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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 Danny Cross 04.30.2015
Posted In: Media at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Enquirer's OTR Shooting Coverage Was a Huge Mess

A few years ago, a friend and I were walking down the street in Over-the-Rhine from Neons to somewhere north on Main Street — maybe MOTR, maybe our friend’s place at 13th and Clay, might have been heading back to a car. I’m not really sure — it’s been three or four years now since people started coming back to the (mostly nighttime) amenities in the neighborhood. 

Just before we turned the corner from 12th onto Main, gunshots popped off behind us. We turned around and saw some dude running south on Sycamore. We bolted onto Main and jumped into a storefront doorway until things calmed down, called the police and then continued on our way. I followed up and found out that the man we saw running away neither died nor killed anyone.

It was a scene that has grown less common in recent years in the area, as the push of development has moved much of the drug dealing and related violence outward into other neighborhoods. In January WCPO reported that violent crime in OTR was down 74 percent since 2004, in part due to development and evolving policing tactics.

Such facts didn't deter The Enquirer from freaking the hell out yesterday when one of its reporters witnessed a shooting in front of a bunch of popular OTR restaurants. Reporter Emilie Eaton was on the same block when 30-year-old Gregory Douglas was shot around 9 a.m. near Vine and Mercer streets, fled a short distance then collapsed and died. Police today issued a warrant for the arrest of Darnell Higgins for the murder.

It's been a sad day for a lot of people: families and friends of the deceased and the accused; those who witnessed such violence up close.

It’s also a sad day to consider the state of local media, considering the response we've seen so far to The Enquirer's collection of coverage. It started with the reporter's first-person account of witnessing the shooting. Then came a news story questioning the neighborhood's safety, for some reason quoting the Hamilton County Republican chairman and a lone neighborhood resident saying he didn't feel safe these days. Soon afterward, a more formed version of the story was updated online — this time the headline tried to cleverly play on the word "dead" (“Gunfire in OTR brings morning to a dead stop”). The headline was later changed, “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR," though the insensitive quip lives on in the story's URL.

The Enquirer’s decision to frame Douglas’ death as a question of whether or not OTR is safe for those of us unaccustomed to witnessing violence is generating the type of online debate (/clicks) the "newsroom of the future" was meant to induce. It has also been heavily criticized.

Here’s former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken on Facebook:

Here’s Derek Bauman, an OTR and mass transit advocate/suburban police officer, who wondered on Twitter why the first source in an early version of the “Is OTR safe yet” story quoted the county GOP chair before anyone else. Alex Triantafilou’s take? “There is more work to be done to make our city as safe as the suburbs."

Eaton's first-person story was published just hours after the shooting occurred. "A stray bullet could have easily missed the victim and hit me," she wrote. "The gunman could have come around the corner for me. I'm lucky to be writing this story right now."

The story elicited strong response from readers, but perhaps not the kind the Enquirer was picturing. About 20 wrote comments questioning the appropriateness of the piece, many along the lines of this:

As writers molded dispatches from the scene into The Enquirer’s larger collection of reporting on the incident, debate continued on social media. Enquirer writer John Faherty took to the comment section of Eaton's article to defend her.

Those of us in the media don’t enjoy criticizing each others' work, and we realize most people in the industry are dedicated and passionate. We respect colleagues at other media companies, especially when their dedication to the craft is evident.

Eaton clearly had a shitty morning. Her decision to immediately get back to doing her job is admirable.

Unfortunately, the collection of work to which she contributed was misguided, made worse by the classlessness with which Enquirer editors showed along the way. Publishing right-wing digs at inner-city neighborhoods has been a longstanding tradition at The Enquirer. Using a play on the word "dead" in a news story about a murder is the type of move that would get a college newspaper in trouble. It shouldn't be OK at any self-respecting daily. 

There's no way to tell which “content coach” might have shaped yesterday’s coverage. Any number of web editors could have written such an offensive headline — the newsroom of the future isn't set up to catch these things. Newsroom morale has been known to be low at Gannett papers across the country, and many of us actually feel bad for the many talented people struggling to produce quality work under such restrictive guidelines. 

Ultimately, reporting that might have culminated in an articulation of how opposite worlds intertwine in front of our eyes every day instead became a question of whether it's smart to eat and shop near poor people.

Later versions of the story noted that the lunch rush on Vine Street continued as usual just hours later, suggesting that maybe the question of whether or not Vine Street is safe had already been answered. 

"I'm not worried about it," said Mike Georgitan, a general manager at Pontiac BBQ on Vine Street. "It might affect lunch today – maybe," he shrugged. "But then it will pick back up."
A person is dead, and the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and violence that gripped Over-the-Rhine long before a Japanese gastropub opened at 15th and Vine is still occurring all over this city. The Enquirer would be wise to demonstrate an understanding of these forces rather than following the path of least resistance to Internet debate.

It would be a lot more compelling than a description of how witnessing violence makes a typical white person feel.
by Nick Swartsell 04.30.2015
at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council eliminates private police in city; 'Enquirer' changes OTR shooting headline; Kasich to order statewide standards on police use of force

Hey hey Cincy. So I’m a little groggy today after spending, oh, I don’t know, over three hours binge-watching the latest few episodes of Mad Men last night. This is unlike me — I don’t normally watch TV and shows about sad rich dudes aren’t usually my jam. But watching Don Draper, Pete Campbell (especially Pete Campbell, who looks like a smug Frisch’s Big Boy come to life) and co. get their comeuppance is great. Anyway, I’m going to try and muddle through the news in my drowsy state. Let me tell you about all the stuff that’s been happening.

The epic dramatic series that is Cincinnati City Council aired its latest episode yesterday, and there were some big developments. OK, that’s obnoxious, sorry. I’m going to stop now. Among the more exciting moves: Council passed a measure giving the city the go-ahead to apply for nearly $29 million in federal TIGER grant funds for the Wasson Way bike trail, an ask we first told you about in this story.

Council also passed a resolution that prohibits private police groups from operating with police powers in Cincinnati. The decision comes after a man in Tulsa, Oklahoma died earlier this month when he was shot by a 71-year-old private police officer while laying on the ground handcuffed. Use of private police in Cincinnati dates back to 1983 and is relatively small — two companies employing about 10 people that provide police services for events, apartment complexes and places like the Regional Chamber of Commerce. Members of council, including Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who introduced the legislation, stressed that the decision wasn’t a reflection the service of private police agencies and was made based on legal liability issues for the city.

Chief Lester Slone of Cincinnati Private Police said the decision was unfortunate and will probably put the agency out of business. Slone has served with the CPP, which employs seven private officers, for 32 years.

• Later in the evening yesterday, Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black announced the city has reached an agreement with public employees in regard to the city's pension obligations. The agreement is a big deal, city officials say, finally fully accounting for the city's huge $682 million pension obligation. Both the city and public employees gave up some things to get to an agreement. Retired public employees will no longer get a cost of living increase on their pension payments in their first three years, for instance. Pension obligations have been a major governing issue for many cities, hobbling the finances of struggling cities like Detroit for decades.

• A newly released police report says Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn wrote a brief suicide note the fateful night she jumped in front of a semi-truck on I-71. The note, which was uncovered after her death, simply said “I’ve had enough.” The police report also reveals that Alcorn had recently researched suicide prevention organizations and had written an online message to a friend recounting past suicidal thoughts.

• The Cincinnati Enquirer changed a headline on a story about a shooting in Over-the-Rhine from one making a play on the word “dead” to something more neutral. The original headline, about the shooting death of a 30-year-old man on Vine Street, originally read “Gunfire in OTR brings spring morning to a dead stop.” The headline now reads “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR.” The story asks whether the shooting will affect business and perceptions of safety in the neighborhood.

The change comes as the Enquirer’s coverage of the shooting raises controversy on social media. An emotional first-person account of the shooting by an Enquirer reporter drew a slew of comments questioning the appropriateness of such a story.

“Why would this tragic event become a story about the reporter?,” one commenter wrote on Facebook and the Enquirer’s site. “Even if she did experience it, let's keep the reporting on the facts of the news event. I was okay with her expressing the shock and fear, but when it shifts into her expressing pride for her job and patting herself on the back for doing it…well, we've quickly lost focus of the sad news event that just happened. Not the right time and place.”

• A huge union’s Ohio chapters have put their weight behind a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. United Food and Commercial Workers Union local chapters 75, 880 and 1059 have endorsed efforts by weed legalization group ResponsibleOhio, the union said in a statement yesterday. UFCW represents 18,000 workers in the Greater Cincinnati area. ResponsibleOhio looks to gain enough signatures to put legislation on the November ballot that would legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. More controversially, the group’s proposal would also create 10 grow sites around the state run by its investors. Those would be the only sites permitted to grow marijuana for commercial sale. After controversy around this part of the plan, the group amended its proposal to allow home growers to grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The group claims it has collected 250,000 of the more than 300,000 signatures it needs.

Here are some quick, statewide hits:

• Gov. John Kasich will order Ohio police departments be held to a statewide standard when it comes to their use of force. That standard will require officers to avoid deadly force except in situations where their lives are clearly at risk among other stipulations. Kasich will sign an executive order to that effect, he says, one step in implementing suggestions from a statewide community-police relations task force Kasich created in response to police-related deaths of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford in Beavercreek. The announcement comes as unrest simmers in Baltimore, New York City and elsewhere around the country after the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement. Kasich commented on several of these deaths, most notably Freddie Gray’s in Baltimore. “I don’t think you can break your own neck,” he said about the ongoing controversy around injuries Gray sustained in a police van after he was taken into custody. Gray’s spinal cord was nearly severed during a ride to a police station, and his windpipe was crushed. He lapsed into a coma and later died due to his injuries.

• A state law allowing the creation of open container districts where folks can drink right out in the open passed the Ohio legislature yesterday. That’s the biggest step necessary for Cincinnati and other cities to be able to create spots that mimic places like New Orleans’  Bourbon Street. Cincinnati hopes to create a district in time for the MLB All-Star Game in July.

That's all for me. Tweet at me. Email me.

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.