Home - Blogs - Staff Blogs - Latest Blogs
by Nick Swartsell 03.27.2015
Posted In: News at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

UC's Innocence Project exonerates three wrongfully convicted men; state House advances fetal heartbeat abortion ban; powerful Republicans: Cruz has no chance at presidency

Good morning y’all. It’s the end of the week and the sun is out. Those are both good enough reasons to keep this news update short, so just the facts for you today.

Starting on a somber note, officials continue to investigate the death of Cincinnati firefighter Daryl Gordon, who fell down an elevator shaft while responding to a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville yesterday. Gordon was a 30-year veteran of the department. Two other firefighters and four residents where hurt in the blaze, which broke out early yesterday morning. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to Gordon.

• Will you be able to walk around The Banks with an open beer in time for the Major League Baseball All Star Game in July? It’s looking increasingly possible. The Ohio House passed a bill allowing the creation of so-called “open container districts” this week. The proposed law could allow cities to designate specific areas where people can drink a cold one right out on the sidewalk. But the timeline is tight for would-be All Star Game revelers. The bill still has to go to through the state Senate and get Gov. John Kasich’s autograph. After that, the city could rush through designations for specific districts but would have to wait 30 days for them to take effect. The race is on.

• Three men who have wrongfully spent the past 18 years in prison may soon walk free thanks to efforts by the Ohio Innocence Project, which is based at University of Cincinnati’s College of Law. The Innocence Project announced yesterday that a Cuyahoga County Judge has thrown out the convictions of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson based on new evidence. The three will be released on bond and get a new trial. Their incarceration stems from the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson, Jr. in Cleveland. Wheatt, Glover and Johnson who were nearby, were eventually arrested for the crime and convicted on the testimony of a single 14-year-old eyewitness. That witness later recanted her testimony and other evidence surfaced casting doubt that the three had a role in the crime.

• Ever been in a situation where you have to spend extended amounts of time the same room with someone who is competing with you for the affections of your crush? That’s probably how former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld will feel tonight when both attend and speak at the Ohio Democratic Party’s annual dinner. The two are currently going head to head in the party’s primary for the chance to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman. Making things especially uncomfortable is the fact that Sittenfeld had signaled he wouldn’t continue with campaign if Strickland entered the race. But the city councilman gained some good fundraising momentum and has decided to stay in the contest. Most of the higher-ups in the Democratic party have backed his more experienced foe, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in it to win it. I really hope someone seated them at the same table. 

• I mentioned a couple days ago that the Ohio House was mulling a fetal heartbeat bill that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That bill has now passed the House thanks in part to local state representatives Jonathan Dever of Madeira and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason, who both voted for the proposed law. The bill will now make its way to the state Senate, where it faces skepticism from some moderate Republicans. They say the bill wouldn't survive an inevitable legal challenge. Some supporters of the measure, however, say bring it on — they see the ensuing legal battle as a way to challenge the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision prohibiting abortion bans. 

• Let's jaunt next door to the great state of Indiana where Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law yesterday a measure that prohibits the government from restricting religious freedom unless absolutely necessary. Critics of that bill say it could allow businesses to refuse service to people, including LGBT individuals, based on the business owner's religious beliefs. Pence says the bill will do no such thing, but that hasn't stopped backlash from forming. A number of businesses, including the NCAA, and even some religious groups have expressed reservations about the law, which takes effect in July. OK, let's leave Indiana now.

• News is happening in national politics. So much news. Well, really, political quasi-news that probably doesn’t actually make a difference but that we should pay attention to anyway because politicians are technically our employees and they haven’t really done that great of a job lately. One of the more interesting, and probably meaningless, stories on that front right now is that powerful Republicans in key primary states are saying that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is so far the only presidential candidate to officially announce his campaign, has no chance of winning. A poll of 100 influential Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire found that not one thought Cruz had a chance at the nomination, let alone prevailing in the general election. That’s important because those states are big in the primary game. Winning them signals to other delegates and funders around the rest of the country that you’re a serious contender.

• The other big story in national politics is that the most powerful, and many would say infamous, Democrat in the Senate will retire after his current term. Sen. Harry Reid, who is currently the Senate minority leader, has been a thorn in the side of nearly every Republican in Congress. Reid is a bare-knuckle brawler of a legislator who pulled out just as many nasty tricks during his time as Senate majority leader as his counterpart in the House, Republican John Boehner has. Reid’s 10-year turn as majority leader ended last November when Republicans took control of the Senate, but he’s continued to be a force there. The 75-year-old’s term ends next year. Republicans are rejoicing, seeing a rare opportunity to take Reid’s seat as one of Nevada’s two Senators.

by Nick Swartsell 03.26.2015
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes resolution supporting same-sex marriage; street named in honor of Camp Washington Chili owner; anti-abortion activists target Boehner

Morning all. Are you as disappointed with the soggy gray awfulness outside as I am? Over the past few days I’ve been tuning up my bike, getting ready for spring. My plan was to get it out today and ride to work instead of walking. But this morning has been more kayak commuting weather, and since I don’t own a kayak, I’m working from home. Bummer. Anyway, let’s move on to news. This is the weekly City Council update edition, where I tell you about all the zany stuff our council members got up to yesterday.

First, council passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in the state of Ohio authored by Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay elected official.

“The protection and equality we want is no different than what everyone wants," Seelbach said, highlighting the ways in which his life with his partner are the same as any married couple’s. Seelbach also drew attention to the continued court battles being waged by Cincinnatians against Ohio’s gay marriage ban. Among them is Jim Obergefell, whose case against Ohio’s gay marriage ban will be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. Obergefell is seeking to be listed on his late husband John Arthur’s death certificate. The two were legally married in Maryland.

“Our city could have fought us, as our state continued to do, but instead our city stood on the side of love with a message that is resoundingly clear: We welcome, accept and love everyone,” Obergefell said in a written statement read by a representative from LGBT rights group Why Marriage Matters.

Six council members voted for the resolution, with Councilman Charlie Winburn voting against it and two, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray, absent from the meeting for unrelated reasons. Winburn applauded Seelbach’s advocacy for the issue, but said he didn’t agree with its premise. Winburn has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage. Cincinnati joins several other Ohio cities, including Dayton and Columbus, in supporting marriage equality.

• More council stuff: our esteemed deliberative body yesterday rejected another stab at a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have created 400 permitted spots around the neighborhood. The plan would have cost residents in the area $109 a year, plus $5 each for guest permits. Some council members, including Seelbach, said the price is still a bit too high and probably not necessary to generate the revenue needed. “I think we’re close,” Seelbach said. “This is close to what we would support. But the annual permit at $109 is the highest in America.”

Vice Mayor David Mann said he expected the plan to pass.

“This continues to be a work in progress,” Mann said. “We’re very open to changes as we implement and see how it works … but I think it’s time to do something. It’s been in and out of committee for three months.”

• Council also named a whole block of Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington after John "Johnny" Johnson, who has been working at Camp Washington Chili in the neighborhood for a mind-boggling 64 years. That's pretty cool. The restaurant, which I have patronized many a late night after various shows, has received national accolades for its chili, which is awesome. Johnson's uncle started the restaurant in 1940, and he began working there in 1951after coming here from Greece.

• The road is long and difficult and every step is studded with obstacles. No, I’m not talking about an underdog team in the NCAA tournament, nor the plot of a Tolkien novel. I speak of the streetcar, which is facing yet another round of drama this week involving contracts for who will operate the transit system. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, tasked with finding employees to operate the streetcar, must choose between two types of bids: those from companies that will manage SORTA’s union employees and those that will hire their own. Democrats on council want SORTA to go the former route and consider only bids that rely on employees from the Amalgamated Transit Union, of which most of SORTA’s employees are members. A past effort by council to get more details about the bids in relation to this wish drew sharp rebuke from the Federal Transit Authority, however, which said that any attempt to change SORTA’s bid process could result in loss of federal funds for the streetcar. The feds provided more than $45 million for the nearly $150 million project.

"If confidentiality is not maintained,” wrote FTA attorney John Lynch in a Monday letter to SORTA, “that presents risks to the process and increases potential exposure to protests and legal action from the proposers. The council's proposed changes to the procurement process could be perceived as giving preferential treatment to one contractor over another."

Now a new motion proposed yesterday by most of council’s Democrats would direct SORTA to only consider bids in which SORTA employees are used to run the streetcar. That motion needs two more votes and isn’t binding — it’s asking, not telling, SORTA to hire ATU employees. That motion also leaves maintenance personnel out of the equation, which is important because that’s a sticking point in negotiations between SORTA and the ATU on what using union workers would look like. The two are tangling over a few specialized maintenance positions that require particular electrical engineering training. The ATU says whoever does those jobs should be union members; SORTA says it has the right to hire outside workers for those positions. Phew. So there you have it. Bids for operating the streetcar are due at the end of the month, and SORTA’s board will vote to award the contract in July.

• Here’s a completely unsubstantiated, unscientific observation: People named “Woody” seem much more apt to support legalization efforts for marijuana. First there was Woody Harrelson, and now we have Taft Broadcasting Co. Development Director Woody Taft. Taft and his brother Dudley are among the funders of an ongoing effort by ResponsibleOhio to get an Ohio constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot. The Tafts are just a couple of the big names in town who have invested in the legalization scheme, which would legalize production and sale of marijuana but limit commercial cultivation to 10 legal growers. That dimension of the provision has raised ire from other pot legalization advocates. ResponsibleOhio has modified its proposal to allow for home growth of small amounts of weed, but those growers would not be allowed to sell their products.

The Tafts would be part owners of a marijuana cultivation farm proposed in Butler County should the ballot initiative pass.

“Our current laws are archaic and cruel to the people in Ohio who need medical marijuana,” Woody Taft said in a statement sent out by the pro-marijuana group.

• Finally, eight protesters were arrested outside House Speaker John Boehner’s Washington office yesterday. No, they weren’t up in arms about his continued efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or his moves to stymie Democrats’ immigration reform agenda. Nor were they there staging an intervention for Boehner’s all-too-evident tanning bed addiction.

Instead, they were all riled up about the fact that Boehner and other congressional Republicans haven’t moved fast enough on a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The House was set to vote on the bill way back at the beginning of the year, but some moderate GOPers balked at the ban because it required a woman to report her rape or incest to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exception to the proposed law. Members of the Christian Defense Coalition, who were the protesters praying outside of Boehner’s office, say his failure to push that bill through is a “betrayal” of the pro-life cause. Boehner’s office shot back that he’s the most pro-life speaker in history, which seems a hard claim to fact-check considering abortion was illegal for much of our country’s history.

That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. You know the drill. 

by Nick Swartsell 03.25.2015
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC moves ahead with huge 15th and Race development; Ohio transportation budget includes obstacle for student voters; House to hear fetal heartbeat abortion restriction bill

Hey all, here’s the news today.

After some reconfiguration, 3CDC has announced it is moving ahead with its plans for development on the corner of 15th and Race Street. The development is set to include 27 affordable units of housing and 63 units total, along with more than 37,000 square feet of commercial space. It’s unclear what level of affordability the subsidized units will be, but 3CDC is applying for federal low-income housing tax credits and partnering with Model Group and Cornerstone Renter Equity on those units. The project will be 3CDC’s second-largest in OTR at 2.2 acres, just slightly smaller than Mercer Commons on Vine Street. The nonprofit developer had floated earlier plans that included a parking garage, but has nixed that idea after outcry from some neighborhood groups and historic preservation advocates. Instead, the project will include a surface lot behind buildings on Race Street.

• Suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was back in court today on a reprisal of sorts from her trial last  year, when she was tried on nine felony charges and convicted of one. She’s being tried again on charges that she misused a court credit card. The jury couldn’t consider that charge last time due to a legal technicality dealing with the language of the charge, then-Hamilton County Court Judge Norbert Nadel ruled. Hunter also faces retrial on the other charges in June after the last jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Hunter pleaded not guilty to the credit card charge. She faces a year in prison if convicted.

• If you attend City Council meetings as much as I do, you hear the name Jeff McElravy pretty often. He’s been a big part of the city’s Department of Trade and Development, a post the city recently announced he’ll be leaving next month. McElravy had been interim head of the department during the city’s negotiations to bring General Electric to The Banks before he was replaced by current permanent trade and development head Oscar Bedolla. McElravy currently serves as the city’s downtown development manager. He’ll leave that job, and working for the city, on April 20.

• Though I’m sometimes pretty critical of our hometown grocery giant, I’ll give Kroger this: They do pretty well when it comes to beer selection. Just last night I scored Rivertown Brewery’s Vanilla Espresso Porter there, one of my favorites. And apparently, it’s just going to get better. The grocery chain has announced it is increasing its stock of local craft beers by 30 percent, giving more shelf space to Cincinnati names like Rhinegiest, Madtree and Christian Moerlein. I usually prefer to hit up Party Source for my beer (worker owned, what’s up) because they carry some of the best crazy dark beers, but hey, I’ll go Krogering in an emergency.

• A proposed transportation budget the Ohio General Assembly is mulling includes a provision that could make it much harder for college students from out of state to vote. The provision requires residents to register their cars in Ohio, if they have one, and get an Ohio driver’s license in order to vote here. Conservatives who are pushing the measure say it’s designed to keep non-residents from voting in state elections. If you register to vote from a campus address, you have to re-register your car in Ohio, the new provision stipulates. If you don’t, your out-of-state license becomes invalid.

Some Democratic lawmakers have cried foul, saying it amounts to voter suppression and intimidation of college students, who tend to vote more progressively. Some Democrats have shot back with a counter-proposal. If students must register their cars to register to vote, it only makes sense they get in-state tuition as well, right? State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Portage County, is pushing that exact logic in response to the Republican voter registration idea. She says the fees associated with car registration and license changes would be a deterrent for students and amount to suppressing their votes. Clyde and other Democrats have signaled they may not vote for the transportation budget if the provision isn’t removed.

• In other State House news, another abortion restriction bill will be up for a floor vote today in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Republicans there say they have enough votes to get the bill on to the state Senate, but GOP leaders there are worried the law could cause federal court challenges that might undermine other abortion restrictions passed in Ohio.

That’s it for me. Hit me up on Twitter or email me with your news tips.

by Nick Swartsell 03.24.2015
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Historic Covington buildings get renovation; Kasich courts New Hampshire; Gannett and Starbucks mocked on Twitter for race initiative

Hey all. News has happened. Here it is.

First, let’s get this out of the way. I don’t watch football. Ever. But that doesn’t mean YOU don’t watch football. Or maybe someone you know? And heck, maybe you want to watch games that take place in the stadium you are paying for as a Hamilton County resident from the comfort of your own couch or favorite bar without having to pay the high ticket prices to see the game in person. That’s a perfectly understandable ambition, given that so many millions of our tax dollars are paying for the Bengals’ home. The good news is that almost every NFL team owner voted recently to end, at least for the coming season, the league’s policy of not televising games that don’t sell out. In fact, the only owner who didn’t vote to end the blackout policy is Bengals owner Mike Brown. Now, Brown says he supports televising every Bengals home game. But he’s concerned about the way revenue is split between home and away teams under the new agreement, which basically stipulates the home team will have to pay the away team if the game doesn’t reach 85 percent capacity. That does sound like a raw deal for small markets like Cincy, but so does voting to keep fans from watching games in the stadium they paid for. Glad I don’t care about football.

• Cincinnati developer Model Group will renovate 13 historic buildings containing affordable housing in Covington’s Mainstrasse district. The group will work in partnership with Welcome House, a social service agency based in the city, and use $700,000 in federal low-income housing tax credits for the project’s first phase. The project could also be eligible for historic preservation tax credits. The renovations will reduce the number of units available in the buildings from 51 to 43 but will result in larger living spaces aimed at single parents who need affordable housing. The project is expected to be complete in 2016. One building, 801 Main St., is a commercial space and will remain so after renovations wrap up.

• Yes, yes, we all complain about how crazy Cincinnati’s weather patterns are. I thought this was a tic common to many areas of the country, with nearly everyone thinking they have the craziest weather around. Turns out, however, that we have some scientific, or at least quasi-scientific, backing for our whining. Nate Silver’s data journalism project Five Thirty Eight ran some climate data on cities across the country and came up with the top places in the country with unpredictable weather. Guess what? Cincinnati is number four on the list. The analysis takes into account temperature, precipitation and a number of other meteorological phenomena. So yeah, next time you want to complain about the fact that it was 70 degrees yesterday and will be snowing tomorrow, go for it. Math is on your side.

• I’m a little late on this one, but in case you missed it, the push to get daily rail between Cincinnati and Chicago has some new supporters. The city of Norwood has signaled it is supporting those efforts, which are led by pro-transit group All Aboard Ohio. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, has also pitched in on the cause in a way, telling state and federal agencies they should keep current rail lines open between cities in Indiana and Chicago so service can someday be expanded.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in New Hampshire today in what is his most straightforward presidential campaign trip yet. Kasich hasn’t officially announced he’s running for the GOP nomination for president (only U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has made that commitment) but there is simply no other reason for Kasich’s trip. He’s testing the waters in important primary states now, trying to boost his stature among Republicans who will have to decide who to nominate next summer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Recent polls show Kasich doing well in Ohio but drawing mostly a blank in other parts of the country. If the gov is able to make news in New Hampshire, or New York and Maine, where he travels next, it could boost his profile and put him in league with figures like Cruz and U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have been in the national spotlight by virtue of their offices and high-profile stances (some would say antics) against Democrats and President Barack Obama. Kasich at times tacks more moderate (at least when it comes to things like Ohio’s Medicaid expansion and Common Core education standards) and has been active mainly in Ohio, so he has some catching up to do. But, heck, saying one crazy thing about how climate change isn’t real or about how we should abolish a couple federal agencies could get him some big attention.

• Hey, did you know that testing giant Pearson, which designs and administers the Common Core tests Ohio students are currently taking, collects student data — name, gender, race, scores — even though the state of Ohio, to which the company reports, doesn’t? And also, did you know that the company has been monitoring students’ social media profiles for leaked test questions? Well, now you know.

• Finally, oof. Reaction to “Race Together,” a new initiative in which two of the nation’s big corporations team up to “tackle the issue of race in America” has been predictably brutal, with many taking to Twitter to mock the idea. Starbucks and Gannett announced March 19 that they were partnering on the project, the first phase of which involved baristas writing #racetogether on customers’ cups and engaging them in conversations about our society’s race issues. Because that’s what baristas want to do first thing in the morning when they’re facing a line of grumpy, caffeine-starved customers.

Starbucks has also been distributing a special edition of USA Today featuring stories about race, which Gannett guarantees is mostly typo-free because race is a very important issue. A few critiques come to mind, one of which is that hashtags don’t work outside the Internet. Also, maybe when your leadership teams look like this and this, it’s better to listen, do some corporate self-reflection and seek feedback instead of trying to “tackle” an issue.

by Nick Swartsell 03.23.2015
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Red Bike to expand to NKY; did Mason break open meetings laws?; study: sprawl costs U.S. $1 trillion a year

Hey all. Hope you had a good weekend and are recovering from whatever NCAA tournament festivities you may have attended. Yeah, yeah, Xavier won. UC lost. The Dayton Flyers pulled out an upset over Providence Friday only to lose to the Sooners last night. Depending on who you were rooting for, you’re probably either nursing some slight heartache, the waning throes of a post-celebratory hangover, or both.

Anyway. Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Cincinnati's Red Bike is heading south. The city of Covington announced it has found funding for up to six Red Bike stations and will be working with the nonprofit to bring bike sharing to Northern Kentucky. The city has said it’s looking at locations near the Roebling suspension bridge, in Mainstrasse Village and other key places. The stations cost about $50,000 each. Cincinnati has 30 throughout downtown and uptown, spurred by a $1 million grant approved by Cincinnati City Council last year.

• A one-time 3CDC mover and shaker will now work for another big developer in Cincinnati. Former 3CDC Executive Vice President Chad Munitz, who left the developer in December, will soon start work with Mount Adams-based Towne Properties. Munitz played a big role in a number of 3CDC’s signature projects over his nine-year tenure there, including the redevelopment of OTR’s Washington Park. He’ll work to help Towne Properties identify new development opportunities in Cincinnati and beyond.

• Did Mason’s City Council violate the city’s charter and Ohio law when it held a last-minute special session to approve a tax deal with P&G last week? Some residents there think so. Mason’s council called the last-minute session Tuesday to pass a $34 million dollar deal that put the finishing touches on a $300 million plan by the company to expand a business center there. The trouble is, council gave only a day’s notice and scheduled the meeting mid-day during working hours, which could violate Ohio’s open meetings laws. Those laws require that the public business is done in a public manner with ample notice beforehand. The notice sent out by council about the meeting also didn’t stipulate a reason or agenda. Council immediately went into private executive session when it convened, then came out and approved the P&G deal. Critics, including some Mason residents, say it all seems secretive and not very public. Seems like they have a good point.

• ResponsibleOhio’s effort to make marijuana legal in Ohio took another step forward as the Ohio Ballot Board approved the group’s language for a proposed law it hopes to put on the ballot in November. ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would allow anyone over 21 to purchase and smoke weed, but would limit commercial cultivation of marijuana to 10 state-sanctioned growers. That detail has caused controversy from other marijuana legalization advocates. The group still needs to collect more than 300,000 valid signatures from Ohio voters in 44 of the state’s 88 counties by July to get the amendment on the ballot.

• Ohio is the 47th worst state in terms of its tax structure’s fairness to low-income people, a study by personal finance website Wallethub.com says. The report found that low-income Ohioans making $25,000 a year or less pay nearly 11.5 percent of their income in taxes, compared to 9.5 percent for high-income earners. By the way, Ohio didn’t do so great when it came to those top-tier workers, either. The state ranks the 41st best place for people making $150,000 a year or more.

• Here's a pretty interesting study that says urban sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year. Wait, so are they saying building highways on top of highways and more McMansions a 45-minute drive from major urban employment centers was an inefficient use of resources? Say it ain't so. Anyway, ignore my editorializing and check out the study. This seems like such a difficult and huge thing to calculate, and I wonder if any readers see things they've missed or other ways to frame the question of how sprawl impacts our economy.

• Finally, I think we all knew this was coming. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced this morning he’s running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. On Twitter. The simple tweet read, “I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” It also included a video of Cruz’s first campaign ad, a dramatic 30-second piece that shows people America-ing all over the place, riding motorcycles through the desert, welding things, playing baseball of course and generally holding small American flags in verdant parks the way we Americans are wont to do.

Notably missing: bald eagles dropping apple pies on our confused and cowering enemies. Otherwise, though, very American. Cruz is perhaps the most conservative of the many names that have been bandied about as a Republican nominee. The freshman Senator has been one of the most vocal opponents of President Barack Obama, especially the Affordable Care Act. Cruz played a big role in last October’s government shutdown when he engineered a bizarre faux-filibuster and other obstructive measures designed to block passage of a budget that allowed the ACA to remain funded. So he has that on his resume. He’s also a loud climate change denier, or at least skeptic, and generally opposes things that liberals and moderates are into.

by Nick Swartsell 03.20.2015
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

NCAA tournament is Ohio against the world; VA head McDonald: speed up services to homeless veterans; NKY Rep. wants to cut fed funding for transit projects

Hey all, it’s news time on this glorious, if rainy, Friday. Let’s go.

It truly is Ohio against the world right now, at least when it comes to March Madness (which, if you’re anything like some of my friends, truly is your entire existence at this moment in time). The University of Cincinnati beat Purdue in a heart-stopper last night, Xavier bested Ole Miss and OSU beat Virginia Commonwealth University. Additionally, the Dayton Flyers pulled one out Wednesday against Boise State to make it into the tournament. They’ll be facing Providence College tonight. That’s great, but big challenges loom ahead: specifically, 8th-seed UC will have to face 1st-seed UK tomorrow. That’s going to be a tough game for the Bearcats. But let’s see what happens, right?

While we’re talking basketball, here’s an interesting look at which local programs are making money for their universities, and which are break-even propositions. UC, for instance, spends as much on its basketball program as its team brings in, while Xavier turns a handy profit — the Musketeers’ hoops squad brings in more than $6 million a year.

• Veterans Affairs Secretary and former P&G CEO Bob McDonald wants Cincinnati, along with other cities, to speed up the process of identifying and helping homeless veterans. McDonald visited local service agencies helping veterans yesterday and said he was impressed with the work those groups are doing, as well as the progress the city has made on veteran homelessness. But he also called for quicker turnaround when it comes to getting homeless veterans into housing, saying that the longer it takes to find them and get them on the right track, the less likely they will be to receive and utilize that aid at all. Mayor John Cranley, who joined McDonald on his tours of service agencies yesterday, is engaged in a national program to help vets, called the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. That initiative looks to end veteran homelessness across the country by the end of this year.

• The Cincinnati Zoo recently made a national list of top places to travel if you want to see cool animals. Family Fun magazine publishes its annual rankings on the best places to travel in a number of specific categories, and Cincinnati’s Zoo ranked number eight in the animal attractions category. It ranked just below Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is pretty impressive. It’s one more accolade for the zoo, which is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation.

• U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Northern Kentucky, has a GREAT idea for fixing the nation’s highway funding dilemma: strip funding for all other transit projects from the National Highway Trust Fund. Massie says the federal government’s grants for streetcars and other alternate forms of transit cost billions that could go toward building and repairing highways and bridges. Hm. Right. Except each of those projects keeps cars off the road, lessens America’s dependence on oil, may create economic development in the communities they’re built in and provide ways to work and recreation for the millions of Americans who don’t own cars. Which, as of yesterday, includes me. It’s also worth noting that only a small percentage of the Highway Trust Fund goes to transit projects, so cutting that funding would be a drop in the bucket. An alternative measure would be to increase the nation’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since grunge rock was cool the first time (that’s 1993). 

• Former (and perhaps future) Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was once again in the Greater Cincinnati area Thursday, fueling more speculation about his ambitions for the GOP presidential nomination. The former Pennsylvania senator stopped by a fundraiser in Montgomery hosted by the Northeast Hamilton County Republican Club. He avoided saying crazy stuff about religion (at least on the record) but did have some eyebrow-raising thoughts on the economy. Santorum is known to be a hardcore conservative when it comes to social issues, but there are signs he’s tacking moderate on the economy, a combination last tried by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee when he sought the GOP nomination in 2008. Santorum talked about how Republicans could capture the hearts and minds of America’s workers, backing policies that step away from the hardcore trickle down theories (tax cuts for the wealthy, decreased regulations) most recently advanced by the GOP. He revealed his presidential platform, should he run, would include supporting a small minimum wage increase — something few other Republicans seem willing to touch. He also committed something close to sacrilege for conservatives, saying the party needed to move on from Ronald Regan’s economic legacy and message. Santorum’s continued courting of the buckeye state (he was here visiting folks in Butler County a couple weeks ago for a religious freedom conference) comes ahead of his party’s national convention in Cleveland next year and is further evidence that the presidential race may be tightly focused on Ohio.

• While we’re talking presidential hopefuls, let’s cross the spectrum for a minute and talk about Democrats, specifically their frontrunner for the presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s been dominating the field on the Dem side, even though she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy. But that could be changing, according to a new poll from news organization Reuters. That poll shows Clinton’s support among Democrats has dipped by 15 points since mid-February, and that now about 45 percent of those identifying with the party say they’re sure they’ll vote for her. That’s still a bigger margin than any other potential candidate, of which there are very few, but the drop is alarming. Some of the dip may be explained by the recent high-profile flap over Clinton’s e-mail usage while secretary of state. After the New York Times reported earlier this month that Clinton used a personal account to conduct State Department business, she has been on the defensive explaining that move. Clinton has turned over tens of thousands of work related e-mails sent from her personal account, but also had other e-mails she claims were personal deleted. That’s led some to suggest she may be hiding information. Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account appears to have fallen within State Department rules, which were changed after her tenure to require the Secretary of State to use a government account for accountability purposes.

And I’m out. Tweet me (@nswartsell), e-mail me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) or comment below. What do you think? Do you hold out any hope for UC against UK? Do you think we should raise the gas tax? Should I buy a car or wait for regional transit in Cincinnati to become so stellar I won’t need one?  (I'm not holding my breath on any of these).

by Nick Swartsell 03.19.2015
Posted In: News at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cincinnati_bike lane_dana ave1

Morning News and Stuff

Council questions Cincinnati State bridge proposal; bike lane hubbub; alternative transportation, southern style

Hey all! Working from home is usually great, unless you're working from home because you're waiting for the tow truck to come for your dear old car, which has finally given up the ghost. A moment of silence, please. Anyone selling a cheap, reliable BMW for someone on a journalist's salary? Thought not. Anyway, on to news.

Some City Council members are asking questions about a huge proposed highway project that could change the way people get to Cincinnati State. The I-74 exit onto Central Parkway near the community college is on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s chopping block. By 2018, the exit will be closed as the highway onramp comes down, part of a much larger revamping of the I-75 corridor through Hamilton County. ODOT has proposed a $42 million bridge over both highways from South Cumminsville to Central Parkway, but critics of that bridge, including some members of City Council, say that route would be just as troublesome to navigate as existing alternatives. Council member Kevin Flynn was skeptical, pointing out that the school is an entryway into college education for many seeking social mobility and that officials should be looking for ways to make it easier to get to, not more difficult. What’s more, it’s unclear how the city would pay for its half of the bridge. City Manager Harry Black, however, says the city supports the deal and will pay to study the project as it works to find funding sources for construction. The city will need to commit the funds by 2017. The bigger plan to revamp I-75 as it passes through Cincinnati has been in the works for years, according to ODOT and city officials.

• As a lover of Cincinnati and a lover of bikes, I’m sometimes befuddled by the controversies we get stuck on when it comes to cycling. The latest hubbub around the Central Parkway bike lane has to do with some plastic markers that separate the lane from the road, as well as the fact that some drivers are apparently not paying enough attention while they’re driving to notice when they’re in a lane where cars park.

The big deal, according to this "investigation" earlier this month? the fact that 300 of the 500 plastic bollards the city put in place when the bike lane was built last year are now broken. That apparently costs taxpayers money. Well, sort of. First, they’re $25 a piece, so it would cost about $7,500 to replace them all if the city hadn’t saved some for reuse. Keep in mind, for perspective, that the city spent $100,000 to reroute the lane after a single business owner complained about a couple street parking spots. What’s more, there’s already money in the grant that built the lane to fix them, so very little if any money will be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets.

That very minor problem aside, a couple business owners have also criticized the lane, complaining that motorists have been rear-ending or almost rear-ending cars that now park in a lane of Central Parkway to the left of the bike lane. How is that any different, from a drivers’ standpoint, than lanes all over the city that have parking during designated hours? Watch where you’re driving, pay attention to road signs and stop worrying about the bike lane. Problem solved, end of story.

• Does one of Cincinnati’s top public schools need to be restructured? That’s what an independent audit suggests. The School for Creative and Performing Arts is one of the city’s most prestigious K-12 schools — it requires auditions as part of a very selective enrollment process and once hosted an MTV reality series about its students striving toward careers in the arts. But the school has also seen some pretty rough turns, including the loss of half-a-million dollars by its private fundraising arm, Friends of SCPA, in a local pyramid scheme.

A report by consultants from the University of Maryland found that the school’s problems go beyond some lost fundraising money and include a need for greater accountability within the school’s administration. The report calls for the school to hire an executive director and a senior financial director to oversee the school’s money and an external affairs director to handle marketing and the school’s relationships with other organizations and the public. The report calls for those administrative changes to take place urgently — within the next six months — to put the school back on a sustainable path. 

• News from the State House: another day, another attempt to fight Common Core in Ohio. The tests are part of new federal standards that look to increase educational readiness among students. Critics say the tests amount to a federal takeover of state education and increase testing loads on students. The bill, authored by Republican State Rep. Andrew Brenner from Powell, is in committee now. Gov. John Kasich supports the standards and would be unlikely to sign legislation repealing them.

• President Barack Obama was in Cleveland yesterday bashing Republicans in the city that will host their national convention next year. Obama said the House GOP’s recently released budget proposal is a gimme for those who are already rich that ignores the middle class and low-income people in America. The GOP’s plan would cut taxes for big businesses and wealthy Americans, which they say will stimulate job growth. The plan will also cut money from Medicare and other social programs in an attempt to erase the federal government’s deficit over the next decade.

Obama called the plan “trickle down economics” that won’t work for the middle class. Obama’s plan is generally the opposite: decrease tax loopholes for large corporations, raise taxes on the wealthy, spend billions on infrastructure and a free community college program he proposed last month. His budget would also reverse cuts to defense and other spending under sequestration. Obama touted the economy’s recovery that has occurred since he took office, including slowly falling unemployment numbers. Republicans, including the office of House Speaker John Boehner, shot back against his criticisms, calling his speech to the Cleveland City Club a “political stunt.”

• Finally, let’s go back to alternative forms of transportation for a minute. Forget bikes or streetcars — they do it a bit differently in the South, apparently. This guy got pulled over on I-75 near downtown Atlanta for riding his horse down the highway. He also had another horse with him, which maybe means he should have been using the rideshare lane? I don’t know. Anyway, the Long Rider, has he calls himself, is heading our way. He says he’s trying to get to Indiana by June for his sister’s birthday. He also says he rides to “feed the children,” though it’s unclear what that means.

And I’m out. Comment, tweet (@nswartsell) or email (nswartsell@citybeat.com) news tips or the best place to buy a used horse with less than 75,000 miles on it.

by Nick Swartsell 03.18.2015
Posted In: News at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City to forgive nearly $200K on Mahogany's loan; Ohio Board of Education could vote soon on five of eight rule; should you pick UK to take the tournament?

Hey Cincy! It’s news time.

The city of Cincinnati will forgive all but $100,000 of the nearly $300,000 Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers owes the city for her defunct restaurant, which closed its location at The Banks last September. City Manager Harry Black proposed the plan, which would require Rogers to make $800 monthly payments, in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council yesterday. Meanwhile, Rogers announced today that she is planning two new ventures to help her make those payments: a gourmet ice cream business and a food truck. Rogers was given the loan in 2012 to bring her soul food restaurant to The Banks. She quickly fell behind on her loan payments, however, a fact she attributes to a lack of promised amenities, including a new hotel, at the riverfront development.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld could face a state investigation into his campaign finances after it was revealed he filed a report for his council campaign fund six months late. The report was due last July, but Sittenfeld didn’t file it until January. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into the violation and could send it on to the Ohio Elections Commission. If the state commission finds Sittenfeld did violate campaign finance rules by turning in his report late, it could assess a fine of $100 for every day the report was late — which would mean Sittenfeld could owe as much as $18,000. Depending on the reasons for the delay, the commission could also decline to assess the fine or fine Sittenfeld a lower amount. The potential investigation could complicate the 30-year-old councilman’s bid for the Senate. Sittenfeld is currently in a primary race against 74-year-old former Ohio governor Ted Strickland for the Democratic nomination. The winner will go on to challenge sitting Republican Senator Rob Portman.

• Christopher Cornell, the Hamilton County man suspected of making plans to carry out terrorist acts in Washington D.C., will keep his access to a phone in the Boone County Jail where he is being held. Prosecutors have tried to keep him from having access to the phone, but a federal judge yesterday ruled that restricting Cornell’s access could keep him from planning his legal defense and also compromise his psychological health. Cornell is currently being held in isolation. So far, Cornell has only used the phone to call his lawyers, his family and, in one instance, the media. Cornell called FOX 19 and spoke to Tricia Macke for an hour, during which he claimed that if he hadn’t been arrested in January, he would have gone to Washington to carry out terrorist attacks. Recorded phone records show Cornell hasn’t used his phone access to attempt to reach out to others who might engage in terrorist acts.

• The Ohio Board of Education could vote soon on eliminating the so-called five of eight rule, which currently requires schools to have at least five of eight specialty staff members including art teachers and librarians. A legislative review board yesterday cleared the possible rule change, setting the board of education for a vote on eliminating the staffing requirements at its next meeting April 13 and 14. The proposed rule change has been very controversial; education advocates and other foes say it will disproportionately affect low-income students, whose districts are often strapped for cash, by allowing schools to eliminate art, music and other classes. Advocates for the rule changes say they want to give schools more discretion on how they spend their money.

Taxpayers paid $3,400 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to fly to Washington earlier this month for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, the Associated Press reports. The funds went toward hotel rooms, airfare and parking for the Republican governor and two staff members. That’s perfectly legal, but it also means taxpayers picked up the bill for Kasich to attend a highly partisan event. The speech, in which Netanyahu harshly criticized President Barack Obama for his policy toward Iran, was controversial, playing on a growing divide in Congress and in American politics in general. The GOP invited Netanyahu to speak but didn't give the White House a heads up beforehand. More than 50 top Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, did not attend the address, which was given to both House and Senate members.

• So it’s very little surprise that the University of Kentucky is the team to beat this year in the NCAA basketball tournament. This pretty insightful breakdown from the New York Times’ Upshot blog, however, gives you some nice pointers as to whether you should go with the favorites or pick an underdog. While you’re thinking about March Madness, pick up our issue this week, which has a great preview of all the hoops craziness. Because I’m not a statistician, sports fan or gambler, I always vote for our local teams until they inevitably lose, but hey, one of these years…

• Finally, this is unsettling to me, but maybe I just need to get more comfortable with the glories of late-stage capitalism already. A new company that lets you put your own face on action figures and dolls is coming to Cincinnati. AvaStars, which already has stores in Chicago and St. Louis, will soon open at Kenwood Towne Center. The store will allow children or really anyone for whom selfies are no longer gratifying enough to put their own faces on figurines, as well as appear in a customized video. Like I said, in the age of incessant social media self-branding, there’s something weird about this to me, but hey, I’m trying to be more positive this week, so let’s look at the upsides. This could be huge for a kid’s self-esteem and ability to envision their future — picture a lot more female scientist dolls, maybe, or other possibilities that undermine the constant drumbeat of oppressive normative messages most toys send to kids.

by Nick Swartsell 03.17.2015
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA approves Oasis bike path; Pete Rose applies for MLB reinstatement; Mount Auburn park could get facelift

Morning y’all! I’ve been out of the morning news loop working on long-term projects but I’m back and ready to nerd out on some news. So let’s do it.

Twitter is all abuzz this morning with the news that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has approved plans to build a bike path on the Oasis Line near the Ohio River on the city’s East Side. That’s big news — as our feature on the potential Oasis path last month explored, completion of a bike trail there brings Cincinnati closer to a network of statewide trails and also makes biking from the East Side to downtown a possibility. SORTA controls the right of way on a set of tracks that will need to be paved for the bike path to be built. The Indiana-Ohio Railway company, however, voiced opposition to the plan, citing safety concerns and plans to expand its business in the area. The company owns tracks running just seven feet from the unused line the bike path would occupy.

• Will Pete Rose get reinstated into Major League Baseball, clearing the way for his induction into the Hall of Fame? It could happen, but the road facing Charlie Hustle is still a long one. Rose recently applied for reinstatement with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who expressed openness to a conversation about letting Rose back in after taking baseball’s top position in January. Manfred has acknowledged he received Rose’s request but hasn’t tipped his hand about whether or when the hit king might be reinstated. Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, received a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 after he was investigated for betting on the game while he was a player and coach. Rose denied the allegations until 2003, when he publicly admitted he did bet on games.

• Two members of Cincinnati City Council would like to spend $9 million to revamp a 20-acre park in Mount Auburn while also improving the area around the park on Auburn Avenue for pedestrians. Inwood Park sits along Vine Street on the western edge of the neighborhood between uptown and downtown. Councilmen Charlie Winburn and Chris Seelbach would like the city to invest $5 million in the park over the next two budgets in a plan they unveiled before council’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday. The hope is that investment would help increase momentum on new development in the neighborhood, which has just begun to pick up. Developers Uptown Rentals and North American Properties plan to invest nearly $100 million in Mount Auburn in the near future, including the construction of 400 units of market-rate housing and tens of thousands of square feet of office space.

“As we’ve seen with Washington Park, these dollars do more than beautify our neighborhoods,” Seelbach said in a news release yesterday. “Inwood Park will become a destination in Uptown, drawing families, students and neighbors to spend time together, enjoying our city.”

I walk through this park all the time and think it’s pretty epic. The motion met with mixed reactions from the rest of the budget and finance committee, who are hesitant about the expenditures without reviewing the plan with the Parks Department and considering other uses for the money.

• Gov. John Kasich met Monday with the Ohio Taskforce on Community-Police Relations to discuss the group’s ongoing work. Kasich convened the task force in December in the wake of controversy over the shooting deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers, including Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek. The 18-member group made up of lawmakers, experts, law enforcement professionals and community leaders held four listening sessions across the state, including a marathon five-and-a-half hour session in Cincinnati March 9. Now, the task force must compile the hours of expert testimony and community input into a report with recommendations for policy changes, which is expected to be released April 30. In the meantime, Kasich dropped by the meeting Monday to hear initial thoughts from the task force members.

One member, Oregon, Ohio Police Chief Michael Navarre, said that all of his training has informed him to shoot in dangerous situations, and that "there is a huge gap between what community and police want," according to Gongwer news service. Kasich has said changing training and procedures for officers could be one outcome of the task force’s work.

• Finally, are you following this crazy story about New York millionaire and property magnate Robert Durst? You should be. Durst is suspected in three murders over the span of nearly two decades, including that of his wife, one of his best friends and a neighbor. The thing is, he’s been a suspect for years and was even acquitted on grounds of self-defense for one of the murder charge even after he admitted to dismembering the man he killed. The HBO series Jinx has chronicled Durst and the suspicions against him, and, incredibly, Durst was arrested in New Orleans just before the show’s finale to face charges in L.A. for one of the murders. There are so many things to unpack about this situation — how money changes your relationship to the justice system, the weird looking glass of true-crime TV and real law enforcement colliding, Durst’s own strange background and on and on. Anyway, the whole story is worth reading up on and I’m sure we’ll be searching for answers to the questions Jinx raises for years to come.

That’s it for me. Tweet me (@nswartsell). Email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com). Say hey when you see me at Findlay Market. Whatever you gotta do to give me those news tips or your thoughts on the weird world of true-crime docu-dramas.

by Nick Swartsell 03.13.2015
Posted In: News at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marijuana Legalization Effort Moves Forward

Ohio attorney general approves ResponsibleOhio's ballot language for marijuana legalization amendment

A controversial effort to legalize the growth and sale of marijuana is one step closer to the November ballot. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today approved ResponsibleOhio's ballot summary language, or the description of its proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize pot but restrict growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors across Ohio.

“We are very happy with today’s news,” said ResponsibleOhio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander in a news release. “Voters deserve a thoughtful conversation on this important issue, and we are eager to continue this conversation in the coming months.”

DeWine initially rejected the group's ballot proposal over quibbles with its summary language. ResponsibleOhio tweaked its proposal, and now the initiative is ready for the ballot.

The group built its ballot initiative in the mold of Ohio’s successful 2009 casino legalization effort. Opponents, including other pro-marijuana groups, say that like the casino amendment ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would create a state-ordained monopoly on marijuana farms that mainly benefits the group’s investors. Other critics, including many conservative statewide officials, say the plan will increase drug use and crime.

In response to criticism from other pro-marijuana activists, ResponsibleOhio last month announced it was changing its proposition to allow private growth of small amounts of marijuana.

The group says its proposal will decrease the black market for weed, alleviate some legal injustices, save law enforcement money and increase tax revenues.

“Marijuana prohibition has failed,” Bolander said. “Black Ohioans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white Ohioans. Patients are denied access to treatments that could ease their suffering. And the state is wasting $120 million each year to enforce these bad laws.

Local ResponsibleOhio investors include basketball hall of famer Oscar Robertson, philanthropist Barbara Gould and venture capitalist Frank Wood. Cincinnati attorney Chris Stock is also involved with the group, helping draw up the language for the ballot initiative. Three of the proposed 10 marijuana farms would be in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Next, ResponsibleOhio will need to finish collecting the more than 300,000 signatures required to put the amendment on this year’s statewide ballot. The group has until this summer to do so.