Friday's usually kind of a slow news day, but lots of important or just plain weird stuff has already happened. Get ready for it.
In what must be one of the most biblical mass transit emergencies in recent Cincinnati memory, a Metro bus was partially sucked down a 20-foot-deep sinkhole near the zoo at about 9:30 last night. Then the ground opened up, and the stink did begin to emerge from the angry earth, and woah, those on the bus were sore afraid. Or something like that. City officials say some failed sewer lines caused the hole. As if being nearly swallowed by the earth isn’t unpleasant enough, there was also the smell of raw sewage to contend with. In an ironic note, yesterday was also “Dump the Pump Day,” a day designed to get commuters out of their cars and onto public transit. Workers from Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District are out to fix the hole and sewer lines.
• Former Over-the-Rhine social service agency City Gospel Mission is clear to move to Queensgate. Wrangling over some compliance issues with the Department of Housing and Urban Development had stalled the agency's plans for a men's shelter there, which has been on the drawing board for months. HUD said City Gospel's mens-only approach might violate certain non-discrimination clauses on deeds to the land the agency wanted to use for its new shelter. But after some pushing by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, HUD has given the agency the go ahead. City Gospel will host some women’s programming at the shelter and is part of Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, which helps both men and women transition from homelessness.
• Ohio’s newest jobs report came out today. It shows the state is at 5.5 percent unemployment, its lowest level since the recession and well under the national rate of 6.3 percent. Republicans, of course, are touting this as a win for Gov. John Kasich, while Democrats are pointing out that the low number has a lot to do with how many Ohioans have left the workforce altogether. Unemployment stats only measure those who are looking for work, not those who have given up on the job hunt. The state added 2,900 total jobs in May but lost 14,000 people who dropped out of the workforce. Many of these are the long-term unemployed, who studies show have an especially hard time finding work.
• Speaker of the House John Boehner has slammed the Obama administration over the looming situation in Iraq, where a new insurgency group calling itself ISIS is overtaking cities and the Iraqi military. Boehner used the situation, as Republicans are wont to do, to talk about how bad Obama is at everything, saying that “terrorism has increased exponentially under this president.” That's of course not a view everyone with knowledge about the situation in the Middle East shares, and it's clear the current problem has at least some major roots in Bush-era decisions. Political posturing aside, Boehner also showed his softer side Wednesday when he gave a smooch to former Rep. Gabby Giffords at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Giffords, who has made a long, emotional recovery from near-fatal injuries she received during a mass shooting in 2011, threw out the first pitch. After having a moment with Giffords, Boehner then promptly… you guessed it… got all teary-eyed, though not teary-eyed enough to do anything about gun control efforts in Congress, it would seem.
• So a 63-year-old woman on oxygen in Marion, Indiana fought off a burglar with a back scratcher. I couldn’t write anything more awesome than her account of the incident, so here are a couple little bits:
“Guy had a hockey mask on and I almost started laughing,” the woman told a reporter. “If he hadn't have got out that back door, I'd have beat him to death.”
The best news today is that this week is almost over. But there’s a lot more to talk about, so let’s go.
As we reported yesterday, Over-the-Rhine’s Community Council is asking the city to hold off on a deal with 3CDC over vacant properties north of Liberty Street near Findlay Market. The council says 3CDC has slowed the development process by banking a large number of properties, and the group believes small, independent developers could do the job faster and better meet the community's needs.
• Meanwhile, on the other side of the basin, everyone at The Banks is about to get a new neighbor. General Electric is moving more than 1,400 employees to the retail and entertainment development on the Ohio River by 2017, the Business Courier reports. City and county officials will vote Monday on the tax incentives that GE gets for heading south, and after that, it will be a done deal. These are pretty much no-nonsense administrative, IT and finance offices for one of the region’s biggest businesses we’re talking about, but all I can picture is some crazy Real World scenario. Only with jet engines. Which sounds awesome.
Before we get all excited about Real World GE 2017, though, I should note that both the company and Mayor Cranley have refused to comment on the reported decision. The deal is expected to go public Monday.
• Democratic candidate for Governor Ed FitzGerald unveiled his plan for affordable higher education yesterday. FitzGerald’s proposal includes finding ways to lower administrative costs at the state’s colleges, increasing the availability of financial aide, expanding a college savings plan, getting more students into early college enrollment while they’re still in high school, and boosting community colleges and trade schools. Fitzgerald cited the nearly $4 billion in student loan debt Ohioans carry as a reason to lower college costs. He also took the opportunity to hit incumbent John Kasich for tuition hikes FitzGerald says resulted from Kasich’s cuts to state funding for higher ed.
FitzGerald also suggested voters start calling him “Higher Ed FitzGerald,” though at press time, no one had addressed the gubernatorial hopeful by this self-conferred nickname. (That last part didn’t really happen, at least not while the cameras were rolling.)
• In certainly the most important news of the day, Facebook was down briefly this morning. But don’t worry, CNN was on it. No wonder my 4 a.m. tirade about Game of Thrones didn't get the likes it obviously deserved.
• Finally, a record-low 7 percent of Americans really like Congress, and the rest prefer being bitten by dogs or having poison ivy all over their bodies or something. But I’m willing to bet more Americans are fans of Guided By Voices, one of the greatest bands to emerge from our area (OK, Dayton, but The Southgate House used to be their home base of sorts). One of those Americans is outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who is leaving his post to take some time off. Carney gave his final press briefing at the White House yesterday with one of GBV’s best songs as a send-off sound track. Carney’s been a vocal fan of the band for years, and has taken multiple opportunities to mention them from the White House podium. He even hung out with the guys on stage at their most recent DC show. Speed on, Jay, speed on.
In a letter authored by OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, the group praised 3CDC’s work over the last 10 years but said the developer’s large cache of properties is slowing down the neighborhood’s continued recovery, and suggested that more transparent process for choosing developers is needed. The letter also said that more voices from the community need to be heard in the development process.
“We believe it's time for a new era in our neighborhood,” Messer wrote in the letter, dated June 18. “A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets.”
Messer asked that more small, independent developers be brought into the fold in OTR and highlighted the council’s partnerships with nonprofit Over the Rhine Community Housing and the Over the Rhine Foundation. The letter stressed the need for both more market rate and affordable housing in the neighborhood, where demand for housing has outstripped supply. Prices have ballooned in the past five years, and the neighborhood is now one of the most expensive in the city.
3CDC has spent nearly $400 million on redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine, much of it south of Liberty Street in the so-called Gateway Quarter near Central Parkway and Vine Street. Now the group is looking north. 3CDC has asked for the rights to develop 20 vacant properties around Findlay Market, and the city may grant its request by designating the group “preferred developer” of the sites. The group could then recommend redevelopment plans that it or another developer would carry out.
3CDC could choose to farm out development to smaller groups. It applied for the preferred developer status months ago, and officials with the developer say they haven’t heard concerns from the community about the properties before now.
Mayor Cranley has voiced support for 3CDC’s request, citing the developer’s long history in the neighborhood. But the OTR Community Council and other stakeholders in the neighborhood say the city needs to find ways to encourage more equitable and transparent ways to choose developers.
Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Rea Carey said the executive order will be a major step forward.
“Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families,” Carey said in a press release. “This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America.”
The initiative was a campaign promise in 2008, and LGBTQ groups have pressured the president to issue the order for years.
Obama announced this decision before appearing at a Democratic gay-rights fundraiser on Tuesday and as greater protection stalls in Congress.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect all American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or
gender identity passed the Senate in November but has since been halted in the
According to the Washington Post, 24 of the top 25 federal contractors have nondiscrimination policies towards sexual orientation, and 13 of those policies include gender identity. So while the executive order will cover 20 percent of the workforce, most are already protected.
Although many private employers offer protection, discrimination is still on the books in many states.
29 states, it is still legal for employers to discriminate on the basis of
sexual orientation; and in 32 states, gender identity is grounds for
Carey stressed the work that remains.
“Unfortunately, many of us who don't work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections,” she said. “Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation.”
Hey all. Let’s get straight to the important stuff… Across city, a whole lot of ice cream is melting. Large swaths of the east side seem to be without power right now for an indeterminate reason. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are without electricity.
• Some of Cincinnati’s city department directors have been caught living outside the city limits. That’s a violation of city regulations, according to the Cincinnati Business Journal, which drew attention to the situation last month. Metropolitan Sewer District Director Tony Parrott and Citizen Complaint Authority Director Kenneth Glenn were disciplined by the city for skirting the residency rules. Glenn, who has been living in West Chester, is retiring in July. Parrott has been living in Butler County; he’s been docked 40 hours of vacation time and has six months to establish residency in the city limits. Now me, I’m from Butler County, and would give up a week’s vacation to not live there, but hey, that’s just me.
• On a note that’s bound to freak some people out, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will be the first in the country to track the number of travelers in specific parts of the airport by using signals from their Wi-Fi devices. The information will help the airport mitigate congested spots and calculate wait times at security checkpoints. Lockheed Martin owns BlipTrack, the system being used to monitor devices. The company says no personal data is collected by the system, which only looks at the number of signals being emitted from devices. I'm cool with this so long as they aren't keeping track of the embarrassing amount of time I spend on Twitter while waiting for my plane.
• Campaign finance reports filed Friday show council member Charlie Winburn with a big stack of cash going into his run for state Senate. Winburn, a Republican, announced his candidacy last week, and his filings show he’s got more than $50,000 to spend. He’ll be challenging former council member Cecil Thomas, a Democrat. Thomas hasn’t filed a finance report this time around but had $1,500 going into the Democratic primary. He looks to have an advantage, though, due to the ninth district’s highly Democratic tilt. The district stretches across most of Cincinnati and other urban parts of Hamilton County. All statewide candidates filed Friday, and the results are fairly predictable, with Republican candidates getting large contributions and widening fundraising leads over their Democratic opponents. Gov. John Kasich doubled up on Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald, gaining $1.7 million in contributions this period to FitzGerald’s $800,000. That puts Kasich with more than $9 million overall to spend in the race, compared to FitzGerald’s less than $2 million.
• On the subject of Republicans, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in town today. He’s promoting his new solo rap mixtape, which doubles as a campaign tool for his presidential bid. No, actually, that’s completely made up. He’s here to raise money for the Republican National Committee, and you can hear him talk for just $1,000. For that price, he better at least drop a couple freestyle rhymes about his economic policy ideas, though. Bush's name has been floated as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, though he's a ways down the list.
• On a sad note, Casey Kasem passed away Sunday. He was most famous for his radio show, American Top 40, which millions of people listened to for decades. Closer to my heart, he was also the voice of Shaggy. No, not that Shaggy. Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame, which for you youngsters out there was kind of like Adventure Time before there was Adventure Time. I was a big fan.
Ready for your Friday the 13th morning news? Let’s do this.
As we’ve reported a couple times already, Cincinnati is in a hard spot when it comes to affordable housing. So Rep. Steve Chabot, Republican representing part of the city, did the logical thing recently and tried to push through an amendment to a House bill that would cut $3 billion in funding for Section 8 vouchers. Wait, that doesn't seem logical at all. Keep in mind the Republican-authored bill he was amending already cut $1.8 billion from transportation and HUD programs. But Chabot thinks folks are hanging out in subsidized housing too long, calling the system that keeps people from homelessness “a way of life for too many in this country.” Luckily, even the heavily Republican House said “nah” to Chabot’s cuts. The amendment failed yesterday.
A $2,500 reward offered by Brogan Dulle’s family when the 21-year-old UC student went missing May 19 will be given to the woman whose 911 call lead authorities to his body a week later. The woman, who hasn’t been identified in reports, said she came upon Dulle’s body in the basement of building she works in on East McMillan next door to where he lived. The woman apparently didn’t know he was dead and called 911 reporting an intruder. Authorities found Dulle hanged in the basement, and the Hamilton County coroner later ruled his death a suicide. In total, $20,000 was offered for information about Dulle’s whereabouts. UC offered $10,000, and is still mulling what to do with the money. Local restaurant owner Jeff Ruby gave another $7,500, which he’ll be contributing to tuition at UC for Dulle’s younger brother Tim.
A new Pew research project released yesterday tracks the increasing partisanship among American voters. Though hardly surprising, the study quantifies the fact that people are hunkering down in their ideological biases, with more folks crowding to the far left and far right ideologically over the past few years and fewer holding a mix of views in the middle.
Pope Francis just keeps spitting hot fire. The pope said yesterday in an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper that the world’s economic system causes war and imperialism and that it squashes peoples’ individuality. Francis has made a name for himself pushing a relatively more inclusive vision of the Catholic Church and emphasizing its social justice tenets, and his recent eyebrow-raising remarks continue that trend.
Finally, yesterday was National Jerky Day. I know. I missed it, too. But apparently a major jerky company constructed a large model of Mount Rushmore made from a glorious 1,600 pound mix of dried meats. Really gross, but also kind of amazing. The company displayed it in New York yesterday and will now ship it back to headquarters in Wisconsin. It’s probably en route right now, actually. It will have to pass through the Midwest at some point. If you hear about someone hijacking three quarters of a ton of jerky as it makes its way across the Brent Spence Bridge, it totally wasn’t me.
All right, folks. Morning news time again.
The iconic Hudepohl smokestack you see from I-75 could end up in Over-the-Rhine. The city is looking at ways to save the old Hudepohl brewery, which it bought last month. The former Hudepohl headquarters, built in 1946 and used until 1985, includes four buildings on Sixth Street in Queensgate. It's currently abandoned. The complex includes the Hudepohl tower, a 170-foot-tall brick smokestack with the company’s named spelled on it in white bricks that has become a Cincinnati landmark. One set of plans being considered is the relocation of 70 feet of the tower (from just under the L in “Hudepohl” to the top) to Over-the-Rhine, where the company was originally founded in 1885.
• Right across the river, Covington is the eighth most affordable city in the country,
according to a study by finance website NerdWallet.com. The study
looked at a number of cost of living considerations, including housing
costs and average prices for groceries. Columbus (15), Indianapolis
(22), Lexington (53) and Louisville (89) also made the top 100 list,
though Cincinnati is nowhere to be found.
• An article in the new issue of Inc. Magazine prominently features Cincinnati’s startup scene. It highlights the city’s business incubators, co-working spaces, marketers and investors who are boosting the city’s tech profile. The author applauds strides the city has made fostering startups, and concludes that the region is on the right course for expanding innovation and tech-related jobs.
• Procter and Gamble has committed $1 million to the Regional Economic Development Initiative, an organization focused on bringing jobs to the Greater Cincinnati area. REDI is lead by a 15-member board of Cincinnati political and business leaders including Mayor John Cranley, Western and Southern CEO John Barrett and Reds minority owner Tom Williams, the board’s chair.
• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that payday lenders aren’t subject to a law governing short-term loans and that they can continue making loans to low-income folks at, like, 12 billion percent interest. Great, because that’s totally good for society and our economy.
• The House this week is considering a Republican-drafted spending bill for The Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The appropriations bill contains more than $1.8 billion in cuts to housing programs, commuter rail initiatives and efforts to help the homeless. The White House has slammed the bill, and it will face a tough ride in the Senate.
• The big national story this morning, of course, is that Virginia Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election to tea party challenger David Brat. Brat toppled Cantor even though the seven-term incumbent outspent him twenty five to one and is one of the most powerful Republicans in the country. A majority leader in the House has never lost a primary since the position was created 115 years ago. That's probably good news for House Speaker and everyone's favorite Southwestern Ohio spray tan aficionado John Boehner, who was feeling the heat from far-right Republicans looking to oust him from the speaker's seat. Cantor, who had an often antagonistic relationship with Boehner, was thought to be his strongest possible successor. Or, Cantor's loss may stress Boehner out even more, as the tea party torches get closer to the speaker's office...
• Finally, a newly discovered katydid has the highest-pitched vocalizations of any animal ever recorded. Scientists say the noises help attract the opposite sex, which is weird, because every time I’m in a bar and start hitting the high notes in my silky falsetto the opposite happens.
And that’s every thing that has happened in the past 24 hours, give or take. Follow me on Twitter at @nswartsell, where I retweet Parks and Rec quotes and news stories about appropriation bills. I’m a man of many moods.
Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond.
Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes.
In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”
The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3.
• Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority.
Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.
• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.
Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.
• The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner.
There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.
The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.