Hey hey Cincinnati. It’s gorgeous, it’s Friday, it’s spring, so let’s get this news thing over with quickly.
Let’s play good news, bad news, shall we? First, a new ranking puts Cincinnati as the top city in the country for recent college grads when it comes to jobs. That ranking from ZipRecruiter.com, a job-searching site, considered job availability, number of young folks in a city, affordability and a number of other measures when putting together its list. Good news, it would seem.
• Bad news: A program that provides low-cost or free bus fare for the city’s lowest income residents is in danger of disappearing, possibly exacerbating Cincinnati’s already difficult transit situation. Everybody Rides Metro works with 100 social service providers in the area to make sure some 30,000 low-income folks have access to transit so they can get to jobs and other important places. But the nonprofit is facing the loss of $200,000 a year from the federal government, a big chunk of its budget.
• Are you ready for the election? In 2017? Local political players are already gearing up for what is sure to be an intense contest as both Council and mayoral elections jump off. Mayor John Cranley is preparing by… going to Columbus. Cranley made the trip to the capital last week for a Democratic fundraiser for his reelection campaign. “I have to prepare to defend myself,” the mayor told media after the event. Cranley’s had a tough year, with the resounding defeat of a parks ballot initiative he went all-in on, the tumultuous dismissal of Cincinnati Police Department Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and other rocky events over the past 365 days. Cranley doesn’t have any confirmed primary or general election opponents yet, though Councilwoman Yvette Simpson’s name has been floated as a possible challenger.
• Speaking of the mayor of Cincinnati, a major TV show threw a diss our way yesterday. The season finale of Scandal, a political drama that kinda makes hyper-unrealistic House of Cards look like a documentary, got a low blow in during a particularly dramatic moment. The plot points are complicated, but basically, a fictional former GOP president is throwing support behind his ex-wife, the current GOP nominee, after passing on an endorsement in the primary. As he does, though, he tells her he doesn’t get any respect, saying, “You're treating me like an unpopular, first-term mayor of Cincinnati, Mellie.”
Some folks have wondered whether this is a Cranley putdown, but that seems incredibly unlikely. Most viewers of a overheated political soap opera are unlikely to to be aware of a medium-sized city’s mayor, especially one who hasn’t been embroiled in any national controversy. A slightly more likely, but still remote possibility: The line is a crack on former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer, who, well, you know. The most likely possibility, however, is that Cincinnati here is used as shorthand for “unimportant Midwestern city.” It’s a name people know, but don’t really know anything about. It’s in Ohio, perennially the punchline for flyover country jokes (you could fill a book with the slights Cleveland has received in pop culture in the last decade). So, clever joke about our mayor, or lazy joke about our city? I’m betting on the latter.
• The U.S. Department of Education has instructed public schools that they must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms corresponding with their expressed gender identities. Bathroom rights for transgender people have been a big issue since North Carolina passed a law restricting access to bathrooms for transgender people, who the state says need to use restrooms corresponding to their physical sex, not to the gender identity they express. The Department of Education says that such laws, and similar rules created in schools, violate Title IX, the federal government's anti-sex discrimination law.
• Finally, I’ve already taken you ahead to the 2017 election. Let’s press onward to 2018! Why not? God knows this year isn’t providing enough excitement and stress for us all. Anyway, Ohio’s gubernatorial race two years from now may already be lining up, with popular former Democratic state lawmaker Connie Pillich making motions like she’s going to run. Pillich won’t confirm the rumors herself, but many state party officials say she’s considering it. She’s also stacked a large amount of cash — nearly $150,000 — in her campaign fund, even though she doesn’t face reelection this year. Pillich ran for State Treasurer in 2014, but lost to GOPer Josh Mandel during a very, very tough year for state Democrats. Pillich, from Cincinnati, polled a full 10 points ahead of the Democrat gubernatorial candidate that year. The 55-year-old Air Force veteran says she’s focused on aiding Democrats in the 2016 presidential and down-ballot races, but it’s never too early to save for future projects, eh?
Many in the faith and social service communities cheered the move, though some city officials and residents expressed concerns, mostly related to undocumented immigrants.
The IDs, which will be funded by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati and issued by Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, aim to give individuals without state IDs a level of dignity while guaranteeing they will be quickly served by first responders, police and other city personnel. MARCC represents 17 religious denominations active in Cincinnati.
Ronnie Phillips, who is a Streetvibes vendor and Cincinnati resident, says the new ID would be vital to daily life for those who don’t have state ID. Phillips said the cards could be a stepping stone toward getting jobs or housing for those who don’t have government-issued ID cards.
Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Josh Spring calls the cards “a first step” toward that larger goal.
The IDs won’t be a replacement for state IDs when it comes to applying for jobs and housing, where federal regulations require government identification. However, city officials including Mayor John Cranley and Democrats on Council hope the cards will still help those without other government IDs, especially when interacting with emergency personnel.
“This resolution is important because our police know that when individual victims fail to report crime, it emboldens criminals to act again without consequence,” Mayor John Cranley said at a news conference before Council’s vote. “Vulnerable citizens, returning citizens, non-driving senior citizens and others who lack the ability to obtain a state-issued ID are often reluctant to report crimes, even when they’ve been victimized personally. Having an ID that will encourage people to report crimes will make our city safer.”
Cranley says the Cincinnati Police Department has been involved in the months-long effort to set up the ID program and has agreed to recognize the MARCC IDs.
The card will cost $15 and be good for a year at a time. Programs will be available to help provide the cards to those who cannot afford the fee.
“The MARCC ID may seem like a little thing if you already have an ID,” said Catholic Charities CEO Ted Berg. “If you don’t have an ID, it’s a way to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable and a way to give someone something that identifies them as part of the community.”
Berg says immigrants fleeing violence in Central America, including many women and children, desperately need measures to keep them safer.
“The need for this is significant. It doesn’t give [legal] status to anyone,” said Kurt Grossman, Immigration Chair for the American Jewish Committee of Cincinnati. Grossman is also a member of Mayor Cranley’s Immigration Taskforce, which generated the ID concept. “The city doesn’t have the authority to do that – that’s a matter of federal law — but it does bring dignity and safety to a broad spectrum of our community.”
Some on Council balked at voting for the resolution, instead abstaining over what they said were lingering questions about the ID program.
Councilman Kevin Flynn said he had reservations because he thought the program created the perception that the cards would solve problems they couldn’t actually tackle, including the need for ID when applying for jobs and housing. Flynn said he supported the idea in theory, but joined fellow council members Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman in abstaining from the vote on the resolution.
Murray said she liked the general idea of the IDs, but was concerned about the vetting process involved in issuing them and what forms of foreign ID would be accepted for undocumented individuals seeking the IDs.
Many crowded into Council chambers to speak about the program. Most expressed support, but some pushed back, citing opposition to undocumented immigrants.
“I understand Cincinnati wants to be a welcoming city. But there is a legal way for people to get an ID,” said Richard Hahn, who spoke before Council against the resolution. “It’s the Ohio state ID. In the case of an illegal alien or undocumented immigrant, it is against federal law to aid them in this way. What’s to prevent one from obtaining the ID document under different names? Ricardo one day, maybe Jose the next.”
Officials from Catholic Charities say the vetting process for the IDs for undocumented people will include reviewing identification information from other countries, including passports, driver’s licenses and consular IDs. Catholic Charities officials say they expect to issue between 2,000 and 3,000 cards in the program’s first year.
The law, signed by Gov. John Kasich in February, bars any organization from receiving federal funding if it provides abortions that are not medically necessary or from pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. When it goes into effect later this month, Planned Parenthood of Ohio, the largest abortion provider in the state, will lose $1.4 million, which it says does not go to fund its abortion services.
Planned Parenthood of Ohio and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio Region's lawsuit says the law is unconstitutional, claiming it could affect tens of thousands of Ohioans' access to health care, disproportionally targeting minorities and low-income people.
“We are in court because everyone deserves access to quality, affordable, compassionate care no matter who you are or where you are from," Iris E. Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, says. "Let’s call this what it is, an attack on people who already have the least access to care, all in the name of politics.”
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio serves 20 counties and says 75 percent of its patients are low-income.
In an amendment attached to the House bill, lawmakers redirected $250,000 into other community health organizations that do not provide abortions.
But Planned Parenthood claims these clinics aren't immediately in a position to fill the health care gaps it would leave, which would include 70,000 free STD screenings it provides through a Centers for Disease Control program and 5,000 free HIV tests for populations at high risk for the virus.
"Even if other health care providers are eventually able to provide similar services," the lawsuit reads, "many patients’ health care and access to other services will be disrupted because other providers are not prepared to assume responsibility for those services."
On the other hand, if Planned Parenthood chooses to comply with the law to receive funding by ceasing to provide abortions at its Mount Auburn clinic, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion provider. The organization argues that this also creates a constitutionally prohibited "undue burden" to obtain the procedure by forcing women to travel as far as Columbus or Cleveland.
The law is the latest in a series of laws passed under the Kasich administration targeting abortion providers. More than half of Ohio's abortion clinics have closed since Kasich took office in 2011.
Good morning, Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.
• Cincinnati City Council is expected to vote today on whether the city will accept a city ID card issued by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati that is targeted towards homeless individuals, undocumented immigrants and those transitioning back into the community from incarceration. Mayor John Cranley, Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach and Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, along with other community leaders, are holding a press conference at 11 a.m. in front of City Hall to present the details of the card's plan.
• The former acting chief of staff at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Clinic is fighting back against recent disciplinary action taken against her by the Feds. Dr. Barbara Temeck was removed from her high-ranking position last February, after the Department of Veterans Affairs said it found that she was unlawfully prescribing medication to another VA employee's spouse. Temeck, who was demoted to a data-entry position, says the move was made in retaliation for her efforts to call out the inappropriate overreach into the clinic by UC Health and medical-school officials that caused a decline in the quality of care and wasted millions of tax dollars in overtime pay. Temeck filed a complaint in March with the Office of Special Council, a federal agency that protects whistleblowers.
• The long-awaited streetcar is inching closer to opening to the public. The contractors who build the streetcar recently pitched in $40,000 for its opening, and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority says it's been working behind the scenes for four months to the opening that has not been set, but will likely be in the first half of September. SORTA did reveal that it will offer a $10 all-you-can-ride token for the first week of the streetcar's operation and will allow the public to buy streetcar tickets online.
• The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would legalize medical marijuana—with many, many restrictions. The bill, which lawmakers spent months debating and tweaking in committee, would allow patients with just 20 different diseases to use the drug in a vapor form and would require users with a prescription to have a special state-issued ID. Smoking the plant would remain illegal and plants grown for medicinal use could only contain 35 percent THC. One of bill's more controversial stipulations would still allow employers to fire employees if marijuana is found in their system, even if ingested legally. The bill will now move onto the state's Senate where, it it passes, it will move onto Gov. John Kasich's desk to be signed into law.
For some sufferers of chronic and painful diseases, a new (or at least newly legal) form of relief might be on the way.
After lengthy debate, the Ohio House of Representatives today passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in certain, highly specific circumstances and forms.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steven A Huffman (R-Tipp City), would allow patients suffering from 20 diseases including cancer, AIDS and epilepsy to buy and ingest the drug via a vaporizer, which converts the plant into steam instead of smoke. Plants grown for medicinal use could contain only 35 percent THC. Home growing would not be permitted, and smoking marijuana is still illegal, necessitating the other ingestion methods.
Those and a slew of other stipulations, including one that allows employers to discipline or fire employees with marijuana in their systems even if it was ingested legally, are the results of months of wrangling between lawmakers over the bill.
That drew the ire of some state lawmakers, including State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Democrat who represents Cincinnati. Reece expressed concerns that the proviso allowing employers to punish medicinal marijuana use could fall more heavily on African Americans.
Despite disagreement over details, the bill passed easily, 70-25. Even conservative Republican lawmakers wanted to pass some medicinal marijuana legislation ahead of two ballot initiatives that could come before voters in November that would legalize medicinal marijuana. But that was where the agreement ended, at least until today.
As it neared passage, the bill got much stricter and now includes requirements that patients seeking medicinal marijuana have a special state-issued ID card, limiting patients to a 90-day supply of the drug, along with other limitations.
On the other hand, some changes could create more access to the drug. Those include a provision that would find ways to help eligible military veterans afford medicinal marijuana and removing the drug from the most dangerous state drug classification to a lower, less serious one.
The bill now goes on to the state Senate, where lawmakers are expected to make further slight tweaks. Once it passes there, it will go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s desk. Kasich has expressed openness to giving the green light to limited legalization of medicinal marijuana. Polling in Ohio shows a large majority of citizens here favor the move.
Good morning all. Here’s the news today.
Cincinnati City Council will vote Wednesday on whether the city should accept ID cards for homeless residents and undocumented immigrants. The resolution, which a local coalition of religious groups has been advocating for months, would make Cincinnati the first city in the state to accept the cards issued by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati, which includes Jewish, Catholic, Islamic, Baptist and other faith groups. The cards are designed to provide an added sense of dignity and ease the process of finding housing, employment and other necessities for immigrants, homeless individuals and those returning from incarceration.
• Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing is in court this morning for another pretrial hearing related to charges against him in the shooting death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose. Tensing’s attorneys say he was afraid of being dragged under DuBose’s car when he shot the motorist in the head. Inititally, Tensing said that DuBose began driving away before he was shot, and that the officer was dragged by DuBose’s car. Body camera footage contradicted those statements, however. Tensing will stand trial on murder and manslaughter chargers in October.
• Former House Speaker and West Chester resident John Boehner might no longer be campaigning for office or directing floor votes in the House, but he does still have some skin in the political game. Namely, he has about $2.5 million in reelection campaign accounts that have few restrictions in terms of usage. Boehner has been using this money to keep in politics from beyond retirement, giving some to Republican colleagues for their own reelection bids and for other political projects. That’s pretty routine, as there are few regulations on how retired politicians spend their campaign funds, so long as they don’t go all Tom Haverford and decide to treat themselves to the cash. Boehner’s leftover funds are noteworthy mostly for the amount of money sitting in those old accounts, the spoils of one of the GOP’s top fundraisers.
• Ohio’s prison population has risen 15 percent in the past decade, according to a report from a committee convened by lawmakers to study possible changes in Ohio’s justice system. That increase has happened despite a decrease in crime rates and almost entirely stems from drug-related incarcerations. Today, Ohio’s prisons are at 132 percent of their intended capacity. Despite continued low crime rates, Ohio’s prison population could hit a record high this summer, experts warn.
• Democrat presidential primary front runner Hillary Clinton will open up a campaign office in Covington, officials with her election bid announced yesterday. The campaign will launch in-person canvassing efforts as well as phone voter engagement efforts from the forthcoming HQ, which will be on Pike Street. Clinton has a big delegate lead over opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of Kentucky’s May 17 Democratic primary.
• Speaking of Clinton, a new poll shows her trailing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in Ohio, but only by the slimmest of margins. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Trump leading Clinton 43 to 39 among Ohioans, though the poll has a three percent margin of error. That’s in contrast to results for Clinton’s opponent Sanders, who leads Trump in that poll by two points. Clinton leads Trump in that poll in other vital swing states Pennsylvania and Florida by small margins. The Quinnipiac poll contradicts other recent polling showing Clinton leading in Ohio, and national polls show Clinton beating Trump by a larger margin. With or without Ohio, Trump faces a challenging electoral college map this November.
A community group representing Clifton residents has taken issue with a survey sent out by Cincinnati Public Schools that could influence the fate of the embattled Clifton Cultural Arts Center.
CityBeat reported last week on the battle over the Clifton School Building, which is currently occupied by the CCAC. The arts organization has leased the building on Clifton Avenue from CPS since 2008, though CPS recently told the arts center that it is considering terminating its lease and taking the building back.
As part of its outreach to neighborhood residents ahead of the decision about the building, which could come as early as the end of this month, CPS sent out a survey to 11,817 Clifton residents to gauge the neighborhood's interest in the school. The district also sent out a similar version of the survey to 860 families in Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview (CUF) and Spring Grove Village, which would also be using the proposed school.
But in a May 9 letter addressed to the CPS Board of Education members and CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan, CTM President Eric Urbas writes that the organization believes the survey asks confusing and biased questions.
"We warned the Administration that the survey was flawed, but it was sent out anyway," the letter reads. "Now we are alerting you that if the survey results are used, they will only lead to bad decisions."
Results are due back by May 15, according to CPS spokeswoman Janet Walsh. The survey's results will factor into CPS's decision on whether to create a new school in the current home of the CCAC, which the arts center currently leases from CPS for $1 in rent per year along with the cost of the building's pricey upkeep. The arts group has also poured more than $2 million into the building for upgrades and renovations.
Walsh says CPS had discussions with Clifton Town Meeting about the survey, which was written by the CPS Board of Education and CPS staff members, but says community input goes beyond Clifton residents.
"We don't have time to have the world sign on to it," Walsh says. "We're just trying to get information in a timely manner."
Malcolm Montgomery, the vice president of Clifton Town Meeting, says CTM's concerns with CPS go beyond just the survey. It would like to see the district host more community meetings and discussions before it goes forward with any plan to build a new school.
Good morning all. Here’s what’s happening today.
Critics of U.S. Senator Rob Portman are getting louder in their opposition as the Republican faces a tough re-election campaign this year. A group will gather outside his Cincinnati headquarters today for a news conference around Portman’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Merick Garland.
The presser, organized by Progress Ohio, will feature voting rights advocate Samuel Gresham, immigration law expert Jorge Martinez and Sandy Theis, director of Why Courts Matter Ohio, according to a news release from the group. SCOTUS, which currently has eight members instead of the usual nine after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year, has seen big cases around immigration and voting rights recently. Portman is neck and neck with Democrat challenger Ohio governor Ted Strickland in Ohio’s Senate race. He's fallen in line with other GOP Senators and said he thinks the next president should pick Scalia’s replacement. Portman has indicated he does not support extending a Senate hearing for any Obama nominee.
• Are you a skywalker or a street crosser? There’s a big fight brewing over the skywalk that links Music Hall to a parking garage west of the historic Cincinnati landmark, and as the building is renovated, the bridge over Central Parkway could be removed. City parking officials say the skywalk is well beyond its lifespan, could present a hazard to the public and could be removed in June as part of Music Hall’s $135 million renovation. But Mayor John Cranley is insisting the skywalk be saved. Replacing the bridge could cost up to $4 million. Tearing it down would cost about $700,000.
• Three Cincinnati buildings downtown designed by famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham are getting a $100 million redevelopment, and they’ve been named historic landmarks in the process. The Cincinnati Planning Committee voted Friday to bestow that status on the Fourth and Walnut Centre, built in 1904, which Texas-based owners Newcrestimage, LLC will soon turn into multiple hotels.
• Last year, Ohio’s charter school system was rocked by revelations that data about those schools was rigged by an employee within the Ohio Department of Education to make certain charter school sponsors appear better, mostly by omitting data about low-performing online schools. Now, a former employee of one of those online schools has revealed how attendance data there was fudged to make the school look more successful than it actually was.
Brianne Kramer worked at the Ohio Virtual Academy last year, where she says 487 students had failed to log into classes 11 weeks into the school year. Yet only 89 were reported as truant. That was part of bigger attendance reporting problems the school faces, according to critics of the online schools. You can read all about those problems in this Columbus Dispatch story. Charter officials and supporters say the school works students who miss hours to get them back on track and that the attendance stats don't tell the whole story.
• The GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has been a polarizing figure within the party, to say the least. So it’s interesting to take note of which Republican politicians in the region are lining up behind him and which are still expressing reticence about the real estate mogul and reality TV star.
Among bigwigs pledging support: U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Cincinnati-area U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, Hamilton County Commissioners Dennis Deters and Chris Monzel, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Alex Triantafilou and others. Meanwhile, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have yet to weigh in on Trump. Bevin has said he won’t endorse in the primary. Kasich took a full-tilt run against Trump in the GOP battle and was Trump’s last opponent before he dropped out last week.
I’ve seen — and enjoyed — a number of Cirque du Soleil shows, but they didn’t prepare me for Toruk: The First Flight, currently at U.S. Bank Arena. This is one of Cirque’s newest productions, less than a year old, and it’s enormous, reproducing the world of Pandora in the distant Alpha Centauri star system — familiar to moviegoers as the setting for James Cameron’s dazzling 2009 special-effects film, Avatar. Toruk, set in Pandora’s distant past, is a tale of two adolescent boys and their adventures in search of Toruk, an endangered flying beast that’s a blend of dragon and dinosaur. Rather than Cirque’s usual productions with clowns and miscellaneous acrobatic acts, Toruk is a full-length and wholly immersive narrative, guided by a narrator and using a large cast of performers who acrobatically and artistically enact the events and create picturesque scenes. Pandora’s creatures come to life using 16 large-scale puppets, including the high-flying Toruk with a 40-foot wingspan. The story plays out on an immense set (it’s 85-by-162 feet, made of inflatable rubber) with remarkable video and light projections that convincingly recreate rivers, fires and volcanoes. Ultimately Toruk is a lesson in preserving bonds with animals and nature and of working together in unity and peace. It’s a spectacular evening of amazing imagery, thundering music (a lot of drumming) and high-flying acrobatics, but all in the service of telling a moving story. The final performance is Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Tickets: 800-745-3000.
Two local theaters opened shows this week they’ve previously presented in new productions this week:
Violet at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is a rare reprise, a show ETC presented back in 1999, before OTR was the go-to place for entertainment and dining. It’s a lovely, intimate musical about a young woman disfigured by a childhood accident. She’s on a cross-country pilgrimage in the 1960s to a televangelist she believes can heal her. Along the way she finds the true meaning of beauty. Composer Jeanine Tesori created some wonderful anthems for this show, and it’s a story that resonates with director Lynn Meyers. “Violet,” she says, “is definitely a story about somebody coming into their own and finding their way.” This is the first weekend of performances; it’s scheduled through May 22. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has brought back one of its most popular productions, Bad Dates, by Cincinnati playwright (now a big name in New York City) Theresa Rebeck. This one-woman show about Haley, a recently divorced middle-aged woman trying to get back into the dating game, was a hit in a Playhouse mainstage production back in 2005. This time around it’s happening on the smaller Shelterhouse stage, but you can be sure Michael Evan Haney’s direction (he staged the earlier production, too) it will be very entertaining. It’s onstage through June 12. … The Playhouse is presenting Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing on its mainstage, through May 21. Read my review here. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Continuing at Know Theatre is Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky. The story of Henrietta Leavitt, an amateur astronomer from the early 20th century who made some mind-blowing discoveries, is a thoughtful script that’s being wonderfully acted by some of Cincinnati’s best female theater talent. There’s a lot of very positive buzz about this production; a friend called it was the best show she’d seen all season. Read my review here. Onstage for one more week. Tickets: 513-300-5669.