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by Nick Swartsell 07.07.2015 90 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

CPD officers charged with cover-up; Cincy number one for recreation; OH pot farms would be unionized, legalization effort says

Hey all, here’s the news today.

Two Cincinnati police officers face charges of covering up a car wreck involving fellow officer Sgt. Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell crashed his car March 22 on West McMicken Ave. According to dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice charges filed in Hamilton County Municipal Court, officers Jason Cotterman and Richard Sulfsted acted to remove Mitchell from the scene and hide his involvement from investigators after that accident. Mitchell now faces criminal charges, including reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

• It’s too early to tell if an attack that took place on Fountain Square July 4 was racially motivated, police said during a news conference yesterday. The incident took place during a period of unrest in which a crowd at a post-fireworks concert allegedly threw bottles and fireworks at officers, resulting in increased police presence including officers in riot gear. Just after that confrontation nearby, a man was beaten by a group of teens and young adults. Originally, responding officer Alicia Essert indicated the assault on Christopher McKnight, a white man from Albany, Indiana, was a hate crime. McKnight suffered a broken nose, facial lacerations and other minor injuries after an altercation with a group of teens and young adults. Essert reported the incident as “anti-white” because the teens were black, Cincinnati Police Capt. Mike Neville told reporters yesterday. He says that’s an incorrect assertion, and that officials are working to investigate what happened before calling the incident a hate crime.

• Let’s talk a little bit more about Transdev, the company tapped to run the Cincinnati streetcar. The private French transit operator has its U.S. offices in Chicago and employs about 18,000 people here. It runs four other rail projects around the country. Transdev only runs one other streetcar project, however — the nation’s largest in New Orleans. The company has overseen ridership increases on that transit project and even an expansion of its route, something streetcar boosters looking to take the trolley uptown will find encouraging. Here in Cincinnati, Transdev will be on the hook for any cost overruns the $4 million a year project incurs, since the contract currently being negotiated between the company and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is a fixed-cost deal.

* Cincinnati is the best city in the country for recreation, according to personal finance website Wallethub. Researchers there took into account climate, recreational costs, quality of parks and the number of recreational facilities in 100 cities to arrive at its rankings. Cincy ranked high in most categories, though it took a big hit in climate — we're 58. Big shocker there. But otherwise, we shine when it comes to our parks and other recreational opportunities. Cincy has the third-most music venues per capita, for instance, and ranked number one in overall number of entertainment and recreational opportunities. Pretty cool.

• The three potential marijuana farms in Southwestern Ohio proposed by weed-legalization effort RepsonsibleOhio would be staffed by union workers, owners of those farms said yesterday. Former Cincinnati Bengal and current Arizona Cardinal Frostee Rucker, one of those owners, promised that the farms would protect workers’ rights at a news conference yesterday. Rucker and other owners signed an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers union at that event. Owners of three potential marijuana farms in central Ohio have signed a similar agreement. The group, which is looking to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot, is proposing legalizing marijuana for anyone 21 and up, and making vending licenses available similar to liquor licenses. However, commercial growth of marijuana would be limited to 10 farms across the state owned by investors in the initiative. That’s caused cries of monopoly from a diverse array of critics spanning conservative state lawmakers and officials to other legalization groups.

• Attorneys for six Baltimore police officers charged in the police custody death of Freddy Gray are asking courts to move their trials, arguing that it’s impossible for the officers to get a fair trial in Baltimore. Gray died after sustaining severe spinal cord injuries in the back of a police van in April. After his death, large-scale civil unrest broke out in Baltimore and protests sprung up around the country. Because of the continued tension in the city, attorneys for the officers say it isn’t possible to assemble an unbiased jury pool in time for their October trials. Officers face various charges of murder, manslaughter and other lesser crimes.

by Nick Swartsell 07.06.2015 91 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA votes on streetcar contract; unrest downtown; map of rental affordability crisis

Good morning y’all. I hope your holiday weekend was as crazy as mine in all the good ways a weekend can be crazy without being crazy in all the bad ways a weekend can be. One BAD way your July 4 extravaganza can be crazy is when you have to wrestle a strange naked man off your porch. Yes, that happened to me this weekend. Our country really needs better mental health care systems. But enough about that. Let’s get right to the news thing.

Just a bit ago, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board voted to award the Cincinnati streetcar operating contract to Transdev, a Chicago-based company that submitted the winning turnkey bid to run and staff the project. That bid, which came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, proposed using non-union employees instead of SORTA personnel. Another bid utilizing unionized folks came in at $4.7 million, which was over the city’s $4.2 million budget for the project.

SORTA is making the decision because Cincinnati City Council could not come to agreement about who should operate the streetcar due to the price difference. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents SORTA’s employees, tried unsuccessfully to convince Hamilton County courts to make council decide which bid should be selected, but a judge rejected their suit. Council’s five Democrats are pro-union, as is Mayor John Cranley. Cranley offered an extra $2 million toward the project if the union contract was selected, but some Democrats on council said they were worried that amount wasn’t enough to keep the project running at full capacity. Councilman Wendell Young voted against the union bid, citing those concerns and depriving the Dems of the fifth vote they needed to approve that bid.

• Here’s some more bad July 4 crazy. There was a rash of unrest on Fountain Square Saturday night as revelry turned into some fights. Cincinnati Police were called in and a group of 50 or more in the crowd became even more agitated, police say, throwing bottles and fireworks at officers. That in turn led to more police presence, this time in riot gear. Two officers were injured during the confrontation. Seven people were arrested. One person was hospitalized after he was beaten badly by a group of young men. It is unclear what connection, if any, the man had to the fights occurring in the area. Police are investigating that incident. Meanwhile, the biggest question local media can muster about the violence appears only to be what this means for next week’s MLB All-Star Game. Awesome.

• Where the ladies at? In the Cincinnati startup world, I mean. Women aren’t nearly as well-represented in the tech and startup industries here, despite being, you know, half the population. Business incubator The Brandery, for instance, had no females in its 2014 class, a problem the organization is looking to remedy for upcoming years, according to this story. It’s not just a problem for Cincinnati, of course — the world of entrepreneurs is famously male-centric. But there are some local efforts happening to change that here.

• Things are going to get interesting in Hamilton County in 2016, and not just because of the presidential election. There’s a big showdown brewing for a couple county commissioner seats. Both Democrat Todd Portune and Republican Greg Hartmann are up for re-election, and both could have some serious challengers.

Let’s zoom in on what’s likely to be the more interesting of the two races: State Rep. Denise Driehaus has signaled she’s carefully considering a run against Hartmann, who angered some voters with last year’s icon tax decision cutting renovations for landmark Music Hall out of a sales tax increase on last year’s ballot. Driehaus looks like she’ll be a strong candidate, but Hartmann has plenty of support, especially from the Hamilton County GOP and right wingers like anti-tax group COAST. He also has some donors with deep pockets. Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou has been touting a recent fundraising event for Hartmann that raked in $250,000 in a single night. That’s big bucks. County Dems, though, say Driehaus won’t need that much cash to topple Hartmann, who will be fighting the tides of demographic change in the county. Republican electorate here has been eroded in recent years, with a younger, more diverse and generally Democratic-leaning population trickling into Hamilton County as Republican voters head out to the ‘burbs.

• More bad July 4 crazy. Someone vandalized Serpent Mound, the ancient Native American burial site in Adams County. It appears someone basically took a big ole truck and did some donuts on the mound. Officials with the historic site say it will take extensive work to restore the damage. The mound is internationally recognized for its historic and cultural importance.

• Finally, I feel like I link you, my dear readers, to a map at least once a week. I hope they’re as interesting to you as they are to me. This one is pretty insane, I think. It’s been put together by the Urban Institute and technically shows rental affordability in every county in the U.S. compared to the national average. The bigger picture? It shows the country’s steadily-intensifying affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income renters. Even though we have relatively low rents here in Cincy (unless you’re trying to move to Over-the-Rhine, am I right?), that crisis has hit home. In Hamilton County last year, there were 34 affordable units for every 100 low-income families. That’s better than the national average of 28 units per 100 families, but it’s still striking. Even more striking is how much worse that would be without various types of government rental assistance: Hamilton County would only have 10 units of affordable housing for every 100 families that needs them in the market without those subsidies. Yowza.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. But for god's sake if you come to hang out on my porch keep your clothes on.

by Sarah Urmston 07.02.2015 95 days ago
Posted In: Playlist at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Your Weekend Playlist: America!

There’s a lot to celebrate this year, folks. After Supreme Court officially legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the feeling of freedom is especially felt in the LGBTQ community and the rest of those filled with joy for all the love in this ever-changing country. On June 25, history was made. And as July 4 approaches, it’s only acceptable to get a little crazy. We wouldn’t be Americans if we didn’t.

Whatever your plans are, you can’t forget your Fourth of July essentials: fireworks, beer, picnic grub and music. GOOD music. Although our speakers will mostly be filled with the classics by Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty (nothing wrong with that), this doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the contemporary jams we love so much for one day.

Check out and hang out to this modern, Mellencamp-free playlist for your day of kicking back and celebrating all the perks of being a damn proud American.

My Morning Jacket

My favorite band of all time. Be sure to avoid their album Circuital, though. (Too deep/spacey for the Fourth). I went with anything from Z, It Still Moves and Evil Urges, where their experimentation outside of their Rock-meets-Country roots stays at a minimum.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

The collaboration between these two artists seems to work in the best way possible, especially because it perks our buddy Ryan Adams up a bit. Still following through with his Alternative Country vibes, Adams’ voice we all know and love is given a more upbeat tempo to jam along to while you drink your beer in the grass.

Trampled by Turtles

Bluegrass and Folk with a crazy-ass banjo blended with that old violin sound. If Old Crow Medicine Show and Avett Brothers had a baby, this is it. They can go fast, they can go slow. Whatever your preference, it’s all Folk all the time.


As many films as “The Underdog” has been featured in, I still imagine it working in a Sandlot soundtrack. Doesn’t exist, but I can’t help but envision Smalls hitting that Babe Ruth ball when it comes on. If you can wrap your brain around that the same way I do, you’d understand why the rest of Spoon had to be on this playlist. Play ball!

Fleet Foxes

These guys immediately make me want to take off my shoes, run through the grass and jump into a creek. That’s why I can only listen to them in the summer. (Kidding, but you get the idea.) Their Folky, earthy tunes are ideal for the Fourth. Hopefully you’re near a creek!

The Flaming Lips

Ridiculously weird with the best intentions. This holiday can get weird, so embrace it and throw these guys on there. Less Folky than the other stuff, but it still works. I promise.  


People totally underestimate these guys. I saw them live last summer, dancing around stage in their fedoras and denim flannels like the happiest people on the fucking planet. Singing songs about their hometown in South Carolina and this sweet, sweet country we live it — how could you not put these songs on your list? 

Have a great weekend, folks. ‘MURICA.

by Rick Pender 07.02.2015 95 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

'Two Guvs' has a few last laughs; next week look for some brand new work

With the Fourth of July falling on a weekend, most theaters will be dark, and all the hubbub around the All-Star Game means that most of them will wait until the dust settles at Great American Ball Park before they crank things up again. But if you’re jonesing for some good summer theater and you haven’t seen Cincinnati Shakespeare’s hilarious One Man, Two Guvnors, it has performances on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Be forewarned that both are sold out, but if you want to try your luck with the regional premiere of this excellent situation comedy about a hapless guy with two bosses, show up at the theater 719 Race St., Downtown 30 minutes before the performance and ask to join the waiting list. Box Office: 513-381-2273

While you’re waiting for the fireworks on Saturday, you might consider what theater you’ll see over the next week or so. Of particular interest is The 1st Cincinnati One-Minute Play Festival that will be presented at Know Theater at 8 p.m. on July 11 and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on July 12. It’s a collaboration between Know and One-Minute Play Festival (aka #1MPF). In nearly 20 cities #1MPF partners with local companies to present brief works by local writers. They are given a prompt that asks them to consider the world around them, their community and all the ways in which they view and engage with the world, and to write and submit moments that could only happen at this time and in this place. It’s a great chance to check out local talent in the form of brand-new one-minute plays by Linnea Bond, John Bromels, Michael Burnham, Nick Carmine, Kevin Crowley, Bekka Eaton, Kate Fine, Brian Griffin, Mike Hall, Becca Howell, Alan Jozwiak, David Loehr, Robert Macke, Erica MacDonald, Joe McDonough, Eric Pfeffinger, Maggie Lou Rader, Alison Rampa, Brant Russell, Paul Shortt, Stacy Sims, Andy Simpson, Nathan Singer, Jim Stark, Paul Strickland, Trey Tatum, Eileen Tull, Chris Wesselman, Torie Wiggins and Alison Vodnoy Wolf. It’s also a showcase for local directors including Michael Burnham, Ed Cohen, Katie Lupica, Regina Pugh, Brant Russell, Carrington Rowe and Torie Wiggins. Tickets ($20): 513-300-5669. Part of the proceeds will benefit new play development at Know Theatre.

In the mood for more locally generated material? Check out the premiere of Is This Really Happening Right Now? – A Series of Vignettes, developed and presented by Good People Theatre on July 9, 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.. They’re performing at Simple Space, located in Over-the-Rhine at 16 E. 13th St., just a block or so north of Know Theatre. Four original pieces by Mollie J. Amburgey and Will Bonfiglio are about friendships and relationships — one takes place on a blind date, one in a coffee shop, one via Tinder and one in a Laundromat. Tickets $20: http://goodpeopletheatre.ticketleap.com/CincyPremiere

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
by Nick Swartsell 07.02.2015 95 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Macy's dumps Trump; Ohio dumps PARCC test; will the state change the way it draws congressional districts?

What’s up Cincy? No morning news tomorrow so I can chase down sources for a longer piece I’m working on. I’ll also be pre-gaming patriotism in preparation for the Fourth. But let me give you a brief rundown of a few things happening around town and beyond before I go.

Locally-based Macy’s Department Stores dumped the Trump yesterday. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate and long-running punchline Donald Trump said some choice words about immigrants during his campaign announcement, which has inflamed a firestorm of controversy. Trump suggested that folks from Mexico are criminals and etc., etc., all the tired crap you hear from people who no one should be listening to. As a result, Macy’s has announced it will no longer carry Trump’s menswear line, breaking the hearts of I’m sure dozens of Cincinnati-area males who aspire to the Donald’s dizzying levels of douche-baggery. Trump released a statement on Instagram (of course) saying that the split was his idea and that Macy's is only a small portion of the brisk business he does selling ties that look like something a used car salesman would wear to a bachelor party.

• So is this kinda slimy? The vendors who usually sell you your pre-game Reds shirts, foam fingers, socks, underwear, and what-have-you won’t be allowed to do so during the MLB All-Star Game. As a condition of landing the big game, the city had to agree to limit the sale of merchandise between July 8 and July 15 in an area about a mile around the ballpark. Ticket sellers will also be prohibited from selling in the area during the All-Star Game period. Sellers will still be allowed to vend peanuts and water, however, a concession the city was able to wring from MLB. Some vendors aren’t happy about the arrangement, saying it will cut them out of one of the biggest potential money-making events in the city.

• Another state budget note: One of the provisions in the new financial plan has the state of Ohio dropping its relationship with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the company that was administering standardized tests for Ohio schools. The so-called PARCC test rollout, which has been associated with the new federal Common Core educational standards, has been marked by criticism and tech problems. Next year, the Ohio Department of Education will go with another company, the American Institutes for Research, which already develops some public school tests for Ohio. The change won’t affect the state’s implementation of Common Core, state officials say, though lawmakers have called for less overall testing time for students.

• Ever wonder why Ohio works the way it does politically? Here’s a pretty good breakdown of gerrymandering, or the process of redrawing electoral districts for political advantage. The data shows the way in which parties can arrange districts to win more seats than they get votes. Both parties are guilty of the practice, but in Ohio, it’s Republicans who generally benefit. And that benefit has grown over time. In the period between 1982 and 1990, Republican congressional candidates got 49 percent of the popular vote and subsequently occupied 49 percent of Ohio’s seats in Congress. Fast forward to the time between 2012 and now. Republican congressional candidates get about 55 percent of the popular vote in the state, but occupy 75 percent of the state’s available congressional seats. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing citizen panels instead of state lawmakers to draw those districts could mean changes for the way the district-drawing process is handled, putting it in the hands of regular citizens instead of politicians.

• So. You may be wondering what the difference is between a Gov. John Kasich presidential run and the campaign fortunes of say, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both are kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel right now when it comes to polls and shots at winning the GOP nod. But this pretty excellent analysis of the race, and of the positions GOP guvs running for office find themselves in, brings in some good points, showing that Kasich isn’t as badly-positioned as one might imagine compared to a candidate like Christie or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. It’s an interesting look at the politics behind governors running for president, and also kind of a window into how big of a mess the Republican field for the presidential nomination is right now.

That’s it for me! I hope your holiday weekend is great. Tweet at me, e-mail, you know the drill.

by Jac Kern 07.01.2015 95 days ago
at 12:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I Just Can't Get Enough

Jac's roundup of pop culture news and Internet findings

It’s always weird when a celebrity agrees to do a local morning news show, especially when the local channel’s city has nothing to do with the star or whatever they’re promoting (a TV show, movie or product). Morning Show All-Star Tracy Morgan knows how to do the that local live TV circuit right, but most others just leave us wondering, “Why did your manager make you do this?”. Such is the case for Workaholics and Dope star Blake Anderson.

Doesn’t everybody know never to wake Blake up before noon and expect him to conduct a family-friendly interview and not just completely fuck shit up on in live TV? (It's like feeding a Gremlin after midnight!) Fox 19’s Frank Marzullo didn’t. He recently interviewed Blake via satellite, and between having a bagel v. donut debate, Blake dozing off and barely skirting around F-bombs, the segment was cut before they even really got to talk about the movie (which, it bears repeating, has nothing to do with Cincinnati or a Fox morning audience). Blame it on the Golden State Warriors!

Note to NPR: If you’ve got a Kardashian on the program (in this case Kim on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!) snobby nerds will revolt!

Did you hear about the young Florida boys who identified a house fire, called 911 and entered the burning home to rescue two babies? Amazing. Brave. Heroic. But they’re just not as fearless as Tyra Banks, who changed millions of lives recently when she posted a makeup-free, non-filtered photo of herself on Instagram. You so strong, Ty Ty Baby!

Ever want to look up a movie or show by name and find which streaming services have it? Problem solved. Can I Stream.It? lets you search for films and TV shows and tells you if it's available for streaming, digital rental, purchase, etc. and where to find it. The future is now!

Wet Hot American Summer’s Netflix series prequel debuts later this month, and we finally have a trailer!

Sessy math: Chris Pratt + Chris Evans = Chris Hemsworth

Fake documentaries are all the rage right now. OK, there’s like two premiering on TV this summer but it’s definitely worth noticing. First up: Andy Samberg and Kit Harington (dream threeway, right?) star as professional tennis players in the hilarious looking sport mockumentary 7 Days in Hell. Harrington is presumably pretty stoked to star in an HBO feature that’s light and funny not so murdery and full of spoilers (#thenightismurderyandfullofspoilers). Let’s not even speak of that other show he’s on…

Coming up later this summer on IFC is Documentary Now!, a faux music documentary starring Bill Hader and Fred Armisen. Keep it coming, funny dudez.

Thanks to Facebook, you know some of your embarrassing homophobic extended family and former classmates may equate gay pride parades with terrorism, but CNN actually thought they spotted an ISIS flag during New York Pride. But it wasn’t ISIS ... It was dildos. 

It was an epic Pride Week as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states last Friday! Cheers to love, equality and Saturday Night Live for pulling this skit from the archives. Because, face it, we all really might need some Xanax for gay summer weddings.

xanax for Gay summer weddings from MisterB on Vimeo.

by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2015 95 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noon News and Stuff

Drug cops seize $11K from man at local airport; Kasich cuts ed funding, keeps strict abortion regulations in budget; Portman's problems

Hey hey all! Hope your week is going well as we speed toward what I’m sure is going to be an awesome July 4 weekend. Before we get to news, I wanted to welcome our new staff writer and news reporter Natalie Krebs, who starts today. Natalie comes to us after working in the Texas Senate. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Texas and also completed the prestigious News21 program at Arizona State University. She’s done work for great investigative magazine the Texas Observer and other publications, and we’re super-excited to have her here. You’ll be seeing her byline start popping up in the next couple weeks.

On to news. A new report in the Washington Post says that local law enforcement agencies seized more than $11,000 from a young black man at CVG airport last year under federal asset-forfeiture laws. Those laws allow agencies to seize money associated with drug trafficking or other major crimes. Drug Enforcement Agency task force members took the money from Charles Clarke despite the fact that they didn’t find any drugs, guns or other illegal substances on him. Clarke, who smokes marijuana occasionally, reportedly had the smell of the drug on his belongings at the time, which was enough along with his one-way ticket and inability to account for the money’s source for cops to stop him and seize his stuff.

The airport’s police force and the Covington Police Department were the two agencies involved in the seizure, but a total of 11 local agencies want a piece of the money, including the Cincinnati Police Department. That’s due to the way DEA task forces are set up and the way they disperse asset forfeiture money. The agency defends the practice, saying it helps fund vital local law enforcement efforts across the country. The Post’s story is a pretty incredible read and definitely something worth knowing about.

• In lighter-hearted news: Soon, the enormous, 20-story ghost of a 19th century man will visit downtown Cincinnati every night. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to alarm you. The giant specter will be the image of a vintage Cincinnati Red Stockings player, which will be projected onto Carew Tower in the evenings to celebrate the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Festivities around the game will take place July 10-14. The haunting… err, I mean… celebration starts tonight with a ceremony at 9:30 p.m. After that, the display will be up every night at that time until 5 a.m. through July 15.

• On to state stuff. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto power to cut up the state Senate’s budget yesterday, nixing 44 provisions from the financial plan as he signed it into law. Among those provisions, he cut $78 million from public education funding by eliminating a pay-back for schools that once received money from what was called the tangible personal property tax. That tax has since been eliminated, but lawmakers have carved out the reimbursement to assure that schools continue to get adequate levels of funding. Local schools like Princeton and Mason received millions from the TPP funds and have protested their elimination. Kasich and the Ohio Board of Education say they haven’t nailed down which schools will see decreases in funding from the move. Kasich has argued that the TPP money mostly went to schools in high-income areas that could afford to provide more local support and that the money from the program could be better used to support low-income districts. Kasich tried to adjust the state-funding formula in his version of the budget, but that attempt was punted by state legislators.

• Among the things Kasich didn’t veto yesterday: new abortion restrictions slipped into the budget last-minute. You can read all about that situation in this week’s feature news story. Here’s a little preview: Those regulations could threaten Cincinnati’s last clinic that provides abortions.

• One thing the legislature and governor didn’t tackle in the flurry of legislative activity: charter school reform. As we’ve discussed in past articles, there are calls for the reform of Ohio’s charter school system on both sides of the aisle. But it won’t happen just yet. Lawmakers have tabled efforts at reform of the system until September. Lawmakers cite major changes to a controversial bill that would have adjusted the charter system, saying they need more time than the rapidly approaching summer break allows them. Critics of charters say lack of accountability and big issues with use of funds, testing and attendance records show that the charter system in the state needs to be reworked.

• It’s a big day for statewide news. Ahead of today’s deadline, marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio yesterday delivered nearly 700,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted. If enough signatures are valid and the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to green-light the group’s constitutional amendment creating 10 legalized marijuana grow sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio investors. Possession of marijuana would be legal for anyone over 21, and licenses would be issued for sale of the drug. No other commercial growers would be permitted, however, a detail that has created controversy. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced their own ballot proposal that would make it much tougher for such so-called constitutional monopolies to pass. That law would more than likely invalidate ResponsibleOhio’s amendment. Voters will have a strange and potentially confusing choice at the ballots come November.

• Here’s an interesting read on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as he runs for re-election. Portman’s taking a shellacking in the polls right now against his presumed Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Despite being the incumbent in a state with a Republican governor, Portman is down six points to Strickland in two recent polls. Strickland still has to make it through a Democratic primary, where he faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, but he’s opened up a comfortable lead against the young councilman. He’ll also have to contend with Portman’s formidable $8 million campaign war chest, the largest of any GOP Senate candidate seeking 2016 reelection. The above article explores the reasons why Portman is floundering right now in his race — reasons that may be beyond his campaign’s control.

I’m out! Tweet at me about all the fun stuff to do this July 4. Or, you know, email me your boring news tips. I love em.

by Anne Arenstein 07.01.2015 96 days ago
Posted In: Opera at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: Morning Star World Premiere

Cincinnati Opera presented debut performance Tuesday night

Morning Star, the new opera by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist William Hoffman, had its world premiere last night before a near-capacity audience in the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Corbett Theater. Based on a 1940 play by Sylvia Regan, the story follows a Jewish immigrant family in the early decades of the 20th century. Think of it as a follow-up to the Tevye family from Fiddler on the Roof coming to America and having to abandon all that tradition.

Morning Star was originally commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Goodman Theater but was dropped when artistic differences killed the collaboration. In 2012, Opera Fusion: New Works offered Gordon and Hoffman the opportunity to rework Morning Star. The final result is light-years from what was heard in workshops, but to paraphrase a line from the opera, the story abides.

Gordon writes beautifully for the voice and his score has moments of dramatic intensity, playfulness and heartbreaking beauty. He’s a favorite among American singers, so it’s not surprising how great the singing is — but that’s also thanks to Ron Daniel’s staging.

Daniels also guided the shaping of the piece, strengthening the drama and developing characters. But there are still problems with the libretto. Many of Hoffman’s images and lines are poetic but much of the rhymed verses are more distracting than descriptive. But when he nails it, the words and music are a gorgeous synthesis.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire in Manhattan serves as a framing device and a looming presence. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle erupted in flames, killing 146 workers — mostly young immigrant women who were trapped by locked doors, non-functioning elevators and broken fire escapes.

The opera’s prologue is a brilliant evocation of the public viewing of the victims in the factory, which took place during a torrential downpour. Against a background of images from that day, singers clad in raincoats and holding black umbrellas recite accounts of what took place as the music swirls into a collective moan.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire serves as a framing device and a looming presence. In March 1911, the Triangle erupted in flames, killing 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who were trapped by locked doors, non-functioning elevators, and broken fire escapes.

The opera’s prologue is a brilliant evocation of the public viewing of the victims in the factory, which took place during a torrential downpour. Against a background of images from that day, singers clad in raincoats and holding black umbrellas recite accounts of what took place as the music swirls into a collective moan.

Widow Becky Felderman presides over her family of three teenaged daughters and a young son. Like many immigrant families, the Feldermans have a border, Aaron, who happens to come from the same village and is a friend of the family. He also happens to be in love with Becky.

It’s a terrific cast made up of some of the best American voices out there. Jeanine De Bique stole the show as Pearl with a velvety, lyric mezzo that elevated her aria “I See Colors” into a showpiece. Soprano Twyla Robinson’s Becky has a sweetness tempered by determination and she’ll break your heart when she sings “The Family Abides.”  The daughters get powerful performances from Elizabeth Zharoff, Jennifer Zetlan and Elizabeth Pojanowski.

Andrew Bidlack sings the title song with great style. Andrew Lovato is a sensitive and sympathetic Harry Engel, the unhappy husband of Sadie Felderman. Morgan Smith is an amazing baritone and I wish that Aaron’s character had more depth, but Smith makes it his own and it’s worth hearing.

Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design incorporates the Triangle factory and Wendall K. Harrington’s projections are used to great effect, particularly in the prologue and in the final ensemble in which the fire claims its victims.

Is it perfect? No. But it’s got staying power, a score with a lot of memorable music, and this production features voices you should hear. Bravo to Cincinnati Opera and Opera Fusion: New Works for fostering this project.

And damned if I can’t get that song “Morning Star” out of my head.

MORNING STAR continues through July 19 at SCPA’s Corbett Theater. More info: cincinnatiopera.com.

by Ilene Ross 07.01.2015 96 days ago
Posted In: Openings, Food news at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Taste of Belgium Rookwood: Now Open

Everyone's favorite local Belgian bistro expands with a third location

Taste of Belgium, the local Belgian bistro that specializes in great beers and Belgian food with an American twist, opened its third Greater Cincinnati location in the Rookwood Exchange (3825 Edwards Road) — beginning with breakfast today. 

“We are delighted to be a locally owned restaurant in the already great lineup at Rookwood,” says owner and founder Jean-Francois Flechet. 

“The area clearly ‘respects the waffle,' as we’ve been wonderfully received at the Hyde Park Farmers’ Market, and are still there, since we began in 2007,” he adds.

Flechet and the Taste of Belgium team worked with many local artists and companies, including HGC Construction, the drawing dept. architecture firm, Betty Bone Design, Brave Berlin production company and Frameshop, to create a sleek, sophisticated atmosphere that echoes the Over-the-Rhine and Corryville bistros, but like each of those locations, it retains its own identity and still reflects the neighborhood in which it exists. 

Brave Berlin’s projection mapping technology, the same used for LumenoCity, has been scaled down to fit in custom picture frames by Frameshop to provide dynamic, ever-changing artwork for the walls in the general dining area. A private dining room features René Magritte-style artwork. Oversized garage doors to the outdoor patio — the first doors of their kind in the area — will provide a complete open-air dining experience.

“OTR was our first restaurant. We chose it because of the streetcar route," Flechet says. "We love the energy in Corryville and wanted to make an investment in Uptown. And here at Rookwood, we are taking the company to a new level. The décor and attention to detail punctuate that.”

Taste of Belgium Rookwood will be open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, featuring the same menu as its sister locations. It boasts an expanded wine list, 24 taps for draft beers, a private dining room, chef’s table and a large patio for outdoor dining. The kitchen has six waffle irons, four crêpe irons, and is the first Cincinnati restaurant to use P&G’s commercial dish program.

Taste of Belgium is open for:
  • Breakfast: 7-10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday
  • Lunch: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
  • Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday 
  • Brunch: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday  
Reservations are available for early dinner seating only (at 5, 5:30 and 6 p.m.). 3825 Edwards Road, Suite 110, Norwood, 513-396-5800, authenticwaffle.com.  

by Nick Swartsell 06.30.2015 97 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Union to sue SORTA, city; Kasich poised to sign $71 billion Ohio budget; Texas city charges journalists $80,000 for public emails

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on today in Cincinnati.

If you were wondering what all the traffic was about downtown this morning (I was) this probably had something to do with it. The Hamilton County Courthouse was evacuated around 8:20 a.m. due to a suspicious suitcase that was flagged by bomb sniffing dogs there. The perimeter around the courthouse was cleared and a bomb unit and federal anti-terrorism personnel were dispatched to the scene. No word yet on what the item in the suitcase turned out to be.

• Guess what I have for you… it’s… you guessed it. More streetcar drama. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents employees for the Southwest Regional Ohio Transit Authority, has announced it will file a lawsuit against SORTA and the city of Cincinnati to try and prevent them from accepting a bid that wouldn’t use union employees to operate the transit project.

According to the union, Cincinnati City Council must direct SORTA on which bid to select. Some members of Council supported a more expensive pro-union bid that cost $4.7 million to the non-union’s $4 million in the first year of operations, but couldn’t reach an agreement to recommend that bid during voting. The union-friendly contract comes in about $500,000 over budget for the city, which has caused conservatives on council to balk at the option. Democrat Wendell Young also voted against the pro-union deal, sinking it the last time it came before council, because he worried the $2 million from the city’s general fund Mayor John Cranley agreed to use toward the project wouldn’t be enough and that a shortfall would cause reduction in service for the streetcar.

Without an agreement, council punted the decision to SORTA, which says it has no choice but to choose the less-expensive option. The ATU is seeking an injunction in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to force council to make the decision, saying that is what is required under the language of a motion about streetcar operations council passed last year. A separate operations and maintenance agreement between SORTA and the city makes no mention of such a stipulation, however.

• Seven projects in Cincinnati representing more than $61 million in development will receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits, the state announced today. Among those projects is the revamp of the Baldwin building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The historic former piano factory will be converted from office space into market-rate apartments by Cincinnati-based Neyer Properties. Neyer will receive $4.8 million in tax credits on the $39 million project.

• New affordable housing for seniors is coming to Northside. Episcopal Retirement Homes is building the 56-unit, $10 million development at Knowlton and Mad Anthony streets, one of 10 the group is doing in Greater Cincinnati. The Northside development will be LEED certified and handicap accessible. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved tax exemptions on the development yesterday and full council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

• Gov. John Kasich today is expected to sign into law the state’s $71 billion biennial budget drawn up by state lawmakers. Kasich didn’t get a lot of what he wanted in the budget — sweeping tax cuts for businesses and high-earners, taxes on oil and gas fracking, his revamp of the state’s educational funding formula — but the state legislature’s budget is still plenty conservative, ushering in its own big income tax cuts. And Kasich will have a bit of revenge as he vetoes some items in the state house’s budget, though it’s unclear what he will slash with the veto pen.

Abortion advocates hope against hope he’ll cut out some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which conservative lawmakers slid into the budget at the last minute earlier this month. Those include a stipulation that clinics’ partner hospitals must be within 20 miles of the abortion provider and a tweak to the rules over how clinics without agreements with local hospitals are licensed. You can read in-depth about those rule changes and what they mean for Cincinnati and the state in tomorrow’s CityBeat print edition. Kasich is much more likely to veto items that limit his executive authority, including an attempt to close out a method Kasich used to expand Medicaid in the state over lawmakers’ objections. Kasich is ushering in the state’s budget even as he has his eye on bigger things: He’ll announce his run for president in Columbus July 21.

• Finally, this is a story that is probably most interesting to journalists, but here we go anyway. The city of McKinney, Texas, where police officer Eric Casebolt resigned earlier this month after he was shown on video pointing a gun at teenage pool party goers and slamming a teenaged girl to the ground, is charging journalists almost $80,000 for access to public records about Casebolt. Gawker Media has requested all official emails about Casebolt’s 10-year career as well as his personnel file. McKinney officials say that the city’s emails predating 2014 aren’t searchable and that they’ll have to hire a computer programmer to retrieve them, thus the huge expense.