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by Nick Swartsell 05.07.2015
Posted In: News at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

The veto heard 'round the city; Cranley tries again on Madisonville luxury development; Sen. Brown praises Kasich's cop standards

Heya! Here’s a quick rundown of the big stories today before I jet off for an interview.

As you may have heard, Mayor John Cranley yesterday vetoed an Over-the-Rhine parking plan that would have created up to 450 permitted parking spots for residents and left 150 spots for so-called “flex parking,” or unmetered spots available to all. The plan would have charged $108 per permit, the second-highest in the country behind San Francisco, which charges $110.  But that’s better than no parking at all, residents in OTR say. Many say that as the neighborhood becomes more and more busy, it has become much harder for those living there to find a place to park in the evening. That takes a big toll on the neighborhood’s low-income residents, neighborhood social service providers say. They’d like to see a parking plan passed.

The proposed plan would have offered permits to low-income residents at a discounted rate. Cranley says vetoing the plan was a matter of fairness, because it allows any resident of the city to continue parking on the city streets their tax dollars pay for. In past months, however, Cranley offered his own permit plan, albeit one that charged $300 per spot. The move yesterday was Cranley’s first veto since he took office in 2013. Before that, Mayor Mark Mallory vetoed a council action on red light cameras in 2011.

• Though the OTR parking plan has gone down in flames, another item Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee killed earlier this week will get a second look. Contradicting fellow Democrats twice in one council session, Mayor Cranley has referred a motion supporting development of a $25 million luxury apartment complex in Madisonville to council’s Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee after Democrats on the Neighborhoods Committee voted it down. The Economic Growth committee is full of Cranley allies, while Neighborhoods is dominated by the Democrats with which Cranley usually finds himself at odds. The Madisonville Community Council and its Urban Redevelopment Corporation oppose the project, saying it’s not an appropriate use of the land in the neighborhood. Cranley and other supporters say it will bring millions in other development to the area.

• Speaking of development, things are starting to pick up in Camp Washington, where 52 homes have been refurbished. Four more major development projects are also on the way. As I’ve told you about before in this blog, the historic Crosley Building in the neighborhood is also being redeveloped into 238 apartments. More on all the activity in this Soapbox story.

• Last week, Music Hall got some great news to the tune of $12 million, and now its next door neighbor gets a turn. Memorial Hall is closed to the public today as it undergoes a nearly $8 million restoration. Work on the building should be done by next fall. It's the first restoration of the building in nearly 25 years.

• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman has been relieved of yet more duties, according to this Business Courier story. Sigman was taken out of his role in downtown development The Banks after questioning whether that project needs a new head developer. Now, he’s also been removed from his role in helping oversee the stadiums on the riverfront. He keeps the rest of his duties, which involve overseeing county departments who don’t have an elected official leading them. He’ll also keep his $180,000 a year salary. The whole thing seems pretty sketchy, but then again, I’d be down for reduced responsibilities if I got to make the same amount of money. Something tells me it’s not the same, though.

• Here’s something you don’t see very often: Liberal Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is praising conservative Republican Governor John Kasich over his push to apply statewide standards for police use of force. Brown says Kasich’s moves are part of much-needed reforms to the justice system. Kasich recommended the standards after convening the Statewide Taskforce on Community-Police Relations late last year. That task force came after the police shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Beavercreek and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

by Nick Swartsell 05.06.2015
Posted In: News at 02:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cranley veto

In First Veto, Cranley Nixes OTR Parking Plan

Plan had neighborhood support; would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents.

Mayor John Cranley today vetoed a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have converted 400-450 of the neighborhood's 1,200 spots into permitted parking for residents.

Democrats on council passed the plan 5-4 before Cranley killed the deal.It's Cranley's first veto since he took office in 2013 and the first mayoral veto of a council action in years. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Mayor Charlie Luken last vetoed a council-passed ordinance in 2005, though Mark Mallory also vetoed one in 2011.

"In the interests of basic fairness to all Cincinnatians, I am vetoing this Over-the-Rhine residential parking plan," Cranley said in a statement. "Cincinnati taxpayers from all neighborhoods paid for the public streets in OTR and, therefore, all Cincinnatians deserve an opportunity to park on the streets they paid to build and maintain."

Republican council members Amy Murray, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn opposed the permit plan, as did Charterite Councilman Kevin Flynn.

Flynn cited a clause in streetcar legislation that allows developers to forgo normal parking requirements for new development for buildings that are 600 feet from streetcar stops. That provision works at odds with creating permitted spots for residents, he said, because the assumption was that the streetcar would make cars less necessary in the neighborhood.

"Either you need more parking or you don't," he said in council.

For Cranley, the fight over parking is more about revenue. In past weeks, the mayor has touted an alternate plan that would have set the price for parking permits at a yet-undetermined market rate. That plan didn't make it out of committee.
Cranley initially suggested a $300 charge for each parking permit, but backed off that idea for a market-rate cost. He’d like to see the extra revenue used to shore up a $569,000 gap between projected streetcar revenues and recently-revised estimates. That gapt came about due to revised estimates on rider fares and advertising revenues.

After months of wrangling, an agreement on a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine seemed to be in sight Monday as Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhood Committee passed a version of a plan drawn up by Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilman Chris Seelbach that would charge residents $108 a year for a parking pass.
The proposed fee for a permit was the second-highest in the nation behind famously packed-in San Francisco, which charges $110 a year, though the cost would be subsidized for low-income residents.

Seelbach registered his displeasure on Facebook following the veto.

Seelbach, Mann and other supporters argue that as OTR gets more popular, parking has become much more scarce, making it difficult for those who live in the neighborhood to find parking. Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer spoke to Council advocating for the parking plan. He expressed disappointment at mayor's veto.

by Nick Swartsell 05.06.2015
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
camp washington chili contest

Morning News and Stuff

New education accelerator initiative raises questions; Camp Washington Chili hits 75; new polls show Kasich still struggling in pres. bid

Good morning y’all. Let’s do this news thing real quick.

$25 million to get low-income Cincinnati students into a better education sounds great, doesn’t it? Absolutely. But there are questions about just such a proposal, which is being touted by a group of area business leaders and educators. The group, which includes the Haile Foundation, the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Farmer Foundation, wants to boost the number of seats at high-performing area schools from what they’ve determined is 5,500 right now to 10,000 in five years and 20,000 in 10. Right now, a little less than half of Cincinnati’s 35,000 students in public or charter schools attend low-performing schools, and only about 5,500 attend high performing schools. So the plan sounds great, right? Well, there are critics. $15 million of the money will be spent creating new schools in the Cincinnati area, and those will most likely be charter schools, which have a very spotty record here in Ohio. Detractors like former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, now with the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, say Cincinnati Public Schools have an approach that works, and that the city doesn’t need more charters. CPS, meanwhile, says it’s on board with the proposal. The district may even be a partner in the charter schools created by the venture. The nascent education group, which calls itself an “education accelerator” has yet to pick a name or a CEO, and still has about $10 million to raise to carry out the plan.

• More controversy surrounding Cincinnati’s long-time riverfront project The Banks. Yesterday here we talked about how Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman is being ousted from economic development matters. Sigman wrote a letter raising questions about whether the county should change developers on the project, saying that the lead developer, Atlanta-based Carter and Associates, has taken longer than expected to find a major hotel tenant at the site. Yesterday, an Enquirer reporter was barred from a meeting of the Joint Banks Steering Committee, which is appointed by city and county officials, according to the paper. Those meetings were declared public after a contentious fight back in 2008 about their private nature. The steering committee points out that government meetings can happen in private when no votes are being taken, and says there were no decisions made at the meeting. It’s important to know what’s happening with the steering committee, however, since it helps decide how millions in tax dollars are spent. Officials with the steering committee say Sigman’s ouster from development affairs was not discussed at the meeting.

New retail is coming to Over-the-Rhine, and … sorry, I lost interest. All the stores sound really boring and well out of my price range and the price ranges of many long-time residents in the neighborhood. But hey, that’s just me. One of the stores sells something called technical cashmere. The others are home décor and fashion-oriented. The upside is that the four new retail spots will add to the city’s tax base, and at least none of them are chain stores; Chipotle and Starbucks are reportedly interested in OTR spots, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, if you’re a shopper, check that out. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for a decently-priced, well-stocked grocery store and a Laundromat.

• Here’s a place that is much more my speed: Mayor John Cranley yesterday dropped by Camp Washington Chili in, uh, Camp Washington to celebrate its 75th anniversary and announce that the corner of Hopple Street and Colerain Ave. where the nationally-renowned diner is located will be named after proprietor Johnny Johnson. Johnson came to the U.S. from Greece in 1951 and eventually bought the place, which was founded by his uncle. Since then, they’ve been serving up really, really good Cincinnati-style chili, double deckers and tons of other great diner food. I’ve spent many a late, late night after playing or watching live music hanging out at Camp Washington; here’s to another 75.

• Finally, the latest Quinnipiac University polls on the GOP presidential nomination race have come out of early primary state Iowa. Like the last couple polls, they’ don’t look so great for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich is polling at just 2 percent against big GOP rivals. The bigger national story, however, is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s showing. Bush, who was a presumed frontrunner just a week or two ago, took a pounding, with 45 percent of GOP respondents saying they viewed him unfavorably. Only 39 percent said they viewed him favorably. Bush got just five percent of the overall vote in the polling. The big winner was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who polled at 21 percent, 8 points higher than his nearest competitors Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Walker, if you recall, led an effort to repeal bargaining rights for state employees in 2011. Sound familiar? Kasich did much the same that year. The difference is, Walker stuck to his guns through a recall election, while Kasich was chastened by the deafening roar of Ohio voters, who overwhelmingly passed a ballot provision repealing our state’s version of the law. So, is Scott Walker going to be the GOP nominee? Not quite. There’s still a long road to Cleveland, and plenty of opportunity for big gaffes from the Republican crowd.

by Nick Swartsell 05.05.2015
Posted In: News at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Parking battle looms; Sittenfeld's non-policy proposal; will Kasich be locked out of GOP primary debate in his own state?

Hey all! Here’s what’s up today.

There’s a showdown coming. Some will win, some will lose and some will, well, probably be completely uninvolved but that’s beside the point. I’m talking about Cincinnati City Council’s continued fight over the Over-the-Rhine parking plan. Yesterday, a council committee passed a version of a plan that would charge residents $108 a year for a parking pass. That’s the second-highest cost in the nation behind famously packed-in San Francisco, though it’s important to note that the cost would be subsidized for low-income residents. Mayor John Cranley, however, wants a different plan that would price the spots higher, at a yet-to-be-determined market rate for non-low-income residents. He’d like to see the extra revenue used to shore up a $600,000 streetcar operating deficit.

That’s all important because the plan passed in committee yesterday has only five apparent votes in favor. Conservatives on council — Amy Murray, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and swing vote Kevin Flynn look to be opposed to the plan. Five votes is enough to pass the measure but not enough to override a mayoral veto. Cranley’s never played that card before, but he very well could tomorrow when council votes on the proposal. Stay tuned. Things are going to get interesting. Well, as interesting as parking gets, at least.

• In other politics news, County Administrator Christian Sigman might be pulled away from development decisions on the county level after he sent a letter to City Manager Harry Black asking whether the city needs to find a new developer for The Banks riverfront project. County Commissioners will vote tomorrow whether to strip Sigman of development duties. Commissioners say Sigman misrepresented the county in the letter to Black by suggesting the county might replace Banks developers Carter and Dawson due to delays in securing a major hotel at the development. That’s not the case, Commissioner Todd Portune says. Sigman looks to remain administrator and still oversee other departments even if the board votes to remove him from development issues.

• I was just thinking that Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld doesn’t seem busy enough. He’s only running as an underdog in a tough primary race for U.S. Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland in addition to his council job. But he also had a decidedly non-policy proposal for 2016, and now, he also has a wedding to plan. Sittenfeld proposed to his now-fiancee Sarah Coyne yesterday evening in Washington Park. All jokes aside, that’s really sweet. Congrats!

• This is cool. If you want to try to support minority-owned businesses in the city, well, now there’s an app for that. Jooku, created by University of Cincinnati grads, will help you find local businesses, including those that are minority owned. Your searches can be customized and you can favorite businesses you like. There’s also a forum to give feedback and leave comments.

• As you know, it’s May 5, which isn’t just the day Americans celebrate Mexican culture (often in embarrassing and inappropriate ways). It’s also an election day, so if you live in one of the municipalities where operating or school levies are up for a vote, go weigh in on that. Lockland, Winton Woods, Northwest Local, Edgewood City Schools and Kings Local all have school levies up. In addition, Arlington Heights, Elmwood Place, Cheviot, Forest Park and Harrison have levies for general operating expenses or fire service. Go vote. Then have your margaritas or however you celebrate. Don’t do it in the opposite order. That leads to poor choices. Or heck, actually, do have a couple margaritas first if it will make you more likely to give more money to schools.

• Speaking of schools: The head of an area school district has resigned after controversy about his use of power. Last week there was some hubbub around Forest Hills Superintendent Dallas Jackson, who axed a test his son didn’t do very well on. Jackson said that a lot of other students also failed the test and that the high failure rate made them invalid. But more than 20 teachers at Turpin High School, where Jackson’s son attends, disagreed. They fired off a letter to the school board accusing Jackson of wrongdoing. The school board hired an investigator to look into the matter, and yesterday Jackson announced his resignation.

• One more school quick-hit: Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan has responded to protests and criticism from students and parents over the removal of School for Creative and Performing Arts Artistic Director Isadore Rudnick. Ronan says the move is the best thing for SCPA and that the decision wasn’t made lightly. The district announced Friday that Rudnick and Principal Steve Brokamp will both be reassigned from their current positions. Read more about that in this Cincinnati Business Courier story.

• Finally, there are even more official GOP contenders for the 2016 presidential race! Great! Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee officially threw his hat into the ring today. Former Hewlett Packard exec Carly Fiorina did as well. That makes six official contenders in the Republican primary — U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and neurosurgeon Ben Carson round out the list. Well, there’s also Rick Santorum, but does anyone seriously think he has a shot? Probably not. Plus, some of the heavy hitters, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are still waiting in the wings. Phew. It’s getting crowded in hur. What does that mean for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has also been making moves like he's gonna run? It means if he doesn’t get his poll numbers up, he could be shut out of the first primary debate, hosted, ironically enough, in his own state. Sad trombone sound.

And I'm out. Tweet or email your news tips or hints on where to find a really rad used cyclocross bike. It's bike month after all and I feel like upgrading my whip.

by Nick Swartsell 05.04.2015
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Music Hall renovation effort gets $12 million boost; SCPA admins reassigned, students protest; Hamilton County's income mobility problem

Hey all! Hope your weekend was grand and you did something fun to kick off bike month if you’re into that kind of thing. I am, and I spent some of my weekend biking — for a news story. You’ll find out more about that Wednesday though.

Anyway, here’s what’s up in the news. After a $10 million donation by American Financial Group and Edyth Linder, wife of AFG founder Carl Linder Jr., Music Hall is just $10 million short of the $125 million required for much-needed renovations. The historic Cincinnati landmark, built in 1878, hasn’t seen major work in 40 years and needs interior updates to its acoustics and seating, among other work. Also helping get closer to the goal, businessman Harry Fath and his wife Linda have pledged to boost their donation toward the renovation project from $2 million to $4 million. That’s all huge news for the building, which was cut last summer from a proposed sales tax increase that is currently funding renovation work on Union Terminal in the West End.

• Two top administrators at the School for Creative and Performing Arts will be leaving their posts, Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan announced Friday afternoon. Principal Steve Brokamp and Artistic Director Dr. Isadore Rudnick are both being reassigned at the direction of an oversight board for the school. The move comes as CPS searches for an executive director for the magnet school, a hire suggested by an outside consultancy group brought in to assess the school’s management. Students aren’t happy that Rudnick is leaving, protesting outside the building on Central Parkway today and taking to social media with the hashtag #reinstaterudnick.

• As Cincinnati gets more attention from national media outlets for the new restaurants, bars and other attractions springing up downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, more folks have visited our fair city. Specifically, and astounding 24 million folks visited the Queen City in 2013, spending $4.4 billion, according to a new study released by regional tourism groups The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, meetNKY and the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network. That’s a boost of 4 percent per year since 2009. All that money put nearly half a billion dollars into the coffers of the state of Ohio and local governments.

• Here’s a pretty incredible New York Times breakdown of social mobility by county. The interactive map is built on a study by Harvard economists that looks at social mobility in terms of how much income a child will make by age 26 as a function of what county they grow up in. The more likely a low-income child in an area is to add to their household income as they grow up, the more income mobility that area offers. The results: Hamilton County is worse than roughly 75 percent of counties in the United States.

Poor children in Hamilton County can statistically expect to lose $810 from their household income. That’s not evenly distributed, though: Poor males will actually do better over time to the tune of $700, while poor females will do much, much worse — statistically, they can expect to be down almost $2,700 by age 26. Nearby Warren County, however, is much different. There, children can expect to see their household incomes rise by $2,500 by the time they’re 26, and that rise is nearly equal among males and females. The study uses reams of data for every county across the country to paint a big picture of what income mobility looks like in America. The New York Times story is especially neat because not only does it map every county, but it will anticipate, based on your location, which county you’re interested in seeing. When I pulled up the story, it already knew to go straight to Hamilton County. Impressive.

• Finally, the ranks of Republicans officially running for president swelled today as Dr. Ben Carson announced his candidacy. Carson, a renowned and history-making neurosurgeon, has become something of a conservative celebrity in recent years and has garnered millions in funds for his campaign already. Much has been made of the fact that Carson is African American. Conservatives, including Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou, have touted Carson’s campaign as a sign that the GOP is a diverse and accepting party despite "stereotypes" to the contrary. Despite the fanfare, however, many Republicans including Carson himself acknowledge he’s a long-shot. He has little political experience and polls show him trailing other contenders such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. A particular Carson weakness: his tendency to say pretty inflammatory things, including claiming that legalized same-sex marriage will lead to legalized bestiality and calling Obamacare the worst thing to happen in America since slavery. Youch.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email news tips and/or your favorite summer bike routes. I can’t wait to get out and ride some more.

by Nick Swartsell 05.01.2015
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Freddie Gray death ruled homicide; Ohio state officials' $9 million planes have wine bottle chillers; Larry Flynt makes his presidential endorsement

Good morning y’all. Like yesterday, I’m once again groggy this morning, but for different reasons that have everything to do with the news. So let’s talk about that.

Last night a group of about 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse to protest inequities in the nation’s justice system and to express solidarity with Baltimore, where civil unrest has broken out after the April 18 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died from injuries he sustained while in police custody. The rally and subsequent march through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, which drew more than 100, were peaceful and lasted about four hours. No one was arrested, though there were a few tense moments as protesters tried to enter a highway on-ramp and the Horseshoe Casino. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell was present at the protest last night, and this morning appeared on CNN touting the city’s protest response protocols, which have been adopted by the U.S. Justice Department as an example of how police should respond to such rallies.

Update: Gray's death has been ruled a homicide and the six Baltimore police officers involved will be charged. Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, will be charged with second-degree murder, Baltimore State Attorney Marylin Mosby announced today. Other officers involved in Gray's arrest will face lesser charges.

“I heard your call for 'No justice, no peace,' ” Mosby said at a news conference. “Your peace is severely needed as I work to deliver justice for this young man.”

• Drug overdose deaths in Ohio have hit record numbers, according to a report released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Health. In 2013, 2,210 people died of overdoses in the state, a 10 percent increase in a year. It’s especially grim here in the Greater Cincinnati area: About 440, or 20 percent, of those deaths happened in Southwestern Ohio’s Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties. Here in Hamilton County, deaths have increased 30 percent since last year, according to the report. More than 40 percent of those deaths statewide were caused by heroin overdoses, by far the biggest single cause of drug overdoses in the state. Heroin overdose deaths have spike sharply in the last four years, overtaking cocaine overdoses in 2012 as the leading cause of overdose death.

• Yesterday I told you about how the Cincinnati Enquirer swapped out a headline on a news article about a murder in OTR while taking criticism for its handling of that story. Several high-profile Cincinnatians have since called out the Enquirer for coverage they call sensationalist. You can read more about that, and CityBeat editor Danny Cross’ analysis, here.

• We all have needs. I maybe need to get around to buying a car eventually. Cincinnati needs better public transit. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other top officials need $9.6 million worth of small aircraft to hop around the state in. The state has purchased two Beechcraft airplanes for officials to use on state business. State officials say the planes are needed replacements for older aircraft with rising maintenance costs. One of the shiny new planes holds nine passengers, the other six, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they do have all the necessary modern avionics equipment on board, including an entertainment center and the oh-so-vital wine bottle chillers because god knows you can’t drink room-temperature white wine while you’re floating somewhere above Youngstown on official state business.

• Speaking of Kasich, his profile is rising as he continues to kinda sorta run for president. I read this pretty long Atlantic article about him yesterday. The piece literally calls him a jerk and make him sound a little like he has attention deficit disorder. But the in-depth Atlantic piece also talks about his strengths, including his energy and his sometimes-gruff but sometimes-endearing plainspoken ways. Some other magazines and national publications have taken a closer look at Kasich over the past week or so, including conservative mag the National Review, which thinks his bid is a no-go. I’d tell you more about their article, but talking about the National Review makes my soul hurt so let’s just stop there, shall we?

• Speaking of the 2016 presidential race, Cincinnati’s uh, favorite (?) son Larry Flynt has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Good thing for Clinton? Bad thing for Clinton? Unclear. Flynt says he’s mostly behind Clinton because she has the best chance of winning and she’ll be able to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices, bringing the nation’s highest court under a decidedly liberal sway. Flynt was an ardent supporter of Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. He doesn’t have any illusions that Hillary is about to take him on the campaign trail with her, though.

“I’m sure that Hillary doesn’t necessarily approve of everything I do,” he told Bloomberg Politics.

by Nick Swartsell 04.30.2015
Posted In: News at 09:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rally in Solidarity with Baltimore Draws Hundreds

Activists gathered peacefully to protest racial inequities in justice system

More than 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today to protest racial disparities in the justice system and express solidarity with Baltimore. More than a week of unrest has gripped that city after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in police custody there April 18. Gray sustained severe spinal injuries while riding in a police van, slipped into a coma and died from his injuries.

The Cincinnati rally was the latest of several that have taken place downtown in the last year after the  shooting death of unarmed teen Mike Brown by white officer Darren Wilson brought national attention to the issue of racially-charged police-involved deaths. 

After the rally, a crowd of more than 100 marched down Central Parkway, through Over-the-Rhine, and to the Cincinnati Police Department District 1 headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive.  From there, a smaller group of about 40 took a zig-zagging route past City Hall and Fountain Square. That group had a couple tense standoffs with police at the eastern end of Fifth Street near a highway onramp and in front of the Horseshoe Casino. All told, the protest lasted about four hours, winding down about 10 pm.

The protests were peaceful and did not result in any arrests, police said, though one protester was briefly detained on Vine Street and issued a citation for jaywalking. 

Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

Police speak to activists on Vine Street at an April 30 rally protesting inequities in the justice system
Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati organized the rally. Among attendees were long-time activist Iris Roley, who was a key participant in forging Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement which arose from civil unrest here14 years ago. That unrest was sparked by the 2001 shooting death of unarmed black man Timothy Thomas, the 16th person of color shot by Cincinnati Police over the course of a few years. Also in attendance were State Senator Cecil Thomas, police officer and Over-the-Rhine transit activist Derek Bauman, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell and others active in the community.

Black Lives Matter Cincinnati activist Rashida Manuel speaks to the crowd at an April 30 rally
Nick Swartsell

Many attendees said they were concerned about wider disparities in the justice system beyond police actions.

“They are stealing our people off the streets. 2 million black people are in prison and no one is talking about it,” said rally attendee Alexander Shelton. Shelton, and many others, decried socioeconomic conditions that have led to higher rates of arrest, incarceration and wrongful conviction for people of color, including lack of educational and employment opportunities, the isolation of black urban neighborhoods and the stereotyping of black males as dangerous "thugs."

Shelton also called for an awareness of other struggles, including those in the LGBT and workers' rights communities. Several who took the bullhorn in front of the courthouse echoed that sentiment.

Many also came simply to honor the lives of people of color.

“We’re to remember,” said co-organizer Rashida Manuel. “We’re here to remember Freddie Gray. We’re here to remember Maya Hall, the black trans woman who was killed in Baltimore last month. We’re here to remember Mike Brown, we’re here to remember John Crawford, and so many others I can’t possibly name. We’re here to remember Timothy Thomas. We’re here because we’re tired.”

John Crawford III was shot two days before Brown in Beavercreek. His father, John Crawford Jr., attended the rally and spoke briefly to the crowd.
Nick Swartsell

This post has been corrected from an earlier version that misstated Freddie Gray's age.
by Nick Swartsell 04.29.2015
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Local rally to be held in solidarity with Baltimore; SCOTUS judges somewhat inscrutable on same-sex marriage; Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for Dem. presidential nomination

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening today.

Activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter tomorrow will hold an event in solidarity with Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody April 19, and those protesting his death. The group says it will meet at 6 p.m. outside the Hamilton County Courthouse. More than 400 people have signed up on a Facebook event set up by the group.

“We will stand in solidarity with the women and men of Baltimore who have decided to protest the defacto execution of Freddie Gray,” the group says on the event page.

Law enforcement authorities say they’re aware of the planned event and will plan accordingly. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has said the department will work to allow peaceful, lawful demonstration, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the department is striving to work with peaceful demonstrators. 

Protests broke out in Baltimore after Gray died of an apparent spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. You can follow news from Baltimore at fellow alt-weekly the Baltimore City Paper's website. They're doing crazy good work.

Most of those protests have been peaceful, but a few have spilled over into violence, and the governor of Maryland had called in the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies. The Butler County Sheriff, for instance, has sent a six-person SWAT unit to Baltimore. The unrest in Baltimore is the continuation of a national debate over treatment of blacks at the hands of mostly-white police forces across the country sparked by the police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last summer. Meanwhile, tensions in other cities, including Cleveland, continue to simmer.

• The former Deer Park country club bartender who is charged with making threats against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s life pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court. Michael Hoyt was arrested after sending an e-mail to Boehner’s wife saying that he could have slipped something into the Republican’s drink on any number of occasions, but didn’t. When authorities arrested him, he told them he was Jesus and that Boehner was “evil” and needed to be killed. Hoyt has a history of mental illness, which his defense attorney says explains his actions. The U.S. District Court recently found Hoyt mentally competent to stand trial.

• Are fancy-schmancy glass bottles and frosted beer mugs not your style? There’s a new beer festival coming to Cincinnati this summer that might be more your speed. Washington Park will host the Cincinnati CANival, which, as you might surmise from the name, will celebrate the city’s best beers sold in convenient, portable aluminum cylinders. The festival is being organized by the same folks who bring you the Cincinnati Winter and Summer Beerfests, and will feature more than 125 varieties of beer. Tickets go on sale Friday.

• The big news for Cincinnati and the rest of the country, of course, is yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Obergefell v. Hodges, a combination of past cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee on the legality of states’ same-sex marriage bans. So … how did it all go? Will the court force Ohio to, you know, step into the 21st Century? Well, first, it’s a bit of fool’s errand to try and divine how the court will rule based on the questions they asked at the two-hour plus hearing. We won’t know for sure until the court actually rules on the case, which could happen as late as June. But, it’s interested to parse what was said in that hearing, and, as you might expect, the court’s nine justices were split along ideological lines in terms of their questions and apparent leanings. The court is currently pretty evenly weighted, with a couple justices who are reliably liberal in a way that almost assures they’ll side with same-sex marriage advocates and a couple who are so conservative they’ll almost certainly side against. Take Justice Antonin Scalia, for instance, who let loose with this pretty tasteless joke during the arguments. If anyone is a deciding vote, though, it’s Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate justice in most matters. Kennedy has written majority decisions in past court victories for same-sex marriage advocates, but he also struck a skeptical tone with his questions this time around.

 “This definition [of traditional marriage] has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said during a question to attorneys for the plaintiffs. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ”

But later, Kennedy also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the dignity of same-sex couples. Other justices also hemmed and hawed in their questioning, so, you know, it’s hard to divine what the court will do. There was a lot more to the arguments, and the justice’s questions. This great rundown in the Washington Post is worth a look-through if you’re curious to untangle all the legal wrangling. For a more light-hearted view of the proceedings, this Politico piece is pretty hilarious.

• In other national news, the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential election is about to get more interesting. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will announce Thursday that he’s planning on seeking the party’s nomination, according to the New York Times, challenging Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Sanders isn’t really part of the Democratic Party, though he does meet with them and vote with them most of the time in the Senate. He’s an avowed socialist and looks to shore up support from the Democratic Party’s left flank, perhaps capitalizing on demand for a more liberal alternative to Clinton.

by Nick Swartsell 04.28.2015
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy State Pres supports weed legalization; SCOTUS hears same-sex marriage cases; unrest in Baltimore

Good morning y’all. Here’s the news today. There are a ton of things happening, so I’m just going to give you a brief rundown of them all.

A controversial Ohio marijuana legalization effort has a new booster. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Dr. O’dell Owens announced yesterday that he supports a ballot initiative by ResponsibleOhio that would create 10 state-sanctioned marijuana grow sites owned by the group’s investors and legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. Could future Cincinnati State students study marijuana agriculture? Could be.

“ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization amendment will allow thousands of Ohioans to own and operate their own businesses and will create over 10,000 new jobs for Ohioans,” said Owens in a statement. “It will encourage new training programs at our state’s community colleges, which already play a vital role in developing talent for emerging industries.”

ResponsibleOhio says that Owens is not an investor in the $20 million effort, which will need to gain 300,000 signatures by this summer to get the proposed law on the November ballot.

• Does Cincinnati need more police on the streets? That’s what the city’s police union says. Police Union President Kathy Harrell told Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday that the group would like to see 134 more officers join the 1,001 currently serving. Harrell says the department frequently experiences “Code Zeroes,” or situations in which no officer is immediately available to respond to a call. Harrell said some of the problem lies with the fact that nearly 300 officers are currently assigned to special units. Those units do good work, she said, but pull police away from general duties like responding to calls. City Manager Harry Black has said he will be adding money for more new recruits in next year’s budget. One question that comes up from this: If crime is at historic lows and Mayor John Cranley touts the fact that he’s added police, how many officers specifically do we need? Cincinnati’s police force is currently proportional to other comparable cities. Before Cranley’s boost, the city already had 3.3 officers per 1,000 people, which is the same as cities like Pittsburgh and higher than cities like Columbus.

• Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate hopeful P.G. Sittenfeld hasn’t raised nearly as much money since former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland entered the race to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Their story asks if Strickland’s entrance into the race has slowed Sittenfeld’s campaign fundraising. Sittenfeld’s campaign says that’s not the case and that it has had some of its best fundraising days recently. The 30-year-old councilman was raising $10,000 a day starting in January, but after Strickland announced his candidacy that rate fell by half. Sittenfeld still bested Strickland in fundraising, netting more than $750,000 to Strickland’s $670,000 in the last fundraising reporting period. Despite that slim and perhaps receding  monetary edge, Sittenfeld is a big underdog in the race against Strickland, who has statewide name recognition and endorsements from Democratic bigwigs.

• One of the big arguments against shuttering poorly performing schools in Ohio, including controversial charter schools, is that doing so disrupts students’ education and cuts into their academic performance. But that’s not true, according to a study released today by think tank and charter school sponsors the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The institute, with the help of researchers from the Ohio State University and the University of Oklahoma, looked at 198 school closures across the state of Ohio from 2006 to 2012. What they found was that students at those schools actually performed far better when the moved on to other schools after their poorly performing charter and public schools shut down.

“The results of this study shatter popular myth that closing schools hurts kids academically,” said Fordham’s Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill in a statement. “Students usually make a soft landing. After closure, children typically end up in higher-quality schools, and they make strong academic progress.”

• Today is the day. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in what is potentially the biggest same-sex marriage case in history. Their decision could decide whether states are allowed to ban same-sex marriages and whether they can refuse to recognize such marriage performed in other states. The case features several plaintiffs from Cincinnati, as well as others from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. Amazingly, folks who want to witness the arguments started lining up as early as last Friday outside the Supreme Court. A ruling in favor of marriage equality seems likely, given that the Supreme Court has already struck down a federal same-sex marriage ban. Even opponents of such marriages are expecting a ruling in favor of marriage equality, both here in Cincinnati and nationally.

• The other big national story is the unrest in Baltimore over the past couple days in response to the police-related death of Freddie Gray. Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed the streets of the city decrying the unarmed 28-year-old’s death while in police custody. Gray, a black man, was arrested two weeks ago by Baltimore police and dragged to a police van. At some point before he arrived at the police station, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He slipped into a coma and subsequently died. Unrest around his death has often been peaceful but at times has lapsed into violence — more than a dozen fires have been reported in the city, a number of police have been injured by rocks and other thrown items and some vandalism and looting have occurred. Fans at a Baltimore Orioles game Sunday night were kept in the stadium for a time as protests intensified around the stadium. Despite this, Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer John P. Angelos sided with the protesters who were peaceful, making some very cogent points during a Twitter argument with a sportscaster who criticized the protests. You can read his tweets here.

Angelos tied the unrest to the deep economic and racial divisions in Baltimore. The mostly black population where the riots broke out suffers from a 19-percent unemployment rate. The city’s black population suffers an infant mortality rate nine times that of its white population. These systemic conditions, folks like Angelos say, along with the unequal treatment of blacks in the justice system, are reasons why police killings of unarmed black men continue to elicit such anger in places like Baltimore, New York City, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere. As we explored in a feature last month on Cincinnati and police shootings, it will very likely take more than police reform to heal those wounds.

by Nick Swartsell 04.27.2015
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ac2_7-30_shakespeare in washington park - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company copy

Morning News and Stuff

Are funding cuts at JFS putting kids in danger?; Washington Park to get huge porch; epic Gannett video fail

Hey all. Looks like a good number of folks out there have read our big feature on a group of refugees struggling and building community in the often-forgotten Millvale and North Fairmount area. If you haven’t gone and checked it out, you should. The folks we talked to for this story are brave, kind and all-around amazing. Their stories are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring — they’ve survived gunshot wounds, break-ins and many other hardships since arriving here looking for the American dream. That all sounds grim, but I promise there are some incredible bright spots as well. Please: Fead and pass along this story so more people are aware of their struggles and they can get help.

On to the news. A report from the Cincinnati Enquirer today asks if Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services is critically underfunded. Three recent fatal cases of child abuse occurred under the department’s watch. JFS has suffered a 1- percent decrease in its budget over the past 10 years. That means fewer caseworkers with fewer resources to help kids in poverty and dangerous parenting situations. The department says the blame rests with the parents of the children who died this year, but JFS’ shrinking staff (they’ve lost 39 percent of their workers in the last decade) isn’t helping the agency do its job keeping kids safe. Declining federal dollars to the department, as well as the fact Ohio spends the least of any state on child welfare, have contributed to the declining funding for JFS.

• 3CDC’s website was hacked over the weekend by a group expressing solidarity with Islamic militant group ISIS. A number of sites controlled by 3CDC were hacked Saturday night to read “I am Muslim and I love jihad. I love isis.” The sites were taken down within a couple hours of the attack and stayed down most of Sunday. It’s not the first time a local organization’s website has been hacked to bear a similar message. Last month, websites for Montgomery Inn and Moerlein Lager House were also hacked by someone claiming to represent ISIS.

• As a decisive Supreme Court case over same-sex marriage involving Cincinnatians looms, how do local religious groups stand when it comes to the issue? It’s an important question with a fairly predictable answer. Most of your more conservative religious organizations around the Cincinnati area, including a number of Catholic and Baptist churches, are against it. Some Jewish synagogues support it, some don’t. The most interesting part is that a  few churches seem to be breaking with tradition and coming out for marriage equality. Anyway, read more about the divide among faith groups here.

• Porch-less Cincinnatians can rejoice, because Washington Park is about to get a $400,000 deck for you sit on and tan yourself this summer. Well, at least when it’s not being rented for private events (hmm lame). The deck will have food and beverage vendors and chairs that are much comfier than the benches all around the park. The Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation, which led a multi-million renovation of the park in 2011, will build the deck.

• In other park news, University of Cincinnati Urban Planning students have come up with a number of prospective visions for the future of Burnet Woods, my favorite place in Cincinnati (well, it’s in the top five at least). The results are pretty interesting. My favorite project, and one that the Business Courier spends a good deal of time on, is a proposed land bridge between the Woods and UC. I used to walk from Clifton to UC through the park every day, and I would have paid a significant toll to use that land bridge. Most of these projects are probably too expensive or wild to see the light of day in their current form, but hopefully the ideas will spark conversation about how to make the park better.

• As mentioned above, tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in what may be the biggest case in the history of the struggle for marriage equality. Here’s a great New York Times story about how lawyers on both sides of the argument are preparing for the showdown and what’s at stake. Marriage equality advocates hope for a big win: that is, a ruling that overturns states’ bans on gay marriages entirely, effectively making same-sex marriage legal across the country. But there is a possibility that SCOTUS will hand activists a more incremental victory, ruling that states like Ohio have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states but don’t have to make the practice legal themselves. Attorneys representing Ohio and other states, on the other hand, hope that the court upholds the decision of the Federal Sixth Circuit Court and rules that voters, not judges, should decide who is allowed to marry whom. That result seems unlikely, since a number of other circuit courts have decided otherwise and since SCOTUS overturned a federal gay marriage ban. Either way, it seems like the arguments, and the court’s expected June decision, will be historic.


• Oh boy. The above ad(?)/celebration of all things Gannett, which owns USA Today, the Cincinnati Enquirer and about 80 other daily papers across the country, ran last week during a company-wide "town hall" to announce structural changes. The video features Gannett execs lip-synching a song that admonishes folks that "everything is awesome when you're part of the team." That's a bit ironic considering Gannett made many of its employees re-apply for their jobs over the last number of months. I'm just going to stop talking and let you watch it. It's incredible.

• Finally, today is the funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man arrested by Baltimore police two weeks ago for running away from officers. Video shows Gray screaming as police dragged him to a van. Gray received a severe spinal cord injury while in the police van and subsequently died from that injury. His death has sparked large and ongoing protests in Baltimore, an echo of similar protests over police-related deaths in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere around the country. Officials say they are investigating Gray’s death.