Good morning all. I may be writing this news rundown from my porch at home, enjoying the amazing weather and eating Graeter’s black cherry ice cream for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real, real serious about the news. Let’s do this.
As we reported yesterday, the Obama administration is expected to jump into the fight over early voting in Ohio. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made remarks, released yesterday, indicating that the Justice Department will file with the Ohio ACLU and other civil rights organizations already fighting reductions to early voting in the state. The administration has made voting rights a key issue following last year’s Supreme Court decision that rolled back certain sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
• The head of Cincinnati Metro resigned yesterday, according to a press release by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Metro’s CEO Terry Garcia Crews will step down immediately and will be temporarily replaced by Darryl Haley, who was Metro’s executive director of development. Metro will conduct a national search for her permanent replacement. In the press release, Crews says she’s leaving to focus on her family, including her parents, who live out of town, and to continue her transportation consulting business.
“I have great confidence in the leadership and the team at Metro and community leaders to carry forth the discussion and implementation of expanding public transportation in this community,” Garcia Crews said.
Metro gives about 17 million individual rides each year. Its role looks to grow as transit needs in the city expand and the streetcar comes online next year.
• There was some drama in Over-the-Rhine last night, though the actual situation was not quite as intense as initial reports made it out to be. Police entered a building at 13th and Walnut to do an inspection at the request of the building’s owner. They came upon a man who fled from them. As he fled, a gun the man was carrying went off. Multiple news outlets reported the officers had been fired upon and that a standoff situation was developing. In reality, the gun accidentally went off as the man attempted to hide it in his pants. Which, yeah, probably not a great idea, but there you have it. The man fled to another building, threw the gun out a window and hid. He was arrested a short time later and faces multiple charges today. Still a scary scenario, but, you know, not exactly a police shootout.
• A list put together by CityLab shows that Cincinnati is among the top cities in the country when it comes to design. While we all know the Queen City has some great graphic design and marketing talent, it’s surprising to see the city also ranks impressively high for industrial design. Our fair city is well-represented in nearly every category measured, which is pretty cool.
• Remember that guy who threatened to shoot down a helicopter a couple days ago? Yeah, a judge told him today to cool it with the guns for a while, and required him to turn over his firearms to authorities. I’m sure there are some hardcore gun rights activists out there fuming about how the government is infringing on his 1st Amendment right to express displeasure with helicopters and his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but me, I’m perfectly OK with it in this particular case. At least he didn't try hiding them in his pants.
• The race for Ohio governor is getting interesting. Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald’s campaign is citing polls that show him neck and neck with incumbent Gov. John Kasich, though, as with any poll that a campaign is excited about, it’s probably best to be wary. The poll was paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party and echoes another recent Democrat-funded poll showing FitzGerald within striking distance. However, both of these polls contradict earlier independent polling done this spring showing Kasich ahead by as many as 15 points.
FitzGerald’s campaign is getting proactive, though, dropping its first TV ad today. In the ad, FitzGerald implies that Gov. Kasich is all about the 1 percenters.
“Who is the promise of Ohio meant for?” FitzGerald asks in the 30 second spot. “Just the wealthy and well-connected?”
FitzGerald gives a shout out to “Ohioans who get up early and get it done every day,” which made me kind of feel bad about working from home while eating ice cream. He goes on to promise support for the state’s middle class, including more funding for teachers, police and firefighters. Though he never mentions Kasich by name, he hits on the idea that the current administration favors the wealthy again at the end of the ad.
Meanwhile, an attack site paid for by the Ohio Republican Party against the challenger called fitzgeraldforohio.com just sprung up. The site mostly attacks FitzGerald on his first choice of running mate, former lieutenant governor candidate Eric Kearney. Kearney quit the ticket in December last year after it was revealed he owed a large amount in back taxes. The site also features an ad linking FitzGerald to former Gov. Ted Strickland, who has endorsed FitzGerald. The ad argues that Strickland was bad for Ohio and FitzGerald would be, too.
In a kind of strange twist, however, the ad seems to blame Strickland for many ills Ohio faced due to the great recession, including spiking unemployment and budget overruns. As if those same dynamics weren’t happening in nearly every state around the country during Strickland’s term from 2007 to 2011, when the recession was at its worst. The candidates’ next filing deadline is just a couple weeks away, and it will be interesting to see if either grab more big bucks. Stay tuned.
Holder revealed the DOJ’s intention to join the fight in Ohio over early voting during an interview about terrorism with ABC News in London July 11. That portion of the interview was unaired. Holder’s comments were revealed when the DOJ released transcripts to the press this week.
The Ohio suit, originally brought by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups, claims the Republican-led elimination of early voting hours is unconstitutional because it will disproportionately affect minorities.
Ohio’s General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings in the days before elections.
Some of Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone by a federal district court judge, who ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting in the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU’s lawsuit.
In the interview, Holder said voting is “the most basic of our rights” and vowed that he “will use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote.”
Holder also said the DOJ will file in another voting rights case over Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which has seen a pitched battle in federal courts.
Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald applauded Holder’s comments in a news release today.
“I’m pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice will be joining the fight to protect voter rights in Ohio,” FitzGerald said in the release. “Under Governor Kasich, access to the polls has significantly decreased for hardworking Ohioans across the state.”
Morning, y'all. It's only Tuesday and there is already lots and lots going on. Here we go.
A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has allowed troubled charter school VLT Academy to stay open and ordered the Ohio Department of Education to help fund it. In a decision yesterday, Judge Nadine Allen ordered ODE to become the school’s sponsoring organization and provide almost $300,000 to pay staff and administration there. The school, which serves about 600 students in Pendleton, was scheduled to close last month because its sponsoring organization did not renew its contract. Education Resource Consultants of Ohio declined to continue supporting the school due to its academic performance and financial situation.
Ohio law stipulates that charter schools must have a sponsor to operate. VLT tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new sponsor, asking several organizations including the Ohio Department of Education. When ODE declined, citing the school’s poor academic performance, VLT sued in Hamilton County Common Please Court. VLT argued that its performance was never poor enough to trigger automatic closure. The school says that ODE is playing politics and that it warned other potential sponsoring organizations not to sponsor the school. ODE acknowledges it made organizations aware of the school’s performance issues.
Allen ruled that ODE made it difficult for the school to find a new sponsor and that closing the school would do harm to its students. Ninety-nine percent of VLT’s students are economically disadvantaged. The school has lost a third of its student body, and subsequently almost $2 million in funding, in the past three years as Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine undergo demographic shifts.
• State Rep. Connie Pillich will hold a roundtable discussion today in Cincinnati as part of a state-wide tour around veterans’ issues. That tour began July 2 in Huber Heights. The meeting with local veterans will focus on financial challenges facing the military community, including the need for financial literacy education for veterans and state-level unemployment benefits for their spouses. Pillich is a Democrat who has represented Montgomery in the state legislature since 2009. She’s currently vacating that seat to challenge State Treasurer Josh Mandel. She’s touting her efforts on veterans issues and her service in the armed forces as she travels around the state to meet with veterans and their families. Before her political career, Pillich served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and did support duties during Operation Desert Storm.
• The Cincinnati Park Board settled a federal lawsuit today brought by several residents of Over-the-Rhine regarding rules put in place after the 2012 renovation at Washington Park. The residents said the rules, which forbade distributing food and clothing in the park and taking items out of trashcans, were drawn up without public scrutiny and designed to keep the homeless out of the park. The city dropped the rules in September 2012. The city has not commented on how it decided upon the rules in the first place. The amount of today’s settlement in the case wasn’t disclosed.
• Architect Magazine pulled no punches in an editorial on General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks yesterday. Written by former Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, a noted architecture critic, the piece caustically derided the building, and The Banks, for a gutless lack of panache.
“Cincinnati, a proud city with a great heritage busily squandering it, will be stuck with the results of its own shortsightedness,” Betsky wrote in the piece. Ouch.
• Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and attorney general hopeful David Pepper will ask the Ohio General Assembly to provide more money for heroin clinics today in a press conference in Columbus. The Democrats say clinics around the state face a $20 million shortfall after recent changes in the way federal money is distributed. The heroin crisis has been a big talking point for Pepper, who has criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine over his handling of the surge in addiction-related deaths.
• The number of people commuting by bicycle is up 60 percent nationally from the year 2000, according to recent data from the U.S. Census. But that data also show another dynamic–most of that increase has come from relatively wealthy, white commuters who can afford to choose how they roll. Among low-income people, especially people of color, the desire for car ownership is much higher and the value placed on alternate means of commuting is much lower. This may be because people in low income neighborhoods face much longer commute times and an environment without the necessary infrastructure for safe cycling. But there are also probably social factors at play — cars are still strong symbols of success across all levels of society in the U.S., and low income commuters desire those symbols as much as anyone.
• Finally, if you’re looking for the next big (literally, huge) thing in hip living arrangements, I’ve got you covered. If a renovated row house makes you yawn, and a partially reconstructed loft space is just too domestic for you, how about living in a Boeing 727? Bruce Campbell (no, not THAT Bruce Campbell, though I can totally see this plane abode being the setting of a campy horror flick) of Oregon is leading the way on this brave new trend. Share with all your friends who are still really, really, into Lost.
One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.
• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.
• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.
• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.
• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.
• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.
We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.
If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.
• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival. CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.
Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.
“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.
• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.
• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
Whoa, tons of news happening right now. Here's a brief rundown of what's up today.
Homelessness has spiked in Hamilton County, social service providers say. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country as federal spending cuts hit programs aimed at aiding the homeless and preventing homelessness. That trend has hit Cincinnati-area families hard, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Some of the increase right now is seasonal, the Enquirer story reports, but some is more systemic, coming from a greater emphasis on chronic individual homelessness over the past few years by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hamilton County.
• The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today that it will be expanding access to Lumenocity due to overwhelming demand. The light and music event takes place Aug. 1-3 at Washington Park.
CSO will release 3,300 additional tickets to the main events, plus another 5,000 to a dress rehearsal the day before, also in Washington Park. Those tickets will be given away in a drawing you can enter between now and Tuesday at lumenocity2014.com. In addition, the event will be broadcast live at Fountain Square and Riverbend. The Aug. 1 performance will be radio broadcast on 90.9 WGUC. The Aug. 2 performance will also be broadcast on public television station CET. The event will also be live streamed on Lumenocity’s website all three nights.
The event was wildly popular last year, so this year, the CSO hoped to gain a bit more control over the size of the crowd by issuing free tickets online. The 37,5000 tickets given out last month were snatched up in mere minutes. Some later popped up on eBay for as much as $150. Vice Mayor David Mann requested an investigation into the giveaway and resulting ticket resales.
• A city review board gave a big “meh” to design proposals for GE’s new building at The Banks. The Urban Design Review Board, which is responsible for giving recommendations about buildings that will have a significant profile downtown, was underwhelmed with the conservative plans for GE’s 10-story office building near the riverfront. The building’s architect calls it “timeless mainstream design,” but board members said it just looks like a run of the mill suburban office building.
“We were looking for a special building, and this is a routine one,” board Chairman Buck Niehoff said.
Ouch. To be fair though, the board does have a point. The building will be a very prominent part of The Banks, and GE is receiving unprecedented incentives from the city (read: from taxpayers) to build there. Is a little flash too much to ask? Maybe a tiara on top, or a Cadillac sticking out of part of the building. Or like, maybe it could look like a big jet engine? These ideas are free, GE, so you can take them if you want. Or call me, I’ve got tons more…
• The Ohio GOP is suing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, currently Cuyahoga County’s executive, over access to records detailing his comings and going at county offices and parking garages. The suit comes after media in Cleveland requested the same records back in April and were denied.
The GOP’s lawsuit is filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, and holds that FitzGerald’s records are public information that must be released. FitzGerald says the records of his keycard swipes at county buildings are security-sensitive information, and that they needs to be closely held because he’s had security concerns, including death threats, related to his job and his past work in law enforcement.
Ironically, his opponent Gov. John Kasich is fighting much the same fight. He’s refused to release information about his schedule and security threats, and is also facing a suit in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
• Controversy over immigration at the United States/Mexico border continues, and the situation is basically becoming a circus. President Obama yesterday met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials, activists, and faith leaders to discuss the crisis at the border, where sharp spikes in migration by people from Central America, many of them children, are being reported. More than 52,000 youth have been caught crossing the country's southwestern border this year, double the amount from last year.
Perry spent at least part of the meeting making sour faces or perhaps fighting constipation. Obama's asking for $3.7 billion from Congress to help shore up the border with more judges and detention centers to expedite the deportation process, while Perry is asking for 1,000 National Guard troops at the border. The GOP, which controls the House of Representatives, looks unlikely to budge on the issue and give Obama the money. Some House members, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer, also of Texas, have complained that conditions at detention centers are too cushy. These are, by the way, the same detention centers that many reports show are overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane.
"When you look at the lovely way they're getting treated -- they're
getting free health care, free housing, you know, they're watching the
World Cup on big screen TVs," Neugebauer said on conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday. Well, jeez, sign me up for that, Randy.
Meanwhile, in what only highlights the absurdity of the political crapshow that the situation has become, noted humanitarian and completely reasonable person Glenn Beck has announced he's speeding toward the border with soccer balls and hot meals for migrant children. It's gotten real, I mean, really real, when Glenn Beck is one of the sane, caring voices in any debate.
• Finally, scientists have developed a chip that provides remote control birth control. The chip is implanted under the skin and can be switched off in case a woman decides she’d like to conceive. The device is projected to last for up to 16 years. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the device—studies must be done to determine its failure rate and whether it’s safe to have the chip in your body for an extended period of time.
Hey folks. The weather’s killer, the week is half over, and Beyoncé apparently loves Over-the-Rhine. It’s a great day to be in Cincinnati, so let’s talk about what’s going on, good and bad, in our fair city.
As a wise group of sages once said, cash rules everything around us, and if you’re looking for insight into the movers and shakers, the powerbrokers , the people pulling the levers in Cincy, you could do a lot worse than two lists that have recently popped up. One, released yesterday by Forbes, details the country’s richest families, and three area clans made the list. The Scripps family, owner of the E.W. Scripps media company, is tops in Cincinnati, with a net worth of $7.5 billion. They’re the 34th richest family in America. Next down the list are United Dairy Farmers and American Financial owners the Lindners, who have about $1.7 billion in assets and money in the bank. They’re ranked 130 on the national list. And with a measly $1.5 billion, the Farmers, who run the enormous Cintas uniform empire, round out Cincinnati’s contribution to Forbes’ rankings. They’re the 140th richest family in the country. The Waltons (Wal-Mart) and the Kochs (a bunch of things related to energy, including fracking companies in Ohio) topped the national list. No surprises there.
Another list of note is the Business Courier’s ranking of public companies in Cincinnati with the most cash on hand. These are companies with extra capital to spend who may make big moves in the next year or so. Procter and Gamble topped this list, followed by Macy’s, but you’ll also see some of the same names as the Forbes list, including American Financial (3rd on the list with almost $1.9 billion in cash), Cintas (5th on the list with $349 million) and the E.W. Scripps company (10th with $194 million.)
• For years, both when I lived here and during visits back home while I was living elsewhere, I would walk past the gorgeous but vacant church on Elm Street across from Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and daydream about possible uses for the building. I definitely wasn’t the only one, and now two developers are turning their visions for the space into reality. Work is beginning to convert the 147-year-old church, which has been empty for over a decade, into a bar and events space for concerts, weddings, and other happenings. Building owners Josh Heuser and Michael Forgus envision their space as a community building cornerstone in the area–a place where people can come together. They hope to have the space open for business by May next year.
• Sometimes, one can isn’t enough. The folks at Rhinegeist in OTR have dreamed up a solution for the dilemma you face when you want a lot of beer but don’t want to carry around multiple cans, because let’s face it, that just doesn’t look very classy. They’ve come up with the crowler, which holds 32 ounces of the any of brewery’s creations. The crowler actually has more utility than just keeping you from double or triple fisting–it works like a growler, allowing you to take beer home, but with a much longer shelf life of up to a month. Genius.
• Connie Pillich, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s treasurer, has floated the idea of creating an independent watchdog group to keep those counting and spending the state’s money accountable. The group would keep an eye on the treasurer’s office and other state government agencies to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds. Pillich has cited past scandals in the treasurer’s office, as well as questions about current treasurer Josh Mandel, as reasons Ohio needs the watchdog.
"We are in dire need of having an independent watchdog to make sure the office where all the people's money is kept is operating efficiently and safely," Pillich told Cleveland.com. "People should be able to go to bed at night assured there's someone in Columbus watching their funds."
Pillich is running against current treasurer Mandel, who has been the subject of scrutiny for alleged shady dealings. Mandel made a national list of worst politicians recently–one of just two Ohio politicians to receive that dubious distinction. Mandel denies any wrongdoing and points to the clean audits his office has received while he's been at his post.
• Ohio is getting all the big national events lately. The MLB All Star Game, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and now, the GOP National Convention, which looks likely to take place in Cleveland in 2016. The convention taskforce for the Republican National Committee announced its recommendation yesterday, and now the full RNC will vote on, and likely pass, that suggestion. The group responsible for the selection, headed by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, has said they were blown away by Cleveland’s efforts to secure funding and demonstrate their readiness for tens of thousands of conservative convention-goers. The field of cities, which once included Cincinnati and Columbus as well as Las Vegas and other contenders, was narrowed down to just Cleveland and Dallas. The RNC convention group said they based their decision on how much each city rocked, and while Dallas was pretty good, Cleveland has a national reputation for said rocking. No telling how much the RNC was influenced by the Insane Clown Posse’s decision to relocate its annual convention of sorts to Ohio from Michigan, though Republican convention officials have been heard remarking that if Ohio is good enough for ICP, it’s good enough for the GOP. (This part is complete fiction, by the way, though who knows how these decisions are made...)
This news this morning is all (well, mostly) about politics, so put your civics hat on.
Former Procter and Gamble executive and prospective head of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has quickly gone from wrangling over local sales taxes as head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force here in Cincinnati to meeting with senators in Washington. McDonald, who is President Obama’s nominee to lead the troubled VA, is making the rounds in the nation’s capital this week on a series of informal get-togethers with senators, who will vote on his confirmation soon. He’ll also be boning up on his knowledge of the VA and its current challenges.
Confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominees have been tough the past couple years, and with the high-level controversy swirling around the VA lately, McDonald could face a bumpy ride. High wait time for patients, patient fatalities and record-keeping scandals have clouded the agency’s image. McDonald will have to convince 14 senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that his corporate experience with P&G has equipped him to address these issues quickly and steer the VA back onto the right course. He’ll make his case at a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
• Now time for a quick break from the political: New music venues seem to
be popping up all over lately. The latest is in Clifton, where the
owners of Olives restaurant have announced they’re closing July 20 and
preparing to turn their space on Ludlow Avenue into a live music
destination. The restaurant is located in the historic Ludlow Garage,
which was run by Jim Tarbell and hosted national acts in the 1970s. The new venue will open in November, booking local and national acts. No word yet on what kinds of music are in store there.
• Now back to politics. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced yesterday that 16 of Ohio’s May 6 primary races around the state were decided by a single vote. That makes 63 races in a year’s time that have been decided by the slimmest of margins.
“This underscores the importance of election access and integrity,” Husted said, “and why it is so important to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
It’s funny that Husted would talk about making it easy to vote, given that the he and the Ohio GOP have moved time and again to restrict early voting hours around the state. These attempts include a swipe at Sunday voting directly before election day, a day with heavy turnout from African-American communities across the state. Courts later ordered Sunday voting restored.
• Democratic candidate for attorney general David Pepper has slammed his opponent, current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, over a number of issues recently. These include DeWine’s lack of response to the state’s heroin addiction epidemic and the fact that DeWine drafted a brief in support of Hobby Lobby in its recent Supreme Court case. Now he’s blasting DeWine over Ohio’s lag in testing rape kits, which are samples collected when a rape is reported. Those samples can help identify the rapist — one in three kits results in a match with someone in Ohio’s DNA database. The problem is, Ohio has a backlog of more than 4,000 rape kits waiting to be tested, some more than 20 years old. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation can test about 300 of the kits in a month. That’s not fast enough, Pepper says, attributing it to DeWine’s mismanagement. He proposes sending the kits to other regional labs for testing, speeding up the process and hopefully catching more rapists.
“At the current rate, this will take four to five years,” Pepper says. “To me, that’s just not good enough.”
DeWine says he didn’t create the backlog and in fact requested the extra kits from local law enforcement agencies, which often had them locked away for years in evidence rooms, so they could eventually be tested. He says sending the kits to other labs is a bad idea and that the state’s lab has developed unique expertise necessary to test them.
• Well, shoot. The Associated Press announced recently that it plans to start publishing articles written by robots. The stories will mostly be business stories summarizing earnings reports, though AP has also been using robots for some sports reporting. It’s not an unprecedented move — The Los Angels Times and other publications have employed robots to write immediate reports on earthquakes, crime and other subjects where highly formulaic reports are required. The AP estimates that it will be able to produce more than 4,000 articles a quarter this way — a huge leap above the 300 it now produces.
No worries, though. This morning news roundup wasn't written by a robot. Or was it?
Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.
Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.
• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road.
• Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.
• Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.
• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year.
• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet.
“If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage. Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.