In the first town hall-style event of the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama fielded questions on Monday about rights for the LGBT community, what he would do for small business during a second term and which was his favorite Girl Scout cookie (Thin Mints).
Obama — the first Democrat to carry Hamilton County since Lyndon Baines Johnson — held a packed town hall meeting at Music Hall. Cincinnati Fire Department Capt. Joseph E. Wolf estimated the crowd at 1,200 people in the ballroom with an additional 421 hosted outside.
The most recent Quinnipiac University poll from June 27 showed that 47 percent of Ohio voters favored the president, while 38 percent were behind his presumed Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Mayor Mark Mallory fired up the crowd before the president spoke, saying Hamilton County is the most important county in Ohio, and Cincinnati the most important city in the county.
“The folks in this room are the most important folks in terms of the re-election of President Barack Obama in the United States of America,” Mallory said.
Attending the town hall was former Cincinnati mayor and daytime TV host Jerry Springer, who said he and about a dozen other folks had a private meeting with the president earlier in the day.
"I think it would be bad for the country," Springer said of an America that saw Obama lose the November election. He says the Republican-controlled house would run away with our country without a Democrat in the Oval Office to issue a veto.
Just an hour before the president spoke and seven blocks away at Fountain Square, dozens of Romney supporters rallied, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obama Bin Lyin’.”
Republican Mike Wilson, who is looking to unseat Montgomery Democrat Rep. Connie Pillich in the Ohio House of Representatives, was among the speakers at the Romney Rally. Pillich defeated Wilson in the 2010 election.
"Ohio seems destined to play a pivotal role. We're used to it," Wilson said.
Wilson criticized the Obama campaign for “playing politics” with Romney’s tenure at the head of investment firm Bain Capital.
The Obama campaign has claimed that Romney invested in businesses that outsourced American jobs.
“We're all interested with what Romney did with his money, but we're not interested with what Obama is doing with our money," Wilson said.
He blamed over-regulation and taxation from the Obama administration for companies moving their operations overseas.
Gerry Molt, who attended the rally with his wife Roxanne, claimed that Obama is at war with America and says the focus on Bain Capital is “clearly a distraction.”
Roxanne Molt said she’s excited about the importance of Hamilton County in this year’s election.
“I think this is the premier election of our lifetime,” she said. “I think Romney’s got a good plan. We need someone who supports capitalism.”
The president did a little bit to support Cincinnati capitalism, making a pit stop at Skyline Chili before the town hall, where he ordered a 4-way and two cheese coneys.
The economy was a big focus of Obama’s speech, but also of questions he received afterward.
Tony White, who owns a barber shop/beauty salon, asked what the president would do for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
In his response, the president touted the possible savings for small businesses under the health care overhaul, saying they could pool together and receive the same rates as larger businesses. As for moving forward, Obama said he would continue to put pressure on banks to lend to small businesses.
“We’ve actually been pushing the banks to say, ‘look, taxpayers pulled your backside out of the fire, it’s now important for you to step up and make sure that small businesses aren’t finding their credit restricted, especially if they’ve been in business for a while,” he said.
The president was also asked by a woman who only identified herself as Anna what he would do to further help the LGBT community. Anna’s son Adam is openly gay and is looking at attending Miami University in Oxford.
Despite earlier teasing that he wouldn’t sing at the town hall, Obama led the crown in singing “Happy Birthday” to Adam, who turned 18 on Monday.
Obama again answered the question by touting his accomplishments so far — ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forbid homosexuals from serving openly in the military and expanding hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners — before going on to say that the federal Defense of Marriage Act needs to be repealed.
The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Obama is the first American president to openly support gay marriage.
The theme the president to which continued to return was that America needs to return to being the land of opportunity.
“What really sets us apart has always been that we have the greatest middle class and a basic idea that’s at the heart of this country that says if you work hard then you can get ahead. If you’re responsive, then you can live out your dreams. You’re not confined to the circumstances of your birth.”
German Lopez contributed to this report.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is exiting stage left. Praise the lord.
In a surprise announcement today, Palin said she not only wouldn't run for reelection as governor next year, but also won't even finish her first gubernatorial term. Palin will resign her office in the next few weeks.
A series of contradictory tweets and blog comments posted by members of an anti-transit group has observers wondering of there is dissension in its ranks — or whether one member simply has anger management issues.
Ever since an initiative put on the Nov. 8 ballot by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) was rejected by voters, someone with the group has vowed on various local blogs that it still would try to block Cincinnati’s streetcar project.
“The First Energy Family has contributed more than $44,000.00 into re-election campaigns for Justices Cupp and O’Donnell this year alone,” O’Neill, a Democrat who is running for the Ohio Supreme Court, wrote. “It is simply wrong for them to continue sitting on First Energy cases.”
The Ohio Supreme Court, which has seven justices decide
the state’s top judicial cases, is currently handling a case
involving FirstEnergy, an energy company based in Akron. More than
300,000 customers are suing the company over alleged fraud. The 11th
District Court of Appeals previously ruled against FirstEnergy, and the case was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The lawsuit is the fifth Ohio Supreme Court case involving FirstEnergy this year.
O’Neill pointed out the lawsuit “could easily be a billion dollar case” before writing, “And the public has a right to know that the ruling was not purchased by one side or another.”
Ohio Sen. Mike Skindell, a Democrat who is also running for the Ohio Supreme Court, endorsed O’Neill’s letter. In the past, he also criticized Cupp and O’Donnell for potential conflicts of interest.
The offices of Cupp and O'Donnell did not immediately respond to CityBeat's requests for comment on the letter. This story will be updated if responses become available.
UPDATE OCT. 4, 4:12 P.M.: Mark Weaver, spokesperson for Cupp, responded: “Mr. O'Neill previously raised this argument with disciplinary authorities by filing a complaint. It was reviewed by disciplinary authorities, and they unanimously dismissed it as having no merit.”
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber embraced the YP concept several years ago in the wake of Richard Florida’s “creative class” discussion, which really hit home here because it crystallized the problem Cincinnati and other “uncool” cities face in stemming the brain drain of talented young people leaving to advance their careers elsewhere.
The Chamber created an array of programs to support local young professionals, an effort that certainly came at the behest of Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s and other corporate giants here that must recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent available. Bold Fusion has emerged as one of the Chamber’s highest profile efforts.
The sixth annual Bold Fusion conference was held Thursday afternoon at the Westin Hotel downtown, packing the ballroom to its 400-person capacity. It was one of the most interesting and inspiring afternoons I’d spent in a while.
The ruling means the case could restart, potentially setting Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the inn, and Western & Southern on another path of court hearings and appeals that will take up taxpayer money and the courts’ time — all because Western & Southern is bitter it didn’t purchase the Anna Louise Inn when given the opportunity.
By agreeing with the lower court that Cincinnati Union Bethel filed an incomplete application, the appeals court is now asking the owners of the Anna Louise Inn to resubmit their
funding requests to the city of Cincinnati — except this time Cincinnati Union Bethel
will have to include details about previously omitted parts of the Anna Louise Inn and the Off
the Streets program.
But Tim Burke, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s attorney, is hopeful the process will not have to restart. He says Cincinnati Union Bethel already carried out the appeals court’s requirements. After Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel handed down his May 4 ruling against the Anna Louise Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel started a second chain of zoning and permit applications to obtain a conditional use permit that met Nadel’s specifications. So far, the applications have been approved by Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals, but Western & Southern is appealing those rulings as well.
Burke and Cincinnati Union Bethel hope to meet with Nadel Monday to make their case. If they’re successful, they’ll stave off another series of court hearings and appeals.
Burke says the case has been a uniquely negative experience — previously calling it one of the most frustrating of his career. He says Western & Southern’s actions are pure obstructionism: “They benefit from delays, and that’s all they’re trying to do.”
Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to use city funds to help finance $13 million in renovations for the Anna Louise Inn, which are necessary to keep the building open and functional.
The Anna Louise Inn is a 103-year-old building that provides shelter to low-income women. Its Off the Streets program helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around.
Western & Southern previously supported the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program with direct donations, but the friendly relations abruptly ended when Cincinnati Union Bethel refused to sell the building to Western & Southern, instead opting to renovate the Inn. At that point, Western & Southern began a series of legal challenges meant to obstruct Cincinnati Union Bethel’s renovation plans.
The zoning debate centers around whether the Anna Louise
Inn qualifies as a “special assistance shelter” or “transitional
housing.” The Anna Louise Inn originally claimed to be transitional
housing, but Nadel ruled the building is a special assistance
shelter. After that ruling, Cincinnati Union Bethel obtained a conditional use permit for the new classification, but Western & Southern is now disputing the approval of that permit.
For more information about this ongoing dispute, visit CityBeat's collection of coverage here.
City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route.
The email exchange was provided to CityBeat and other media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged conflict of interest at an Oct. 22 press conference.
Curp stated in an email to Nick that Qualls’ potential gains from the streetcar project are too speculative and indirect to present a conflict of interest or ethical violation because the real estate sales are “arms-length transactions between private parties” with a flat 1 to 2 percent fee.
Nick’s emailed response cited two previous Ohio Ethics Commission opinions to support Curp’s analysis.
“It would be unreasonable to hold that lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals have an interest in the contracts of their business clients. In general, such professionals are not deemed to be interested in the business dealings of a client, merely because they receive fees for professional services,” according to a February 1986 opinion.
The opinion then clarifies that ethics violations must be directly tied to a project. For example, an insurance agent on City Council would violate ethics law if he or she voted on a construction contract in which his or her insurance agency is charged with handling bond sales for the contract in some way.
Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential conflict of interest on “a minimum of two prior occasions.”
Nick told CityBeat in a phone interview that it’s normal for city officials to go through city solicitors before going to the Ohio Ethics Commission with an ethical question. If the city solicitor and commission agree a formal analysis isn’t necessary, the situation is resolved with brief guidance.
For Cranley, the concerns suggest a contradiction to his previously touted beliefs about the streetcar.
Supporters of the streetcar project, including Qualls,
often tout potential property value increases and the economic gains
they would bring to Cincinnati as a reason to back the project. The economic gains were supported by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which found the streetcar would produce a three-to-one return on investment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.
Critics, including Cranley, say such property value increases are overblown to falsely justify what they call a “pet project.”
But if the property values never materialize, Qualls isn’t financially benefiting in the way Cranley’s campaign described.
Last week, CityBeat's April 4 cover story, "Losing Fight," discussed Cincinnati's legislation that's outlawed ownership of pit bulls within city limits since 2003. Seelbach reveals to CityBeat that he made a pledge to work to repeal the city's ban on pit bulls when he was first elected to office in December 2011, and has met in with stakeholders in the past to discuss reform strategies. "I've always believed that entire breeds should not be punished — we need to punish bad owners," he says.