National LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign will make a trip to Cincinnati Wednesday to announce its Municipal Equality Index.
The index scores how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. HRC researched every state capital, the country's 200 biggest cities by population, the four largest cities in every state, the city with every state's largest public university and 75 of the country's mid-sized cities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
The scores take into account municipal laws, whether cities offer employees domestic partner benefits and law enforcement and city officials' relationships with the LGBT community. A perfect score is 100, which indicates "an exemplary commitment to full equality for all its residents and workers," HRC said in a news release.
Cincinnati has been in the spotlight recently for LGBT rights issues. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in the city, heard cases over the summer seeking to strike down same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Last week the court upheld those bans, likely setting off a Supreme Court challenge to the laws.
HRC will announce Cincinnati's equality index score, a perfect 100, as well as overall national scores at Memorial Hall Wednesday at 10 a.m. Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and noted LGBT advocates will also speak at the event.
Morning all. There is a busy weekend’s worth of news to recap, but before we get to that, I just gotta say this: I went to something called Mustard Club Saturday, and it changed my life. While I haven’t been quite as up on the German heritage tip as a lot of folks in the city are, this monthly event in Corryville may change that. Here’s a little hint: all you can eat pretzels, mashed potatoes, German desserts and, of course, various meat products. Oh, and lots of German beer if you’re into that.
Anyway, down to business.
• Tonight at Xavier, a woman whose father saved 669 Jewish children during the Holocaust will meet one of those survivors. Barbara Winton is the daughter of British stockbroker Nicholas Winton, who in 1938 took steps to find foster parents for Czechoslovakian Jewish children caught up in the horrors of Nazi genocidal programs. She’s written a book about his life, called If It’s Not Impossible, and tonight at the Cintas Center she’ll meet with Renata Laxova, who at 8 years old left Prague for the safety of Britain thanks to Winton’s efforts. Laxova, who became a geneticist, is 83 today and lives in Madison. Wis. She was among the last children Winton was able to rescue. Amazingly, Nicholas Winton is still alive today, but at 105, he’s not able to make the ceremony, which is part of Xavier’s “Touching History” series.
• Over-the-Rhine is already a brewing hub, but soon the neighborhood will be host to a distillery for gin, whiskey and bourbon for the first time in a long time. Owners of local pet store PetWants recently purchased a 17,000-square-foot warehouse on Central Parkway and hope to be distilling there by next year. They’re also looking to turn the spot into an event space, as well as running some operations for the pet store from the warehouse.
• Mayor John Cranley today announced that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are requesting the city and county create a shared services task force that will find ways the two governments can work together for the region. Cranley and Portune will discuss their ideas further at a news conference later this morning.
• The city is considering turning two major one-way arteries in East Walnut Hills into two way streets. East McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road will probably be converted to boost traffic and business in the neighborhood. Other parts of the streets were converted into two-way corridors in 2012. A neighborhood hearing on the proposals is scheduled for Nov. 18.
• A riverbank park in Lower Price Hill and Riverside is a lot closer to reality. River West, the group planning the park, will receive a $16,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and a $30,000 grant from nonprofit Interact for Health for the project. The group has been pushing for the park for the last seven years, when it successfully fought plans to turn the area into a landing spot for barges. The group worked with the city, which rezoned the land. The 16-acre park, which will be called Price Landing, is still in the early stages, with community input and design phases expected to begin next year. One feature on the table is an extension of the Ohio River Trail.
• If you’re curious about what Hamilton County’s GOP and Democratic party chairmen thought of local and state elections this year, you’re in luck. They shared some candid thoughts Friday at a post-election luncheon for the city’s political bigwigs.
Dem chairman Tim Burke bemoaned the county’s 45 percent voter turnout rate, which he said was the lowest since 1978. He also said he saw Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald as a good candidate but a long shot to topple Kasich, at least until it was revealed that FitzGerald hadn’t had a driver’s license for 10 years. Burke says FitzGerald told him “I’m a procrastinator” as an explanation for the gaffe that tainted his campaign.
GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou had his own insights and revelations about the election. He acknowledged that the trend for the GOP in the county, like in many urban places, is anything but promising long term, but promised that the party would continue to field good candidates. Triantafilou also had some nuanced thoughts about Gov. Kasich’s reelection, saying the incumbent took a more centrist tack this time around after big backlash over the effort to repeal collective bargaining rights for state employees he undertook after voters elected him the first time. That hasn’t endeared him to the state’s tea party faction, Triantafilou said, but won him enough support to take the election by a large margin.
• In state news, Ohio earned a C grade on a new report for its legislative efforts to stop human trafficking. Fourteen other states also received the middling grade from nonprofit Shared Hope, which gave Ohio a score of 78 out of 100, a five point bump from last year. The report said Ohio has made some positive steps in terms of creating specific crimes for those who engage in the sex trafficking of children but has more work to do in terms of trying to limit demand for such services.
• Conservative groups are already pushing for likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation defunding or repealing Obamacare. The rifts in the GOP that were very evident in the last budget fight have reappeared, with tea party-aligned groups like Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action signaling that they’ll push senators and representatives to pursue strategies for repealing the health care law. But it will be tough for McConnell to lead a repeal of the law. Republicans still don’t have 60 votes in the Senate to override a filibuster from Democrats and wouldn’t be able to get past a presidential veto even if they could get legislation out of the Senate.
Hey all. Here’s what’s going on around the city and beyond this morning.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled yesterday to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. You can read more right here about that ruling, and whether it means a Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage.
• Freshly reelected Sen. Mitch McConnell has weighed in again on the Brent Spence Bridge dilemma. The bridge, which is 50 years old and functionally obsolete, though still structurally sound, will need replacing. That comes with a hefty $2 billion price tag, however, which neither Kentucky nor the federal government seems eager to pay for. One solution proposed has been a toll road over the bridge, but that idea has met with stiff opposition from a cadre of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati-area politicians, business leaders and others. McConnell said yesterday that opposition isn’t likely to fade anytime soon, but that there may be a possible solution… corporate tax breaks. He sees the potential for more highway funds that could be used for projects like the bridge through a corporate tax fix that he says could lure more companies back to the U.S.
• McConnell’s fellow Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul dreamed up that highway funds proposal, and McConnell says he’s “intrigued.” There’s another news item here entirely, and one perhaps more interesting on the national stage. McConnell and Paul, who have had some cold relations in the past, have been pretty warm to each other lately, and McConnell has signaled he’d be supportive of a Paul presidential bid in 2016.
• A bill to simplify Ohio’s tax system may also cost the state’s municipalities a ton of cash. The potential law would change the way businesses like construction companies are taxed, possibly cutting into municipal tax receipts. Mayor John Cranley, along with other regional political leaders, are fighting the bill, and may try to introduce a statewide ballot initiative should the bill pass in the Ohio Statehouse.
• Kentucky’s Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson is on his way out of the state, heading for the White House. He’ll be a deputy assistant to President Obama, helping the prez and the federal executive branch coordinate with other governmental bodies, including state, county, city and tribal governments. Given the huge ideological divide between supporters of local and federal power, that sounds like a really, really fun job.
• A small group of protesters have gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today to draw attention to what they say is a serious problem: drug overdoses in area jails and prisons. Many attendees are members of anti-heroin groups who have had family members of friends die of overdoses. They’re questioning how the drug is able to make its way to people behind bars. The region is suffering from a severe heroin crisis, with overdose deaths increasing significantly in the past few years.
• So, now that Republicans control the Senate, will the new top Senator on science be Texas' Ted Cruz, a noted climate-change denier? Could happen. Cruz looks to be next in line for chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space. Republican Sen. James Inhofe, another doubter when it comes to climate change science, looks likely to chair the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which is also going to be a big change-up.
• Finally in our truncated Friday edition of morning news, I have a confession: There are many things in this world I’m a huge dork about, but history, maps and public transit are all near the top. That said, I just want you to take a look at this amazing, 100-year-old 3-dimensional transit ridership map from Germany. Dang man.
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday upheld laws banning same-sex marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.
The 2-1 decision covers six cases in those four states brought by a total of 16 couples. Among them are Cincinnati residents Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers, who are fighting so both can be listed as parents on their son’s birth certificate. James Obergefell of Cincinnati is also involved, asking courts for the right to be listed on his husband Jim Arthur’s death certificate. Earlier, a lower district court found in their favor.
“We just want to be treated as a family, because we are a family,” Henry-Rogers said in an August interview after the 6th Circuit hearings.
Justices Deborah Cook and Jeffery Sutton ruled that the debate over same-sex marriage is best decided by voters, not by the court. Justice Martha Daughtrey dissented.
“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Sutton wrote in the majority opinion. “Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way."
The case is a somewhat surprising setback for same-sex marriage advocates, who had been on a winning streak in federal courts. The 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuit Courts have previously struck down laws in a number of states banning same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is now legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
"This decision is an outlier that’s incompatible with the 50 other rulings that uphold fairness for all families, as well as with the Supreme Court’s decision to let marriage equality rulings stand in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio in a statement yesterday. “It is shameful and wrong that John Arthur’s death certificate may have to be revised to list him as single and erase his husband’s name as his surviving spouse.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine represented the state in the case. His office said in a statement it was "pleased the court agreed with our arguments that important issues such
as these should be determined through the democratic process."
The decision leaves intact Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, at least for now. That’s created a split in federal court rulings among various circuit courts, something the Supreme Court will most likely have to sort out. Some legal experts think the Supreme Court will ultimately find same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The court has refused to hear appeals to lower court decisions striking down bans, leading many to think a majority of the court supports legalization.
Strangio said the ACLU will be filing for Supreme Court consideration. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the Ohio couples, has said he will be working to bring the case to the nation's highest court as well. Other advocacy organizations have also vowed to continue the fight.
“Now, more than ever before, the Supreme Court of the United States must take up the issue and decide once and for all whether the Constitution allows for such blatant discrimination,” said Human Rights Coalition President Chad Griffin. “We believe that justice and equality will prevail.”
It's a new day in America. There's a Republican tide sweeping into office, led by our own House Speaker John Boehner and neighbor to the south Senate Minority Leader (soon to be majority leader) Mitch McConnell. These new, brave soldiers, elected by the slim sliver of the American population that actually turned out to vote, will lead us away from government tyranny to a shining future of... something something.
If you don't know exactly what the plan is, I don't blame ya (spoiler: it involves repealing Obamacare). Boehner and McConnell first announced their ideas for leading majorities in both houses and "honoring voters' trust" behind the paywall of The Wall Street Journal. So if you don't subscribe to the conservative-leaning daily newspaper (tweet at me if you're too young to be a reader of such antiquated technology and I'll explain what it is), well, I guess you'll just have to hear about it on the streets when word of mouth picks up among the unwashed masses.
Nah. To be fair, Boehner has also posted the op-ed on his website. For free! That's so generous. And there are sure to be numerous news conferences on Republican plans, so stay glued to your seat.
Republicans, and McConnell in particular, have been criticized by Dems and others for having big friends with big money on Wall Street, which makes this move a little tone-deaf. CityBeat offered them 500 words in our Voices section, but they never got back to us. (Not really, we're pretty booked up lately).
Funny enough, conservative publication The Daily Caller first called out the move earlier today.
All right all right! Before we get to what’s going on today, I want to talk for a minute about yesterday’s print issue, which we’re pretty proud of. Our copy editor/news person Samantha got her first news feature in, and it’s super-interesting look at new developments with the Wasson Way bike trail. Check it out. Also, yesterdays’ cover story is a long piece I worked on for weeks on the plight of coerced sex workers in Cincinnati. I was blown away by the stories sources shared and the immense strength of people who go through that world. Take a look.
• It looks like the streetcar funding puzzle may finally be coming together. Yesterday afternoon Councilman Kevin Flynn presented a new plan to fund the transit project’s operations, and this one could go all the way.
Flynn proposes a three-pronged attack to cover the annual $4 million or so shortfall for streetcar operating funds. One funding source would be an adjustment on commercial property tax abatement in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The arrangement would ask commercial property owners to agree to a 67.5 percent abatement instead of the now-standard 75 percent deal. That would net about $200,000 the first year and up to $2 million a year a decade from now. The second source would be a boost in parking meter charges to a maximum in some areas of $2.25 an hour downtown and $1.25 an hour in OTR. About $1.5 million gained from that boost would go to the streetcar. Finally, the city’s counting on about $1.4 million a year from riders paying to ride the streetcar.
The plan has a good shot. A majority of Council has signed on, including Transportation Committee Chair Amy Murray. Even Mayor John Cranley has indicated he won’t oppose the funding framework, despite the fact it cuts out the residential parking permit scheme he’s been pushing. The scheme elicited only minor grumbles from the streetcar opponent.
“I appreciate a plan that won’t dip into the General Fund of the City and the hard work that went into crafting it,” he said in a statement yesterday evening. “I still think the streetcar is not the best use of these resources, but I look forward to moving past this debate.”
• While we’re talking about City Hall stuff, City Manager Harry Black today announced the launch of the city’s Performance and Data Analytics Office. The office will set performance management goals with each city department, start an innovation lab to research operational problems the city is experiencing and design and run something called Citistat, which will utilize data analysis to find and address areas where the city’s services are underperforming. The office will be lead by Chad Kenney, Jr., who last led the city of Baltimore’s data analysis office.
“I had the opportunity to work closely with Chad in Baltimore,” Black said in a statement. “I am confident that he is the right man for the challenge here in Cincinnati.”
• Here are a couple news bits related to the ole’ al-key-hol. Nick and Drew Lachey, Cincinnati’s most famous singing brothers, have set the opening date for their bar, which will also be a reality show because that’s how things work now, for mid-December. It will be at 12th and Walnut and will be called… Lachey’s Bar. I really hope they didn’t pay a branding firm for that name.
• Also in beer-related news, a new brewery on Harrison Avenue in Westwood is in the works. The 2,200-square-foot Bridgetown Brew Works will start by offering five brews, with more coming as business grows. The owners are currently working on construction of the space now. They say they’re hoping to avoid relying on financing and have turned to online crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise money for the venture. Even if that campaign fails, however, they’re determined to open next year.
• The fight over Common Core rages on. A bill to repeal the federal education standards in the state has made it out of committee and will now be considered by the Ohio House of Representatives. Opponents of the standards say they amount to a federal takeover of education, while supporters say they simply ensure students are being taught essential skills for the modern workplace.
• Local college freshman Lauren Hill, who has an inoperable and likely terminal brain tumor, has become a deservedly celebrated figure around Cincinnati. She’s faced her disease with courage and grace, and last week she got to live out a dream when she scored two baskets in a college basketball game for Mount Saint Joseph at Xavier’s Cintas Center. She’s also gotten her picture on a Wheaties box and received national accolades. Yesterday, she was also the subject of this really incredible piece about sportsmanship published by Grantland. You should check it out.
• Finally, if you need any more proof that punk is long-dead and that gentrification is alive and well, here it is. If you've got $2 million lying around, you can buy the house where seminal hardcore band Minor Threat played its first show. The house now features lux amenities like granite counters, a two-car garage and all sorts of other swank stuff. This time last year I was living in Washington D.C., paying an unspeakable amount to rent a room in a house with five other people. This house, which is actually kinda cheap for that neighborhood, I think, was a 15-minute walk toward the swanky side of town from where I lived.
Well, folks, election season is over for another year, and we got precious few surprises last night. The GOP ran up the score in every statewide election, took control of the U.S. Senate by picking up between seven to nine seats and scooped up even more seats in the House than they had before. Rep. John Boehner picked up an easy victory and looks to spend another term as house speaker and Sen. Mitch McConnell, who at one point looked to have a tougher fight, easily won against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Now he could become Senate majority leader.
The statewide results are demoralizing for Democrats. Gov. Kasich won over Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald by a huge 32 point margin in the governor’s race. Attorney General Mike DeWine won an easy victory over Democrat David Pepper, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted handily beat Democratic State Senator Nina Turner, and even Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel beat opponent State Rep. Connie Pillich by nearly 15 points, despite being the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents in the election. That means four more years of a governor who has actively worked to curtail women's access to abortion services, an attorney general who has fought to preserve Ohio's more-than-likely unconstitutional gay marriage ban and a secretary of state who has worked to curtail early voting in the state.
In what is an almost too-neat metaphor for the state of Ohio's Democratic Party, now-former Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern resigned as the party’s statewide leader last night after the embarrassing showing. He even lost his own seat in the Ohio House of Representatives to a Republican challenger, Steve Kraus, who is, get this, a suspect in a burglary, though no charges have been filed yet. One thing is for sure — Redfern got his seat burgled. Yeah, I just went there with that terrible joke.
The biggest news on the local level is that Issue 8, the icon tax, passed with 63 percent of the vote. That means a quarter-cent county sales tax increase will fund renovations to the city’s historic Union Terminal building. But interest in the icon tax fight didn’t extend to kicking County Commissioner Chris Monzel out of office. Many expressed anger at Monzel for slicing Music Hall out of the tax deal over the summer, but 58 percent of voters weren’t angry enough to choose Democrat Chris Feeney or write-in candidate Jim Tarbell over the Republican incumbent.
Also noteworthy is Democrat Cecil Thomas’ easy win over Republican Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn for Ohio’s 9th District state Senate seat. That means Winburn will be hanging around Council for a while longer and continuing to chair the powerful budget committee, where he’s been a key ally to Mayor John Cranley.
On a national level, the election is a part backlash against President Obama mixed with a bit of an affirmation of the GOP political strategy led by McConnell, which basically boils down to saying “no” a lot. They’ve been able to fight President Obama and Democrats as a whole to a standstill on a number of thorny, hard-to-tackle issues including health care, a minimum wage increase, unemployment benefits and immigration over the past few years while pinning the blame on the other team. But now that they have both sides of Congress, as even some in the party concede, they’ll have to try something new — actually governing by enacting policy instead of just rejecting it.
One other interesting national wrinkle in this midterm: progressive policies won the day in a number of states, while a couple deeply conservative statewide anti-abortion ballot initiatives in Colorado and North Dakota failed. Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota all passed minimum wage increases and Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. passed initiatives decriminalizing possession of various amounts of marijuana.
Why are you reading this? You should be voting right now. Like this guy.
If you've already gone, though, check him out. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cast his vote a bit earlier today in Louisville, a spirited voter behind him got a perfectly-timed photo bomb, shedding the secrecy of the voting booth for the fame of the internet. I guess we can count on at least one vote for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The image, captured by Getty's Aaron P. Bernstein, has gone viral, and the word "thumbs" is now trending on Twitter in Louisville because that's democracy.
McConnell is fighting the campaign of his career against Grimes, who is Kentucky's secretary of state. She's fallen behind in recent days after pulling nearly even with McConnell for a time last month, but Democrats are hoping she'll pull off an upset as they struggle to maintain control of the Senate.
Here's City Councilman Chris Seelbach tweeting the photo and former Council candidate Mike Moroski loling:
Today is the day we Americans go to the polls, check some boxes and get a cool sticker. Some say we also get to choose who governs us, but the jury is still out on that one. Nah, just kidding. These are big decisions! Make sure you’re fully awake and well-nourished by drinking several cups of coffee and bringing three or four donuts, breakfast burritos or slices of last night’s pizza with you into the voting booth.
And if you want some friendly advice and fresh perspective on the candidates before you go in and make those fateful decisions, check out our endorsements and election coverage. You’ll find everything you need on the major races and issues on the ballot in the Greater Cincinnati area. Polls are open until 7:30 p.m. in Ohio and until 6 p.m. in Kentucky. Go forth, and please don’t screw this up for everyone.
• Before I bombard you with election news, let’s hit the local stuff. The Davis Furniture building will be spared for now. Last night the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board met for seven hours debating the merits of saving the building versus granting an application for demolition from owners the Stough Group. Stough owns the Hanke Exchange right across the street, and bought the Davis building last year at county auction for $150,000. But the cost of rehabbing it seemed monumental, so they decided to apply to tear it down. But other groups, including 3CDC and nonprofit Tender Mercies would like to pay more than that to acquire and rehab the iconic, if foreboding, former furniture store on Main Street in OTR. Things got plenty heated last night, but in the end, preservation advocates prevailed. Stough will have thirty days to appeal the decision, however, so that 20-foot-tall bowling ball mattress guy adorning the building’s south side isn’t out of the woods yet.
• So this is pretty cool. Cincinnati is competing to bring an international museum convention to the city in 2019. Representatives from the International Council of Museums visited the city last week to check out the city’s cultural amenities and hotels to determine if Cincinnati has what it takes to host a large, discerning group of museum directors from around the globe. The ICM represents 32,000 members from 137 countries, and if it chooses Cincinnati, they will meet in the United States for just the second time ever. The first time was in New York City in 1965. The convention happens every three years; 2013’s convention was in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2016 meeting will be in Milan. The group toured all the sweet spots in Cincinnati, including Music Hall, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Contemporary Art Center and just about anywhere else in town that has a museum.
The convention could bring more than $4 million to the city, which I don’t know, says something about the value of our cultural assets. Maybe go weigh in on Issue 8 or something? Yeah.
• As I mentioned yesterday, early voting turnout has been very low this midterm election — even lower than most midterms, which are not usually very busy to begin with. A lot of that has to do with the lack of competitiveness in the races, which started with the complete drubbing of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald by Gov. John Kasich after the wheels came off Fitz’s campaign months ago. FitzGerald is down 28 points to Kasich. If this was a one on one basketball game, that would be a hard deficit to overcome with the time remaining on the clock, requiring multiple three-pointers, a number of personal fouls from Kasich, and Fitz subbing in LeBron James at some point. Unfortunately, this is an election, and that deficit is nearly impossible to surmount. I would still like to see LeBron dunk on Kasich at some point, but it’s a lost cause otherwise.
That race kept things frosty for Dems down-ticket as well, with many worthy challengers such as AG candidate David Pepper and secretary of state hopeful Nina Turner running double-digit deficits against their Republican opponents. All that is to say it’s looking like a rout, folks, unless a huge ton of people come down out of the stands and vote. Wow, this extended metaphor got really painful. Yeesh. Just go vote already.
• At least one statewide race is pretty exciting, though —State Rep. Connie Pillich is neck and neck with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel in the race for his seat. Pillich, a moderate Democrat, has focused on her experience as a U.S. Air Force captain and her time at the state house. Mandel, on the other hand, has been playing defense a bit, beating back criticism about some campaign finance questions around a businessman named Ben Suarez and the suggestion that he’s just using the treasurer’s office as a stepping stone to bigger, better things. This one could go either way.
• Things aren’t going well for Democrats across the river, as Sen. Mitch McConnell pulls away from challenger Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell is predicting victory not just for himself, but for Republicans looking to take control of the Senate from Democrats. Meanwhile, Grimes is forecasting an upset, but polling over the past few days has shown a growing lead for the incumbent.
Hey all! We’re just two days away from an end to the ceaseless campaign ads, yard signs, life-size cardboard cutouts, mailers and other political spam candidates have hurled our way for months now. That’s exciting. To celebrate, maybe go out and vote if you haven’t already.
Speaking of voting, early voter turnout in Ohio has been especially low in this election so far — 40 percent lower than 2010, the last mid-term election. No one really agrees why, by the fact that Ohio has seven fewer early voting days this year can’t have helped the dynamic. Democrats say the reductions have limited the ability of low-income and minority voters to get to the polls. Republicans point out that Ohio still has more early voting days than many states. Some, like Kentucky, don’t have any.
• For months, a fight has been brewing around the iconic and dilapidated Davis Furniture building, which is on Main Street near the intersection with Central Parkway. Today may be a decisive one in that fight as the city’s Historic Conservation Board votes on the building’s fate. The building is something of a landmark, with that weird guy dropping a bowling ball on some mattresses welcoming visitors into OTR’s arts corridor. The Stough Group, a local developer that owns the Hanke Building and others across the street, bought the building earlier this year and promptly applied for permits to tear it down. That caused protest among historic preservation advocates and a six-month delay by the preservation board as alternatives were researched. Stough says the building is too far gone to preserve in a cost-effective manner. Preservation advocates point out that other groups aiming to save the building, including 3CDC, have tried to purchase it so they can fix it up. The conservation board meets at 3 p.m. to vote on Stough’s demolition application.
• Four of the five clocks that once adorned the long-lost globe mural over Union Terminal’s now demolished concourse have recently resurfaced. The clocks marked time across the U.S. for passengers on cross-country train journeys boarding trains from the concourse at the rear section of the terminal. By 1974, those trains had stopped coming, and the concourse was seen as an antiquated liability. It, along with the enormous 16-foot high, 70-foot-long mosaic, were torn down that year.
And as far as anyone knew until recently, that was the end of the story. Other murals depicting the history of industry in Cincinnati were saved and moved to CVG International Airport, but the largest and most ornate of them ended up in the landfill. The terminal itself eventually became the Cincinnati Museum Center. But now, the clocks have surfaced again from the warehouse they’ve been resting in for 40 years. And the owner, whose father owned the rigging company that helped tear down the building, is looking to find a good place for them. Let’s hope these timepieces find their way back to their original home.
• A local mega-corporation is caught up in an international tax fight. P&G is temporarily barred from doing business in Argentina, which has accused the Cincinnati-based company of tax fraud over $138 million in imports from Brazil that went through a Swiss-based P&G subsidiary. The country has experienced a rocky financial road over the past decade plus, including two defaults on international debts.
• A gun group started by two Indiana women for women looking to pick up weapons in self-defense has skyrocketed in popularity, drawing hundreds of calls and steadily increasing membership. Women Armed and Ready started five months ago in Aurora, Indiana. Since that time, the group has opened up a second chapter in Batesville and looks to branch out nationally. The group, which offers gun safety and self-defense training, has received attention from national gun groups and will be featured in the National Rifle Association’s All Access TV program, which runs on the Outdoors Channel. They’re also set to appear in gun-themed magazines and other publications.
• Home ownership rates across the United States are at the lowest levels they’ve been in nearly two decades, driven by the lingering 2008 housing crisis, generational shifts in living patterns and other factors. It’s easy to find the trend in Ohio cities, and now Columbus is considering ways to address the shift. The city is mulling programs that could provide grants or low-interest loans for landlords who want to upgrade properties or renovate vacant ones for housing. The city is also looking at ways to continue to incentivize home ownership.
• Finally, to put into the “freedom of the press isn’t free” file, it’s come out that airspace restrictions requested by law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo. were put in place mostly to restrict media coverage of the massive protests happening over the Aug. 5 death of 18-year-old Mike Brown. Recorded conversations between law enforcement officials make it clear that the number one concern for those officials was restricting press helicopters and other aircraft, and that safety was at best a secondary concern. If you think that sounds like some conspiracy theory stuff, I agree. But this is the Associated Press reporting this, so yeah. Disturbing.
Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.
• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.
• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.
• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.
The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.
"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.
• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron.
The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.
UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.
• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”
• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.
“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”
• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.
• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.
• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.
Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”
Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.
"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."
A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.
Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.
“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.
• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.
• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.
• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!
Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.
Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.
Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.
Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.
The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.
• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.
• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.
• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.
• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.
• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.
• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!
• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.
Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.
Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.
“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”
Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."
“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.
Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.
Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”
After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.
Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.
Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.
Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.
Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.
"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."
Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.
Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.
• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.
• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.
• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.
• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.
Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.
The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.
Have a fun Friday!
“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”
Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.
Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.
Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.
“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”
Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.
In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.
“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”
While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.
“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”
Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.
“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.
Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.
Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.
“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”
Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.
Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.
A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.
• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.
• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.
"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said. “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”
• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.
• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.
• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.
“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”
Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.
More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.
That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.
In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.
Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.
“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.
The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.
The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.
A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.
Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.
“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”