between his father’s rabid followers and the more traditional GOP establishment, where big donors and powerful endorsements are to be had.
Another area where Paul has distinguished himself from the pack is in presidential campaign merchandise. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and check out these hot items, including this Ladies Constitution Burnout Tee which, as the website says, is “soft and gauzy… wears well, looks great and sends the statists a message.” Yes. There’s also the NSA spycam blocker (a small plastic piece that slides over your computer’s built-in camera), the Real Rand Woven Blanket (for those times when you want to be all wrapped up in the warm embrace of something other than the nanny state) and something called the Rand Paul Bag Toss Game. I didn’t click on that one. Oh yeah, and you can also get an autographed copy of the constitution for a cool grand, which is probably the most libertarian product ever.
That's it for me. Tweet, email or comment with your favorite swag from a presidential contender — or to get my shipping address so you can send me the giant Rand Paul birthday card you're going to send me in November.