After such a jam-packed week, today's morning news feels kind of light. There's only a major highway project that some say could cause neighborhood displacement, big questions on a deal to save two Cincinnati landmarks and a few other things going on. You know, a pretty slow news day.
• More questions are arising about the Hamilton County Commissioners’ plan to put a sales tax initiative for Union Terminal on the November ballot. The original plan designed by the Cultural Facilities Task Force folded Music Hall into the tax increase and was based on a long-term, nine-month study of both buildings’ needs, financing possibilities and charitable commitments from donors.
The commissioners’ new plan, proposed by Chris Monzel and supported by anti-tax groups like COAST and the Cincinnati Tea Party cuts Music Hall from the deal. These groups had asked a number of questions about the original plan, but as the Business Courier reports, their own plan raises even more questions about private donations, cuts to spending on architectural elements of the renovation — and much more. The rundown of the new plan is worth a read and includes a pretty interesting question — was this plan, thrown together by anti-tax groups at the last minute, designed to fail at the ballot in November?
The Courier also has an opinion piece on Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s apparent change of heart about the deal. Hartmann looked to be the swing vote between fellow Republican Monzel’s opposition and Democrat Todd Portune’s acceptance of the Task Force’s original plan. He initially signaled that he thought he county and the city would reach a deal on both landmarks, then changed his tune. The commentary piece today explores the politics behind that change up.
• All the ire over the icon tax has inspired Democrats to take another look at Monzel’s commissioner seat. He’s up for reelection in November, and people suddenly are interested in running against him, including former Mayor Charlier Luken and former City Councilman and Cincinnati personality Jim Tarbell. But the Democrats already have a candidate, albeit a relatively inactive one. Sean Patrick Feeney of North College Hill is the party’s official candidate for the spot. He’s raised about $100 for his campaign. Hamilton County Democrats hope to have an official decision about their candidate by 4 p.m. today.
• Work started on the new I-71 interchange at Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive yesterday. The city hopes the new crossroads will bring new jobs and renewal to Avondale and Corryville, two of the city’s more neglected low-income neighborhoods. The update to the area has been on the drawing board for years, and yesterday’s groundbreaking represents a culmination of efforts and support from state, city and local groups. The city has pledged $20 million toward the project, and the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments has thrown in $25 million. More than 700 acres of land are expected to be redeveloped as the city works to attract new businesses and other tenants, including medical and research facilities.
All that development has many in the surrounding communities nervous, however, especially given the neighborhoods’ history with highway construction. Many black residents in Avondale and Corryville first came to the neighborhood when parts of the West End were bulldozed to make way for I-75 in the 1960s. Those folks saw a highway disrupt their lives again a decade later when I-71 bisected the neighborhood. City officials say every effort is being taken to involve residents in the ongoing planning efforts.
• A project to restore and move an historic fountain on Clifton Avenue in the gaslight district will start today. Efforts are underway to restore and shift the Probasco Fountain, which currently sits right along the street in Clifton in front of the Clifton Community Arts Center. The project will move the fountain, constructed in 1887, seven feet away from the street. Work is expected to take about 14 weeks.
• A report from the Ohio Department of Education says that Cincinnati Public Schools’ data improved for the 2013-2014 school year, but that its prior year data shows signs of misleading practices. In the past, ODE has found instances of so-called data scrubbing in attendance reports and other documentation from CPS. In 2012 -2013 data, ODE found 24 students were improperly reported truant, a revelation that affects attendance records and will spark a review and possible revision of the district’s report card. ODE reviewed 1,088 student records. Other big urban school districts had similar discrepancies in 2012-2013. Columbus had 141 students improperly reported out of more than 6,000 records reviewed, and Toledo had 86 out of more than 1,400. A former principal at a school in the Columbus Public School district has admitted to data manipulation related to these discrepancies and is currently under investigation to determine if she will keep her job.
• The White House went on lockdown yesterday — well, more of a lockdown than it’s always on, I guess — when a toddler crawled through the bars of the fence in front of the facility. Secret Service agents scrambled to get the child, who was eventually returned to his parents. The Secret Service had fun with the scare after the fact.
“We were going to wait until he learned to talk to question him,” said Secret Service Spokesman Edwin Donovan. Donovan said instead of a heavy-duty four-hour interrogation, the toddler got a time out.
Civil rights leader and former presidential hopeful Rev. Jesse Jackson wants to drum up support for a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing all Americans the right to vote, and he came to Cincinnati yesterday on his quest to get it.
Jackson appeared at yesterday's Cincinnati City Council meeting to make his case, highlighting the fact that voting rules are often left up to state and local authorities, creating a “separate and unequal” system. The constitution guarantees free speech and the right to bear arms, he said, but neglects to explicitly extend voting as a right to all citizens.
“For too long, too few Americans could vote to call this country, legitimately, a democracy.” Jackson said, noting that before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which sought to abolish Jim Crow laws suppressing the black vote, “America survived apart.” He called the act of voting “perhaps the most fundamental landmark in this democracy.” Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
Despite the progress made by the Voting Rights Act, a constitutional amendment is still needed, Jackson said. He highlighted recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down some sections of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the byzantine system of state, county and local rules that govern voting. There are more than 13,000 local municipalities and voting jurisdictions in the United States.
Despite the high hurdles in front of his idea, Jackson had little trouble getting some symbolic help from city council yesterday, which voted 7-0 to pass a motion expressing support for his efforts. Councilman Christopher Smitherman was not at the meeting and Councilwoman Amy Murray abstained from the vote.
Council members had high praise for Jackson.
“We appreciate your presence, we appreciate your leadership on so many issues of so much importance,” said Vice Mayor David Mann.
“These kinds of movements always start in the grassroots and move toward the top,” said Councilman Wendell Young. “I’m glad that a good start is being made here in Cincinnati.”
The Bill of Rights does not mention voting among the rights it enumerates.
Recent battles over early voting in Ohio illustrate the lack of a national standard and the patchwork of rules from state to state when it comes to voting accessibility. Ohio Republicans have moved to restrict early voting times in the state, including evenings and Sundays leading up to elections, when many black voters go to the polls.
Ohio’s General Assembly passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings during the days before elections.
The move has caused ire among voting rights activists and has led to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Justice Department last month signaled it would join the ACLU in that suit.
Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone when a federal district court judge ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting during the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU suit.
“We want to end the confusion around the right to vote as a fundamental right,” Jackson said of his proposal. He came to Cincinnati to make his case, he said, because the city has played an important role in social justice issues.
“This place has a certain history, beyond just a museum, a certain living history in this quest for social justice,” Jackson said, referencing the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and highlighting important visits by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The city has seen more than its share of race-related turmoil as well, of course, including the police shooting of unarmed black men and the resulting civil unrest in 2001, the city's stubborn income inequality, which weighs most heavily on minority residents, and other issues.
Still, the city has made progress, Young said.
"It hasn't always been that way here, but one of the things that makes me so very proud to be a Cincinnatian is that at the end of the day, we get it right."
Jackson’s proposed amendment faces a long road. Only 17 amendments have been passed since the initial 10 found in the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791, the last of which, dealing with congressional pay raises, was passed in 1992.
Two-thirds of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate must vote to pass an amendment; given the current state of Congress, that’s an exceedingly tall order. Then three-quarters of the nation’s state legislatures must approve the amendment. A constitutional convention convened by two-thirds of the state legislatures can also make amendments, though none of the 27 we have now have been passed this way.
Phew! Yesterday was a crazy day to be a reporter in Cincinnati. This will be an all-local, all politics morning news update. Since we’ve already talked about a lot of the issues at play in the past couple morning news rundowns, I’ll just hit you with the highlights today.
The big story locally was Hamilton County Commissioners’ vote to put a five-year, .25 percent sales tax increase to fund renovations to Union Terminal on the November ballot. However, that deal differs from one originally proposed by the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which folded Music Hall renovations into a 14-year .25 percent tax increase. The new plan is a last-minute change up by Republican commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel. Both say the city hasn’t put enough skin in the game and that the county has history with Union Terminal but none with Music Hall. Needless to say, Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council were not happy with that. Read my full story from yesterday here.
• The other big story yesterday was the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals hearings on lawsuits challenging gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. About 600 people showed up to demonstrate downtown at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse and nearby Fountain Square. Most came to protest the bans and show solidarity with the plaintiffs in the cases, though a few dozen demonstrators came in support of the bans, praying near the steps of the courthouse. Among those showing support were State Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper.
Two of the six cases being considered are from Ohio; both revolve around same sex couples who wish to have their marriages recognized on official state documents such as birth and death certificates.
Attorneys for Ohio argued that voters passed the state’s gay marriage ban and that the court shouldn’t dismantle a law passed by a democratic process. That line of argument differs from states like Kentucky, which say the state government has an interest in incentivizing straight marriage for procreative purposes.
Though the three judges on the panel hearing the arguments in the cases were often hard to read and hammered both sides with tough questions, Kentucky’s argument did not seem well-received. Judge Jeffery Sutton, one of two judges on the panel appointed by former President George W. Bush, said that marriage isn’t about procreation but about love and affection. It was harder to read how judges might rule on Ohio’s line of reasoning, however, and Sutton at one point admonished marriage ban opponents, saying that appealing to voters might serve their cause better.
Brittney Rogers and Brittney Henry-Rogers of Cincinnati are two of the plaintiffs. They sat in court with their newborn son, who was born to Henry-Rogers through artificial insemination. They said they wanted Ohio to recognize them both as his parents.
“We’re not just doing this for our rights,” Rogers said. “This is for him.”
Al Gerhardstein, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the case is about children like the Rogers’.
“We’ve gone 28 years and we’ve accomplished a great deal in 28 years. But what is the status we’re at right now? We’re at three couples, in this case, who come to Ohio and their children are only recognized as having one parent. But they have two parents. The state should be enhancing families, recognizing families, not ignoring basic parental rights. These kids are discriminated against and hurt a great deal by this policy. It’s wrong…. and we think the Supreme Court will ultimately say that.”
• The other, other big news yesterday was City Council’s unanimous vote to approve the appointment of Harry Black as city manager. Interim City Manager Scott Stiles got high praise from the council, and Mayor John Cranley emphasized that his choice to tap Black did not reflect on Stiles’ performance during his nine-month stint at the job. Stiles will go back to his old position as assistant city manager.
Some members of council, especially those who have taken positions in opposition to Mayor Cranley, did express skepticism about Black. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson had asked hard questions of Black during a Tuesday vetting session that stretched two-and-a-half hours. And Councilman Chris Seelbach said he wasn’t “100 percent” when it came to Black’s appointment.
“I’m concerned about the specifics of your vision for the city,” Seelbach said, noting that he needs to hear more details about Black’s ideas before he’s sold. “I hope you use my skepticism as fuel to do the best job possible.”
Black has said he’ll need to time to assess where the city stands before making detailed proposals beyond the broad ideas he discussed in an introductory news conference and council’s vetting session.
• Also big news: Civil rights leader and former presidential hopeful Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Cincinnati yesterday to rally support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee voting rights for all Americans. Council passed a motion7-0 supporting the proposed amendment. Any concrete action on such a change to the constitution is a long way off, of course, but it says something about the city that Jackson started his tour to round up support for the effort here in Cincinnati. Stay tuned for a full story on his visit.
Finally, some quick hits:
• The Cincinnati Enquirer says they took down a story detailing the arrest of Robert S. Castellini, son of Reds owner Bob Castellini, and his wife because covering the domestic dispute between two non-public figures was an editorial mistake. Meanwhile, a story about strange arrests for minor crimes in the city, complete with huge mugshots, remains up, though Editor Carolyn Washburn admits that coverage was also an error.
• Jeff Ruby's restaurant is still sinking, and there's an investigation to find out why.
• A really rad Nam June Paik sculpture of a giant retro-futuristic robot is coming back to downtown.
• I stand corrected: Wikimedia contacted me to point out that a morning news item I wrote yesterday involving a monkey, a selfie, and a litigious photographer is inaccurate. The company doesn't actually think a monkey who took a selfie with a British photographer's camera owns the copyright to that picture. They're simply arguing that the photographer who owns the camera doesn't have the copyright and can't force Wikimedia to take the picture down or compensate him. Glad that's all cleared up.
Say you’ve got a friend from out of town coming to Cincinnati. You really want to give them a warm welcome. What’s the best party in town for a newcomer? That’s right: a 2.5 hour hang sesh with city council!
Yesterday, members of council grilled Mayor John Cranley’s pick for city manager Harry Black about his specific vision for the city. Black already gave some broad outlines of his approach last week, but council wanted to get down to brass tacks. It was the predictable theater production these kinds of appointment hearings usually are, with Black providing careful, not terribly specific answers to questions from council members, most notably Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson, about specific ideas he would implement as the second-most powerful member of city government.
Black says he would need to assess where the city stands before making any drilled-down proposals. But as the Business Courier points out in its story today, he did tip his hand a bit on the streetcar, saying the city has limited amounts of money and that anything after the current phase of the project is something for future discussions. Black looks as if he’ll play pretty close to Cranley’s game plan for the city, which could well pit him against some members of council on a number of issues. That should make this afternoon’s full-council discussion and vote on his appointment interesting.
• As I mentioned yesterday, Cincinnati’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Demonstrations against gay marriage bans took place last night downtown and will continue today outside the courthouse. Religious groups supporting the bans are also encouraging followers to turn out. Stay tuned for more on the court’s rulings.
• Also happening today — Hamilton County Commissioners will decide whether to put a .25 percent sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the renovation of Union Terminal and Music Hall. There has been a lot of wrangling about this proposal as the commissioners and anti-tax groups look for more financial input from the city. Meanwhile, supporters of the tax say it’s now or never for the renovations. Various alternative proposals have been floated, including cutting Music Hall from the deal or charging fees on tickets to events at the landmarks. We’ll report the commissioners’ decision when it comes down. They meet at 11 a.m.
• Also also happening today — Rev. Jesse Jackson will be at City Hall discussing a proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding voting rights in commemoration of today’s 49th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Mayor John Cranley and State Rep. Alicia Reece will introduce Jackson at 1 p.m.
• Toledo’s toxic algae woes may not be over, according to scientists. Last weekend the city advised citizens not to drink or bathe with water from the municipal water supply due to high levels of toxins from algae in Lake Erie. The algae has been increasing intensely due to runoff from large-scale farming and other industries. Scientists warn that it’s still early in the season for the algae, which usually peaks in late August. They also say the underlying conditions that caused the water emergency are nowhere near mitigated, though the city has taken extra precautions in purifying municipal water.
• When it comes to economics, it’s hard to get more mainstream than Standard and Poor’s, the financial analysis giant owned by McGraw-Hill. S&P authors the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is one of the few elite credit-rating agencies. Not exactly a leftist revolutionary group, then. But even this Wall Street giant has begun raising alarms about income inequality, releasing a report yesterday about the pragmatic hazards of the growing gap between the rich and the rest in the United States. The report sheds moral considerations about inequality, of course, in favor of cold, hard economics. And here, the gap has slowed growth and hindered our economy, the report says.
“Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of economic inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population,” the report summarizes.
• Finally, the world has come to this: There’s a big fight brewing over who owns the rights to a selfie a monkey took back in 2011. Selfies weren’t quite the phenomenon they are now, so first and foremost I applaud the crested black macaque who snapped a pretty great pic of herself for being ahead of the curve. The photo happened when a British photographer set up his gear to trigger remotely as he was trying to get a candid photo of a group of the wild macaques in Indonesia. The monkey in question grabbed the gear and eventually found the shutter button, snapping hundreds of pics of herself and her surroundings.
Most were blurry, but a couple are crisp and colorful, and really, much better looking than any selfie I’ve ever attempted, which is depressing. Anyway, Wikimedia has posted the photo in its collection of more than 20 million royalty-free images. The photographer has sued Wikimedia to take the photo down, but the group, which runs Wikipedia, has claimed that since the monkey took the picture,
it owns the copyright to the image the photographer doesn't own the image. The group has yet to receive a cease-and-desist letter from said monkey, though rumor has it the macaque has asked that her Instagram and Tumblr handles be included when the photo is used online.
UPDATE: I pride myself on rarely having to do corrections, but they got me on this one. Apparently, Wikimedia isn't claiming that the monkey has the copyright, though I haven't checked to see if the monkey is feeling litigious. From the company:
Sometimes, all the forces of the universe conspire to make every important thing possible happen on the same day, at the same time. That day is tomorrow, when City Council will meet for the first time since its summer recess, Hamilton County Commissioners will vote on the icon tax and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in four states. To make sure you're ready, let's review a couple big upcoming news events, shall we?
• Time is ticking down for a possible tax hike deal to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. County Commissioners have until tomorrow to decide whether or not a proposed .25 percent sales tax will end up on the November ballot, and there’s no indication that two of the three commissioners are leaning toward voting for the tax as-is. At issue is the city’s contribution and the age-old city vs. county dynamic. Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann, both Republican, say they want a bigger financial commitment from the city, a sign of long-term buy-in. Monzel has floated the idea of cutting Music Hall out of the deal, since he says that building is the city’s responsibility and Union Terminal has more history county-wide. He’s said an alternative sales tax proposal could be ready for tomorrow’s meeting if a deal for both buildings can’t be reached. Another alternate idea involves ticket fees for those attending events at the buildings.
The city has pledged to continue the $200,000 a year it pays toward upkeep for each building and has committed an additional $10 million for Music Hall. Commissioners have said that isn’t enough. They’ll vote at their weekly meeting tomorrow on whether to put the issue on the ballot for voters to weigh.
• Tomorrow is a big day for other reasons. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. It will be a decisive moment for the marriage equality movement, which has been on a winning streak in the courts lately. The Supreme Court last June struck down a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and since then many courts have ruled against gay marriage bans and other laws restricting recognition of same-sex marriages. But two of the three judges on the appellate board here are appointees from former President George W. Bush’s time in office and have a record of rulings supporting conservative values. Both opponents and supporters of the bans have rallies planned during the 1 p.m. hearings. Religious groups in the area, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, are urging followers to pray for the judges. The church has voiced strong support for Ohio’s gay marriage ban, passed in 2004.
• An effort to open a cooperative grocery store in Clifton is coming down to the wire, an Enquirer report says. The proposed market has met a quarter of its $1.65 million fundraising goal, officials with the group say. That money comes from shares anyone can buy to become a part owner of the store and would go toward buying the former Keller’s IGA building on Ludlow Avenue. The Clifton Cooperative Market group is under contract to buy the building, but that contract expires Oct. 11. The group envisions an “upmarket” grocery that provides both staple goods and specialty items. If the group can get half the money, officials say, it will become easier to secure financing for the rest through bank loans.
• Miami University is tops! The local university ranks high on a few just-released Princeton Review lists, though not necessarily all positive ones. Miami is the nation’s 11th best party school, the review finds. It’s rocketed up five spots from last year, passing rival Ohio University. As an alum, I can tell you the recognition is long overdue. However, the school is also ranked fifth on the “little race and class interaction” list. So if you like partying with 16,000 friends who look a whole lot like you (assuming you look like an extra from a Brooks Brothers casual wear catalogue shoot) I’ve got the school for you. The school also ranked high for Greek life (sixth) and its entrepreneurial program (12th).
• Finally, a story about grandmothers in Aurora, Indiana who have taken up a new hobby — firearms. Two senior women there started a gun education group in May after being robbed. Women Armed and Ready, or WAR, trains women on proper use of handguns for self-defense, firearm laws and target shooting.
“My gun is the answer to anybody who thinks I'm an old lady living alone,” says WAR member Barb Marness. Enough said.
Hey all. As we all collectively recover from sitting in Washington Park for hours camped out for LumenoCity, let’s talk about what’s going on in the wide world, shall we?
The Cincinnati Police Department has released a report (scroll down to page four in that agenda) about the effectiveness of the anti-prostitution barriers on McMicken, which the city put up in May and took down last week. According to the report, the barricades did reduce prostitution, though some activity simply shifted to nearby blocks in Over-the-Rhine.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday. After contention about its creation and financial struggles early in its existence, the museum and conference center looks to be on a very positive trajectory. Despite debt and a $1 million-plus operating deficit as recently as 2011, the Freedom Center has proven resilient. A July 2012 merger with the Museum Center has helped, as well as contributions from donors and the Center’s continually nationally recognized exhibitions and events. Attendance revenue is up 35 percent at the Center, a Cincinnati Enquirer article says, and the Center’s endowment is growing. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite places in the city, and the news that it’s doing well is great to hear indeed.
• The big story this morning is in Toledo, which is now in its third day without water due to contamination from algae. Four-hundred-thousand residents woke up Saturday morning to a warning from the city instructing them not to use tap water for drinking, showering or cleaning. Making matters worse, boiling the water only increases the concentration of toxins, so the water is completely unusable. Toledo’s Mayor D. Michael Collins announced Monday that tests of the water supply showed it was getting safer after clean-up efforts, but wanted more time to ensure it is completely safe. Residents Sunday night were told it would probably be safe to shower quickly or do laundry. Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency Saturday, the National Guard began shipping in vats of water and grocery stores were picked clean of bottled water.
Experts say the current situation has been building for a decade, as sewage, farm and industrial runoff builds in Lake Erie. That’s supported the explosive growth of algae, which produces toxins that can cause liver problems and general illness, including nausea and dizziness. The toxins can also kill pets.
• Hamilton County Commissioners at their staff meeting this morning will discuss whether to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. As of Friday, none of the three commissioners were completely on board with any of the scenarios for a proposed tax hike to pay for renovations to Union Terminal and Music Hall, though the commissioners have expressed interest in finding a proposal that works for everyone. Probably the hardest to sway will be Commissioner Todd Portune, who said he doesn’t feel “any pressure at all” to vote in favor of a tax plan. At issue: how much the city should chip in for the renovations and whether it would be more appropriate to pay for at least some of the renovations with fees added to tickets to events at the facilities. The commissioners must make a decision by Aug. 6.
• LumenoCity wrapped up last night, and by all accounts it was a big success. The three-day event, which combined a light show projected onto Music Hall with a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance, drew 37,500 people who reserved tickets online in order to enter the park. This year, festivities included LumenoCity village, where folks could shop and hang out whether they had a ticket or not. I went Sunday, and it was great to see so many people mingling. Plus the Charley Harper tribute was especially amazing. But a thought: Who was left out by the ticketing system, which was predominantly administered online? Also, it’s interesting to think about spending $1 million on an hour-and-a-half-long light show in a historically low-income neighborhood when that’s the same amount of money the city has budgeted for social service agencies for the whole year. Just a thought.
• Finally, this story is the stuff of nightmares. Some kind of mechanical failure caused an explosion in an eggnog vat at a food lab in New Jersey. The ‘nog is one of my least favorite things in the world, and the thought of a violent explosion of the stuff is stomach-turning, to say the least. No one was killed in the blast (what a way to go that would be) but two scientists were injured and an entire back wall of the lab was blown down. One final thought about this whole thing — the establishment cooking up the beverage is called Pharmachem. Sounds delicious.
Hey all. Did you miss me? I ditched the morning news yesterday to
see if anyone noticed I was gone go find out more about Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick to be city manager. You can read all about what he’ll do if he gets the job here, but I’ll offer a brief recap. Black wants to play the long game, working on the city’s long-term financial planning and setting up something similar to the ten-year plan he worked on as the city of Baltimore’s finance head. He said he would stay away from the politics of some of the city’s more contentious projects like the streetcar, instead offering analytical and technical contributions to those undertakings.
• The barriers erected in May along McMicken Ave. in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview came down yesterday as originally scheduled. (Actually, I passed through the area on the way home from a show Wednesday night and they were already down by that point). The three blockades on various parts of the street were designed to cut down the high levels of prostitution happening in the area. The jury is out on whether or not the approach worked; some in the neighborhood say it actually made the problem worse and have filed a lawsuit to keep the city from putting them back up in the future, though others are much more positive about the outcome. Some claim the problem simply moved to other neighborhoods like Price Hill. The city is now weighing more permanent efforts to cut down prostitution in Cincinnati, including publishing the names of convicted johns.
• Ugh. Normally, I don’t roll individual crime reporting into the morning news, but this instance is just so scummy I feel like it has to be mentioned. Three men were arrested yesterday for allegedly assaulting a man named Johnny Hensley as he left the Drop-Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine, where he’d been staying. The assault happened Sunday at about 3 a.m., police say, and lasted for about 15 minutes. The three allegedly approached Hensley from behind and began punching him. Advocates for the homeless are calling it a hate crime.
• Here’s some good news. Ohio students entering high school as freshmen will get the chance to take the ACT and SAT when they become juniors free of charge. The Ohio Department of Education will pick up the tab for the cost of those tests as part of an effort to boost higher education among Ohioans. The tests usually cost about $50 each, and sometimes you may have to take them a couple times each to get a decent score. Well, I did, at least.
• The concentration of poverty in America’s suburbs is accelerating, a new brief by the Brookings Institution says. The release is an update of a 2011 study that showed the poor are increasingly found in the suburbs, counter to the common perception of poverty as something that is solely an inner-city problem. The numbers, which have been updated with the latest data from the Census American Community Survey, are pretty shocking. From 2000 to 2012, populations of poor folks increased by 139 percent in the suburbs, compared to a 50 percent increase in urban areas. In the Cincinnati area, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs jumped by 70 percent in that time, compared to a 13 percent jump in the number of people living in poverty in the city.
• As the debate of immigration continues its nauseating, repetitious drone, the GOP congressional delegation has had something of a meltdown over the past couple days. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives yesterday seemed poised to vote on and pass a border security bill that would have given at least some money, though not as much as Democrats would like, for addressing the humanitarian crisis along America’s southern border. The bill was packed with conservative-friendly provisions, including a measure that would mean immediate deportation for young, unaccompanied migrants fleeing drug-related turmoil in Central America. But even that wasn’t conservative enough, and the bill was pulled before a vote after it became clear the tea party element of Congress would not support it. Lawmakers are trying again today to get enough support for some effort to address the border crisis, though there is no indication whether they will be successful. Congress is scheduled to be in recess after today until September.
• Right now, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other areas in western Africa are experiencing a deadly flare-up of the Ebola virus. More than 700 people have died from the disease, and about a thousand more have taken ill. Now, a U.S. aid worker infected with the virus, which has a 60 to 90 percent mortality rate, is coming to an Atlanta hospital for treatment. She or he will be the first known person with Ebola in the United States, experts say, though doctors and disease specialists say there is little chance the virus will spread here. The disease is terrifying, beginning as cold-like symptoms before escalating into an all-out assault on the body that can literally melt your organs. Researchers are working on a vaccine, and may be ready to test it by September.
The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday
to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are
usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty
difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan
Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the
process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in
the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to
make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.
• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.
Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.
What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.
The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.
• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing
I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the
Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5
a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood
Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.
• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.
• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.
The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.
The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.
The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.
• Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.
• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.
• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.
• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!
Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:
"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.
Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.
Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.
“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.
“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”
Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.
True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted. “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”
• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.
• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.
“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”
McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.
“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.
• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.
• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.
The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.
"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."
• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.