Hey folks. The weather’s killer, the week is half over, and Beyoncé apparently loves Over-the-Rhine. It’s a great day to be in Cincinnati, so let’s talk about what’s going on, good and bad, in our fair city.
As a wise group of sages once said, cash rules everything around us, and if you’re looking for insight into the movers and shakers, the powerbrokers , the people pulling the levers in Cincy, you could do a lot worse than two lists that have recently popped up. One, released yesterday by Forbes, details the country’s richest families, and three area clans made the list. The Scripps family, owner of the E.W. Scripps media company, is tops in Cincinnati, with a net worth of $7.5 billion. They’re the 34th richest family in America. Next down the list are United Dairy Farmers and American Financial owners the Lindners, who have about $1.7 billion in assets and money in the bank. They’re ranked 130 on the national list. And with a measly $1.5 billion, the Farmers, who run the enormous Cintas uniform empire, round out Cincinnati’s contribution to Forbes’ rankings. They’re the 140th richest family in the country. The Waltons (Wal-Mart) and the Kochs (a bunch of things related to energy, including fracking companies in Ohio) topped the national list. No surprises there.
Another list of note is the Business Courier’s ranking of public companies in Cincinnati with the most cash on hand. These are companies with extra capital to spend who may make big moves in the next year or so. Procter and Gamble topped this list, followed by Macy’s, but you’ll also see some of the same names as the Forbes list, including American Financial (3rd on the list with almost $1.9 billion in cash), Cintas (5th on the list with $349 million) and the E.W. Scripps company (10th with $194 million.)
• For years, both when I lived here and during visits back home while I was living elsewhere, I would walk past the gorgeous but vacant church on Elm Street across from Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and daydream about possible uses for the building. I definitely wasn’t the only one, and now two developers are turning their visions for the space into reality. Work is beginning to convert the 147-year-old church, which has been empty for over a decade, into a bar and events space for concerts, weddings, and other happenings. Building owners Josh Heuser and Michael Forgus envision their space as a community building cornerstone in the area–a place where people can come together. They hope to have the space open for business by May next year.
• Sometimes, one can isn’t enough. The folks at Rhinegeist in OTR have dreamed up a solution for the dilemma you face when you want a lot of beer but don’t want to carry around multiple cans, because let’s face it, that just doesn’t look very classy. They’ve come up with the crowler, which holds 32 ounces of the any of brewery’s creations. The crowler actually has more utility than just keeping you from double or triple fisting–it works like a growler, allowing you to take beer home, but with a much longer shelf life of up to a month. Genius.
• Connie Pillich, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s treasurer, has floated the idea of creating an independent watchdog group to keep those counting and spending the state’s money accountable. The group would keep an eye on the treasurer’s office and other state government agencies to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds. Pillich has cited past scandals in the treasurer’s office, as well as questions about current treasurer Josh Mandel, as reasons Ohio needs the watchdog.
"We are in dire need of having an independent watchdog to make sure the office where all the people's money is kept is operating efficiently and safely," Pillich told Cleveland.com. "People should be able to go to bed at night assured there's someone in Columbus watching their funds."
Pillich is running against current treasurer Mandel, who has been the subject of scrutiny for alleged shady dealings. Mandel made a national list of worst politicians recently–one of just two Ohio politicians to receive that dubious distinction. Mandel denies any wrongdoing and points to the clean audits his office has received while he's been at his post.
• Ohio is getting all the big national events lately. The MLB All Star Game, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and now, the GOP National Convention, which looks likely to take place in Cleveland in 2016. The convention taskforce for the Republican National Committee announced its recommendation yesterday, and now the full RNC will vote on, and likely pass, that suggestion. The group responsible for the selection, headed by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, has said they were blown away by Cleveland’s efforts to secure funding and demonstrate their readiness for tens of thousands of conservative convention-goers. The field of cities, which once included Cincinnati and Columbus as well as Las Vegas and other contenders, was narrowed down to just Cleveland and Dallas. The RNC convention group said they based their decision on how much each city rocked, and while Dallas was pretty good, Cleveland has a national reputation for said rocking. No telling how much the RNC was influenced by the Insane Clown Posse’s decision to relocate its annual convention of sorts to Ohio from Michigan, though Republican convention officials have been heard remarking that if Ohio is good enough for ICP, it’s good enough for the GOP. (This part is complete fiction, by the way, though who knows how these decisions are made...)
This news this morning is all (well, mostly) about politics, so put your civics hat on.
Former Procter and Gamble executive and prospective head of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has quickly gone from wrangling over local sales taxes as head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force here in Cincinnati to meeting with senators in Washington. McDonald, who is President Obama’s nominee to lead the troubled VA, is making the rounds in the nation’s capital this week on a series of informal get-togethers with senators, who will vote on his confirmation soon. He’ll also be boning up on his knowledge of the VA and its current challenges.
Confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominees have been tough the past couple years, and with the high-level controversy swirling around the VA lately, McDonald could face a bumpy ride. High wait time for patients, patient fatalities and record-keeping scandals have clouded the agency’s image. McDonald will have to convince 14 senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that his corporate experience with P&G has equipped him to address these issues quickly and steer the VA back onto the right course. He’ll make his case at a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
• Now time for a quick break from the political: New music venues seem to
be popping up all over lately. The latest is in Clifton, where the
owners of Olives restaurant have announced they’re closing July 20 and
preparing to turn their space on Ludlow Avenue into a live music
destination. The restaurant is located in the historic Ludlow Garage,
which was run by Jim Tarbell and hosted national acts in the 1970s. The new venue will open in November, booking local and national acts. No word yet on what kinds of music are in store there.
• Now back to politics. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced yesterday that 16 of Ohio’s May 6 primary races around the state were decided by a single vote. That makes 63 races in a year’s time that have been decided by the slimmest of margins.
“This underscores the importance of election access and integrity,” Husted said, “and why it is so important to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
It’s funny that Husted would talk about making it easy to vote, given that the he and the Ohio GOP have moved time and again to restrict early voting hours around the state. These attempts include a swipe at Sunday voting directly before election day, a day with heavy turnout from African-American communities across the state. Courts later ordered Sunday voting restored.
• Democratic candidate for attorney general David Pepper has slammed his opponent, current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, over a number of issues recently. These include DeWine’s lack of response to the state’s heroin addiction epidemic and the fact that DeWine drafted a brief in support of Hobby Lobby in its recent Supreme Court case. Now he’s blasting DeWine over Ohio’s lag in testing rape kits, which are samples collected when a rape is reported. Those samples can help identify the rapist — one in three kits results in a match with someone in Ohio’s DNA database. The problem is, Ohio has a backlog of more than 4,000 rape kits waiting to be tested, some more than 20 years old. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation can test about 300 of the kits in a month. That’s not fast enough, Pepper says, attributing it to DeWine’s mismanagement. He proposes sending the kits to other regional labs for testing, speeding up the process and hopefully catching more rapists.
“At the current rate, this will take four to five years,” Pepper says. “To me, that’s just not good enough.”
DeWine says he didn’t create the backlog and in fact requested the extra kits from local law enforcement agencies, which often had them locked away for years in evidence rooms, so they could eventually be tested. He says sending the kits to other labs is a bad idea and that the state’s lab has developed unique expertise necessary to test them.
• Well, shoot. The Associated Press announced recently that it plans to start publishing articles written by robots. The stories will mostly be business stories summarizing earnings reports, though AP has also been using robots for some sports reporting. It’s not an unprecedented move — The Los Angels Times and other publications have employed robots to write immediate reports on earthquakes, crime and other subjects where highly formulaic reports are required. The AP estimates that it will be able to produce more than 4,000 articles a quarter this way — a huge leap above the 300 it now produces.
No worries, though. This morning news roundup wasn't written by a robot. Or was it?
Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.
Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.
• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road.
• Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.
• Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.
• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year.
• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet.
“If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage. Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.
It's almost the 4th of July, and what's more American than protests, historic music venues, under-funding education and weird robot selfies? That's what's on tap for the morning news today.
A Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday that nine Greenpeace protesters who hung huge banners from Procter and Gamble headquarters in March are still on the hook for burglary charges.
Lawyers for the group argued that no other laws were broken when the group trespassed on P&G property to protest the company’s use of palm oil. Felony burglary charges require more than just trespassing, but prosecutors say the group also damaged windows and could also be charged with criminal mischief or disorderly conduct. The distinction matters because trespassing is a minor charge, while the burglary counts carry penalties of up to eight years in prison.
The group was let into the building after one of the protesters posed as a business person. Once inside, they hung the banners from cables that prosecutors say caused damage. The Greenpeace members have said they didn’t damage anything. The group was protesting palm oil because its harvest is destructive to rain forest habitats that are home to many endangered animals, including tigers, which were featured prominently on the banners.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 21.
• Over-the-Rhine will get a big music venue and a historic building will be rehabbed at the same time. A project to redevelop OTR’s Woodward Theater is progressing with fresh financing. The owners of MOTR Pub, which is right across Main Street, purchased the theater last year. The plan has been to fix up the building, built in 1913, and turn it into a 600-capacity music venue for bands that draw a bigger crowd than MOTR can handle.
MOTR’s owners announced yesterday that they’ve secured the necessary $1.25 million in financing for the project from two nonprofit lenders. Building plans and permits have already been approved, and work will start soon to renovate the structure, which will include adding bars and a large stage. In the past, the building has been a theater (obviously), a Kroger store and an antique shop.
• Tomorrow when you’re lighting up some explosives and celebrating our founding fathers’ infinite wisdom, think about this: Cincinnati is No. 3 on the list of top places to celebrate the 4th of July. A ranking touted by Parade Magazine and originally put together by finance website WalletHub (sounds totally legit) put the city above Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other quintessentially American cities. We came in just under Richmond, Virginia and Irvine, California, both of which clearly cheated. The rankings take into account 14 different factors including legality of fireworks, weather, average drink prices, the number of tri-cornered hats per capita and the statistical chance a bald eagle will land on your head while holding roman candles in its talons and screeching the "The Star Spangled Banner." Err, not so much the last two, but I would like to see the data on those. Cincinnati fared especially well in the “most swimming pools per capita” category (we ranked second) and the “most outdoor attractions” category (we ranked third). The worst place to celebrate the fourth? Corpus Christie, Texas. Seems about right.
• Let’s play good news/bad news. The state of Ohio is running a surplus this year, but most of it is already spoken for. The state is $800 million in the black, about 3 percent of Ohio’s total budget. But the majority of that extra money is going to tax cuts and a Medicare savings fund. About $76 million will go to low-income tax credits, $91 million to more general income tax reductions and about $229 million to tax breaks for businesses. The rest gets stashed away for next fiscal year, which starts today. Meanwhile, spending on education and other vital services remains flat, a point Democrats are highlighting as they look to unseat Gov. John Kasich in November.
• Finally, Google recently unleashed its street view cameras to take pictures of the insides of more than 200 museums across the country, including Union Terminal. A strange, postmodern byproduct of this effort is that sometimes these cameras come across mirrors inside the museums and end up taking weird robot selfies. The future is now, and I really don’t know how to feel about it. Questions: Are these robots on Instagram, and how long until Kim Kardashian and Kanye photobomb one of these shots?
Here at the morning news desk (which is really just my desk, only in the morning), we usually lead off with some local news. But the big story of the moment comes from across the river.
Kentucky's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The judge struck down Kentucky’s amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriages, though he is holding implementation of his ruling until after hearings here in Cincinnati next month. The next showdown over gay marriage in the region comes Aug. 6, when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals downtown will hear cases from Ohio, Kentucky and other states about same-sex marriage bans.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pitching user fees for events at Music Hall and the Cincinnati Museum Center as a way to raise funds to renovate the historic buildings. He floated the idea in a letter yesterday, where he also indicated he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat no on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase. The buildings need more than $300 million in repairs.
An Indianapolis-based developer working on rehab projects for three iconic historic buildings in Cincinnati is making progress. Core Redevelopment LLC is redeveloping the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building in Pendleton, the Crosley building in Camp Washington and the old Windsor Elementary School in Walnut Hills. The group was just awarded tax credits on the Windsor project, which will contain 44 units of housing. CEO John Watson indicated that he thinks Walnut Hills is on the verge of a “full scale redevelopment” as a neighborhood. The SCPA project is expected to break ground in September and will be home to 142 units. Finally, the group will develop 238 units in the looming white Crosley building, which was built in the 1920s by the Crosley company as a factory for radios and other items. All three projects will be market rate housing. The group expects the 800-square-foot, one bedroom units at the Windsor building will run a little over $800 a month.
The city of Middletown is officially dissolving its housing authority after complaints it tried to kick people off Section 8 rolls. The Middletown Public Housing Authority voted unanimously to dissolve itself yesterday. MPHA will shut down by September, turning over 1,662 Section 8 vouchers to Butler and Warren Counties.
Miami University of Ohio is the most expensive public university in the country, a new study finds, and Ohio’s other public universities are also among the priciest. Miami rings up at a net cost of $24,000 a year after financial aid is considered. As an alum, this makes me wonder if the resale value of their degrees is higher, too. I have one recent-model English/Poli Sci double if any one’s interested… rarely used, buyer takes over payments.
It’s not every day you see your state’s Democratic senator take a selfie with your ultra conservative, Republican governor. But Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. John Kasich apparently got cozy for the camera yesterday at The Banks while celebrating the new GE deal. Cincinnati, bringing people together.
Finally, scientists are working on breeding bald chickens that can withstand the increased heat caused by climate change in regions near the equator. That's... terrifying. I imagine they'll be able to do it, though, since they've already been able to genetically engineer the spicy and extra crispy varieties.
A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.
It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide
questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.
The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan. 2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.
The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.
Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.
“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.
The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Phew. It's only Tuesday and this week is already shaping up to be super intense. Let's get into it.
One of the Cincinnati area’s two abortion clinics must close, a Hamilton County magistrate said yesterday, though his official ruling on the matter will come July 10.
Magistrate Michael Bachman’s decision is the next step in a long legal process that began in January, when the Ohio Board of Health ordered Women’s Med clinic in Sharonville to close because it did not comply with an Ohio law requiring all outpatient abortion clinics to have the ability to transfer patients to local hospitals. A 2013 Ohio law made complying with that rule more difficult by prohibiting tax-funded public hospitals from entering into such transfer agreements.
The clinic appealed the decision, asking for a waiver to the rule. That initial request was denied, and as the clinic continues its appeals, a Hamilton County judge ruled it could stay open. Bachman’s ruling, which must be approved by the original judge, would overturn that temporary reprieve. The area’s other clinic is a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn called the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center. If both shut down, Cincinnati will be the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to a local abortion clinic, The Enquirer reports.
• Speaking of questionable decisions regarding women’s health, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine led a group of 19 other Republican AGs who filed a brief supporting Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court ruled on the recent contraceptive case. The brief likely had little bearing on the final outcome and was more a political gesture from DeWine and others who are dead set against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The ACA is at the center of the Hobby Lobby case, which involved the company’s refusal to cover under its health insurance plan certain birth control devices it believes cause abortions. Scientists disagree with that assertion, but the court went with Hobby Lobby in a 5 to 4 decision yesterday.
DeWine’s opponent for attorney general, Democrat David Pepper, questioned whether the AG should have been filed the brief on Ohio taxpayers’ dime.
“Hobby Lobby has its own attorneys,” Pepper said. “They’re good lawyers, some of the best in the country. Let Hobby Lobby make its own arguments.”
* Some of Ohio’s heavy hitters are in town today to celebrate Cincinnati’s new agreement with General Electric. Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Brad Wenstrup and a number of other political and business leaders are set to attend a special ceremony celebrating the deal downtown today. GE’s new site is expected to bring about 2,000 jobs to The Banks when it’s all up and running.
• Also going on downtown today, possibly: I saw a tweet floating around saying that the world’s longest Bierwurst, a 250-foot-long beer-flavored sausage, will be served at Fountain Square at 11:30 am. I haven't been able to confirm that, but you can bet I'll be there to investigate this mysterious meat monstrosity.
• A study by State Impact Ohio shows that the tax burden paying for Ohio’s schools has shifted in the past two decades. The business community is paying less and individual homeowners and other small landowners are paying more, according to the study. Individuals paid 46 percent of school taxes in 1991 and now pay 70 percent due to changes in the way businesses are taxed. Ohio schools get much of their operating money from these property taxes.
• This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was passed July 2 that year. Here’s an in-depth look at how the law came to be and a pretty depressing take on why it probably wouldn’t pass in today’s Congress.
The big news this morning is that President Obama will reportedly tap one of Cincinnati’s most prominent business leaders to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been mired in some pretty hefty troubles lately.
Obama is expected to nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald for the post. McDonald has a long military history — he’s a West Point grad and former Army Ranger — as well as having a lot of leadership experience with large, complex organizations. He became just the twelfth CEO at P&G in 2009 and left last year. He’s also the leader of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which has been working to find ways to preserve both Union Terminal and Music Hall.
Despite his impressive resume, McDonald has his work cut out for him. The VA has recently faced a number of charges of mismanagement stemming from botched record keeping and long wait times for care, which critics say have resulted in the deaths of patients.
• In what has to be the biggest national news of the day, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can refuse to offer birth control as part of their insurance packages for religious reasons. The case involves the Hobby Lobby corporation, which refuses to offer contraceptives due to the Christian beliefs of the corporation’s founders. Some polls show that many Americans believe corporations shouldn't be allowed to decide what kinds of items are offered via health insurance, though pro-life groups are applauding the ruling.
The decision split the court 5 to 4, with all five in the majority men. If you're completely befuddled and saddened by the ruling, take heart from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, which truly breathes hot fire. In it, she points out that some forms of contraception can cost a month's wages for minimum wage employees, that the court's ruling opens up a huge grey area about what can and can't be decided by corporations in terms of health care. She also warns that the court has "ventured into a minefield."
• I ride a bike to work so I don’t have to deal with traffic and roads being closed and whatnot. This usually works out great and I get to zip past all the chumps sitting in their idling cars. (Sorry if you drive to work. You’re not really a chump. I just hate driving and am really impatient in the mornings.) Except today. Twelfth and Race is shut down for streetcar work, throwing a serious obstacle in the route I and a lot of other people take. It’s going to be closed for the next six weeks. Also closed for the short-term: 12th and Clay, but that should be back in action Wednesday. Let’s just keep reminding ourselves that this is a sign that progress is happening, and that it’s a good thing. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to build that zip line I’ve been planning from my house to CityBeat’s office.
• The Enquirer today has a piece about “boomerang” residents — folks who move away to big metropolises but come back to the Queen City. As one of those folks myself, I feel fairly certain most people move back for the same reasons I did: easy access to Skyline and Putz’s blue soft serve ice cream. Mystery solved.
• An area man is about to go on trial. In North Korea. Jeffery Edward Fowle of Miamisburg visited the isolated totalitarian country in April and has been detained ever since for “hostile acts” against the state. Rumor has it he made disparaging remarks about North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un’s best friend Dennis Rodman and his rebounding skills.
• The Ohio State University welcomes its new president today. Michael Drake will be the school’s 15th head and the first African American to take the post. Drake was previously chancellor of University of California Irvine.
• ISIS, the brutal insurgent group of militants who have taken over a large swath of Iraq and some of Syria, have declared themselves a religious state governing the territory they’ve captured. That declaration is a challenge to the U.S.-supported Iraqi government's sovereignty and a new level of trouble for the already chaotic country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is making moves to take back some ground they’ve lost to ISIS, and Iran has pledged to fight the group as well, suggesting no end on the horizon for the bloody conflict.
* Finally, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar has been dead for two decades, but Smithsonian reports his legacy lives on in the form of the country's hippo infestation. That's gangster.
So I'm a bit late with news this morning, or the morning was a bit early, one of those. It probably has something to do with CityBeat winning six Cincinnati SPJ awards last night. Though I wasn't part of the team in 2013 when those awards were earned, I did my part by putting in extra hours celebrating.
Anyway, enough about us. Here's what's going on in the world.
Cincinnati’s startup community got some love yesterday when America Online cofounder Steve Case rolled into town with his Rise of the Rest tour, which celebrates entrepreneurs in American cities. Case praised Cincinnati’s progress in bringing vitality back to its downtown area and credited that renaissance at least in part to the city’s startups and young entrepreneurs.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger, who is riding shotgun on the tour, also praised the Queen City for the level of access startups have to the large corporations in town. She said what the city needs now is a big hit — a startup that really makes it big and shows the world that Cincinnati is a great place to start a business.
Mayor John Cranley was in the mix as well, touting Cincinnati’s strengths as a marketing town. He called the city “the best place in the world” for marketing entrepreneurs. While that’s kind of like your parents talking about how awesome you are to their work colleagues (of course he’s going to say that), Cranley’s point holds some weight — with so many big companies in town needing all sorts of fresh ideas, it can’t hurt to be living at their doorstep if you’re hoping to do some business with them.
One Cincinnati startup, called Frameri, got $100,000 from Case and an invitation to pitch their business in Washington, D.C. Frameri, which makes high-style glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, beat out seven other local businesses in a pitch competition. The company is an alum of OTR’s business incubator The Brandery. No word from Case yet on my business idea, which involves a food delivery service that launches burritos from those pneumatic tubes you see in old bank building drive-thrus. Still waiting for that call, Steve…
• In other downtown news, Kroger is adjusting its ideas about starting a grocery store in the Central Business District. The Business Courier reports that Kroger CEO Roger McMullen discussed the chain’s plans for a downtown store at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting, revealing that less may be more in the company’s eyes. Kroger had been mulling a full-size store here but is now considering something smaller and more specialized.
• Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other Democrats held an event this morning near UC criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level of funding for higher education in the state. Democrats also gathered in Columbus to protest dwindling education spending, which they say make college unaffordable for many Ohio families. One talking point — Ohio’s budget spends less than 10 percent on higher education for the first time in four decades. Gov. Kasich has acknowledged that college affordability is a problem but says schools need to do more to cut costs and make sure degrees lead to good-paying jobs.
• The Associated Press reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is having a difficult time documenting how it goes about choosing law firms for special assignments. DeWine says there’s a rigorous process used to vet firms and decide who gets the lucrative state contracts, but public records request by AP found… nothing. It’s entirely possible that the AG’s dog ate the records or that maybe DeWine just keeps all that info in his head. The revelation comes as allegations are being made that these kinds of contracts are often awarded to firms who donate to the state Republican party. DeWine’s opponent for the AG post, Cincinnati-based lawyer David Pepper, has said DeWine’s office is engaged in a “pay to play” arrangement. DeWine, however, says his office’s choices are transparent and fair.
• A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that political polarization, which is at an all-time high, contributes to income inequality. This is kind of like a two-for-one in the “hot political topics” world. The study doesn’t go so far as to nail down why the gap between America’s political ideologies tracks so closely with the gap in rich and poor Americans’ incomes, but it does make a couple guesses, which are worth reading about. Basically, it may have to do with the country’s rightward shift toward policies that tend to benefit more wealthy citizens. Or heck, maybe it’s just a big crazy coincidence and the tea party really will make everything great for everyone if we only embrace their Mad-Max style dreams for a government-less future. Could be.
A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
About 100 activists showed up, holding signs and chanting as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall. Some were local, while others came from Columbus, Florida and elsewhere.
The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.
Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, and many make just pennies per pound picked, meaning it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.
The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately. A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.
CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.
Oscar Otzoy picks produce and advocates for farm labor rights. He’s working in Columbus now but lived in Immokalee for eight years before that. He's been involved in the coalition to improve farm workers’ rights that entire time.
He says before the coalition, working days in the fields were long, and workers had little recourse when they were mistreated.
“Back then, you’d work long, hard hours, and if you were abused in the fields, if you were a victim of sexual harassment, as many women are, there was no system,” he said. “If workers wanted to complain, they would be fired on the spot. That’s all changing now.”
Otzoy says the life of a farm laborer can be hard, especially without groups like the CIW.
“You wake up very early in the morning, usually about 4 a.m., and then get on a bus to the field to work,” said Otzoy, describing a typical day before he joined the coalition. “But when you get there, you usually don’t start working until about 10 a.m., when the pesticides have dried and it’s safe to enter. All the time in between is unpaid.”
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.
McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Wal Mart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.
Kroger is another company that has yet to join in.
“We’ve been here every year, and we’re trying to grow our numbers,” said Sameerah Ahmad, a local organizer working with CIW at the protest. “We’ve been organizing these protests for a few years. We want to show escalation and pressure and show we’re not going way.
Kroger is the nation’s largest grocer after Wal-Mart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. The chain has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts. While the company itself hasn’t participated directly in any known agricultural injustices, Ahmad said that as part of the produce industry, the company should make sure it’s sourcing its food ethically.
“Kroger can take a big step by supporting workers’ rights in the fields,” she said.