Hey all, let’s do a quick news update today.
Normally, I like to lead with local stuff first, but the big news today is that the 2016 Democratic National Convention will not take place in Columbus, it seems. The city was one of three finalists for the event, at which Democrats will formally nominate their presidential candidate. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Dems chose Philadelphia instead. Womp womp. Ohio is still getting two other major conventions that year, however: the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention in Cincinnati.
• OK. On to local stuff. A new brewery has announced it will debut on Reds Opening Day. Taft Ale House is currently working on its three-level brewery and restaurant near Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and aims to be open for business on April 6, just in time to welcome the Opening Day parade. The brewery, bar and restaurant had aimed to be open in late 2014 but ran into complications with the old church building it has been renovating on Race Street. The building was originally scheduled to be torn down before plans for the Ale House materialized. But now, after developer 3CDC spent tens of thousands of dollars shoring up floors and making other structural adjustments, it’s on track for the big day.
Bonus news in case you missed it yesterday: This year, none other than famous 1990 World Series-winning Reds relief pitching crew the Nasty Boys, aka Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Meyers, are marshaling the parade.
• More good news for the city’s iconic public buildings. A local foundation has kicked in another $1 million for efforts to renovate Memorial Hall, bringing the project much closer to being completely funded. The Annie W. and Elizabeth Anderson Foundation put up the contribution toward the $8 million project, which will improve the building’s acoustics, replace seating and air conditioning, build a catering kitchen and renovate the building’s bathrooms. Hamilton County has pledged another $1.5 million to the project.
• State officials for the first time yesterday acknowledged that the Hopple Street offramp collapse might have been caused by faulty demolition plans. The collapse killed construction foreman Brandon Carl, sparking possible lawsuits from his family. It occurred while Columbus-based Kokosing Construction worked on a $91 million contract to remove the offramp that passed over I-75. Some experts have said it appears last-minute changes to the demolition plans might have played a role in the collapse. Ohio Department of Transportation officials say they haven’t finished their analysis of the collapse but acknowledge the plans used failed. Kokosing has also said it is still investigating what went wrong with the demolition.
• Gov. John Kasich looks to be ramping up a possible presidential bid. He’s visiting early primary state South Carolina next week as part of a national tour touting his balanced budget plans. Kasich polls fairly strong among GOP voters in Ohio, but he’s a virtual unknown outside the state. The trip could help boost his stature among GOP presidential nominee hopefuls and draw big-money donors to his campaign.
• Speaking of Ohioans on the national stage, Cincinnatian and Department of Veterans Affairs head Bob McDonald had a pretty public dustup yesterday with Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman during a budget hearing in Washington, D.C. Coffman criticized McDonald for not doing enough during his first six months leading the V.A., pinning the blame for the agency’s continued dysfunction on its new leader.
But McDonald wasn’t having it. He got a couple zingers off, including pointing out he’s run one of the country’s largest companies, before pointedly asking Coffman what he’s done lately. And while pointing to your last job when you're being criticized about your current one is maybe not the strongest argument, the former P&G head seemed to be holding his own. McDonald, who is also a Republican, was probably drawing fire from the congressman because he was appointed by President Barack Obama, though the official complaint was that his actions thus far have amounted to nothing more than public relations and have not enacted substantive reforms on the V.A., which has been rocked by record-keeping and patient treatment scandals in the past year.
• Finally, if you’re like me, you do most of your news reading on a smartphone or, failing that, your laptop. But even if you’ve never touched a printed newspaper in your life, this piece about how the New York Times kicks it old-school and gets the paper out every day is pretty amazing. For something seemingly so low-tech, pumping out hundreds of thousands of newspapers each day is actually a mind-bending feat of engineering and coordination.
Good morning! This week is going crazy slow but it’s half over now, so that’s awesome. But the news isn’t going slow, and it’s never half-over. It’s always hurtling forward. Always changing. Growing. Watching. Ok. Maybe not watching. But those other things. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.
Let’s get to it. Gov. John Kasich yesterday came to Cincinnati to detail his plans for reforming the state’s welfare program to leaders from a number of county social service agencies. Kasich says his plan will simplify welfare services in Ohio, which can currently sometimes be a complicated array of various service providers clients must navigate to get help. Kasich would like to gather as many services as possible under a single roof, saving the state money. Those agencies that don’t go along with the plan could lose state funding. But some providers are wary of too much consolidation, as various agencies in different counties often serve very different populations. Kasich called those concerns “turf battles,” though some providers see the issue differently. Kasich has yet to release all the details of his proposed changes.
• The debate over what to do about Hamilton County’s morgue and crime lab is turning into something of a shouting match. Republican Hamilton County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann clearly hit a nerve last week when he called Hamilton County’s crime lab “a luxury item.” Now Democrats are firing back at the assertion. Yesterday, Hamilton County Democrat Chairman Tim Burke berated Hartmann in a letter suggesting the commissioner is playing politics with the crime lab and morgue, which have been at the center of a county budget debate. Both offices, which share a building on University of Cincinnati’s medical campus, are in need of extensive upgrades.
“I’m sorry, but the need for a modern morgue and crime lab is so clear that I can only conclude that your failure to fulfill the Commissioner’s duty to provide that must be due to the fact that our County Coroner is a Democrat who you don’t want to see succeed,” Burke said in the letter.
All parties agree the lab needs updating. Republican Commissioners Hartmann and Chris Monzel, however, say retrofitting a former hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county will be too expensive at $100 million. They’re suggesting the possibility of partnering with neighboring governments to create a regional lab. Conditions in the current building are so cramped that neither the crime lab nor the morgue has room for the extra employees it needs to process the increasing amount of work it must undertake. Other issues include an outdated electrical grid that won’t allow all the lab’s equipment to be plugged in at the same time and an insufficient plumbing system beneath the building that causes the build up of autopsy debris.
• Sticking with news about the county for another beat, 100 Hamilton County poll workers have been dismissed from their jobs for not voting in the last election. Officials with the Hamilton County Board of Elections have said they want to encourage voting, and if their employees aren’t doing it, it sends the wrong message. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s kind of like wearing American Apparel when you work there or tweeting your articles when you’re a reporter — probably a good idea, but mandatory? Seems a little harsh.
• A quick bit of gossip and speculation: is Miley Cyrus planning a benefit concert in memory of Leelah Alcorn? Could be. Recent social media posts by Cyrus show rehearsals for an upcoming project and a notebook that says “Leelah set list,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. Alcorn, a transgender teen, died Dec. 28 after throwing herself in front of a truck on I-71. She left a suicide note on social media explaining the isolation she felt when her family did not support her transgender status.
• Three people were killed this morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after a gunman entered their home and shot each in the head. The alleged gunman, forty six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in immediately following the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all local university students. Though no official motive has been determined, the killings may have involved the fact the three were Muslim. Hicks, an outspoken atheist, had recently put photos of guns on social media as well as writing anti-religious posts.
• Finally, a high-level campaign operative for potential presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush resigned today after racially and sexually charged comments he allegedly made online recently came to light. Ethan Czahor was chief technology officer for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee. In Twitter posts before he was hired in January, Czahor made disparaging remarks about gay men and called women “sluts.” One grade-A post from 2009 reads, “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier." Wow. Bush’s campaign initially called the tweets inappropriate but let Czahor stay on. He resigned yesterday after other racially insensitive statements attributed to him were found on a website for a radio show he worked on in 2008.
All right. Let’s do this news thing.
If its ballot initiative passes, three of the 10 marijuana cultivation farms proposed by ResponsibleOhio would be in Greater Cincinnati, including one in Hamilton County near Anderson Township. One other location would be in Butler County on land owned by Trenton-based Magnode Corporation and a third would be in Clermont County. The weed legalization group is working to put a constitutional amendment ballot initiative before voters in November, and the push has some big local funders. The downside: The state would only be able to have the 10 grow sites, and those sites would more than likely be owned by the group’s investors. ResponsibleOhio’s plan would also create a seven-member oversight board which could increase the number of growing locations in the future, though who would make up the board and how they would decide who can grow weed is unclear.
• The partner of the man who died during the Hopple Street offramp collapse has hired a big-name Cincinnati attorney. Kendra Blair, who had four children with 35-year-old construction foreman Brandon Carl, is looking into a possible lawsuit over Carl’s death last month and has hired attorney Mark Hayden to begin the process. No suit has been filed just yet and it’s unclear if the suit will be filed in federal or state court. Carl was killed when the offramp collapsed during demolition. Investigations into the collapse suggest Kokosing Construction, the company carrying out the $91 million contract on the demolition, may have changed demolition plans at the last minute and should have gone about tearing the bridge down in a different manner. The company denies that its plans were flawed.
• U.S. Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras-Sweet yesterday dropped by Over-the-Rhine to check out Cincinnati’s startup scene, meeting with small business owners and nonprofit leaders from Taste of Belgium, Mortar, the Brandery and others, as well as officials from some of the city’s biggest companies. She also touted several programs the administration is looking to expand, including one offering microloans under $50,000 to small businesses. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, who chairs the House Committee on Small Business, helped arrange the visit. Contreras-Sweet praised OTR’s business scene. “I’m enjoying the ecosystem you have here,” she said, which is business-speak for “this place is rad.”
• Real estate blog Movoto has ranked Cincinnati one of the nation’s top 10 most creative cities. Cincy ranks eighth on the list, just behind Seattle and just ahead of Pittsburgh. San Francisco took the top spot. Big reasons for Cincinnati’s spot on the list include high number of colleges, galleries, art supply stores and live performance opportunities per capita.
• Cincinnati Metro is teaming up with the city’s Red Bike program to show some love for riders leading up to Valentine's Day. On Feb. 13, Metro will be giving out free one-day bus passes and 24 hour Red Bike passes on Fountain Square at 1 p.m. Metro is also running a contest on its Facebook page and will choose one participant to receive a free 30-day Metro pass, a year-long membership to Red Bike and two tickets to a Valentine's Weekend performance at the Cincinnati Ballet. That’s pretty sweet.
• In national news, Twitter today released its biannual transparency report about how many government requests for user information it gets from government law enforcement agencies. The letter they released is cartoonishly redacted, including some parts that have been whited out and handwritten over. One part seems to have been erased and then scrawled over with a sentence saying that government surveillance of the public on the site is "quite limited." So yeah. That’s kind of hilarious but also kind of terrifying if you’re concerned about government snooping on social media.
Hey all, I’m about to run out to cover a story, but here’s a quick little morning news reading list for ya. I’ll update as necessary a little later in the day.
Gov. John Kasich will come to Cincinnati tomorrow to talk about new standards for the state’s social service organizations he has proposed in his budget. Kasich says many agencies providing different services don’t coordinate well enough and don’t help clients move toward self-sufficiency. The specifics of the proposed new standards haven’t been released yet, but failing to meet them will be costly for organizations: Kasich has said the state could pull funding from various county agencies that don’t measure up.
• Is it fair to give valet parking services free parking, especially now that parking rates have risen in the city? Councilman Chris Seelbach says no, and he’s calling on the city to make Cincinnati’s parking arrangements with valet companies serving various restaurants downtown more fair to taxpayers. Currently, valet companies can reserve four spots near the businesses they serve using a permit and so-called “valet bags” that go over parking meters. Other cities charge for thousands for those permits, and even the bags, but Cincinnati gives them away.
• This is wild: A Northern Kentucky couple is in federal court on charges that their company, Valley Forge Composite Technology, sold $37 million in military-grade micro conductors to China. The United States has had a military trade embargo against China since 1990 as a result of what the U.S. government says is an ongoing arms buildup there. If convicted, Louis and Rosemary Brothers could face up to 45 years in prison and fines totaling more than $1.75 million.
• No matter what your feelings are about Cincinnati’s architecture, this opinion piece in the Enquirer is sure to start a conversation at your office or house or classroom or wherever you are right now. Read it aloud to friends and coworkers. Unless you’re in the Great American Tower or the Horseshoe Casino. Then lines like, “The new Horseshoe Casino looks like a temporary colonoscopy supply center with mall entrance” (LOL) will probably just result in really awkward silence. It's hilarious, though I'm not sure I totally agree.
• Speaking of architecture: as we get closer to Presidents Day, here’s a neat story about Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a grand and eccentric mansion in Virginia that is one of America’s most famous landmarks. The current tourist destination, which today adorns the back of nickels, wasn’t always so revered. At one point, farmers herded cows into its basement and it sat basically derelict, in danger of crumbling completely. Yes, I know Jefferson isn’t one of the presidents whose birthday is commemorated by the national holiday (he was born in April) but he had a much cooler house than Abraham Lincoln, and Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is well, kinda vanilla.
Good morning, Cincy. Here’s what’s up today:
The Cincinnati Police Department will pay a local man $25,000 to settle a federal false arrest and first amendment lawsuit. Forest Thorner III was arrested after police took exception to promotional strategies he used to get attention for a friend’s comedy act at the 2012 Party in the Park. Thorner worked the crowd at the event by asking if they wanted to “laugh at the crippled girl,” referring to his friend Ally Bruener. Bruener is in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy and does a comedy act. Thorner would point to Bruener, who would tell a joke or two and then promote an upcoming performance. Someone with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce overheard Thorner and complained to police, who forcibly removed him from the park. Thorner tried to film the arrest, only to have his camera taken and broken by officers. He was charged with disorderly conduct, but found not guilty after none of the witnesses to the incident corroborated the charges against him.
• Cincinnati City Council had a busy slate yesterday. Council gave its approval to 10 development projects seeking low-income housing tax credits from the state of Ohio, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those projects seek to build new affordable housing or rehab existing affordable housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale, Roselawn, College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Evanston, Bond Hill, Hartwell and downtown. The projects collectively represent hundreds of potential additional units of affordable housing.
Which sounds great, right? Except for some controversy. Originally, Council was considering supporting 12 potential developments seeking the credits but paused giving its blessing to two as questions arose. One of the projects, a rehabilitation of the Chapel Street Apartments in Walnut Hills by Talbert House, has caused concerns among the 20 residents who live in the building currently. Talbert House, which recently purchased the property, would like to rehab the 24-unit property into 27 units of permanent supportive housing. That will require the current residents to be relocated, which doesn’t sit well with many of them. Talbert House has pledged to help them find new places to live, but some say they like where they are.
“I don’t want to move,” says Wayne Green, a current resident. “We’re all a family in that building. If they relocate us all, everyone will be spread out.”
Council tabled that project and another in Roselawn after several council members, including Wendell Young and Kevin Flynn, voiced concern over the process by which the projects engaged the surrounding communities. Council members will discuss them at Monday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting (10 a.m.) and Neighborhoods committee meeting (2 p.m.). Council ’s nod in the form of a resolution gives each project an extra 10 points on the state’s system for rating project proposals. It’s a competitive system that awards points based on each project’s community collaboration, its economic characteristics, whether it targets extremely low-income residents for at least some of its units and other factors. About one-third of applicants receive the credits, and last year five developments in the Cincinnati area received them.
• Council also passed a resolution submitted by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson honoring Cincinnati Herald owner and publisher Marjorie Parham. Parham served as publisher and editor of the Herald, an award-winning weekly that covers Cincinnati’s black community, from 1963 until 1996, an astounding run in the rather brutal and thankless world of journalism. She did everything from write articles and take photos to sweep the floor, she says, in addition to running the business. The Herald, founded in 1955, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
• So, wait. Is Gov. Kasich secretly a Robin Hood type-character? The public school funding proposal he’s tucked into his suggested two-year budget has raised eyebrows as it’s been rolled out over the past couple days. Under Kasich’s proposal, the way public school districts in Ohio get aid from the state would change dramatically. Kasich wants to shift some state funds to districts in areas with lower property and other local tax receipts from areas with higher tax receipts, who can make up the difference by raising their own property taxes.
It’s a way to make up for the disparity between high and low income area schools, Kasich says, and a soundly conservative way to make sure students have a fair shot at succeeding. The change would be capped so that no school lost a dramatic amount of funds. It sounds like a pretty good first step toward fixing the abysmal disparities between the state’s richest and poorest public schools. It also sounds like something Kasich will want to tout if he runs for president. You can expect a lot of blowback from conservative lawmakers in the state house, however, especially those whose districts lose money from the state.
• This gets its own little bullet point because it's important and hard to understand. A caveat: The amounts districts could lose/gain under Kasich's plan seems pretty wonky right now. Check out this chart, which lists which districts will gain and which will lose in Hamilton County, and see if something seems amiss. Yes, Cincinnati Public Schools will gain about 9 percent, or $17 million, under the plan, but that’s not as much as another fairly befuddling district with conceivably higher tax receipts per capita. With a median household income of more than $200,000 and a median home value of more than $900,000, does Indian Hill need a 21 percent-plus boost in state funds for education?
What’s up, all? That’s a rhetorical question. News is what’s up, and here it is.
Answers in Genesis, the Christian organization based in Northern Kentucky that is building a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, has said it will sue the state of Kentucky over tax credits the state rescinded in December. The state took back the tourism-related credits after controversy over Answers’ hiring practices, which stipulate potential employees must sign a statement of faith and other religious measures. Those violate employment discrimination laws and preclude Answers from getting taxpayer money, state officials say. Answers, on the other hand, says they have a right to require their employees fit with their religious values. They’re suing Kentucky for infringing on their religious liberty. The group also says that because the tax credits are sales tax rebates that originally come from the pockets of visitors, they don’t involve taxpayers from the state as a whole. The group has released a video outlining their side of the debate, which you can watch here. Warning: It’s like, almost half an hour long and is mostly a dude in an ill-fitting blazer talking to a lawyer while both sit in folding chairs. The group looks to build a 500-foot long ark and surrounding theme park, which it says will attract more than a million visitors a year.
• Here’s your morning dose of creepy: Hamilton County lawyers would like to limit testimony about the sexual behavior of Kenneth Douglas, a former county morgue employee who is accused of sexually abusing more than 100 corpses at the morgue from the 1970s to the 1990s. Currently, a federal district court is hearing the case against the county brought by the families of three of the deceased whose bodies were abused. The families say the county was negligent in allowing the abuse to happen. The county is attempting to block some testimony about other instances of abuse, including information Douglas gave to law enforcement about the number of bodies he abused. The county’s lawyers say testimony beyond the three abuse cases in question could be confusing and misleading for the jury. The families suing the county for millions say the other incidents show a clear pattern of behavior Douglas’ supervisors should have known about.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has introduced an initiative to expand the city’s vacant properties registry. Currently, that registry keeps track of bank-owned properties that are currently empty and makes sure the banks aren’t letting them fall into disrepair. But there are loopholes in the system that Sittenfeld would like to close so the city can better hold property owners holding onto vacant buildings accountable. He’d also like to use some of the revenues from the program, which amounted to about $700,000 last year, for hazard abatement and stabilization work.
• Here’s more buzz, and some lack thereof, about a potential presidential bid for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Kasich nearly even with prospective Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Ohio. Hillary took 44 percent of the poll. Kasich took 43 percent. The quintessential swing state, Ohio is shaping up to be very important for presidential hopefuls in 2016, as it has been in past elections. But how much of the above poll’s results are home field advantage, and how much does the poll say about Kasich’s primary chances? A lot and not much, it would seem. Another poll of GOPers in the state had Kasich with a lead over fellow Republicans, but not by much. Kasich led with 14 percent of the poll, followed by Scott Walker, who had 11 percent and Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, who each had 10 percent. That lead isn’t much to go on at this point, but it’s still quite early and Kasich could consolidate some of other potential nominees’ support as the herd thins. More troubling for Kasich, however, is the fact that in other Quinnipiac polls around the country, he barely makes a blip. He finished 13th out of 13 candidates in Florida, for example, and tied for 9th in Pennsylvania, his native state. In contrast with other potential nominees in his party who have national stature for one reason or another — Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz — Kasich will need to significantly expand his visibility in the coming year if he hopes to compete for his party’s nomination.
• Finally, you may have already seen this story about the Detroit dude who walks 21 miles a day to get to work. I think his situation is infuriating and sad but find his attitude inspiring. As a fellow pedestrian commuter (note: my walk is only about a mile and a half, I make it by choice, and only on days when it’s too cold to ride a bike) I think James Robertson is something of a hero. I think the issues raised by Robertson's daily trek are especially pertinent in Cincinnati; a city with a serious love of cars and a hardworking but less-than-ideal transit system. I couldn't help thinking about folks who have appeared in some of our recent stories about the working poor when I read this. Seriously, check this story out if you haven’t already.
Hey all. Let’s talk about news for a minute.
Now that Union Terminal looks to be on its way to renovation and Music Hall has received significant contributions toward the cost of its own fix-up, some preservationists have focused again on Memorial Hall. The building, which sits next to Music Hall on the west side of Washington Park, was designed by renowned architect Samuel Hannaford and built in 1908. Its needs are not quite as large as its gargantuan neighbor: The total cost for renovations is expected to be about $8 million, mere chump change compared to the $120 million Music Hall renovations could run. Development group 3CDC is one of the main drivers of fundraising efforts. It asked Hamilton County Commissioners yesterday for a $1.5 million contribution from the county. Though commissioners wouldn’t commit to anything just yet, Commissioner Greg Hartmann has said some contribution is likely since the building is owned by the county.
• So I’m not a beer fan overall, but I love a good porter on a cold winter day. You know what else I love on a cold winter day (like today, for example)? Cincinnati chili. Having established those facts, let’s just say I’m intrigued by a new beer debuting soon. Blank Slate Brewing Co. has created the Cincy 3-way Porter, which has subtle notes of the spices that make Cincinnati chili famous (or infamous depending on your palate). Again: I like Cincy chili. I like a good porter. But can this possibly be good? Of course I’m going to try it and find out. One note to consider: According to this story in the Business Courier, the malt used to brew the beer is smoked with the distinctive spices — they don’t go in the beer itself. That hopefully means it doesn’t taste like sipping on a serving of Cincy’s favorite meat sauce that just happens to be 7 percent alcohol by volume. Though, hey, I might be open to that, too.
• Is there a way the $2.8 billion Brent Spence Bridge project might be funded without tolls? Don’t hold your breath just yet, but anti-toll groups hope so. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United is touting a plan proposed by Sens. Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer that would raise money for the federal Highway Trust Fund by giving U.S. corporations tax breaks to bring more of their estimated $2 trillion in foreign profits back to the U.S. If some of that money flows back here, prodded by a tax break, it could be taxed and the receipts used on infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge. At least, that’s what Northern Kentucky United hopes. The proposal is very similar to one that President Barack Obama has tucked into his budget, which he released yesterday. The anti-toll group says that’s a sign that things could be happening on the federal level and that a plan to use tolls to pay for the bridge’s replacement is premature.
“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the president has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United in a statement on the legislation. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund,” McNee concluded.
Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Steve Beshear of Kentucky presented their plan last week for the bridge, which includes tolls as part of the funding equation. Kasich has cited the increasing costs for the project while it’s delayed — $7 million a month, by some estimates — as a reason officials should move quickly. He claims there’s little chance the federal government will be forthcoming with funds for the project. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency this summer if Congress doesn’t approve new sources of income for infrastructure.
• The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati’s Police Department don’t reflect the area’s demographic makeup, according to data released by both departments and reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s department is 86 percent white and 12 percent black, though the county itself is 62 percent white and 26 percent black. A similar disparity exists in Cincinnati, which is 48 percent white and 45 percent black. Yet its police force is 67 percent white and 30 percent black. Both gaps match up with many other police forces around the country. A study by USA Today found that 80 departments out of 282 in cities with more than 100,000 people had greater than a 10 percentage-point gap between the proportion of black officers and black residents.
• Yesterday was a day for budgets. In addition to the release of President Obama’s budget proposal (more on that in a minute), Gov. John Kasich also released his financial proposals for Ohio’s next two years. Kasich looks to cut income taxes while raising sales taxes, among other moves, which could place more burden on the state’s low-income workers. Kasich has also suggested an increased tax exemption for some of those workers, but that exemption is small and may only account for two or three bucks more in a worker’s paycheck.
On the income tax side, Kasich seeks to cut the state’s rate by 23 percent over the next two years and end the state’s income tax for 900,000 business owners grossing less than $2 million a year. To pay for that, the state’s base sales tax rate will go up to 6.25 percent plus county and local sales taxes. In Hamilton County, the sales tax rate will go up to 7.5 percent. This continues a trend toward relying more on sales tax to fill the state's coffers, something progressive groups say has made the state's tax system more and more regressive over the last few years.
All told, the state will take in $500 million less over the next two years, a nice hefty tax cut Kasich can point to in order to rally the Republican base should he decide to run for president in 2016. You can read more about the finer points of Kasich’s budget in our story here.
• Finally, here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s wide-ranging, $4 trillion budget proposal. Obama looks to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy citizens and give middle class families tax breaks. He calls that plan “middle class economics,” though staunch conservative (and fellow Miami alum) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has his own name for it: “envy economics.” Those two monikers may foreshadow another long, arduous budget process between Obama and a mostly Republican Congress.
Other points of Obama’s budget: He has proposed the aforementioned plan for paying for infrastructure, a pay raise for federal workers and military personnel and a number of other proposals you can peruse in the story above. Also worth checking out: this breakdown of the budget by federal departments. Let’s play a little game of “one of these things is not like the other.” That’s right: Discretionary spending at the Department of Defense is a mind-blowing $585 billion. That’s more than every other department combined. Obama’s budget increases the DOD’s budget by 4 percent. That’s $23 billion — enough to increase the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by almost 50 percent. Just leaving that right there for you to chew on.
Gov. John Kasich is touting half a million dollars in tax cuts in his new budget proposal, released Feb. 2. But Ohio’s tax scheme could get more regressive if state lawmakers take it up as is.
The budget proposal would lower income taxes by 23 percent over the next two years and pay for it by raising sales taxes by .5 percent. All told, the proposal means $500 million less in taxes for Ohio residents.
Critics say lower-income residents will benefit least from the proposal. Kasich’s budget allows for a tax exemption increase for as many as 3 million low-income Ohio workers. But that exemption would mean only an extra few dollars per paycheck for most low-income families, according to most analyses. Another part of Kasich's budget proposal would require those making just over the poverty level (a bit more than $11,500 for a single person) to pay premiums on Medicaid. Those premiums would start at about $10 to $20.
Among the biggest moves in Kasich's proposal: a plan that would effectively eliminate the state’s income tax for more than 900,000 people who own small businesses grossing less than $2 million a year.
Studies suggest that the bottom fifth of Ohio earners pay nearly 7 percent of their income in sales taxes, while the top fifth of Ohio earners pay less than 1 percent of their income. A study conducted by liberal-leaning think tank Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found Ohio to have the 18th most regressive tax structure in the country.
"The Ohio income tax is critical to a fair tax system and one that pays for education, health and other key services," said Wendy Patton, a director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a January statement about the state’s tax structure. "Attempts to weaken it will either redistribute income from the poor and the middle class to the rich, or cut needed public services."
When Kasich took office, the income tax rate was nearly 6 percent and Ohio’s sales tax was 5.5 percent, though state lawmakers boosted it to 5.75 percent in 2013. Under Kasich’s new budget proposal, income tax will be just over 4 percent and sales tax will be 6.25 percent.
Conservatives have also criticized the budget. Critics on the right, including tea party-aligned state lawmakers, say most of the changes aren’t cuts, they’re “tax shifting” that doesn’t result in the state spending less money.
Kasich’s plan does call for some measures that could help lower-income residents, including raising the income level at which parents can qualify for subsidies on child care. Other parts of the budget progressives might find more amenable include an increase on taxes associated with fracking.
Correction: due to a typo, an earlier version of this post said Ohio's sales tax rate will be 6.5 percent. This has been corrected to 6.25 percent.
It sounds a little like an episode of a zany sitcom: a tea partying conservative from Kentucky and a classic California liberal team up to clean up some roads.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Jan. 29 that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would introduce a bill seeking to shore up the nation’s federal Highway Trust Fund. The announcement comes as fights over what to do about the nation’s looming infrastructure needs hit close to home.
The federal fund that helps pay for highway, bridge and transit projects could face insolvency this year if Congress doesn’t find new sources of money for infrastructure. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, local and state officials are currently wrangling over the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. The bridge is more than 50 years old and carries 160,000 cars a day — four times more than it was designed to hold. Cincinnati’s 83-year-old Western Hills Viaduct will also need to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $240 million. Studies by engineers have found that both bridges are structurally obsolete, though not immediately unsafe. Federal funds could go a long way toward making those projects reality.
"I am pleased to be working with Senator Boxer on a bipartisan solution to a tax and highway spending problem,” Paul said in a statement. “The interstate highway system is of vital importance to our economy. All across the country, bridges and roads are deficient and in need of replacement.”
Paul and Boxer’s bill proposes what is, in effect, a corporate tax cut: lowering the U.S. repatriation rate, or tax rate for foreign earnings, in order to incentivize U.S. companies to bring money back into the U.S. economy from foreign tax shelters. The proposed law would allow companies to voluntarily repatriate some of the estimated $2 trillion in off-shore corporate profits at a discounted tax rate of 6.5 percent. The program would require companies use that repatriated money to help build the economy. The money must be used for hiring or research and development, for instance, instead of executive raises. Taxes from the repatriated funds would go into the federal Highway Trust Fund for roads, bridges and other transit projects.
Paul did not mention regional projects like the Brent Spence Bridge specifically in statements about the proposal, though he has been active in the past in working to secure funding for replacing the bridge. It’s unclear if and when such projects would see a benefit from the bill, or exactly how much money it would raise should it pass into law.
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study conducted on a similar proposal in 2013 found that the move could boost America’s economy by more than $400 billion, according to a white paper released by the senators. President Barack Obama put a similar plan in his budget proposal, which he unveiled Feb. 2.
There are other proposals for shoring up infrastructure funds, both on the national level and here in the Tristate. Some in Congress have called for raising the gas tax, which currently helps pay for federal road and bridge maintenance. The rate hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled they won’t support an increase.
On the state level, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have drafted their own plans for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge here. The two say the project can’t wait much longer — they cite an estimate by engineers saying that the project gets $7 million more expensive every month — and that the federal government won’t come to the rescue any time soon. Their proposal involves a public-private partnership that would necessitate tolls, however, something that has caused bipartisan consternation in Northern Kentucky. Many officials there are dead set against tolls, which they say will hurt workers and businesses. That’s tipped Northern Kentucky United, an anti-toll group, toward Paul’s idea.
“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the President has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund.”
Kasich, on the other hand, likened counting on funds from the federal government to waiting on the tooth fairy in a news conference last week on his proposal.
Paul and Boxer are a surprising team. Paul, a tea party favorite and potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, usually takes highly conservative, libertarian stances on policy and spending matters. Boxer, on the other hand, is one of the chamber’s most liberal members. In her 32-year career in Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator, she fought for tighter gun control, more environmental protection measures and pro-choice causes. Boxer, who is 74, announced last month that she will not seek re-election.
“I hope this proposal will jumpstart negotiations on addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is already creating uncertainty that is bad for businesses, bad for workers and bad for the economy,” Boxer said in a statement about the bill. “I will also be working … on other proposals to pay for rebuilding our nation's aging transportation infrastructure."
For Cranley, the fight over parking is more about revenue. In past weeks, the mayor has touted an alternate plan that would have set the price for parking permits at a yet-undetermined market rate. That plan didn't make it out of committee.
Good morning y’all. Let’s do this news thing real quick.
$25 million to get low-income Cincinnati students into a better education sounds great, doesn’t it? Absolutely. But there are questions about just such a proposal, which is being touted by a group of area business leaders and educators. The group, which includes the Haile Foundation, the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Farmer Foundation, wants to boost the number of seats at high-performing area schools from what they’ve determined is 5,500 right now to 10,000 in five years and 20,000 in 10. Right now, a little less than half of Cincinnati’s 35,000 students in public or charter schools attend low-performing schools, and only about 5,500 attend high performing schools. So the plan sounds great, right? Well, there are critics. $15 million of the money will be spent creating new schools in the Cincinnati area, and those will most likely be charter schools, which have a very spotty record here in Ohio. Detractors like former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, now with the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, say Cincinnati Public Schools have an approach that works, and that the city doesn’t need more charters. CPS, meanwhile, says it’s on board with the proposal. The district may even be a partner in the charter schools created by the venture. The nascent education group, which calls itself an “education accelerator” has yet to pick a name or a CEO, and still has about $10 million to raise to carry out the plan.
• More controversy surrounding Cincinnati’s long-time riverfront project The Banks. Yesterday here we talked about how Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman is being ousted from economic development matters. Sigman wrote a letter raising questions about whether the county should change developers on the project, saying that the lead developer, Atlanta-based Carter and Associates, has taken longer than expected to find a major hotel tenant at the site. Yesterday, an Enquirer reporter was barred from a meeting of the Joint Banks Steering Committee, which is appointed by city and county officials, according to the paper. Those meetings were declared public after a contentious fight back in 2008 about their private nature. The steering committee points out that government meetings can happen in private when no votes are being taken, and says there were no decisions made at the meeting. It’s important to know what’s happening with the steering committee, however, since it helps decide how millions in tax dollars are spent. Officials with the steering committee say Sigman’s ouster from development affairs was not discussed at the meeting.
• New retail is coming to Over-the-Rhine, and … sorry, I lost interest. All the stores sound really boring and well out of my price range and the price ranges of many long-time residents in the neighborhood. But hey, that’s just me. One of the stores sells something called technical cashmere. The others are home décor and fashion-oriented. The upside is that the four new retail spots will add to the city’s tax base, and at least none of them are chain stores; Chipotle and Starbucks are reportedly interested in OTR spots, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, if you’re a shopper, check that out. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for a decently-priced, well-stocked grocery store and a Laundromat.
• Here’s a place that is much more my speed: Mayor John Cranley yesterday dropped by Camp Washington Chili in, uh, Camp Washington to celebrate its 75th anniversary and announce that the corner of Hopple Street and Colerain Ave. where the nationally-renowned diner is located will be named after proprietor Johnny Johnson. Johnson came to the U.S. from Greece in 1951 and eventually bought the place, which was founded by his uncle. Since then, they’ve been serving up really, really good Cincinnati-style chili, double deckers and tons of other great diner food. I’ve spent many a late, late night after playing or watching live music hanging out at Camp Washington; here’s to another 75.
• Finally, the latest Quinnipiac University polls on the GOP presidential nomination race have come out of early primary state Iowa. Like the last couple polls, they’ don’t look so great for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich is polling at just 2 percent against big GOP rivals. The bigger national story, however, is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s showing. Bush, who was a presumed frontrunner just a week or two ago, took a pounding, with 45 percent of GOP respondents saying they viewed him unfavorably. Only 39 percent said they viewed him favorably. Bush got just five percent of the overall vote in the polling. The big winner was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who polled at 21 percent, 8 points higher than his nearest competitors Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Walker, if you recall, led an effort to repeal bargaining rights for state employees in 2011. Sound familiar? Kasich did much the same that year. The difference is, Walker stuck to his guns through a recall election, while Kasich was chastened by the deafening roar of Ohio voters, who overwhelmingly passed a ballot provision repealing our state’s version of the law. So, is Scott Walker going to be the GOP nominee? Not quite. There’s still a long road to Cleveland, and plenty of opportunity for big gaffes from the Republican crowd.
Hey all! Here’s what’s up today.
There’s a showdown coming. Some will win, some will lose and some will, well, probably be completely uninvolved but that’s beside the point. I’m talking about Cincinnati City Council’s continued fight over the Over-the-Rhine parking plan. Yesterday, a council committee passed a version of a plan that would charge residents $108 a year for a parking pass. That’s the second-highest cost in the nation behind famously packed-in San Francisco, though it’s important to note that the cost would be subsidized for low-income residents. Mayor John Cranley, however, wants a different plan that would price the spots higher, at a yet-to-be-determined market rate for non-low-income residents. He’d like to see the extra revenue used to shore up a $600,000 streetcar operating deficit.
That’s all important because the plan passed in committee yesterday has only five apparent votes in favor. Conservatives on council — Amy Murray, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and swing vote Kevin Flynn look to be opposed to the plan. Five votes is enough to pass the measure but not enough to override a mayoral veto. Cranley’s never played that card before, but he very well could tomorrow when council votes on the proposal. Stay tuned. Things are going to get interesting. Well, as interesting as parking gets, at least.
• In other politics news, County Administrator Christian Sigman might be pulled away from development decisions on the county level after he sent a letter to City Manager Harry Black asking whether the city needs to find a new developer for The Banks riverfront project. County Commissioners will vote tomorrow whether to strip Sigman of development duties. Commissioners say Sigman misrepresented the county in the letter to Black by suggesting the county might replace Banks developers Carter and Dawson due to delays in securing a major hotel at the development. That’s not the case, Commissioner Todd Portune says. Sigman looks to remain administrator and still oversee other departments even if the board votes to remove him from development issues.
• I was just thinking that Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld doesn’t seem busy enough. He’s only running as an underdog in a tough primary race for U.S. Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland in addition to his council job. But he also had a decidedly non-policy proposal for 2016, and now, he also has a wedding to plan. Sittenfeld proposed to his now-fiancee Sarah Coyne yesterday evening in Washington Park. All jokes aside, that’s really sweet. Congrats!
• This is cool. If you want to try to support minority-owned businesses in the city, well, now there’s an app for that. Jooku, created by University of Cincinnati grads, will help you find local businesses, including those that are minority owned. Your searches can be customized and you can favorite businesses you like. There’s also a forum to give feedback and leave comments.
• As you know, it’s May 5, which isn’t just the day Americans celebrate Mexican culture (often in embarrassing and inappropriate ways). It’s also an election day, so if you live in one of the municipalities where operating or school levies are up for a vote, go weigh in on that. Lockland, Winton Woods, Northwest Local, Edgewood City Schools and Kings Local all have school levies up. In addition, Arlington Heights, Elmwood Place, Cheviot, Forest Park and Harrison have levies for general operating expenses or fire service. Go vote. Then have your margaritas or however you celebrate. Don’t do it in the opposite order. That leads to poor choices. Or heck, actually, do have a couple margaritas first if it will make you more likely to give more money to schools.
• Speaking of schools: The head of an area school district has resigned after controversy about his use of power. Last week there was some hubbub around Forest Hills Superintendent Dallas Jackson, who axed a test his son didn’t do very well on. Jackson said that a lot of other students also failed the test and that the high failure rate made them invalid. But more than 20 teachers at Turpin High School, where Jackson’s son attends, disagreed. They fired off a letter to the school board accusing Jackson of wrongdoing. The school board hired an investigator to look into the matter, and yesterday Jackson announced his resignation.
• One more school quick-hit: Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan has responded to protests and criticism from students and parents over the removal of School for Creative and Performing Arts Artistic Director Isadore Rudnick. Ronan says the move is the best thing for SCPA and that the decision wasn’t made lightly. The district announced Friday that Rudnick and Principal Steve Brokamp will both be reassigned from their current positions. Read more about that in this Cincinnati Business Courier story.
• Finally, there are even more official GOP contenders for the 2016 presidential race! Great! Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee officially threw his hat into the ring today. Former Hewlett Packard exec Carly Fiorina did as well. That makes six official contenders in the Republican primary — U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and neurosurgeon Ben Carson round out the list. Well, there’s also Rick Santorum, but does anyone seriously think he has a shot? Probably not. Plus, some of the heavy hitters, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are still waiting in the wings. Phew. It’s getting crowded in hur. What does that mean for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has also been making moves like he's gonna run? It means if he doesn’t get his poll numbers up, he could be shut out of the first primary debate, hosted, ironically enough, in his own state. Sad trombone sound.
And I'm out. Tweet or email your news tips or hints on where to find a really rad used cyclocross bike. It's bike month after all and I feel like upgrading my whip.
Hey all! Hope your weekend was grand and you did something fun to kick off bike month if you’re into that kind of thing. I am, and I spent some of my weekend biking — for a news story. You’ll find out more about that Wednesday though.
Anyway, here’s what’s up in the news. After a $10 million donation by American Financial Group and Edyth Linder, wife of AFG founder Carl Linder Jr., Music Hall is just $10 million short of the $125 million required for much-needed renovations. The historic Cincinnati landmark, built in 1878, hasn’t seen major work in 40 years and needs interior updates to its acoustics and seating, among other work. Also helping get closer to the goal, businessman Harry Fath and his wife Linda have pledged to boost their donation toward the renovation project from $2 million to $4 million. That’s all huge news for the building, which was cut last summer from a proposed sales tax increase that is currently funding renovation work on Union Terminal in the West End.
• Two top administrators at the School for Creative and Performing Arts will be leaving their posts, Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan announced Friday afternoon. Principal Steve Brokamp and Artistic Director Dr. Isadore Rudnick are both being reassigned at the direction of an oversight board for the school. The move comes as CPS searches for an executive director for the magnet school, a hire suggested by an outside consultancy group brought in to assess the school’s management. Students aren’t happy that Rudnick is leaving, protesting outside the building on Central Parkway today and taking to social media with the hashtag #reinstaterudnick.
• As Cincinnati gets more attention from national media outlets for the new restaurants, bars and other attractions springing up downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, more folks have visited our fair city. Specifically, and astounding 24 million folks visited the Queen City in 2013, spending $4.4 billion, according to a new study released by regional tourism groups The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, meetNKY and the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network. That’s a boost of 4 percent per year since 2009. All that money put nearly half a billion dollars into the coffers of the state of Ohio and local governments.
• Here’s a pretty incredible New York Times breakdown of social mobility by county. The interactive map is built on a study by Harvard economists that looks at social mobility in terms of how much income a child will make by age 26 as a function of what county they grow up in. The more likely a low-income child in an area is to add to their household income as they grow up, the more income mobility that area offers. The results: Hamilton County is worse than roughly 75 percent of counties in the United States.
Poor children in Hamilton County can statistically expect to lose $810 from their household income. That’s not evenly distributed, though: Poor males will actually do better over time to the tune of $700, while poor females will do much, much worse — statistically, they can expect to be down almost $2,700 by age 26. Nearby Warren County, however, is much different. There, children can expect to see their household incomes rise by $2,500 by the time they’re 26, and that rise is nearly equal among males and females. The study uses reams of data for every county across the country to paint a big picture of what income mobility looks like in America. The New York Times story is especially neat because not only does it map every county, but it will anticipate, based on your location, which county you’re interested in seeing. When I pulled up the story, it already knew to go straight to Hamilton County. Impressive.
• Finally, the ranks of Republicans officially running for president swelled today as Dr. Ben Carson announced his candidacy. Carson, a renowned and history-making neurosurgeon, has become something of a conservative celebrity in recent years and has garnered millions in funds for his campaign already. Much has been made of the fact that Carson is African American. Conservatives, including Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou, have touted Carson’s campaign as a sign that the GOP is a diverse and accepting party despite "stereotypes" to the contrary. Despite the fanfare, however, many Republicans including Carson himself acknowledge he’s a long-shot. He has little political experience and polls show him trailing other contenders such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. A particular Carson weakness: his tendency to say pretty inflammatory things, including claiming that legalized same-sex marriage will lead to legalized bestiality and calling Obamacare the worst thing to happen in America since slavery. Youch.
That’s it for me. Tweet or email news tips and/or your favorite summer bike routes. I can’t wait to get out and ride some more.
Good morning y’all. Like yesterday, I’m once again groggy this morning, but for different reasons that have everything to do with the news. So let’s talk about that.
Last night a group of about 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse to protest inequities in the nation’s justice system and to express solidarity with Baltimore, where civil unrest has broken out after the April 18 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died from injuries he sustained while in police custody. The rally and subsequent march through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, which drew more than 100, were peaceful and lasted about four hours. No one was arrested, though there were a few tense moments as protesters tried to enter a highway on-ramp and the Horseshoe Casino. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell was present at the protest last night, and this morning appeared on CNN touting the city’s protest response protocols, which have been adopted by the U.S. Justice Department as an example of how police should respond to such rallies.
Update: Gray's death has been ruled a homicide and the six Baltimore police officers involved will be charged. Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, will be charged with second-degree murder, Baltimore State Attorney Marylin Mosby announced today. Other officers involved in Gray's arrest will face lesser charges.
“I heard your call for 'No justice, no peace,' ” Mosby said at a news conference. “Your peace is severely needed as I work to deliver justice for this young man.”
• Drug overdose deaths in Ohio have hit record numbers, according to a report released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Health. In 2013, 2,210 people died of overdoses in the state, a 10 percent increase in a year. It’s especially grim here in the Greater Cincinnati area: About 440, or 20 percent, of those deaths happened in Southwestern Ohio’s Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties. Here in Hamilton County, deaths have increased 30 percent since last year, according to the report. More than 40 percent of those deaths statewide were caused by heroin overdoses, by far the biggest single cause of drug overdoses in the state. Heroin overdose deaths have spike sharply in the last four years, overtaking cocaine overdoses in 2012 as the leading cause of overdose death.
• Yesterday I told you about how the Cincinnati Enquirer swapped out a headline on a news article about a murder in OTR while taking criticism for its handling of that story. Several high-profile Cincinnatians have since called out the Enquirer for coverage they call sensationalist. You can read more about that, and CityBeat editor Danny Cross’ analysis, here.
• We all have needs. I maybe need to get around to buying a car eventually. Cincinnati needs better public transit. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other top officials need $9.6 million worth of small aircraft to hop around the state in. The state has purchased two Beechcraft airplanes for officials to use on state business. State officials say the planes are needed replacements for older aircraft with rising maintenance costs. One of the shiny new planes holds nine passengers, the other six, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they do have all the necessary modern avionics equipment on board, including an entertainment center and the oh-so-vital wine bottle chillers because god knows you can’t drink room-temperature white wine while you’re floating somewhere above Youngstown on official state business.
• Speaking of Kasich, his profile is rising as he continues to kinda sorta run for president. I read this pretty long Atlantic article about him yesterday. The piece literally calls him a jerk and make him sound a little like he has attention deficit disorder. But the in-depth Atlantic piece also talks about his strengths, including his energy and his sometimes-gruff but sometimes-endearing plainspoken ways. Some other magazines and national publications have taken a closer look at Kasich over the past week or so, including conservative mag the National Review, which thinks his bid is a no-go. I’d tell you more about their article, but talking about the National Review makes my soul hurt so let’s just stop there, shall we?
• Speaking of the 2016 presidential race, Cincinnati’s uh, favorite (?) son Larry Flynt has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Good thing for Clinton? Bad thing for Clinton? Unclear. Flynt says he’s mostly behind Clinton because she has the best chance of winning and she’ll be able to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices, bringing the nation’s highest court under a decidedly liberal sway. Flynt was an ardent supporter of Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. He doesn’t have any illusions that Hillary is about to take him on the campaign trail with her, though.
“I’m sure that Hillary doesn’t necessarily approve of everything I do,” he told Bloomberg Politics.
More than 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today
to protest racial disparities in the justice system and express
solidarity with Baltimore. More than a week of unrest has gripped
that city after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in police custody there April 18. Gray
sustained severe spinal injuries while riding in a police van, slipped into a coma and died from his injuries.
The Cincinnati rally was the latest of several that have taken place downtown in the last year after the shooting death of unarmed teen Mike Brown by white officer Darren Wilson brought national attention to the issue of racially-charged police-involved deaths.
After the rally, a crowd of more than 100 marched down Central Parkway,
through Over-the-Rhine, and to the Cincinnati Police Department District
1 headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive. From there, a smaller group of
about 40 took a zig-zagging route past City Hall and Fountain Square.
That group had a couple tense standoffs with police at the eastern end
of Fifth Street near a highway onramp and in front of the Horseshoe
Casino. All told, the protest lasted about four hours, winding down
about 10 pm.
The protests were peaceful and did not result in any arrests, police said, though one protester was briefly detained on Vine Street and issued a citation for jaywalking.
Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati organized the rally. Among
attendees were long-time activist Iris Roley, who was a key participant
in forging Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement which arose from civil
unrest here14 years ago. That unrest was sparked by the 2001 shooting
death of unarmed black man Timothy Thomas, the 16th person of color shot
by Cincinnati Police over the course of a few years. Also in attendance
were State Senator Cecil Thomas, police officer and Over-the-Rhine
transit activist Derek Bauman, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell
and others active in the community.
Many attendees said they were concerned about wider disparities in the justice system beyond police actions.
“We’re to remember,” said co-organizer Rashida
Manuel. “We’re here to remember Freddie Gray. We’re here to remember
Maya Hall, the black trans woman who was killed in Baltimore last month.
We’re here to remember Mike Brown, we’re here to remember John
Crawford, and so many others I can’t possibly name. We’re here to
remember Timothy Thomas. We’re here because we’re tired.”
Just before we turned the corner from 12th onto Main, gunshots popped off behind us. We turned around and saw some dude running south on Sycamore. We bolted onto Main and jumped into a storefront doorway until things calmed down, called the police and then continued on our way. I followed up and found out that the man we saw running away neither died nor killed anyone.
It was a scene that has grown less common in recent years in the area, as the push of development has moved much of the drug dealing and related violence outward into other neighborhoods. In January WCPO reported that violent crime in OTR was down 74 percent since 2004, in part due to development and evolving policing tactics.
Such facts didn't deter The Enquirer from freaking the hell out yesterday when one of its reporters witnessed a shooting in front of a bunch of popular OTR restaurants. Reporter Emilie Eaton was on the same block when 30-year-old Gregory Douglas was shot around 9 a.m. near Vine and Mercer streets, fled a short distance then collapsed and died. Police today issued a warrant for the arrest of Darnell Higgins for the murder.
It's been a sad day for a lot of people: families and friends of the deceased and the accused; those who witnessed such violence up close.
It’s also a sad day to consider the
state of local media, considering the response we've seen so far to The Enquirer's collection of coverage. It started with the reporter's first-person account of witnessing the shooting. Then came a news story questioning the neighborhood's safety, for some reason quoting the Hamilton County Republican chairman and a lone neighborhood resident saying he didn't feel safe these days. Soon afterward, a more formed version of the story was updated online — this time the headline tried to cleverly play on the word "dead" (“Gunfire in OTR brings
morning to a dead stop”). The headline was later changed, “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR," though the insensitive quip lives on in the story's URL.
decision to frame Douglas’ death as a question of whether or not OTR is
safe for those of us unaccustomed to witnessing violence is generating the type of
online debate (/clicks) the "newsroom of the future" was meant to induce. It has also been heavily criticized.
Here’s former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken on Facebook:
Here’s Derek Bauman, an OTR and mass transit advocate/suburban police officer, who wondered on Twitter why the first source in an early version of the “Is OTR safe yet” story quoted the county GOP chair before anyone else. Alex Triantafilou’s take? “There is more work to be done to make our city as safe as the suburbs."
Eaton's first-person story was published just hours after the shooting occurred. "A stray bullet could have easily missed the victim and hit me," she wrote. "The gunman could have come around the corner for me. I'm lucky to be writing this story right now."
The story elicited strong response from readers, but perhaps not the kind the Enquirer was picturing. About 20 wrote comments questioning the appropriateness of the piece, many along the lines of this:
As writers molded dispatches from the
scene into The Enquirer’s larger
collection of reporting on the incident, debate continued on social
media. Enquirer writer John Faherty took to the comment section of Eaton's article to defend her.
Those of us in the media don’t enjoy criticizing each others' work, and we realize most people in the industry are dedicated and passionate. We respect colleagues at other media companies, especially when their dedication to the craft is evident.
Eaton clearly had a shitty morning. Her decision to immediately get back to doing her job is admirable.
Unfortunately, the collection of work to which she contributed was misguided, made worse by the classlessness with which Enquirer editors showed along the way. Publishing right-wing digs at inner-city neighborhoods has been a longstanding tradition at The Enquirer. Using a play on the word "dead" in a news story about a murder is the type of move that would get a college newspaper in trouble. It shouldn't be OK at any self-respecting daily.
There's no way to tell which “content coach” might have shaped yesterday’s coverage. Any number of web editors could have written such an offensive headline — the newsroom of the future isn't set up to catch these things. Newsroom morale has been known to be low at Gannett papers across the country, and many of us actually feel bad for the many talented people struggling to produce quality work under such restrictive guidelines.
Ultimately, reporting that might have culminated in an articulation of how opposite worlds intertwine in front of our eyes every day instead became a question of whether it's smart to eat and shop near poor people.
Later versions of the story noted that the lunch rush on Vine Street continued as usual just hours later, suggesting that maybe the question of whether or not Vine Street is safe had already been answered.
"I'm not worried about it," said Mike Georgitan, a general manager at Pontiac BBQ on Vine Street. "It might affect lunch today – maybe," he shrugged. "But then it will pick back up."A person is dead, and the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and violence that gripped Over-the-Rhine long before a Japanese gastropub opened at 15th and Vine is still occurring all over this city. The Enquirer would be wise to demonstrate an understanding of these forces rather than following the path of least resistance to Internet debate.
Hey hey Cincy. So I’m a little groggy today after spending, oh, I don’t know, over three hours binge-watching the latest few episodes of Mad Men last night. This is unlike me — I don’t normally watch TV and shows about sad rich dudes aren’t usually my jam. But watching Don Draper, Pete Campbell (especially Pete Campbell, who looks like a smug Frisch’s Big Boy come to life) and co. get their comeuppance is great. Anyway, I’m going to try and muddle through the news in my drowsy state. Let me tell you about all the stuff that’s been happening.
The epic dramatic series that is Cincinnati City Council aired its latest episode yesterday, and there were some big developments. OK, that’s obnoxious, sorry. I’m going to stop now. Among the more exciting moves: Council passed a measure giving the city the go-ahead to apply for nearly $29 million in federal TIGER grant funds for the Wasson Way bike trail, an ask we first told you about in this story.
Council also passed a resolution that prohibits private police groups from operating with police powers in Cincinnati. The decision comes after a man in Tulsa, Oklahoma died earlier this month when he was shot by a 71-year-old private police officer while laying on the ground handcuffed. Use of private police in Cincinnati dates back to 1983 and is relatively small — two companies employing about 10 people that provide police services for events, apartment complexes and places like the Regional Chamber of Commerce. Members of council, including Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who introduced the legislation, stressed that the decision wasn’t a reflection the service of private police agencies and was made based on legal liability issues for the city.
Chief Lester Slone of Cincinnati Private Police said the decision was unfortunate and will probably put the agency out of business. Slone has served with the CPP, which employs seven private officers, for 32 years.
• Later in the evening yesterday, Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black announced the city has reached an agreement with public employees in regard to the city's pension obligations. The agreement is a big deal, city officials say, finally fully accounting for the city's huge $682 million pension obligation. Both the city and public employees gave up some things to get to an agreement. Retired public employees will no longer get a cost of living increase on their pension payments in their first three years, for instance. Pension obligations have been a major governing issue for many cities, hobbling the finances of struggling cities like Detroit for decades.
• A newly released police report says Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn wrote a brief suicide note the fateful night she jumped in front of a semi-truck on I-71. The note, which was uncovered after her death, simply said “I’ve had enough.” The police report also reveals that Alcorn had recently researched suicide prevention organizations and had written an online message to a friend recounting past suicidal thoughts.
• The Cincinnati Enquirer changed a headline on a story about a shooting in Over-the-Rhine from one making a play on the word “dead” to something more neutral. The original headline, about the shooting death of a 30-year-old man on Vine Street, originally read “Gunfire in OTR brings spring morning to a dead stop.” The headline now reads “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR.” The story asks whether the shooting will affect business and perceptions of safety in the neighborhood.
The change comes as the Enquirer’s coverage of the shooting raises controversy on social media. An emotional first-person account of the shooting by an Enquirer reporter drew a slew of comments questioning the appropriateness of such a story.
Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening today.
Activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter tomorrow will hold an event in solidarity with Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody April 19, and those protesting his death. The group says it will meet at 6 p.m. outside the Hamilton County Courthouse. More than 400 people have signed up on a Facebook event set up by the group.
“We will stand in solidarity with the women and men of Baltimore who have decided to protest the defacto execution of Freddie Gray,” the group says on the event page.
Law enforcement authorities say they’re aware of the planned event and will plan accordingly. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has said the department will work to allow peaceful, lawful demonstration, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the department is striving to work with peaceful demonstrators.
Protests broke out in Baltimore after Gray died of an apparent spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. You can follow news from Baltimore at fellow alt-weekly the Baltimore City Paper's website. They're doing crazy good work.
Most of those protests have been peaceful, but a few have spilled over into violence, and the governor of Maryland had called in the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies. The Butler County Sheriff, for instance, has sent a six-person SWAT unit to Baltimore. The unrest in Baltimore is the continuation of a national debate over treatment of blacks at the hands of mostly-white police forces across the country sparked by the police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last summer. Meanwhile, tensions in other cities, including Cleveland, continue to simmer.
• The former Deer Park country club bartender who is charged with making threats against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s life pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court. Michael Hoyt was arrested after sending an e-mail to Boehner’s wife saying that he could have slipped something into the Republican’s drink on any number of occasions, but didn’t. When authorities arrested him, he told them he was Jesus and that Boehner was “evil” and needed to be killed. Hoyt has a history of mental illness, which his defense attorney says explains his actions. The U.S. District Court recently found Hoyt mentally competent to stand trial.
• Are fancy-schmancy glass bottles and frosted beer mugs not your style? There’s a new beer festival coming to Cincinnati this summer that might be more your speed. Washington Park will host the Cincinnati CANival, which, as you might surmise from the name, will celebrate the city’s best beers sold in convenient, portable aluminum cylinders. The festival is being organized by the same folks who bring you the Cincinnati Winter and Summer Beerfests, and will feature more than 125 varieties of beer. Tickets go on sale Friday.
• The big news for Cincinnati and the rest of the country, of course, is yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Obergefell v. Hodges, a combination of past cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee on the legality of states’ same-sex marriage bans. So … how did it all go? Will the court force Ohio to, you know, step into the 21st Century? Well, first, it’s a bit of fool’s errand to try and divine how the court will rule based on the questions they asked at the two-hour plus hearing. We won’t know for sure until the court actually rules on the case, which could happen as late as June. But, it’s interested to parse what was said in that hearing, and, as you might expect, the court’s nine justices were split along ideological lines in terms of their questions and apparent leanings. The court is currently pretty evenly weighted, with a couple justices who are reliably liberal in a way that almost assures they’ll side with same-sex marriage advocates and a couple who are so conservative they’ll almost certainly side against. Take Justice Antonin Scalia, for instance, who let loose with this pretty tasteless joke during the arguments. If anyone is a deciding vote, though, it’s Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate justice in most matters. Kennedy has written majority decisions in past court victories for same-sex marriage advocates, but he also struck a skeptical tone with his questions this time around.
“This definition [of traditional marriage] has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said during a question to attorneys for the plaintiffs. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ”
But later, Kennedy also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the dignity of same-sex couples. Other justices also hemmed and hawed in their questioning, so, you know, it’s hard to divine what the court will do. There was a lot more to the arguments, and the justice’s questions. This great rundown in the Washington Post is worth a look-through if you’re curious to untangle all the legal wrangling. For a more light-hearted view of the proceedings, this Politico piece is pretty hilarious.
• In other national news, the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential election is about to get more interesting. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will announce Thursday that he’s planning on seeking the party’s nomination, according to the New York Times, challenging Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Sanders isn’t really part of the Democratic Party, though he does meet with them and vote with them most of the time in the Senate. He’s an avowed socialist and looks to shore up support from the Democratic Party’s left flank, perhaps capitalizing on demand for a more liberal alternative to Clinton.
Good morning y’all. Here’s the news today. There are a ton of things happening, so I’m just going to give you a brief rundown of them all.
A controversial Ohio marijuana legalization effort has a new booster. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Dr. O’dell Owens announced yesterday that he supports a ballot initiative by ResponsibleOhio that would create 10 state-sanctioned marijuana grow sites owned by the group’s investors and legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. Could future Cincinnati State students study marijuana agriculture? Could be.
“ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization amendment will allow thousands of Ohioans to own and operate their own businesses and will create over 10,000 new jobs for Ohioans,” said Owens in a statement. “It will encourage new training programs at our state’s community colleges, which already play a vital role in developing talent for emerging industries.”
ResponsibleOhio says that Owens is not an investor in the $20 million effort, which will need to gain 300,000 signatures by this summer to get the proposed law on the November ballot.
• Does Cincinnati need more police on the streets? That’s what the city’s police union says. Police Union President Kathy Harrell told Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday that the group would like to see 134 more officers join the 1,001 currently serving. Harrell says the department frequently experiences “Code Zeroes,” or situations in which no officer is immediately available to respond to a call. Harrell said some of the problem lies with the fact that nearly 300 officers are currently assigned to special units. Those units do good work, she said, but pull police away from general duties like responding to calls. City Manager Harry Black has said he will be adding money for more new recruits in next year’s budget. One question that comes up from this: If crime is at historic lows and Mayor John Cranley touts the fact that he’s added police, how many officers specifically do we need? Cincinnati’s police force is currently proportional to other comparable cities. Before Cranley’s boost, the city already had 3.3 officers per 1,000 people, which is the same as cities like Pittsburgh and higher than cities like Columbus.
• Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate hopeful P.G. Sittenfeld hasn’t raised nearly as much money since former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland entered the race to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Their story asks if Strickland’s entrance into the race has slowed Sittenfeld’s campaign fundraising. Sittenfeld’s campaign says that’s not the case and that it has had some of its best fundraising days recently. The 30-year-old councilman was raising $10,000 a day starting in January, but after Strickland announced his candidacy that rate fell by half. Sittenfeld still bested Strickland in fundraising, netting more than $750,000 to Strickland’s $670,000 in the last fundraising reporting period. Despite that slim and perhaps receding monetary edge, Sittenfeld is a big underdog in the race against Strickland, who has statewide name recognition and endorsements from Democratic bigwigs.
• One of the big arguments against shuttering poorly performing schools in Ohio, including controversial charter schools, is that doing so disrupts students’ education and cuts into their academic performance. But that’s not true, according to a study released today by think tank and charter school sponsors the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The institute, with the help of researchers from the Ohio State University and the University of Oklahoma, looked at 198 school closures across the state of Ohio from 2006 to 2012. What they found was that students at those schools actually performed far better when the moved on to other schools after their poorly performing charter and public schools shut down.
“The results of this study shatter popular myth that closing schools hurts kids academically,” said Fordham’s Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill in a statement. “Students usually make a soft landing. After closure, children typically end up in higher-quality schools, and they make strong academic progress.”
• Today is the day. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in what is potentially the biggest same-sex marriage case in history. Their decision could decide whether states are allowed to ban same-sex marriages and whether they can refuse to recognize such marriage performed in other states. The case features several plaintiffs from Cincinnati, as well as others from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. Amazingly, folks who want to witness the arguments started lining up as early as last Friday outside the Supreme Court. A ruling in favor of marriage equality seems likely, given that the Supreme Court has already struck down a federal same-sex marriage ban. Even opponents of such marriages are expecting a ruling in favor of marriage equality, both here in Cincinnati and nationally.
• The other big national story is the unrest in Baltimore over the past couple days in response to the police-related death of Freddie Gray. Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed the streets of the city decrying the unarmed 28-year-old’s death while in police custody. Gray, a black man, was arrested two weeks ago by Baltimore police and dragged to a police van. At some point before he arrived at the police station, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He slipped into a coma and subsequently died. Unrest around his death has often been peaceful but at times has lapsed into violence — more than a dozen fires have been reported in the city, a number of police have been injured by rocks and other thrown items and some vandalism and looting have occurred. Fans at a Baltimore Orioles game Sunday night were kept in the stadium for a time as protests intensified around the stadium. Despite this, Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer John P. Angelos sided with the protesters who were peaceful, making some very cogent points during a Twitter argument with a sportscaster who criticized the protests. You can read his tweets here.
Angelos tied the unrest to the deep economic and racial divisions in Baltimore. The mostly black population where the riots broke out suffers from a 19-percent unemployment rate. The city’s black population suffers an infant mortality rate nine times that of its white population. These systemic conditions, folks like Angelos say, along with the unequal treatment of blacks in the justice system, are reasons why police killings of unarmed black men continue to elicit such anger in places like Baltimore, New York City, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere. As we explored in a feature last month on Cincinnati and police shootings, it will very likely take more than police reform to heal those wounds.