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.
• There's less than two months before the world will finally get the chance to journey to Grant County, Kentucky, to experience a real-life replica of Noah's Ark. After 14 months of construction, the project is apparently coming along smoothly — and even under budget. The controversial structure, which is based on the Biblical tale of one man single-handedly building a giant ark and cramming it full of two of every kind of animal, is set to open on July 7 and is expected to attract 1.2 million visitors in the first year.
• The Ohio House is set to vote on legislation next Tuesday that could legalize medical marijuana for Ohioans. After months of committee hearings, a special House committee approved HB 523 Thursday evening, making it the first time marijuana legislation has ever made it out of committee and on to a full House vote. The bill would create a tightly regulated system for growing, dispensing and prescribing the plant and would permit it only be used in a patch, vapor, oil or other extract.
• If you're planning on getting out your wildest hat and watching the Kentucky Derby Saturday, as tradition goes, you're also going to hear the crowd sing along with University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band to Kentucky's state song, "My Old Kentucky Home." But former Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker believes some people are missing the racial undertones in the sweet-sounding, old-timey melody. Walker says the song, which was written by composer Stephen Foster as an anti-slavery song, actually has some pretty troubling lyrics related to slavery.
• There's been a lot of controversy around the Central Parkway Bikeway, with some in the city, including City Council members, asking whether it has caused more accidents along the busy street. But a study undertaken by the city and re-released yesterday seems to show that's not the case. A report by the city of Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering released yesterday by the office of City Manager Harry Black shows that the stretch of Central Parkway with the controversial bike lane has not had more accidents than comparable roads without the lanes.
• Campbell County, Kentucky's government has approved a needle exchange program to help prevent the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV among heroin users. The Campbell County Court voted Wednesday to help fund a program that will create mobile van run by health professionals where users will be able to exchange used needles for clean ones. Covington hospital St. Elizabeth Healthcare agreed to provide space for the van on its grounds.
• Former City Council candidate Kevin Johnson was arrested Tuesday and charged with two counts of drug trafficking and two counts drug possession after police found more than 550 grams of cocaine in his car during a routine traffic stop. Johnson, who came in 20th out of the 21 candidates for Council in the 2013 election, is being held at the Hamilton County Justice Center on a bond of $300,000. He is scheduled to appear in court on May 13.
• After months of clawing his way through the GOP presidential primary as the ultimate underdog, Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced the suspension of his campaign at a Columbus press conference yesterday. Kasich's announcement appears to have been a sudden call. Following another his defeat in Indiana's primary on Tuesday, Kasich's campaign said he would carry on. Yesterday, the Kasich campaign released a Star Wars-themed ad claiming he was "our only hope" just hours before his announcement that he is finally giving up his dreams of the White House.
There's been a lot of controversy around the Central Parkway Bikeway, with some in the city, including City Council members, asking whether it has caused more accidents along the busy street. But a study undertaken by the city and re-released yesterday seems to show that's not the case.
A report by the city of Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering released yesterday by the office of City Manager Harry Black shows that the stretch of Central Parkway with the controversial bike lane has no more accidents than comparable roads without the lanes.
Critics, including Councilman Christopher Smitherman, say that the lanes cause confusion because they require drivers to park in the right lane of the street instead of on the curb, where the bike lane now runs. Smitherman introduced a motion in February asking that the lanes be removed.
In 2015, according to Wednesday's report, Central Parkway between Liberty and Linn streets had 62 total car accidents, including seven involving parked cars.
In that same time frame, Glenway Avenue from Rapid Run Road to Gilsey Avenue, a similar stretch, had 91 accidents, including 13 parked car accidents. Another similar stretch of road, Hamilton Avenue from Spring Grove Avenue to Bruce Avenue, had 51 wrecks including seven with parked cars.
"The number of crashes on Central Parkway is comparable to the number of crashes on similar streets," the report concludes. "Research published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that streets with protected bicycle lanes saw 90 percent fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those with no bicycle infrastructure."
The report also breaks down the crashes on Central Parkway by cause, as shown below.
The report is similar to one released and then rescinded by the city in March. Among the differences: The earlier report explicitly recommended that the lanes be retained. That language does not appear in the recently released study.
“Given the reduced risk of injury to bicyclists, the administration does
not recommend removal of the bike lanes,” the March memo from City Manager Black reads. “However, DOTE
will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best
The new report says that the Cincinnati Police Department's Traffic Unit "did feel that the area is more congested and confusing," but also that CPD feels that should lessen over time as motorists and cyclists become accustomed to the new lane arrangement. "Both Police and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts," the new report notes.
There are measures that the city can take to reduce the confusion around the lane, the report says, including additional signs and better traffic striping. Those measures would cost about $30,000, money DOTE says it has available. By contrast, removing the lanes from the stretch between Liberty and Ravine streets as requested by Smitherman would cost the city $234,000. Removing the entire lane from Marshall Avenue to Elm Street, meanwhile, would cost $587,000, according to the report.
The Central Parkway Bikeway was completed in
2014 after multiple bouts of political wrangling. The protected bike
lane uses plastic partitions to separate cyclists from drivers along the
four-lane stretch of the Central Parkway running from Clifton, through
the West End and University Heights and into Over-the-Rhine and
downtown. The lane was initially proposed in a bike plan Cincinnati City
Council passed in 2010, and Council in 2013 voted unanimously to build
it using $500,000 in mostly federal money.
While some neighboring business owners and the Fraternal Order of Police, whose headquarters are on the bike lane's path, have complained about accidents and parking woes since the lane has been introduced, nearby community councils have rallied around the lane. Clifton Town Meeting and the Over-the-Rhine Community Council have both passed motions this year supporting the lanes and asking for their expansion, citing the increase in economic activity and cyclist safety that studies suggest come with bike lanes in urban neighborhoods.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company today made its “first pours” of cement on Wednesday afternoon, May 4, getting started on the foundation for the new Otto M. Budig Theater at 12th and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine. This is the beginning of construction for a brand-new 244-seat theater, Cincinnati Shakespeare’s home starting in the fall of 2017. Project cost is estimated at $17 million.
Afternoon rain stopped just in time for a group of civic leaders and donors stroll down into the pit for the theater’s foundation and pull the handle to drop the first large bucket of cement into a footer mold. Participating in the event were Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, donor Otto M. Budig and other Cincy Shakes supporters including Jim Bridgeland, Calvin and Patricia Linnemann, Don Tecklenburg and Richard Westheimer.
In a social gathering at the nearby OTR Transept after the ceremonial event, Patrick Flick, executive director of The Shakespeare Theatre Association, announced that the theater company and the city of Cincinnati have been selected to host the January 2018 Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference.
Mr. Flick said, “From a roster of over 120 companies with annual budgets ranging from $50,000 to $50MM, the committee reviewed proposals from Boston, Milwaukee, Santa Cruz, Newfoundland and Prague, as well as Cincinnati. We are very excited by your city’s ongoing urban renaissance, thriving arts and culture scene, downtown walkability, streetcar development, centralized location, and, of course, the 2017 opening of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s brand new world-class facility in Over-the-Rhine.”
Producing Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips said, “Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is thrilled and proud to do their part in contributing to the cultural tourism on our city and to continue to put Cincinnati on the map! … Our organization is thrilled to be able to host this conference and believe it will have a ripple effect that will benefit our city’s restaurants, hotels, and other fantastic attractions.”
The Shakespeare Theatre Association provides a forum for the artistic, managerial, educational leadership for theaters primarily involved with the production of Shakespeare’s works to discuss issues and methods of work, resources and information, and to act as an advocate for Shakespearean productions and training.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has sent leaders to the conference for several years. Flick added, “The annual conference is a vital opportunity for the leadership of the STA member theatres to network, share best practices, cross-pollinate talent and raise international awareness of the ongoing relevancy of Shakespeare’s plays in the 21st century.”
With U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz departing the GOP presidential primary following last night's big win for Donald Trump in Indiana, Ohio Gov. John Kasich was, for a moment, Trump's sole challenger in one of the strangest primaries in memory.
Now, however, there are multiple reports citing a senior campaign advisor saying Kasich is dropping out of the race. The Kasich campaign has cancelled previously-planned campaign stops and scheduled a 5 p.m. news conference in Columbus, where iKasich is expected to make an official announcement.
Kasich was a long-shot candidate at best: Trump has 1,048 delegates and needs only 1,237 to end the race outright. Kasich, meanwhile, has only 153 delegates, still less than now-departed Cruz and long-gone U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Despite this, the Kasich campaign this morning confidently released a Star Wars-themed video (it is May 4, after all) laying out a nightmare scenario for conservatives: It's 2017, and Hillary Clinton has trounced Trump in the general election, going on to nominate a Supreme Court justice and institute a raft of liberal policies. But there's hope, and that hope's name is... you guessed it: John Kasich.
Kasich faced a nearly-impossible path, however. To win the GOP nomination, he would have had to somehow prevent Trump from gaining the last few delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. Kasich would then have had to best Trump at a contested convention, convincing delegates that it would be better to vote for him than the candidate primary voters sent them to vote for.
Kasich continuing his campaign at this point would have flown in the face of even GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, who has called Trump the party's presumptive nominee. But Kasich did have a couple points to argue for his nomination in the very unlikely contested convention scenario: In what started as a huge primary field, more primary voters voted for some other candidate besides Trump. Kasich's campaign has also pointed to polls showing him winning against Clinton in a general election in November, something Trump has not been able to claim. (Most recent polls show Clinton widening her margins against Trump, though one has Trump neck and neck with Clinton. So far, it's an outlier.)
Kasich's political opponents in Ohio cheered the news.
“Since last March, Governor John Kasich has spent more than 200 days out of state, pursuing his presidential ambitions and ignoring the needs of the people of Ohio," the Ohio Democratic Party said in a statement, accusing Kasich of "gallivanting across the country" instead of working on issues in Ohio.
Good morning all. It’s news time.
I think you know what’s first on the agenda: last night’s historic Indiana primary results and the ensuing realization that, barring some unimaginable turn of events, Donald Trump will be the GOP’s presidential nominee.
Trump dominated the Hoosier State yesterday, taking at least 51 of the state’s 57 delegates and bringing his total delegate count to 1,048. He needs only 1,237 to clinch the game outright, and some big states — including California and New Jersey — loom ahead. Racking up delegates is going to get a lot easier for Trump because his nearest opponent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, uh, cruised right out of the race after results came in last night. That leaves only Ohio Gov. John Kasich left running against Trump, but good luck if you’re a Kasich fan. Dude is still trailing the dispirited ghosts of Marco Rubio and Cruz’s campaigns with just 157 delegates and isn’t anywhere near Trump’s total. What’s more, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus last night said Trump will be the party’s presumptive nominee. Will Kasich drop out? Stay tuned.
• Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders had a big night in Indiana, winning 53 percent of the vote and taking 43 of the state’s 80 delegates. He still trails Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton 1,410 delegates to her 1,700. There are more states friendly to Sanders coming up, but unless he gets huge, huge wins in them or somehow convinces the Democratic party’s super delegates to side with him instead of the frontrunner, he’ll face an uphill battle.
• What does this new near-certainty around Trump’s nomination mean for Senate races? Bad news for the GOP, some Republican strategists fear. Some veterans of past Republican Senate campaigns put the odds that the party will lose control of the Senate at 75 to 80 percent as general election voters who might have sided with a more traditional and moderate Republican candidate stay away from the polls or vote Democratic. Some, however, see hope if candidates like Ohio’s U.S. Sen. Rob Portman can distance themselves from Trump’s unconventional campaign. Portman is running a very tough race against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland.
• Here’s some local presidential race news: Cincinnatian Chris Wyant will run Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Ohio. Wyant worked for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and also as a managing director for Enroll Ohio, which encouraged state residents to sign up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Wyant has connections: His parents, Jack Wyant and Peg Wyant, both worked for Procter & Gamble before starting their own venture capital firm. In addition, Jack is a Cincinnati Reds co-owner and Peg is the CEO of Grandin Properties, a real estate company owned by the family that is very active in Over-the-Rhine. Wyant’s wife, Lauren Kidwell, also has ties to Obama’s past campaigns and his administration.
• You know that feeling when you order something online and can’t wait for it to show up? That’s kind of what city transit officials must feel like right now. Cincinnati’s fifth and final streetcar is on the way and should arrive sometime today. Expect Race Street, where the streetcar maintenance facility is located, to be closed around Findlay Market for a couple hours starting at 2 p.m. Unloading is expected to take about 90 minutes. The first streetcar arrived in October. All the cars must undergo rigorous testing, including empty runs around the city, before passengers can ride them. The city last week passed the 3.6-mile transit loop’s budget last week, and it is expected to start taking passengers in September.
• A Washington, D.C.-based developer will hold onto 10 properties it owns in Over-the-Rhine by addressing multiple municipal code violations on those buildings. The city of Cincinnati threatened to take action against 2414 Morgan Development, LLC, after seven of the company’s buildings were declared public nuisances for their advanced states of disrepair. That action would have included seizure of the buildings, but the developer has side-stepped having the properties placed in receivership for now by making some of the necessary repairs. 2414 Morgan says it is dedicated to renovating the buildings. The city says it doesn’t foresee putting the properties into receivership right now, but will look into further action if more issues arise.
• Finally, the organization that represents many of Ohio's businesses says it doesn't want marijuana legalization, but that if it has to happen, it would prefer a series of bills going through the state's legislature over constitutional amendments. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on two different proposed constitutional amendments around legalizing medicinal marijuana, saying it would prefer lawmakers tackle that subject through the usual legislative process. Last year, a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing limited marijuana growth and sale by ResponsibleOhio was roundly rejected by the state's voters.
Hey all. Today is Indiana’s primary. Go vote if you live in Indiana. If you don’t live in Indiana, continue to gnash your teeth and pray that somehow this election season is simply some very long-term practical joke or a very committed performance art piece.
About the primary: On the GOP side, Donald Trump is leading in the polls. He’s enlisted the help of former Indiana University basketball coach and fellow freaky hair grower Bobby Knight to stump for him and occasionally throw chairs at the crowd/hecklers/his opponents. Formidable duo, to say the least. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, desperately needs a win tonight to keep his campaign afloat. He trails in the delegate count 565 to Trump’s 996 and so far has only managed to get in awkward arguments with folks in the Hoosier State. And then there’s Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has been content to beg Indiana’s 57 delegates to consider switching their vote to him at a contested convention should Trump not reach the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright. Solid strategy there.
• Meanwhile, on the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders are running neck and neck in the state. That doesn’t matter much, because Clinton’s lead over Sanders all but guarantees her the Democratic nomination. Sanders is fighting on, however, and has vowed to take his battle all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July. A Sanders victory wouldn't get him much closer to clinching the nomination (an impossible goal at this point) but would continue to keep his agenda — banking reform, universal health care and fully funded college education, among other goals — on the radar as the election moves forward.
• While we’re talking elections, here’s an interesting piece exploring the challenges facing the GOP come November. Turns out, Republicans could win Ohio and still easily lose the general election, at least according to the scenarios mapped out here. That scenario involves the Democratic nominee scooping up the 19 states and D.C. that Dems have won in the last six elections and taking Florida. If America’s goatee goes blue, it’s pretty much over for the GOP’s presidential hopes.
• Let’s get back down to some local stuff, shall we? This one is just in time for Mother’s Day. It turns out Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for working mothers, at least according to a study by Realtor.com. Cincinnati placed sixth in the country according to the ranking, which considered female employment rate, salaries and other career opportunity factors, childcare available and cities’ affordability. As the product of a working mom, I say that’s really cool if true.
• Things are happening in East Walnut Hills. Specifically, development things. A new project featuring nine single-family homes starting at $500,000 has been announced by developer Traditions Building Group. Those homes will stand on the site of the former Seventh Presbyterian Church on Madison Road near DeSales Corner. Some elements of the church will be preserved, it appears. Elsewhere in East Walnut Hills, plans are developing to turn the former YMCA on East McMillan Street into market rate apartments. City Center Properties, which owns the building, has applied for local historic landmark status that could help redevelopment efforts of the 52,000-square-foot building. The specifics of the redevelopment plans aren’t available yet, however, and Cincinnati City Council would have to approve the request for historic status. The YMCA building was constructed in 1930.
• Statewide news time: U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman are pushing for millions in funding to test Ohio’s various water supplies for lead following the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Brown’s legislation advanced in the Senate yesterday and would provide $20 million for lead testing in schools and day care centers. It would provide funding for public health measures around lead poisoning and make available low-interest loans to states that need to upgrade drinking water infrastructure. The legislation is part of a larger $9.3 billion water reform bill currently before the Senate.
I’m out. Tweet at me. Email me. You know the drill.