Home - Blogs - Staff Blogs - Latest Blogs
by Nick Swartsell 11.10.2015 15 days ago
Posted In: News at 07:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jesse Jackson Speaks About Race, Activism at UC

Civil rights leader discusses racial equity, events in Cincinnati and at University of Missouri

Civil rights leader and former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the University of Cincinnati on Tuesday, speaking to students and activists for about 45 minutes on a number of topics related to recent national discussions around race, college activism and voting. Jackson’s remarks drew a packed house of about 100 at the school’s African American Cultural and Resource Center.

UC has been at the center of those conversations both locally and nationally after UC police officer Ray Tensing shot unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose July 19 in neighboring Mount Auburn. The aftermath of that shooting has raised both renewed activism around racial inequities and racial tensions on UC’s campus.

Jackson has been in Cincinnati for the last two days, meeting with local ministers and business leaders before making his impromptu appearance at UC. During his talk, Jackson spoke about another university that has been a focus of the national debate on racial equity. Jackson returned often to recent events at the University of Missouri, where racial tensions in the past few weeks led to the resignations of university president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.

Student activists there staged protests and a grad student undertook a week-long hunger strike over racially charged incidents on campus and what they saw a subsequent lack of action by school administrators. The protests culminated in a move by university football players refusing to take the field until the hunger strike ended.

“It really shows the power of one dedicated person, one student who decided to fast to get everybody else’s attention,” Jackson said. “Sacrifice matters.”

Jackson encouraged students at UC to vote, to focus on academics and to be clear in demands for racial equity on campus and beyond.

“The agenda must correspond to the needs,” Jackson said about campus activism at UC, the University of Missouri and elsewhere. “The board of directors hire the president. The C-suites make decisions on a day to day basis. The faculty. The tenured professors whose jobs are secure in the academic world. The supplier contracts on this campus. The university lawyers. The advertising and marketing. All of this should be an agenda for change.”

A group at UC called the Irate8 that formed in the aftermath of the DuBose shooting has staged rallies, teach-ins and other peaceful efforts to advocate for black students on campus. The group is named for the 8 percent of the school’s student body that is black. The Irate8 points out Cincinnati’s population is 45 percent black and has pushed the UC administration to articulate a plan to boost diversity on the school’s main campus to better reflect the demographics of the city as a whole.

On Oct. 15, the Irate8 released a list of 10 demands for UC’s administration. In that list, the group asks that for establishment of campus-wide racial awareness training, disinvestment from any companies running private prisons, the hiring of at least 16 black staff and senior faculty members over the next three years and the doubling of the school’s percentage of black students on campus.

The group is also pushing for substantial reform to UC’s police force in the wake of the DuBose shooting, highlighting the large disparity between blacks and whites in stops and arrests by the department in the past year. In 2014, 17 whites and 52 blacks were stopped by the UC police force. Police issued 30 citations to whites that year and 119 to blacks.

Administrators say they’re working to address activist’s points. Meanwhile, racially charged statements similar to those that sparked tensions at the University of Missouri have cropped up on social media at UC, further increasing tensions at the school.

Despite those messages, however, Jackson said collaboration and diversity are the keys to success for activists at UC.

"The dream must include all of us," Jackson said, repeatedly admonishing student activists to build inclusive coalitions with other groups of all races on campus and beyond around student debt, voting access and other issues to achieve their goals. "The more people I include, the bigger my agenda gets."

by Nick Swartsell 11.10.2015 15 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Chamber hosts discussions on transit; workers rally for minimum wage increase; streetcar zipping around OTR

Hey Cincy. There’s a ton of interesting stuff going on today. Let’s talk about some of it.

• The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce this morning is hosting a series of discussions about transit in the region, and the event has drawn a packed house. The event comes on the heels of a less-than-stellar report about Greater Cincinnati’s transit options. According to that report, only 22 percent of jobs in the city are easily accessible by public transit, and only 58 percent across the region are within a 90-minute transit ride.

The Chamber’s event today features a panel discussion involving local transit officials and experts and a keynote address from former Zipcar head and transit expert Gabe Klein. Among the highlights: Republican Cincinnati City Councilwoman and chair of the Council’s transportation and regional cooperation subcommittee Amy Murray advocating for an expansion of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Metro system via a county-wide tax increase. That ask may appear on the ballot next November. Democrat Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, also speaking on the panel, pointed to the fact that the region is dead last among peer cities in terms of transit connectivity, and that this weakness could hamper economic growth.

Klein’s talk focused on the way transit can increase a city’s economic competitiveness, and how high emphasis on highways and lack of transit options can hamper a city’s walkability and its ability to attract young people. Klein also argued in favor of a return to density in city centers, especially density focused on eliminating the need to rely on cars to get to necessities.

“Making cities dense again, a place where people want to be, just makes sense,” Klein told attendees, arguing that increased density with less reliance on cars (and need for parking, for example) changes the equation for developers and residents when it comes to making decisions about where to build and live.

• Speaking of transit, the streetcar is taking its first trips under its own power today around Over-the-Rhine. You may see the shiny new orange and white vehicles, which look a little like space trains or something, making a 1.6 mile loop between the southern edge of Washington Park and Henry Street just north of Findlay Market. There won’t be any street closures along the route as officials seek to test how motorists and pedestrians interact with the new addition to traffic. The cars will travel very slowly most of the time — about three miles an hour — though at times the cars will be bumped up to 10 mph and occasionally all the way up to a top speed of 25 mph. The tests could take up to three days.

• About 20 local fast food, homecare and childcare workers gathered at City Hall this morning to advocate for a boost in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The demonstration was part of a larger group of events happening across the country today advocating for the wage boost with an eye toward the 2016 elections. According to organizers, walkouts, city hall rallies and other events are planned in more than 270 cities nationwide today. The group gathered at Cincinnati City Hall this morning will also rally in Norwood at noon. In addition to wage increases, the groups, part of the Fight for 15 movement, are also protesting for increased union rights in industries that aren’t friendly to collective bargaining. Organizers say today’s rallies are just the start of a year-long effort to put pressure on candidates and officials to take steps to expand collective bargaining rights and wages for low-income workers. More than 2 million Ohioans make less than $15 an hour.

• What’s the difference between jail and a cozy stay in a place you found on Air B&B? Here’s a hint: it’s not the price. Jail stays in some parts of the state can cost you an average of more than $70 a day, a report from the American Civil Liberties Union found recently. Those fees can add up. One man who has been booked multiple times on non-violent drug charges now owes the state more than $21,000 for his time in county jails. Not all jails charge booking or daily fees, but at least 16 in the state do. Generally, county commissioners decide whether or not to charge the one-time booking fees (which Hamilton and Butler Counties do) and the recurring daily fees (which they do not). The ACLU is asking the state legislature to create rules against those charges.

• Finally, is a dynamic duo of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the cards for the 2016 presidential election? Pundits have been opining on the possible dream team (or nightmare scenario/comedic and bumbling buddy movie in the making, depending on your political leanings) after noticing the two contenders for the GOP presidential nomination have been notably less than hostile to each other during debates and in the press. Kasich brings experience and well, one of the nation’s biggest swing states. Rubio brings youth and… one of the other big swing states. Of course, neither one wants to play Robin to the other’s Batman just yet and take the VP spot, but time could change that, especially if Kasich doesn’t take a big upswing in the polls in places like New Hampshire, the early primary state where the Ohio gov has said he must do well to continue his campaign. 

by Nick Swartsell 11.09.2015 16 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

New agreement between UC police, city coming next spring; Wasson Way gets state grant; Cincy will be among first to get new Whole Foods concept

Good morning Cincy. Let’s talk about what’s been going on in the news the past few days.

The University of Cincinnati and city officials continue to work on a revised memorandum of understanding in regard to the university’s police force, officials for both organizations told Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee today. Following the July 19 shooting death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose by UC police officer Ray Tensing, the city is working to fold UC’s police officers into Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement. That agreement, which establishes guidelines for training, community engagement and accountability for Cincinnati police officers, sprang up in the wake of civil unrest following the 2001 police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas. Officials with UC and the city have said they hope to have a renewed 
memorandum of understanding by spring 2016. Until that time, UC officers are limited in their off-campus patrolling abilities. Following the DuBose shooting, campus activists have called for further actions to ensure racial equity within the university’s police force and the UC campus as a whole, many of which go beyond the city’s work to establish a new set of working agreements with the UC police department.

• It’s been a rough couple weeks for Wasson Way, the proposed bike path that would stretch 7.6 miles from Xavier University to Newtown, but there’s some good news ahead in the form of a state grant. Late last month, the federal government announced the project wouldn’t be receiving millions in Transit Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants that could have gone a long way toward funding the $7 million to $11 million effort. Bike path advocates got more bad news last week when voters passed on Issue 22, a property tax increase charter amendment that Mayor John Cranley proposed to fund Wasson Way and a number of other projects. But late last week, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources approved a $500,000 grant to fund a portion of the path stretching two-thirds of a mile between Madison Road and Dana Avenue on the city’s East Side. Both Cincinnati City Council and private philanthropy groups are working to find additional funding for the path, which boosters tout as a way to spur economic development in the area.

• One project that won’t feel a negative impact from the Issue 22’s ballot failure is a proposed Ziegler Park redevelopment. That project passed another hurdle Friday when the Cincinnati Planning Commission approved plans for the park, which include a new pool, an extensive green space, a water feature and updates to basketball courts.  Officials with 3CDC and the city say efforts to change up the park, located on Sycamore Street in Over-the-Rhine across from the former SCPA building, are going forward with federal tax credits and other funds and weren’t dependent on a possible $5 million windfall had the parks tax increase passed.

• City of Cincinnati officials have asked a county judge to declare vacant buildings owned by an out-of-town developer public nuisances and to hand control over the crumbling structures to a group who can fix them. Washington, D.C.-based 2414 Morgan Development, LLC owns 10 buildings in OTR and another in Avondale, all of which have significant code violations. The development group says it is working on the buildings and could have them up to code in as little as a month and a half. But the city says it’s been pressuring the group for months to fix the properties and that the buildings are serious hazards to the public and could mean injury or death for firefighters should one burst into flames.

• If you’re a fan of natural grocer and hipster joke punch line Whole Foods but you’re not a fan of spending half your paycheck on organic kale and a $50 juice cleanse kit, you’re gonna love this. According to Whole Foods financial reports, Cincinnati will be one of the first cities in the country to get a new, more value-priced concept called 365 by Whole Foods Market. The store, which will occupy an as-yet-unannounced location, will be smaller than the sprawling market at Rookwood Commons and will have lower-priced organic produce and other items. Other cities getting the new stores include Los Angeles, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Bellevue, Wash., and Santa Monica, Calif. Cincinnati’s location is expected to open in 2017.

• Finally, we’re still talking about the Brent Spence Bridge and probably will be for some time. A proposed alternative to the antiquated bridge’s needed $2.6 billion revamp has been shrugged off as unrealistic by many officials, but it might still be on the table with the election of tea party Republican Matt Bevin as Kentucky governor. Basically, some Northern Kentucky business leaders opposed to the possibility of tolling on the Brent Spence to fund the multi-billion project have proposed… uh, another multi-billion-dollar project, the construction of a 68-mile bypass highway leaving I-75 in Springboro, Ohio and returning to the highway in Grant County, Kentucky. That project would require its own $100 million bridge over the Ohio River in addition to the high costs of building the highway itself. 

Transportation policy experts say the construction of that bypass could take decades and cost billions, but Bevin has signaled he’s open to considering it as an option to reduce stress on the overcrowded and somewhat crumbling Brent Spence. That bridge was built in 1963 and, as a vital link in one of the country’s busiest shipping routes, currently carries double the daily traffic it was designed to accommodate.

by Natalie Krebs 11.05.2015 20 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Group launches plan to get Cincy kids in preschool; Cranley and ResponsibleOhio march forward after defeat; Covington launches investigation into city's drug problem

Hi Cincy! Think you're finally done with election stuff? Think again! Results may be in for this year, but they've just started gearing up for election day 2016. Here are your morning headlines. 

• So you're tired of thinking about parks and marijuana? Well, how about shifting those thoughts to preschool? Just a day after polls closed, the Strive Partnership, a group focused on education in the Greater Cincinnati area, kicked off Preschool Promise, their campaign to place a measure on next year's ballot. Their initiative would guarantee every child in Cincinnati, regardless of family income, receives two years of preschool through the use of tuition credits. Strive suggests universal preschool education allows all children a fair start and better prepares them to graduate from high school and prepare for college and careers. The event attracted around 150 people, including Vice Mayor David Mann, to hear about the initiative at Rhinegeist Brewery in OTR and also featured sushi, banh mi, free beer, tokens, a raffle and a DJ. 

The initiative, if it manages to get on the ballot and approved by voters in next year's election, will be the first of its kind in the country and could be a big deal because 44 percent of Cincinnati's children live in poverty and may not have access to preschool. 

"We will level the playing field for thousands and thousands of children. We will break the cycle of poverty for thousands and thousands of children," says Greg Landsman, executive director of the Strive Partnership. "We will make it a lot easier for middle class families to pay for quality preschool, which is a huge, huge deal." 

• The day after Mayor John Cranley's park tax levy was shot down by voters, he told The Enquirer that he wished that their series of stories on the mismanagement of the Park Board had come out a year ago and not two weeks before the election. The stories pointed out questionable bonuses, car allowances and exclusive club memberships for some of the top executives on the Park Board, which has lead to an audit of the board by the city. Like one does after a bad breakup, Cranley says he won't dwell on his loss, and that it's time to move on from the failed levy, which 59 percent of voters voted against. 

• ResponsibleOhio's constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana also failed, but at least one of the super PAC's investors say they might be back next year. Investor Suresh Gupta, a Dayton anesthesiologist, said the group might try another initiative for next year's ballot but would probably leave the whole monopoly thing behind, which many are saying is the factor that killed the issue for voters. Meanwhile, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) says the legislature hopes to release a series of bills in the next few weeks to test the plant further for its potential medical benefits and urge Congress to drop the drug to a lower classification.  

• Covington Police Chief Bryan Carter announced yesterday that the city has launched a six-month drug trafficking investigation to fight its growing drug problem. Carter is pushing hard to arrest dealers who are contributing to the city's heroin, meth, cocaine and even marijuana problems. According to Carter, they're not concentrated in one area but are situated in pockets throughout the city. The city has arrested 10 people so far accused of dealing drugs in the area, and the city's narcotics officers are assisted by the Kentucky State Police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

• Cincinnati-native Charles Clark II is suing the federal government to get his money back after officers seized thousand of dollars off of him at the Cincinnati airport last February. Clark was flying back to Florida, where he attends college, when he was stopped by officers who said his luggage smelled strongly of marijuana. A search did not find any drugs in Clark's suitcase, but he was carrying $11,000 in his pocket because he said he did not trust banks. His attorney Renee Flaherty, says Clark should get his money back as he was never charged with a crime and there was no evidence of drug trafficking.  

• Japan issued its first same-sex "partnership" certificate today. The certificates are not actually legally binding but are more symbolic. They are an attempt to encourage employers and landlords to give same-sex partnerships the same treatment as they do married heterosexual couples. Japan currently does not offer legal protection for same-sex couples, but is culturally tolerant of the relationships. 

Contact me at nkrebs@citybeat.com or on Twitter at @natalie_krebs. 
by Nick Swartsell 11.04.2015 21 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Happened Here in Hamilton County?

Voting was bumpy and in a few cases very difficult. Should we be worried?

One of the most important questions to come out of last night’s election isn’t about the results of any specific ballot issue, but instead about the process by which voters cast, or, in some cases, had a hard time casting, their ballots.

Many are wondering why voting was so arduous in Hamilton County yesterday, with technical glitches forcing some voters to cast provisional ballots and imprecise information given by poll workers sending other voters scrambling.

While the entire state of Ohio, and really, much of the country, waited to see if voters would legalize marijuana here, Hamilton County fumbled with errors. Now, some are wondering whether these stumbles are related to a new electronic voting system, and if the difficulties could spell trouble during next year’s sure-to-be-contentious presidential election, where Ohio will play a central role.

Voters reported problems with the county’s new voting system in the West End, Madisonville, Evanston, Northside, Clifton, Coryville, Mount Lookout, Roselawn, Hyde Park, Northside and other areas. The system, which relies on tablet computers to scan IDs and check in voters, hasn’t been used before.

Secretary of State Jon Husted put the entire state’s election results on hold so the county could extend voting times until 9 pm. The order for polls to stay open an extra two hours came from a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert P. Ruehlman in response to injunctions from Issue 3-backers ResponsibleOhio and former State Sen. Eric Kerney, who cited long lines at some polling stations.

The appeals to the court came after voters in a number of precincts throughout the county reported that, though they had registered to vote months prior, the new electronic voting system employed by the county did not recognize their names and would not allow them to cast electronic ballots, even if their registration was confirmed by written voter logs. Some were asked to cast provisional ballots, or to head to the Hamilton County Board of Elections office downtown.

Jane Pendergrast of Delhi Township reported on Twitter that she had to cast a provisional ballot after her name didn’t show up in the e-poll books. Pendergrast said a poll worker told her the same difficulties had happened to about 50 other voters at the polling location.

Meanwhile, other poll workers were confused by ID requirements and asked voters to cast provisional ballots unnecessarily, some voters say.

The provisional ballots are only counted if elections are close, leading some voters to feel like their votes didn’t matter.

Kevin LeMasters voted at one of the county’s largest polling locations, the Coryville Recreation Center. That voting location serves more than 1,700 voters. He says poll workers there were requiring voters to fill out provisional ballots if the address on their IDs did not match information in the Board of Election’s electronic system, despite the fact that’s not what BOE rules stipulate.

“What concerns me is the following, this particular location is the 2nd largest polling location out of 557 in Hamilton and should be staffed appropriately,” LeMasters said in an e-mail. “It is situated close to UC's campus where the large majority of students do not have an ID with the same address considering the fluid nature of their housing. Was this an accident, something nefarious? Whether malice or ignorance, it is unacceptable either way.”

Secretary of State Husted visited Hamilton County polling locations earlier in the day, when difficulties voting were already being reported. Husted blamed poll worker error for the problems, despite the fact many seemed to be technical in nature and had much to do with the new electronic system used to gather votes.

“"By and large, it's working great," Husted said yesterday. "Any time you have a massive technology change, you're going to have some problems."

Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson pushed back at Husted’s assertion via social media, saying constituents were reporting that tablets used in vote gathering were freezing or not connecting to the internet; technical problems that aren’t necessarily due to poll worker error.

Meanwhile, other, non-technical difficulties popped up. In Northside, some voters found themselves locked out of a polling location around 7:30 pm, even though it was ordered to stay open until 9. Eventually, voters there were able to gain entry to the location, which poll workers said had been locked by school staff.

The voting difficulties are the latest chapter in Ohio's fraught struggle over voting access. Voting rights advocates have fought state efforts to reduce voting hours in recent elections, especially in urban areas.

Hamilton County Board of Elections members said no voters appear to have lost the opportunity to vote due to the difficulties and that they don't represent any sort of disenfranchisement, either accidental or purposeful.

But the rocky questions linger about the electronic system, which is set to go state-wide next year, just as the country focuses on Ohio and its pivotal role in deciding an especially heated presidential election.

by Nick Swartsell 11.04.2015 21 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_smale riverfront park-courtesy cincinnati parks

Election News and Stuff

You voted on stuff. Here's how that turned out.

Good morning all. I hope you’re shaking off your post-election-party and/or Twitter binge hangovers. Now that the dust has cleared on a pretty intense election night, let’s check out the results, shall we? I’ll summarize in case you fell asleep early and then we’ll talk about the big ones in depth.

Statewide stuff:

Issue 1: The Ohio state representative redistricting reform measure passed overwhelmingly, getting 71 percent of the vote.

Issue 2: The constitutional amendment designed by lawmakers to limit proposed amendments like Issue 3 granting special oligopolies or monopolies passed with about 52 percent of the vote.

Issue 3: ResponsibleOhio’s proposal to legalize marijuana for Ohio residents age 21 and up while creating 10 legal grow sites throughout the state failed, getting 36 percent of the vote.

In Kentucky, Republican Matt Bevin delivered a surprise trouncing of Democrat Jack Conway, besting him with 53 percent of the vote to Conway’s 44 percent.

Local issues:

Issue 22: The controversial charter amendment creating a 1 mill property tax increase to fund a number of proposed park projects failed. It got about 41 percent of the vote.

Issues 23 and 24: These cleaned up charter language and moved the mayoral primary. Both passed with about 62 percent of the vote. 

• The whole country was watching as Ohio voters wrestled with Issues 2 and 3 last night, with any number of big national media outlets recycling reporting from the past months and turning in lukewarm takes about the proposed amendment.

ResponsibleOhio’s bid was a pretty gutsy gambit — wagering more than $20 million that Ohio voters would legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana even as their proposal lacked support from key national and statewide legalization advocates, who balked at the proposal’s structure.

Pro-legalization groups who otherwise might have been supporters expressed squeamishness about the fact that the amendment would have awarded a group of about 50 investors, including a New York fashion designer and the former Pop star Nick Lachey, the only 10 legal grow sites in the state. That hesitancy, combined with the older, more conservative electorate that turns out in non-presidential election years, sank the amendment decisively.

The main question is whether the rout was about legalization itself or simply the so-called “oligopoly” the amendment would have created. Polling in Ohio shows that voters here favor legalization by a slim margin, suggesting it may not be a lost cause in the future, given a more attractive structure.

Some groups are working on campaigns to get legalization on next year’s ballot, but they face a huge hurdle: the overwhelming expense of mounting such a ballot initiative in Ohio, a politically diverse swing state and the country’s seventh most populous. ResponsibleOhio collected more than 800,000 signatures to net the 300,000 valid ones needed to land the amendment on the ballot. That’ll be a big obstacle for any group, though if they can get a measure in front of voters, it may benefit from high presidential election year turnout and increased interest raised in this year’s campaign.

• Locally, Issue 22 was the focus of attention. The plan to fund some 17 park projects by raising property taxes 1 million was the subject of an intense political firefight over the past few months. Detractors of the parks plan put forward a number of objections to the measure ranging from assertions that it gave the mayor and the park board he selects too much power to fears that the proposed projects would lead to increased commercialization of parks.

The anti-Issue 22 victory here is interesting due to the truly David and Goliath nature of spending on the campaigns. The pro-Issue 22 camp, backed by major corporate donors such as Kroger, Western & Southern and others, spent an estimated $1 million on television ads, mailers and other slick campaign materials. Amendment opponents, however, spent about $7,500, with only a single radio ad buy. The list of opponents was formidable and diverse, however, including a majority of Cincinnati City Council, local civil rights icon and former amendment supporter Marian Spencer, both streetcar advocates such as Over-the-Rhine activist Derek Bauman and streetcar opponents COAST and environmental group the Audubon Society.

While some city precincts, mostly on the East Side, passed the measure, many, including Cranley’s West Side home precinct, said no thanks. The bigger question now is what this means for Cranley as mayor. Two years into his term, the mayor has lost two big, hard-fought political showdowns, first over the streetcar and now over his parks proposal. While he’s had plenty of policy victories as well, these dramatic fights may signal an opening for a primary challenger to take a run at the 2017 mayoral election. The campaign over the parks tax was particularly heated, and even some supporters seem to have come away disillusioned by the effort. Cranley has sounded a conciliatory note in post-election statements, saying he's proud to have stood up for the idea but will take the results as the will of Cincinnati voters and seek to serve their wishes.

If you already miss the excitement of following local ballot issues, there are a couple that look likely for next year. Supporters of the Preschool Promise, an initiative that looks to extend preschool to more Cincinnati children, are holding an introductory event tonight at Rhinegeist brewery from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. With 44 percent of the city's children living in poverty, that initiative looks to be a big one for 2016.

• Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Republicans handed Democrats a beating. Bevin's election as governor is something of an upset, as polls had Conway up by as much as five points heading into voting. Bevin is only the second GOP governor in the last 40 years in Kentucky. The race was also a walloping down-ticket, with Republicans taking most major statewide offices except attorney general, won by Democrat Andy Beshear, and secretary of state, which Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes hung onto. Not good news for Democrats.

by Nick Swartsell 11.03.2015 22 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Go vote; go vote; go vote

Hey all! Did you play the lottery… err, I mean, uh, engage in the completely unproblematic and entirely functional democratic process today? There’s still time! And if you need some perspective on the issues from your friendly, cynical but also well-read alt weekly editorial board, we’ve got it right here. Really quickly, we suggest voting yes on Issue 1, no on both Issues 2 and 3, no on Issue 22 and yes on Issues 23 and 24. If you're in Northern Kentucky, we've endorsed gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway, so consider throwing a vote his way. Want to know more? Click away.

Speaking of elections, there were problems reported at some Cincinnati voting precincts this morning. Some reported technical difficulties with electronic voting equipment in Madisonville, Evanston, Anderson Township, Mount Lookout, Colerain Township and other locations where new electronic voting devices were in use. Did you experience difficulties voting? Let us know in the comments or via e-mail. We’re on it.

• One interesting thing that’s come up around voting: Photos of pro-Issue 22 signage at polling places are popping up on social media. Election rules state that signage endorsing candidates isn’t allowed at polling places, and it would seem to follow that similar prohibitions exist for issues. Councilman Chris Seelbach, a vocal opponent of the parks tax proposed by Mayor John Cranley, posted to Facebook photos of posters promoting the amendment to Cincinnati’s charter tacked up behind poll workers at a voting precinct in Mount Adams. Reports of other polling locations with similar signage have been floating around the social media realm as well.

• Also speaking of elections, did you catch this pro-Issue 3 ad featuring former 98 Degrees singer and hometown reality TV star Nick Lachey? He’s hyped on the weed legalization amendment currently before voters, and he wants to tell you all about it in the 30-second TV spot. Well, maybe not ALL about it. Issue 3 critics point out that the commercial fails to mention the fact that Lachey is an investor in the amendment effort, and as such, is part-owner in one of the 10 grow sites that would be exclusively allowed to grow commercial weed if the amendment passes. And while Lachey starts off the ad by saying Ohio is his home, the ad also neglects to mention that he isn’t registered to vote for the amendment in Ohio because he lists California as his primary state of residence. Issue 3 creators ResponsibleOhio say those omissions aren’t a big deal, and that the point of the ad is that the amendment would reform unjust drug laws, create millions in tax revenues and more than 1,000 jobs.

• Here’s a final election note: If you’re the type who loves the horse-race aspect of election day and want to spend all day on the edge of your seat about whether voters have given you the green light to spend your green on some green (wow that’s obnoxious sorry), here are some handy tips for forecasting whether that’s in the cards. Mostly, it’s common sense stuff: watch districts that have demographics that generally skew heavily pro- and anti-marijuana legalization and see how the balance is tipping out.

• Onward to other issues. Former Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers made her first $800 payment to the city today. That payment was part of a settlement after Rogers’ restaurant at The Banks folded last fall. In 2012, Rogers was given a $684,000 grant and a $300,000 loan by the city, which actively recruited her to open her restaurant at the riverfront development in order to increase diversity there. Mahogany’s was the only minority-owned business at The Banks, and Rogers has said that other promised amenities there, including a large hotel that would have increased customer base, never materialized. Rogers eventually fell behind on her loan payments, as well as state taxes, forcing the closure of the restaurant amid a firestorm of controversy. Rogers is now working on paying back the city $100,000. Other businesses at The Banks and elsewhere have received similar grants and loans, Rogers’ supporters point out. Other businesses have also faltered at The Banks, including Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar, which abruptly closed up shop recently.

• Finally, $1.3 million can buy a lot of things. We’re talking multiple Maybachs. Healthcare for a year for a bunch of folks. Probably about a mile of highway repairs or something. Or, if you’re Ohio, it buys you a couple years of stubborn obstinacy against the tides of history. Yep, that’s right. Ohio owes that amount in legal fees related to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s fight to uphold Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban, which the Supreme Court struck down in a historic decision this summer. The truly crazy part? That $1.3 million is just the amount courts say the state owes attorneys who fought on behalf of the same-sex couples to whom the state was denying marriage licenses. It doesn’t include the state’s own legal expenses. Your tax dollars at work. To be fair, the AG is charged with upholding the state's laws, even when they're under fire in federal courts. But on the other hand, Kentucky's AG declined to fight a similar legal battle on behalf of his state's anti-same-sex marriage laws.

by Nick Swartsell 11.02.2015 23 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Emails reveal city, Western & Southern Lytle Park collaboration; election set for Boehner's replacement; Kasich signs charter school oversight law

Good morning all. Hope your Halloween was really rad. I spent mine dancing like an idiot while marginally dressed up like Waldo of Where’s Waldo fame. That’s right. I chose a literary themed costume because I’m classy. Some friends and I also had a pretty great picnic in Spring Grove Cemetery, which I highly recommend.

Anyway. News. You already knew this, but Cincinnati’s first streetcar showed up on Friday, accompanied by the kind of hoopla usually reserved for astronauts who have been to the moon or people who have saved a bunch of puppies from burning buildings or puppy-saving astronauts, even. A local TV news station broke out the news copter and gave real-time updates of the car’s progress down I-71 and Reading Road into Over-the-Rhine. Every blogger in the city blogged about the blog-worthiest event in the local blogosphere. (Btw, Microsoft Word recognizes “blogosphere” as a legitimate word because we live in the worst era ever). My Instagram account was damn near unusable for hours afterward because it was just pictures of a single streetcar not on its tracks and a bunch of people looking at it. Yes, yes. It was a historic day and streetcars haven’t run in this city since the 1950s. Personally, I’ll start partying the minute I can step on a streetcar in Mount Auburn, feel it glide down the old tracks I walk past every day poking up out of Highland Ave., and step off at work. That’d be the day. Until then, woo hoo.

• Meanwhile, OTR is getting more $500,000-plus homes, all right along the streetcar route. Recently-founded Cincinnati based development company Karvoto has announced plans for nine townhomes in the neighborhood, all with three bedrooms and between 2,000 and 2,700 square feet of space. The $4 million development will renovate four buildings along Wade Street and Kemp Alley and also construct five new buildings in the same area.

• A series of e-mails between city officials and Cincinnati-based corporation Western & Southern reveal the two have been collaborating on plans for the overhaul of Lytle Park downtown near W&S headquarters and the conversion of a nearby former women’s shelter, the Anna Louise Inn, into a luxury hotel. That renovation has been controversial; the building’s former occupant, Cincinnati Union Bethel, had used the building for its women’s shelter for more than a century before a legal battle eventually forced it to sell to W&S. The e-mails also show that the city is mulling the sale or lease of two streets near those locations to Eagle Realty, the real estate arm of W&S. In addition to collaboration, the messages reveal conflict between the city’s Park Board and Eagle over the sale of the streets, dumpsters associated with the Anna Louise Inn renovation and other issues. Critics of charter amendment Issue 22, a park-oriented tax increase on tomorrow’s ballot, released the e-mails recently after gaining access to them through an open records request. Issue 22 seeks to fund a number of proposed projects, including the remake of Lytle Park, through a permanent property tax increase.

• As folks tear their hair out and obsess over a 1 mill property tax increase for the city’s parks, Hamilton County Commissioners are on the way to passing a $209 million spending package that is drawing about as much attention as Jim Webb’s presidential campaign. In what can only be described as a reverse Parks and Recreation scenario, four scheduled public hearings about the budget garnered exactly zero public attendees to give input on the plan. Part of that is because the budget doesn’t exactly depart wildly from the status quo — there are few if any dramatic cuts or spending swells. It’s not that there aren’t big issues: Hamilton County’s morgue needs a huge update, and commissioners aren’t sure how to pay for it, for example. But for now, the big money fights are elsewhere, and that’s left commissioners feeling a little lonely, calling for someone, anyone, to comment on their handiwork. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune had an aptly spooky quote about the ghostly public.

“It’s almost like the county is the Sleepy Hollow of local government,” he said. “You typically don’t get the same kind of public involvement that you see at the city or other local municipalities.”

• Ohio will have to wait a while to vote on a replacement for former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who represented the West Chester area in Congress. It’ll be a hot day in June when his District 8 congressional seat goes up for a special election, and I for one can’t wait to see what kind of A-plus candidates run for the spot. Boehner bailed on the top spot in Congress last month after tea party Republican machinations in the House nearly brought the government to a shutdown again, this time over Planned Parenthood. Boehner, tired of trying to shepherd his unruly flock of hardcore anti-government conservatives peaced out of the fray, leaving the GOP to fumble and fidget until finally roping U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin into the leadership role. Now the House has a head again, but Ohio’s 8th District is still without representation. Thanks Boehner.

• Finally, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill today that would create more oversight for the state’s private charter schools, which have become something of a boondoggle for his administration and the Ohio Department of Education. Numerous investigations have taken place around the schools, which use public money to create private alternative to public school districts. Earlier this year, one of those investigations revealed that ODE officials neglected to include scores from particularly low-performing online charter schools in performance evaluations for charters. Other scandals have befallen charters in the recent past, including revelations of financial mismanagement, staff misbehavior and attendance irregularities at charters throughout the state, including in Cincinnati.

Annnnnd I’m out. Go vote tomorrow.

by Natalie Krebs 10.30.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council members promise to fund Wasson Way bike trail; ResponsibleOhio fights off attacks from drug dealers; Boehner says farewell to the House

Happy (almost) Halloween Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines. 

Council members yesterday said they will find a way to fund the Wasson Way bike trail, even if Issue 22 fails next Tuesday. The proposed hike and bike trail would stretch from Avondale to Columbia Township and is one of the Mayor Cranley's projects included in his proposed permanent tax levy. Supporters of the Wasson Way trail have also been highly in favor of Issue 22. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn urged voters yesterday at a news conference outside City Hall to vote against the permanent tax levy and said they would find a way to fund the 7.5-mile trail that could cost anywhere between $7.5 million and $36 million. Councilman Seelbach suggested the money could come from elsewhere, like a temporary property tax increase, private endowments or scholarships or the recent sale of the Blue Ash airport. The project recently lost out on a $17 million competitive federal grant. 

• So, the streetcar didn't quite make its debut this morning, but it's definitely coming this afternoon. The latest update from the city says that it has arrived safely in Ohio and will now be unloaded at 4 p.m. this afternoon. So if you have no last-minute Halloween costume details attend to, you can come hang out at the Maintenance and Operation Facilities on the corner of Race and Henry streets in Over-the-Rhine and watch it be unloaded. 

• ResponsibleOhio, the super PAC that put Issue 3 to legalize marijuana on the ballot, says the ilegal drug trade might be after them. A thief hacked a Fifth Third bank account belonging to Strategy Network, the political consulting firm that oversees ResponsibleOhio, and stole $200,000, its organizers say. A second attempt to steal $300,000 was stopped by Parma Police. Executive Director of ResponsibleOhio and CEO of Strategy Network Ian James said law enforcement told him it was "a pretty heavy duty drug dealer." James also told FOX19 that one of ResponsibleOhio's organizers was receiving threatening phone calls from an unknown source. The pro-pot group has claimed Issue 3 would put major drug dealers out of business. 

• Mayor Cranley is clearly pushing hard for Issue 22, but how does he feel about legalizing marijuana, the other major issue on the upcoming ballot? According to WCPO, he's not saying, and neither are many other local leaders. According to University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor Dave Niven, the issue blurs party lines and is split 50-50, so most play it safe by keeping their mouths shut. 

• Former House Speaker John Boehner passed the gavel to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin yesterday. Ryan was elected to succeed Boehner Wednesday and is the youngest Speaker since 1869. Cincinnati-native Boehner announced his resignation last month, ending his four year run as Speaker. According to the New York Times, in his brief farewell speech, he held a tissue box, as he's often prone to tears, and told the House, “If anything, I leave the way I started: just a regular guy, humbled by the chance to do a big job.” 

My email is nkrebs@citybeat.com. I prefer story tips, but may be able to offer last-minute costume guidance as well.
by Natalie Krebs 10.29.2015 27 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley rolls out plan to attract more immigrants; first streetcar set to arrive tomorrow; Kasich faces off in third Republican primary debate

Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines to help cure that Republican debate hangover. 

• Mayor John Cranley rolled out a plan to help attract more immigrants to Cincinnati. Yesterday, Cranley announced the 14 short-term goals and nine longer term goals developed by the task force on immigration he convened last year. One of the major goals is establishing a center where immigrants can obtain information and support services in the city, like ones in Pittsburgh and Chicago. The city will collaborate with the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commence and Children's Hospital as well as other organizations to first build a website then an actual center. Other goals include ensuring that immigrants get fair treatment and their full legal rights, increased cultural sensitivity training for police and an ordinance from the city that would go after wage theft. Cranley is hoping to bring the task force recommended ordinances to Council in the next two weeks.  

• The first streetcar is finally set to arrive tomorrow morning. Don't believe me and have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow morning? Then come and see city officials unload the first vehicle for yourself. Tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. on the corner of Race and Henry streets in Over-The-Rhine, city and SORTA officials will spend 90 minutes unloading the first car onto the tracks a month and a half after it was first supposed to arrive. But don't expect a sneak peek into the cars. No tours will be available until it undergoes testing and starts to get a little more comfortable in its new home. 

• Gov. John Kasich made another mad dash to hang on to his presidential aspirations last night during the third Republican primary debate on CNBC. Because of his low poll numbers, CNBC stuck him in the far left corner, but that didn't stop him from getting his word in. According to NPR, he came in third for the total time spent talking, less than a minute behind Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio and, surprisingly, ahead of aggressively chatty Donald Trump. Kasich went around a few questions, preferring not to answer what his greatest weaknesses are and brushing over the legalization of marijuana, which could happen in Ohio in less than a week, but he did say it gave kids "mixed signals." Kasich seemed to prefer to talk about balancing budgets, cutting taxes, reforming education and welfare and the $2 billion surplus and, of course, dodging Trump's jabs at his low poll numbers. 

• Cincinnati for once jumped ahead of other Ohio cities when it enacted anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) would like to see these protections expanded across the state. Antonio, the state's first openly gay lawmaker, has pushed the non-discrimination law before, but her first attempt failed, and now she's trying again. The majority of U.S. states don't have non-discrimination laws in place for sexual orientation, and Gov. Kasich has reportedly hinted that he would support it — in exchange for protections on religious freedom. 

• Cincinnati is ready for winter. The city reportedly has 82 pieces of equipment, 27,000 gallons of calcium chloride, 14,000 gallons of beet juice, 37,500 gallons of brine, 27,000 tons of road salt on hand to fight off the annual average snowfall of 20 to 25 inches. City Manager Harry Black says they're ready for whatever comes this way, and the first snowfall expected in late November. All I can say is Cincinnati may be ready, but having recently moved from Texas where snow is a myth, I'm definitely not.

Email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com.