Heavy stuff in the news today, but there’s a bright spot at the end of this rundown, something so inspiring it will probably change your life. Well, maybe just your week. Err, I don’t want to oversell it. I promise you’ll be amused for at least a couple minutes if you make it to the end of this. Read on.
The next chapter in the saga of nine Greenpeace activists who hung banners from P&G buildings happens today. A pretrial hearing will determine whether lawyers for the activists will be able to access P&G e-mails about the event to use in their case. Lawyers are also requesting records about maintenance of the building, more than likely related to the alleged $18,000 in damage done to windows in the building. That damage is part of prosecutors’ case that the group should face felony charges. Meanwhile, the Greenpeace activists are considering a plea deal that would keep them out of jail but saddle them with probation and felonies on their records. A date for the trial is expected to be set today.
Update: One of the nine protesters will take the plea deal, WLWT reports. The other eight will go to trial to face burglary and vandalism charges.
• Hundreds rallied downtown Sunday to show support for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, where more than 400 civilians have been killed over the past few weeks in clashes between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. Local protesters said their rally was about highlighting Palestinian civilians’ human rights.
“We have to be the voice for the voiceless," said Zeinab Schwen, a Symmes Township resident with family in Gaza. "For the children and parents, we have to speak up. It is not OK. It is not OK what Israel is doing.”
Israel launched a ground offensive Sunday in Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Hamas. Israeli leaders say they’re not trying to hurt civilians, and that Palestinian militants are putting them in harm’s way. But some witnesses claim that the Israeli army is targeting ambulances and other civilian vehicles as it carries out its offensive. In addition to the hundreds killed in Gaza, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded by the fighting. 20 Israeli soldiers, including two with American citizenship, have also been killed.
• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store behemoth, is nearing a settlement in a civil rights suit brought by actor Rob Brown. Brown, the star of TV series “Treme,” says the chain’s New York City store profiled him and others due to his race. He is black. According to his suit, Brown was handcuffed and detained by security at the store for more than an hour when attempting to buy a watch for his mother. Other shoppers have filed similar complaints alleging they were held by security and accused of stealing because of their race. Details of the upcoming settlement have not been released.
• More questions are arising about ethics in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. The Dayton Daily News had an investigative piece Saturday about the AG’s office and the way it hands out contracts to outside firms. It’s a subject that has been reported on in the past–a number of media outlets have investigated law contracts the AG has awarded to legal firms who donate to the DeWine campaign and the Ohio GOP. Today’s piece finds similar connections with contracts awarded to firms to collect on debts owed to the state. The piece finds a high correlation between firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign and ones that get those collections contracts. Especially noteworthy are instances where firms run by those close to DeWine win contracts over more experienced vendors.
• Death and destruction. Racial Profiling. Allegations of cronyism. To give you a break from all the doom and gloom in this morning news, I found someone who has attained an amazing, completely laudable achievement, someone who can restore our faith in humanity and expand our understanding of what is possible in this world. It’s this guy, who just set the world record for number of tattoos of the same cartoon character on a person’s body. He has 41 Homer Simpson tats, all on his arm. He’s reached this pinnacle of human achievement despite having been forbidden from watching the show by his father, who he calls “a real life Ned Flanders” when he was growing up. Next time you think you can’t do something, that your goal is too hard, that the world is too harsh, remember this man.
The news transpiring this morning is all across the board.
The reshaping of Cincinnati’s downtown continues, and one of the biggest signs of more impending changes is the increase in housing in the city’s urban core. More people are interested in living in or near downtown, and developers are happy to oblige. Construction is ongoing for nearly 1,000 new apartments and condos in and around downtown, The Business Courier reports in a rundown of new construction today. The biggest projects include phase two of The Banks, which will have 305 new apartments, the so-called 580 building on Walnut Street, which is being converted from office space to 179 luxury apartments, and between 180 and 225 new apartments going in above Macy’s downtown location. There are also a number of projects happening in Over-the-Rhine, including a $26 million development in the Pendleton area that will also include 40,000 feet of retail space.
• All that change isn’t going unnoticed. It seems like I’m talking about Cincinnati making it onto some top 10 list or national publication at least a couple times a week here at the morning news, and here’s another one: Fortune magazine included Cincinnati in a list of top five cities with up-and-coming downtown areas. The article highlights Over-the-Rhine, saying, “while it’s still a work in progress, it’s already been transformed into one of Cincinnati’s most vibrant communities.” Oh, to work at a national magazine, parachute into a city for a couple days and reduce complex, decades-old dynamics into pithy, erudite observations. But I digress.
• Tea partiers won a victory of sorts in U.S. District Court yesterday when Judge Susan Dlott ruled a group of the political activists could pursue suits against Internal Revenue Service employees in Cincinnati. The activists’ claims, first filed last year, state that IRS officials unfairly flagged their applications for nonprofit status based on the fact the groups have names indicating they are conservative or have “tea party” in the name. Nonprofits can’t be primarily political, and in assessing a groups’ application, the IRS must determine the level of political involvement in which a group engages. While the IRS admits it did flag tea party groups, it also did so for some liberal groups, including Occupy-affiliated activists. Still, the conservative groups argue that the IRS acted in a discriminatory way by delaying or denying their applications. The judge’s ruling clears the way for the groups’ lawsuits to go forward.
• There’s a new senate candidate in Kentucky joining the Mitch McConnell/Alison Lundergan-Grimes fray, and he wants you to know he’s full of crap. “Honest” Gil Fulbright is a fake candidate created by represent.us, a group advocating to get big-money influence out of politics. Fulbright, who is played by an actor from New York, is pretty honest about his intentions.
“People of Kentucky, you deserve complete honesty, so here it is,” he says in a video. “I don't care about you. Unless you are a donor, a lobbyist who can write a big fat check, the result that you get from voting for me is negligible."
The parody is a way for the group to drive home its point that most politicians in Congress are beholden to the big-money donors who help them get elected. The group says satire is a more effective way to reach people than traditional news. Probably true.
Kentucky’s senate race, where Democrat Lundergan-Grimes is working to unseat incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is expected to be the most expensive in history. Candidates and outside groups are on track to spend $100 million to convince voters they’re the better choice. A good deal of that money comes from big-money donors and PACs.
• Finally, while we’re talking about Kentucky, I need to share this story with you. The morning news absolutely does not condone law breaking, but if you’re going to do it, you might take a tip from this criminal genius. A Corbin, Kentucky man was arrested Tuesday for shoplifting. When taken to the station, he asked to make his requisite one phone call. Did he use that call to get in touch with a family member, friend or significant other who could bail him out? No, no. He used his only phone call to order five pizzas in the name of the officer who arrested him. The pizzas were then delivered to the police station, to the confusion of officers. This was either an A-plus troll move or an act of kindness. Something tells me this guy knew it was going to be a long night for everyone involved and just wanted to get the party started right. The authorities were not amused, however, and are now adding charges of impersonating an officer to his shoplifting counts.
Here it is: Everything (well, probably) that you need to know today.
The struggle to pay for renovations for Union Terminal and Music Hall continues to make news, with articles out this morning exploring the details of the buildings’ ownership and why a tax hike to fix them up won’t be like the much-loathed 1996 stadium deal. The Enquirer delves into the reasons why the city isn’t responsible for upkeep of the buildings even though it technically owns them. Basically, non-profits that lease the spaces are contractually obligated to pay for their maintenance, though the city also pitches in some funds to help. Meanwhile, the Business Courier has a look at the way a tax hike would be structured. The piece points out that the increase doesn’t make the same assumptions about economic growth that the stadium deal did, and is therefore unlikely to balloon out of control.
• P&G left the game, but it turns out the game needs it. That game is adult diapers. The Cincinnati company is considering jumping back into adult incontinence products after leaving a decade ago. P&G already makes diapers for babies, and with the market for adult diapers growing by 8 percent a year, it’s an easy and attractive step that could net P&G $500 million annually. That’s great, but I find it a little depressing that as a nation we’re having a harder and harder time not peeing ourselves. But hey, the market is getting bigger because we’re all getting older because we’re living longer, right? That’s a good thing.
• One of the many reasons I left my former city of residence, Washington D.C., was a whale. A pink, cartoonish whale with a smug smile. Call it a reverse Ahab situation–I tried to avoid it, but instead of being elusive, it was ubiquitous. I came back here, to landlocked Ohio, partially to escape it. But now it has followed me. I’m talking about the logo for Vineyard Vines, an up-market clothing brand that recently announced it may build its first Ohio store in Kenwood. The brand specializes in a certain kind of east coast prep look. Think boat shoes. Novelty ties. Business casual pants in salt water taffy colors, or with little whales all over them. It’s a very Washington vibe, and before now you had to drive hours to get it. But soon, you too can be covered in little pink whales. It’s great news on the development front, to be sure, but it also gives me flashbacks to my time elbowing through gaggles of Georgetown grads for a spot at many a bar in DC.
• Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Christian Moerlein are teaming up to create a Lumenocity-themed beer for next month’s light show. Do I really need to say anything else about that? Sounds awesome.
• Ohio’s Board of Education is investigating reports that a Dayton charter school has been the site of racism, sexual misconduct, testing irregularities, misreporting of attendance figures, and other problems. A number of former teachers have testified that Horizon Science Academy has been mismanaged. The school is run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, which operates 19 schools in Ohio. The education organization is already under investigation by the FBI.
• Finally, the Transportation Safety Administration (you know, the folks who make you wait in line forever and have a machine that can see through your clothes) is probably one of the most-hated government agencies, but they can write a good blog. Their last few, about some of the crazy things people try to take through airport security, are pretty good reads (with pics!) Highlights include loaded guns, bullet-shaped knives, throwing knives, blades stashed in Scooby Doo greeting cards, fireworks, spent artillery shells and bear repellent. Four words for Samuel L. Jackson in case he’s looking for his next project/sequel opportunity: Bears on a Plane.
Good morning all. I may be writing this news rundown from my porch at home, enjoying the amazing weather and eating Graeter’s black cherry ice cream for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real, real serious about the news. Let’s do this.
As we reported yesterday, the Obama administration is expected to jump into the fight over early voting in Ohio. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made remarks, released yesterday, indicating that the Justice Department will file with the Ohio ACLU and other civil rights organizations already fighting reductions to early voting in the state. The administration has made voting rights a key issue following last year’s Supreme Court decision that rolled back certain sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
• The head of Cincinnati Metro resigned yesterday, according to a press release by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Metro’s CEO Terry Garcia Crews will step down immediately and will be temporarily replaced by Darryl Haley, who was Metro’s executive director of development. Metro will conduct a national search for her permanent replacement. In the press release, Crews says she’s leaving to focus on her family, including her parents, who live out of town, and to continue her transportation consulting business.
“I have great confidence in the leadership and the team at Metro and community leaders to carry forth the discussion and implementation of expanding public transportation in this community,” Garcia Crews said.
Metro gives about 17 million individual rides each year. Its role looks to grow as transit needs in the city expand and the streetcar comes online next year.
• There was some drama in Over-the-Rhine last night, though the actual situation was not quite as intense as initial reports made it out to be. Police entered a building at 13th and Walnut to do an inspection at the request of the building’s owner. They came upon a man who fled from them. As he fled, a gun the man was carrying went off. Multiple news outlets reported the officers had been fired upon and that a standoff situation was developing. In reality, the gun accidentally went off as the man attempted to hide it in his pants. Which, yeah, probably not a great idea, but there you have it. The man fled to another building, threw the gun out a window and hid. He was arrested a short time later and faces multiple charges today. Still a scary scenario, but, you know, not exactly a police shootout.
• A list put together by CityLab shows that Cincinnati is among the top cities in the country when it comes to design. While we all know the Queen City has some great graphic design and marketing talent, it’s surprising to see the city also ranks impressively high for industrial design. Our fair city is well-represented in nearly every category measured, which is pretty cool.
• Remember that guy who threatened to shoot down a helicopter a couple days ago? Yeah, a judge told him today to cool it with the guns for a while, and required him to turn over his firearms to authorities. I’m sure there are some hardcore gun rights activists out there fuming about how the government is infringing on his 1st Amendment right to express displeasure with helicopters and his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but me, I’m perfectly OK with it in this particular case. At least he didn't try hiding them in his pants.
• The race for Ohio governor is getting interesting. Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald’s campaign is citing polls that show him neck and neck with incumbent Gov. John Kasich, though, as with any poll that a campaign is excited about, it’s probably best to be wary. The poll was paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party and echoes another recent Democrat-funded poll showing FitzGerald within striking distance. However, both of these polls contradict earlier independent polling done this spring showing Kasich ahead by as many as 15 points.
FitzGerald’s campaign is getting proactive, though, dropping its first TV ad today. In the ad, FitzGerald implies that Gov. Kasich is all about the 1 percenters.
“Who is the promise of Ohio meant for?” FitzGerald asks in the 30 second spot. “Just the wealthy and well-connected?”
FitzGerald gives a shout out to “Ohioans who get up early and get it done every day,” which made me kind of feel bad about working from home while eating ice cream. He goes on to promise support for the state’s middle class, including more funding for teachers, police and firefighters. Though he never mentions Kasich by name, he hits on the idea that the current administration favors the wealthy again at the end of the ad.
Meanwhile, an attack site paid for by the Ohio Republican Party against the challenger called fitzgeraldforohio.com just sprung up. The site mostly attacks FitzGerald on his first choice of running mate, former lieutenant governor candidate Eric Kearney. Kearney quit the ticket in December last year after it was revealed he owed a large amount in back taxes. The site also features an ad linking FitzGerald to former Gov. Ted Strickland, who has endorsed FitzGerald. The ad argues that Strickland was bad for Ohio and FitzGerald would be, too.
In a kind of strange twist, however, the ad seems to blame Strickland for many ills Ohio faced due to the great recession, including spiking unemployment and budget overruns. As if those same dynamics weren’t happening in nearly every state around the country during Strickland’s term from 2007 to 2011, when the recession was at its worst. The candidates’ next filing deadline is just a couple weeks away, and it will be interesting to see if either grab more big bucks. Stay tuned.
Holder revealed the DOJ’s intention to join the fight in Ohio over early voting during an interview about terrorism with ABC News in London July 11. That portion of the interview was unaired. Holder’s comments were revealed when the DOJ released transcripts to the press this week.
The Ohio suit, originally brought by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups, claims the Republican-led elimination of early voting hours is unconstitutional because it will disproportionately affect minorities.
Ohio’s General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings in the days before elections.
Some of Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone by a federal district court judge, who ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting in the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU’s lawsuit.
In the interview, Holder said voting is “the most basic of our rights” and vowed that he “will use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote.”
Holder also said the DOJ will file in another voting rights case over Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which has seen a pitched battle in federal courts.
Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald applauded Holder’s comments in a news release today.
“I’m pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice will be joining the fight to protect voter rights in Ohio,” FitzGerald said in the release. “Under Governor Kasich, access to the polls has significantly decreased for hardworking Ohioans across the state.”
Morning, y'all. It's only Tuesday and there is already lots and lots going on. Here we go.
A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has allowed troubled charter school VLT Academy to stay open and ordered the Ohio Department of Education to help fund it. In a decision yesterday, Judge Nadine Allen ordered ODE to become the school’s sponsoring organization and provide almost $300,000 to pay staff and administration there. The school, which serves about 600 students in Pendleton, was scheduled to close last month because its sponsoring organization did not renew its contract. Education Resource Consultants of Ohio declined to continue supporting the school due to its academic performance and financial situation.
Ohio law stipulates that charter schools must have a sponsor to operate. VLT tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new sponsor, asking several organizations including the Ohio Department of Education. When ODE declined, citing the school’s poor academic performance, VLT sued in Hamilton County Common Please Court. VLT argued that its performance was never poor enough to trigger automatic closure. The school says that ODE is playing politics and that it warned other potential sponsoring organizations not to sponsor the school. ODE acknowledges it made organizations aware of the school’s performance issues.
Allen ruled that ODE made it difficult for the school to find a new sponsor and that closing the school would do harm to its students. Ninety-nine percent of VLT’s students are economically disadvantaged. The school has lost a third of its student body, and subsequently almost $2 million in funding, in the past three years as Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine undergo demographic shifts.
• State Rep. Connie Pillich will hold a roundtable discussion today in Cincinnati as part of a state-wide tour around veterans’ issues. That tour began July 2 in Huber Heights. The meeting with local veterans will focus on financial challenges facing the military community, including the need for financial literacy education for veterans and state-level unemployment benefits for their spouses. Pillich is a Democrat who has represented Montgomery in the state legislature since 2009. She’s currently vacating that seat to challenge State Treasurer Josh Mandel. She’s touting her efforts on veterans issues and her service in the armed forces as she travels around the state to meet with veterans and their families. Before her political career, Pillich served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and did support duties during Operation Desert Storm.
• The Cincinnati Park Board settled a federal lawsuit today brought by several residents of Over-the-Rhine regarding rules put in place after the 2012 renovation at Washington Park. The residents said the rules, which forbade distributing food and clothing in the park and taking items out of trashcans, were drawn up without public scrutiny and designed to keep the homeless out of the park. The city dropped the rules in September 2012. The city has not commented on how it decided upon the rules in the first place. The amount of today’s settlement in the case wasn’t disclosed.
• Architect Magazine pulled no punches in an editorial on General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks yesterday. Written by former Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, a noted architecture critic, the piece caustically derided the building, and The Banks, for a gutless lack of panache.
“Cincinnati, a proud city with a great heritage busily squandering it, will be stuck with the results of its own shortsightedness,” Betsky wrote in the piece. Ouch.
• Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and attorney general hopeful David Pepper will ask the Ohio General Assembly to provide more money for heroin clinics today in a press conference in Columbus. The Democrats say clinics around the state face a $20 million shortfall after recent changes in the way federal money is distributed. The heroin crisis has been a big talking point for Pepper, who has criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine over his handling of the surge in addiction-related deaths.
• The number of people commuting by bicycle is up 60 percent nationally from the year 2000, according to recent data from the U.S. Census. But that data also show another dynamic–most of that increase has come from relatively wealthy, white commuters who can afford to choose how they roll. Among low-income people, especially people of color, the desire for car ownership is much higher and the value placed on alternate means of commuting is much lower. This may be because people in low income neighborhoods face much longer commute times and an environment without the necessary infrastructure for safe cycling. But there are also probably social factors at play — cars are still strong symbols of success across all levels of society in the U.S., and low income commuters desire those symbols as much as anyone.
• Finally, if you’re looking for the next big (literally, huge) thing in hip living arrangements, I’ve got you covered. If a renovated row house makes you yawn, and a partially reconstructed loft space is just too domestic for you, how about living in a Boeing 727? Bruce Campbell (no, not THAT Bruce Campbell, though I can totally see this plane abode being the setting of a campy horror flick) of Oregon is leading the way on this brave new trend. Share with all your friends who are still really, really, into Lost.
One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.
• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.
• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.
• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.
• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.
• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.
We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.
If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.
• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival. CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.
Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.
“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.
• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.
• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
Whoa, tons of news happening right now. Here's a brief rundown of what's up today.
Homelessness has spiked in Hamilton County, social service providers say. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country as federal spending cuts hit programs aimed at aiding the homeless and preventing homelessness. That trend has hit Cincinnati-area families hard, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Some of the increase right now is seasonal, the Enquirer story reports, but some is more systemic, coming from a greater emphasis on chronic individual homelessness over the past few years by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hamilton County.
• The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today that it will be expanding access to Lumenocity due to overwhelming demand. The light and music event takes place Aug. 1-3 at Washington Park.
CSO will release 3,300 additional tickets to the main events, plus another 5,000 to a dress rehearsal the day before, also in Washington Park. Those tickets will be given away in a drawing you can enter between now and Tuesday at lumenocity2014.com. In addition, the event will be broadcast live at Fountain Square and Riverbend. The Aug. 1 performance will be radio broadcast on 90.9 WGUC. The Aug. 2 performance will also be broadcast on public television station CET. The event will also be live streamed on Lumenocity’s website all three nights.
The event was wildly popular last year, so this year, the CSO hoped to gain a bit more control over the size of the crowd by issuing free tickets online. The 37,5000 tickets given out last month were snatched up in mere minutes. Some later popped up on eBay for as much as $150. Vice Mayor David Mann requested an investigation into the giveaway and resulting ticket resales.
• A city review board gave a big “meh” to design proposals for GE’s new building at The Banks. The Urban Design Review Board, which is responsible for giving recommendations about buildings that will have a significant profile downtown, was underwhelmed with the conservative plans for GE’s 10-story office building near the riverfront. The building’s architect calls it “timeless mainstream design,” but board members said it just looks like a run of the mill suburban office building.
“We were looking for a special building, and this is a routine one,” board Chairman Buck Niehoff said.
Ouch. To be fair though, the board does have a point. The building will be a very prominent part of The Banks, and GE is receiving unprecedented incentives from the city (read: from taxpayers) to build there. Is a little flash too much to ask? Maybe a tiara on top, or a Cadillac sticking out of part of the building. Or like, maybe it could look like a big jet engine? These ideas are free, GE, so you can take them if you want. Or call me, I’ve got tons more…
• The Ohio GOP is suing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, currently Cuyahoga County’s executive, over access to records detailing his comings and going at county offices and parking garages. The suit comes after media in Cleveland requested the same records back in April and were denied.
The GOP’s lawsuit is filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, and holds that FitzGerald’s records are public information that must be released. FitzGerald says the records of his keycard swipes at county buildings are security-sensitive information, and that they needs to be closely held because he’s had security concerns, including death threats, related to his job and his past work in law enforcement.
Ironically, his opponent Gov. John Kasich is fighting much the same fight. He’s refused to release information about his schedule and security threats, and is also facing a suit in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
• Controversy over immigration at the United States/Mexico border continues, and the situation is basically becoming a circus. President Obama yesterday met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials, activists, and faith leaders to discuss the crisis at the border, where sharp spikes in migration by people from Central America, many of them children, are being reported. More than 52,000 youth have been caught crossing the country's southwestern border this year, double the amount from last year.
Perry spent at least part of the meeting making sour faces or perhaps fighting constipation. Obama's asking for $3.7 billion from Congress to help shore up the border with more judges and detention centers to expedite the deportation process, while Perry is asking for 1,000 National Guard troops at the border. The GOP, which controls the House of Representatives, looks unlikely to budge on the issue and give Obama the money. Some House members, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer, also of Texas, have complained that conditions at detention centers are too cushy. These are, by the way, the same detention centers that many reports show are overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane.
"When you look at the lovely way they're getting treated -- they're
getting free health care, free housing, you know, they're watching the
World Cup on big screen TVs," Neugebauer said on conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday. Well, jeez, sign me up for that, Randy.
Meanwhile, in what only highlights the absurdity of the political crapshow that the situation has become, noted humanitarian and completely reasonable person Glenn Beck has announced he's speeding toward the border with soccer balls and hot meals for migrant children. It's gotten real, I mean, really real, when Glenn Beck is one of the sane, caring voices in any debate.
• Finally, scientists have developed a chip that provides remote control birth control. The chip is implanted under the skin and can be switched off in case a woman decides she’d like to conceive. The device is projected to last for up to 16 years. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the device—studies must be done to determine its failure rate and whether it’s safe to have the chip in your body for an extended period of time.
Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick for the next city manager, spoke today about his ideas for keeping Cincinnati’s momentum moving forward.
At a news conference outside City Hall this morning, Black pledged that should he be selected to be city manager, his office would be transparent and accountable as it seeks to boost economic development, improve financial planning and preserve safety in the city. The city manager is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the mayor, hiring department heads and making day-to-day choices on the way the city runs.
Black currently serves as the finance director for the city of
Baltimore, a role he says has prepared him to be Cincinnati’s city manager.
“They’re both rustbelt cities,” Black said of Baltimore and Cincinnati. “They’re both challenged in similar ways. What may vary is scale. But the issues here are issues that I’ve seen.”
Black has been involved in political dustups in some of his past jobs, but has more than 25 years of public service experience and reams of positive recommendations. In his remarks today, he pledged to guide the city to a more long-term outlook on finances while forging an analytic rather than political approach to big issues.
He also said he would “think outside the box” in working to lift up Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.
“We’ll have a segment of the community that may need help it terms of being employable,” he said. “As a local government, we have to be certain that we make that a priority as well. We may have to create economic opportunity and connect that segment of the community to those opportunities.”
Black, 51, grew up in Park Heights, a rough neighborhood in Baltimore, and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Mayor Cranley highlighted Black’s story when introducing his pick today. “Having grown up in the urban core, he pulled himself up, got himself educated and has had a very successful career in public service,” Cranley said.
Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black says his experience with long-term financial planning is what makes him the right choice.
“We can’t sustain and prosper by just balancing budgets,” he said. “We have to find ways to go beyond just balancing budgets, which is what we did in Baltimore in respects to the 10-year plan that we put in place. Black said “a longer-term approach” is important “not just in terms of filling budget shortfalls but also finding ways to reinvest back into the city.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. In addition to shoring up long-term financial planning here, he said he would create new ways for innovation to happen in the city. Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness.
Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
“I’m not a pitbull,” he said at the conference, “and only time will allow you to see that.”
Black said he would stay out of the politics of city government in favor of focusing on practical and technical aspects of the job, especially when it comes to controversial issues like the streetcar. Black said his job would be to provide technical and analytical input for council’s decisions.
“In terms of the streetcar project … the legislators have legislated this initiative and this project. It’s incumbent on me and my team to make sure that it’s executed, but to make sure that it’s executed in a cost-effective and responsible way,” he said. “As a city manager, I would rely on the idea that the legislative process is going to yield what the people want.”
Janet Reid, a Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and 3CDC Board Member, was part of the screening process that selected Black. She praised his abilities.
“I could recognize very early on that he has an unusual mixture of talents that would be just right mix for our city,” she said. “That includes the ability to look deeply into details as well as see the big picture.” Reid highlighted Black’s long public service career, praising what she called his proven track record.
Whether council chooses Black for city manager or not, the gig may be short-lived. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed amending Cincinnati’s charter to create a so-called executive mayor. That would eliminate the city manager position and give the mayor’s office power over many elements of the current city manager’s role. Cranley has voiced support for the idea, though Smitherman has said he doesn’t think he has the votes on council to pass the measure and may need to collect voter signatures to get it on the ballot.
Smitherman, along with Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Vice Mayor David Mann, attended today’s news conference introducing prospective City Manager Black.
The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday
to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are
usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty
difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan
Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the
process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in
the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to
make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.
• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.
Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.
What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.
The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.
• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing
I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the
Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5
a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood
Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.
• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.
• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.
Good morning all! Here's what's happening today.
A Hamilton County judge yesterday ordered the city to pay back the $4 million it borrowed from neighborhood funds in 2012. We reported on that money and other budget-related cuts to neighborhood funds in June. Common Pleas Judge Robert Gorman wasn’t amused, called the arrangement, which borrowed a total of $5 million from 12 neighborhoods, “creative financing.” He ordered the city to avoid such arrangements in the future. The city has paid off $1 million of the loan and had originally intended to pay the rest back in 2015. But that repayment was pushed until 2017 in Mayor Cranley’s recent budget. Now, the remaining money will be paid back on a court-ordered timeline that has not yet been set. The city hasn’t budgeted for that quicker repayment, though it says giving the money back won’t affect city services. The city originally borrowed the money to cover a debt to Cincinnati Public Schools.
• Mayor Cranley announced yesterday that the city is willing to commit $200,000 a year for 25 years toward upkeep of Union Terminal, a show of support that seems aimed at convincing Hamilton County Commissioners to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. The Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of business leaders tasked with finding ways to renovate the crumbling train station as well as the city’s historic Music Hall, suggested the .25 percent tax hike earlier this summer as the best way to raise some of the estimated $330 million or more needed to fix up the buildings. The city already pays the $200,000 a year to help with Union Terminal’s maintenance requirements, but it isn’t required to do so. Cranley’s proposal would simply lock that amount in long-term.
• Dog owners in Cincinnati could soon be held more responsible for vicious pets. When it gets together again next week after its summer recess, City Council will consider an ordinance proposed by Councilman Chris Seelbach that would impose up to six months in jail for owners of dogs who seriously injury people. The proposed law doesn’t stipulate certain breeds and kicks in the first time a dog injures someone. Currently, no such penalties exist. A violent attack on a 6-year-old girl by two pit bulls in June resulted in only a $150 fine for the dogs’ owner.
“For decades the city of Cincinnati has given a free pass to owners of dangerous and vicious dogs who attack children, adults and other pets in our community," Seelbach told The Enquirer. "The vast majority of these attacks are due to negligent and irresponsible owners. It's time to eliminate the free pass."
• More trouble for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and this time it’s local. According to a federal report released Monday, accusations have surfaced that the Cincinnati VA hospital engaged in manipulation of patient wait-time data. Officials at the 277-bed hospital in Corryville altered records to hide the amount of time patients had to wait for care, according to an anonymous whistleblower cited in the report. Charges of record manipulation covering up long wait times for patients have brought intense scrutiny to the entire VA, sparking further investigation of 112 VA clinics nationally. Wait time data is tied to employee performance reviews and bonuses.
• After years of preparation, school districts in Ohio are gearing up for final implementation of national Common Core educational standards. As they do so, Republican lawmakers in the statehouse are working to repeal those guidelines. State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta has introduced a bill to replace Common Core with state-specific benchmarks based in part on those used in Massachusetts. Thompson calls Common Core “the wrong road.” The standards were developed by education experts and politicians over a number of years and focus more on critical thinking skills in math and reading. The new benchmarks have caused criticism from both conservatives and liberals, however. Those to the right say the standards represent a federal takeover of education, while some on the left see massive benefits to large education companies like Pearson and see a corporate takeover of the school system.
• Hey, y’all seen that Snow Piercer movie? So this next thing is just like that, but also kind of the opposite. Basically, both are icy and really dystopian. If you’re the kind of person who is really into apocalyptic stuff, you’ve got $20,000-$40,000 lying around and you’re also into irony, have I got a deal for you. You can now take a climate change-themed cruise ship through parts of the arctic that, until recently, were impassible by boat due to, you know, being covered in ice like they're supposed to be. However, thanks to global warming, it's now possible to take a luxury liner from Alaska, swing north of the Arctic Circle, pop out near Greenland and be in New York City a month later. And for only the average yearly salary of a school teacher, you can do it.
The high end of the price range will get you a penthouse suite on the ship, all the better for watching sea waters rise and arctic seals and polar bears
cling desperately to ice floes bask in the newly balmy temperatures. The 68,000-ton,13-deck, 1,000-passenger ship, which has three times the per-passenger carbon footprint of a 747, is called the Crystal Serenity, of course, because nothing is more serene than watching the planet come apart at the seams before your very eyes. Pure magic.
It's Monday and stuff is already getting crazy. Here's the good, the bad and the befuddling in the news today.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones shared his thoughts Friday on… something… ostensibly related to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s recently announced immigration initiative. The initiative looks to attract documented immigrants who will contribute to economic growth in the region. Jones, who is well known for his vocal and strident opposition to immigration, went somewhere else entirely with it. Of note: Jones doesn’t seem to know the mayor’s name, calling him “Mayor Cranby” on 700 WLW. Anyway, Jones applauds Mayor
Cranberry’s Cranley's plan, or the imaginary version of it he's conjured, for some fairly nontraditional reasons. I’ll just let him tell ya what’s on his mind:
“I want [Cincinnati] to be a haven for illegal aliens also,” he said. “Really I do. If Cincinnati, with all the violence, the killings they have every night in downtown Cincinnati … anybody that’s illegal in the country, let alone in Butler County, I encourage them to go there. If you’re listening today, if you’re illegal, you’ve committed crime, the mayor, Cranley or Cranby or whatever his name is, wants you to come to Cincinnati. I encourage it.”
Jones, you see, is freaked out about all the undocumented folks streaming into Butler County and would rather they come to a place like Cincinnati where someone gets shot downtown every night (note: this is not even remotely reality, but let’s keep moving). Jones was making the rounds Friday, also appearing on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (where, puzzlingly, he posed in front of a picture of Cincinnati's skyline, probably because Hamilton's isn't nearly as epic or dangerous-looking). He went on the show to raise alarms about the incredibly dangerous influx of undocumented immigrants caused by Obama’s lax immigration policies and the upswing in horrific crimes that has happened since. Oh, and they’re going to spread disease because they haven’t been immunized. Jones is worried about that, too.
Except a few things. State data shows crimes in Butler County have been steady or falling since 2007, including the drug-related crimes and violent offenses Jones cites. And while the sheriff vaguely highlighted a couple tragic and genuinely reprehensible individual examples, the flood of immigrant-related crime seems hard to find statistically. Also, epidemiologists say that refugees and immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America often have similar or even greater vaccination rates than U.S. citizens and pose little threat of spreading diseases. Finally, pinning a surge in illegal immigration on the Obama boogeyman is tough, since his administration has been pretty active in deporting undocumented immigrants. But, y'know, immigrants are scary and all.
• LumenoCity organizers have something new in store this year: an interactive website, app and social media presence that will stream the event live as well as aggregate social media posts about the event, which takes place in Washington Park and combines a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance with a dramatic light show projected onto Music Hall. The interactive portion will be introduced during the July 31 dress rehearsal, which has been opened up to an audience due to overwhelming demand for tickets to the event, which takes place Aug. 1 through Aug. 3.
• While you’re at LumenoCity this weekend — or, if you didn’t get tickets, hanging out around the park craning your neck to see what’s going on — you can pick up a new card designed to promote the arts in Over-the-Rhine. The Explore OTR card will be distributed by the small arts organizations in the city like Know Theatre and the Art Academy. After you’ve used the card at five of these smaller venues, you can redeem it for deals at larger arts organizations like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Pretty cool.
• After some stinging criticism of General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks, some hand-wringing has commenced as to whether the gargantuan, decade-in-the-making development along the Ohio River is too boring (spoiler: probably).
A quote from Jim Fitzgerald, who sits on the city’s Urban Design Review Board:
"We have been disappointed with the quality of architecture on The Banks to date other than the stadiums. The stadiums are of reasonably good architecture, but the other buildings are very vanilla, very uninteresting, very disappointing."
The review board looks at all plans for buildings before construction begins, though their role is strictly advisory and their advice to the city is non-binding. Others, including city and county leaders, have pointed out that all the buildings currently constructed or planned for the site meet the standards the city has set out and say that the project is a work in progress.
• I’m always trying to get my out of town friends hooked on Cincinnati chili, with varying degrees of success. Skyline, it seems, is doing the same, making plans to open a fifth location in Louisville. Why Louisville? My guess: It’s just close enough that on a clear day, with the wind blowing just right, the fragrance of that sweet but spicy meat sauce wafts across the rolling landscape between the cities and entices Kentuckians the same way it does Cincy natives. Or there are just a lot of people originally from Cincinnati who now live there. Probably the latter. Currently, the chain operates stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and five locations in Florida, of all places. Go forth, Skyline, and spread the gospel of mountainous cheese and tiny hotdogs.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.
The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.
The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.
The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.
• Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.
• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.
• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.
• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!
Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:
"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.
Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.
Mayor John Cranley today announced the creation of a 78-person task force that will work toward making Cincinnati "the most immigrant-friendly city in the country."
The effort will work to bring more investment from highly-educated and well-to-do immigrants to the area. Few specifics were offered about how the initiative would address the hot topic of undocumented immigration.
“This is a country of immigrants, and this is a place where immigration is rewarded and thanked,” Cranley said during a news conference at Music Hall. “We’re all going to be richer and better by being a friendly city for immigrants.”
The task force, which is all-volunteer and uses no city money at this point, will research ways to attract and retain immigrants in the city. The group will be split into five committees focused on economic development, community resources, education/talent retention, international attractions and rights and safety. The task force will be led by co-chairs Raj Chundur and Tom Fernandez.
Cranley cited economic studies suggesting that immigration is good for economic growth. Economic experts and politicians are split on the wider point of whether welcoming more immigrants overall aids the economy, though some researchers believe even undocumented immigrants are a net positive. Either way, there is much evidence to suggest well-thought-out programs to attract documented immigrants can help cities. Dayton began working to attract immigrants in 2009, and has received national attention for its program. Since the start of the program, more than 3,000 immigrants, mostly from Turkey, have moved to Dayton, helping to revitalize the city's blighted North Dayton neighborhood.
He specifically discussed the EB5 visa program, which rewards immigrants who invest between $500,000 to $1 million in their communities with a special long-term visa and the opportunity for citizenship. He said that program has helped spur development in the city, especially along the Short Vine area in Corryville.
“I can tell you this means a lot to me personally, because I and my family are immigrants to this country,” said University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, who will lead the task force’s education committee. Ono said his time at UC has shown him just how important attracting and retaining immigrants is for the city.
Cranley hedged some on revealing how undocumented immigrants would fit into the plan, saying that was work the task force will need to do as it prepares its recommendations.
“The whole point of the task force is to look at these issues in depth and come back with specific recommendations,” he said.
The mayor did share one effort to help children refugees in the country’s ongoing border crisis, though it is unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities Southwest Ohio CEO Ted Bergh is a co-chair on the task force’s community resources committee. That nonprofit group and the Catholic Archdiocese in Cincinnati are working to help house in dormitories and hopefully find temporary foster homes (called "sponsors") for about 50 kids who have crossed the border into the United States due to turmoil in Mexico and Central America.The groups have applied for federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the effort.
Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.
“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.
“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”
Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.
True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted. “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”
• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.
• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.
“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”
McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.
“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.
• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.
• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.
The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.
"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."
• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.
It’s a pretty good morning for news, so let’s get to it.
Cincinnati City Council's epic struggle this spring over the Central Parkway bike lane is barely a memory and the city is well on its way to a protected bike route from uptown to downtown. Crews are painting the new lanes right now, like, probably as I type, sectioning off a whole portion of the road meant only for cyclists. No more frantically looking over your shoulder every three seconds, bikers. No more getting caught behind a cyclist when you’re late to work, drivers. Everyone wins. After the lanes are painted and signage about new parking patterns is installed, crews will put up the plastic poles between the road and the bike lane, and we’ll all be ready to ride.
• A non-profit development group for the city’s uptown neighborhoods is looking for land to purchase in order to make a new federal research center a reality. The Uptown Consortium is trying to find the 14 acres in Avondale and Corryville near Reading Road and Martin Luther King Blvd. for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to build its multimillion dollar headquarters. NIOSH already runs two facilities in the region—one in the East End and another in Pleasant Ridge. This facility would consolidate the two and bring hundreds of jobs to the uptown area. Both the current facilities are 60 years old. The area is already home to a number of health facilities, including UC Health and Children’s Hospital. Representatives for the consortium said the land hunt is an ongoing project with no set timeline just yet. NIOSH researches issues around workplace safety.
• The Hamilton County Coroner yesterday released the autopsy report for Brogan Dulle, the 21-year-old UC student who went missing in the early hours of May 18 and was later found hanged in the building next to his apartment. The report confirms what authorities believed—that Dulle’s death was suicide. No signs of trauma or struggle were found on Dulle’s body other than the hanging-related injuries that caused his death.
There are still puzzling elements about Dulle’s death, mostly around why he would want to commit suicide.
“It's an investigation that's raised a lot of questions and we still have a lot of questions we may never know the answers to," said Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey.
• Food stamp usage is down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, following a national trend, says a report from the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that usage dropped more than 4 percent in Ohio from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014. Some of this news is good–a portion of those spending reductions came from a decrease in demand due to the economy’s slight but steady improvement. But some of the reductions come from last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main nutrition aid effort. SNAP spending by the federal government increased following the great recession as more individuals and families navigated tough economic situations and found themselves needing aid. That increase became a talking point for Republicans looking to slash government spending. At its peak in 2010 spending from the SNAP program accounted for .5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly double what it had been earlier in the decade. Conservatives in Congress used the fact spending had gone up to attempt deep cuts to the program, passing several new stipulations. As the economy gets better, and as these cuts have taken effect, spending on SNAP has dropped to .25 percent of the nation’s economy, according to research by the Congressional Budget Office.
• Do you like alcohol, but hate that it’s in that hard-to-transport liquid form? Science has you covered. Turns out there’s a product called Palcohol that is, you guessed it, powdered, freeze-dried alcohol. Kind of like astronaut ice cream, only it’ll get ya drunk. This definitely reminds me of a certain Parks and Recreation bit. While Ron Swanson says there’s no wrong way to consume alcohol, the Ohio General Assembly wouldn’t say that. Lawmakers are working on a bill to ban the product. Palcohol received approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, though the department quickly reversed its decision. It’s also been banned or will soon be banned in a number of other states including Alaska and New York. Turns out, things that aren’t that great for you anyway are even worse for you in powdered form. In May, an 18-year-old Ohio man died from consuming a heaping helping of powdered caffeine. The FDA now warns consumers to, you know, not do that kind of thing. Palcohol's inventor released a video addressing some concerns about the product, which you can check out right here.
Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.
“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”
A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.
Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.
Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.
Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.
Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.
“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.
It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:
Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.
The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.
Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:
"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”
Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.
• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.
The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.
• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.
• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.
• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.
Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.
“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”
• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.
Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:
“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”
Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.