CityBeat Blogs - News http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hello Cincy. You know what time it is. Yep, news time.

It’s become a dependable, even comforting, routine. On Thursday mornings, I sit down and tell you all about the ways in which City Council bickered over the streetcar in its Wednesday meeting. The tradition continues.  A discussion yesterday about proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plans, which have been bandied back and forth for months, quickly devolved into a debate over the streetcar’s operating budget gap. Mayor John Cranley has been using that gap, which could be as high as $600,000 a year because of shortfalls in revenue and advertising receipts, as a reason council should pass his version of the OTR parking plan.

Cranley, who formerly proposed $300-a-year parking passes for residents in the neighborhood, now wants the passes to be valued at a market rate determined by the city manager. Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Seelbach has another idea: Cap the costs of the permits at $108. Seelbach’s plan calls for 450 permits, plus 50 non-metered, non-permitted flex spots for bartenders, waiters and the like who work in the neighborhood. Cranley’s plan calls for more flex spots. Either proposal would likely yield the highest-cost neighborhood parking permit in the country.

At issue is a philosophical debate: Cranley wants OTR residents to shoulder more of the cost of the streetcar. He also says the city has done enough to subsidize residents in OTR, citing tax abatements on many properties in the neighborhood and the fact that metered spots on the public streets around them would bring in more money than the permits do. Streetcar supporters like Seelbach and Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, however, say the streetcar is about economic development and that it will benefit the entire city, not just OTR residents. They say it isn’t fair to place its financial burden so much on those living in the neighborhood. Seelbach also points to residential parking permits in other neighborhoods, which are priced much more affordably than Cranley’s OTR plan.

• There was also a big hubbub about whether or not the streetcar will get in the way of major downtown events on Fifth Street like Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati. Mayor John Cranley yesterday railed against, as he said, “the idea that the city was secretly trying to discourage these events from maintaining their historic location,” and touted measures by city administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The backstory: In 2014, then-City Manager Scott Stiles released a memo stating that no special events could disrupt the streetcar’s operation. Depending on what you take “special events” to mean (i.e. is something that has been scheduled every year for at least a decade a special event?) that could mean the streetcar would take precedence over some beloved Cincinnati traditions. However, an agreement between streetcar operators SORTA and the city also signed later in 2014 allows streetcar operations to be disrupted for events up to four times a year. Sooo, yeah. Were those events ever actually in danger of being moved for the streetcar? Unclear.

• Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress thinks defeat may be at hand, at least in the short term, when it comes to the looming Supreme Court case around same-sex marriage. Springdale-based right-wing CCV has pushed a number of anti-gay rights measures over the years, and Burress was instrumental in engineering Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That law is part of the current SCOTUS case. Burress told the Cincinnati Enquirer he’s “not very optimistic” about Ohio’s ban withstanding the court challenge, mostly because he says some of the justices are biased and don’t respect state sovereignty. But Burress also promised that the issue “won’t go away” anytime soon. You can read our story about case, and the local folks who are making history as the plaintiffs, here.

• The Ohio House of Representatives last night passed a record-breaking two-year budget for the state that looks much different than the one Gov. John Kasich suggested. The proposed budget spends more than the state ever has, while taxing top-tier earners less than it has in the past three decades. The proposal would put Ohio’s top income tax rate below 5 percent for the first time since 1982 but forgoes Kasich’s more regressive plan to lower income taxes by 23 percent and use a sales tax hike to pay for the cuts. The $131.6 billion spending package, the largest in state history, also zeroes out much of Kasich’s proposed reform to education spending. Kasich is not exactly stoked by the budget.

“After the fiscal crisis subsides people think it's OK to slip back to old habits,” Kasich’s office said in a statement to press. “The governor will do everything possible to prevent that from happening."

The budget isn’t a done deal. Next it heads to the state Senate, which is cooking up its own budget anyway. 

• After those long-winded updates, here's a quickie or two: Is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush really the cuddly moderate he's been made out to be, and, if not, does that open up a window of opportunity for Ohio Gov. Kasich in the GOP 2016 presidential sweepstakes? Despite being a proponent of Common Core and having some less-than-hardline views on immigration, ol' Jeb does have some harder right tendencies as well that make him more complicated to consider. This article gives some good examples.

• Finally, as a person who recently transitioned to Microsoft Office 365 for all my workaholic email needs, I really appreciate this hilarious Washington Post article about the company's new ad campaign. I really do love working while I'm also sleeping face down in my bed.

That is all. Tweet me. Email me. Or don’t. Actually, just go outside and enjoy the sun. But bring your smart phone just in case.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Good morning! News time.

Here’s a juicy story involving alleged sabotage, political intrigue and weed. A marijuana legalization group called Ohio Rights Group filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last week alleging that ResponsibleOhio, another legalization effort, sabotaged its campaign to get a pro-marijuana law on Ohio’s ballot. The filing says that ResponsibleOhio’s Ian James and David Bruno infiltrated ORG last year in order to gain information about the group’s efforts, which they later used to dissuade potential ORG donors. James and Bruno are now involved in ResponsibleOhio’s effort to get a measure on the November ballot legalizing marijuana but restricting commercial growth to 10 sites around the state. They’ll need 300,000 signatures from Ohioans by this summer to do so. The group claims they’ve already collected more than 160,000. ResponsibleOhio called ORG’s complaint “bogus.”

• Good news on Earth Day here: The Cincinnati Zoo has saved a mind-boggling one billion gallons of water and millions of dollars with conservation practices it has been using over the last decade. That’s a year’s worth of water for 10,000 households. The zoo says it saved all that water through some rather mundane fixes: sealing up leaky pools, installing more water-efficient faucets and other fixtures, beefing up water filtration systems and other steps. The impact was huge, cutting water usage by more than three quarters. The zoo went from using 220 million gallons of water in 2005 to just over 50 million in 2014.  Very neat.

• Will the streetcar run later into the night? Some pro-streetcar activists hope so. A group of a few dozen that attended Monday’s Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority public hearing on the streetcar voiced concerns about the transit project’s hours of operation, saying they’d like to see it run later into the evening. Currently, it’s slated to start running at 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, it would stop running at 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday it would run until midnight. But SORTA has said it could push that operating window up, having it start later in the morning and end later in the evening.

• The game is up for a planned challenge to Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, which Gov. John Kasich controversially pushed through the conservative-dominated state house in 2013. Kasich was at odds with much of the state’s GOP on the expansion, which accepted federal funds to increase eligibility for the federal government’s health care program as part of the Affordable Care Act. Federal funds for the expansion will begin to taper off in 2017 and the state will have to foot some of the bill. A plan by State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, would have created a stipulation forbidding use of Ohio taxpayer funds to pay for the gap in the state budget state lawmakers are currently crafting. Butler, however, has since backed off of this idea and it looks as though the expansion, which gave 500,000 more Ohioans health coverage, is safe for now. That’s important for Kasich. The expansion is a key achievement in his time as governor and a talking point when it comes to the no-nonsense, get things done appeal he’s attempting to create as he mulls a presidential run.

• This investigative piece by left-leaning magazine Mother Jones is fascinating. According to 2012 gun crime data, gun violence in Ohio cost taxpayers more than $7.8 billion or $660 per capita per year. That’s chump change compared to some states like California, where it cost more than $25 billion a year. The state with the lowest per-capita cost was Hawaii at $234 a year; the state with the highest was Wyoming, which clocked in at $1,300 a year per capita. The per-capita data closely tracks with gun laws in states — places like Texas and Louisiana with permissive gun laws have much higher per-capita costs than tightly-regulated states. I can see some counter-arguments or questions about this, but it’s an interesting place to start a conversation about taxpayer costs and gun laws.

• Finally, the ultimate time-waster: Google has done its Google Maps thang in Scotland’s Loch Ness so you can search for the Loch Ness Monster.  I’ve been searching for the past two hours and I haven’t seen anything, but feel free to search the lake’s 263,162 million cubic feet of water yourself in search of the elusive prehistoric reptilian creature.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Hey all. News time.

Last night the League of Women Voters held a panel discussion in Clifton about Ohio’s charter schools, especially those in Cincinnati. The panel, titled “Charter Schools: Are They Accountable?," featured Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan, Aaron Churchill of charter school sponsoring organization the Thomas Fordham Institute, Steve Dyer of progressive think tank Innovation Ohio and Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz.

The answer to the titular question posed to the panel: No, charters aren’t being held accountable in Ohio, and that’s bad. Ronan said CPS loses about 8,000 students a year to charter schools in the city and that many of those schools aren’t prepared to educate them (see: the late VLT Academy, any number of other charters in the city). But some panelists argued that the oversight problems, which state lawmakers are working to fix with bills in the House and Senate, isn’t a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They point to other charters that have succeeded and say that with reform and increased oversight, the privately run but publicly-funded schools will deliver on their promise. But there are probably going to have to be big changes: Charters in Ohio, most agree, are a big mess.

• At the same time a reasoned debate occurred on charter schools and the serious questions around educating Cincinnati’s next generation, elsewhere a highly paid grown man dropped numerous F-bombs about a game, reporters spilled much digital ink on the meaningless spectacle and we all clicked and clicked, spurring on the inane prattling of both. Well done, all of us.

• More changes to the Lytle Park area downtown are in the works, according to this Enquirer article. A few days ago, I linked you to a story in the Business Courier about the luxury hotel concept that will be moving into the Anna Louise Inn site, which has been occupied by a 104-year-old women’s shelter that is moving to Mount Auburn in June after a protracted legal battle. There’s way more happening in the neighborhood, including a $5 million-plus remake of Lytle Park, a $32 million ODOT rehab of the tunnel that carries I-71 underneath the park and other housing and commercial space in the area. Much of the change is being driven by Western & Southern, the insurance giant headquartered in the neighborhood, and its real estate arm Eagle Realty. I smell a new reality show called Extreme Corporate Makeover in the works here.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign registered a non-profit called A New Day for America with the IRS Monday, officially setting up a fundraising structure for the Republican’s nascent presidential bid. The group has some heavy hitters on its board, including former advertising executive and big-time GOP donor Philip Geier. A U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, a former state lawmaker and some Columbus businessmen round out the board of the group. It’s all a big sign that Kasich is more or less set on running for the Republican nomination, though he has yet to formally announce that intention. So far, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have all officially announced their campaigns. Others, including frontrunners former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are expected to announce their bids as well.

Right now, Kasich lags behind all of them, but a big primary win in one of the early states like New Hampshire could boost his profile. He’ll have to somehow convince GOP primary delegates that he’s moderate enough to win a general election but also conservative enough to uphold strong conservative values. He has competition on that front: Both Bush and Rubio exhibit some combination of staunch conservative policy positions and more moderate and practical beliefs, and both are already national players. But both also have vulnerabilities: Rubio is on the outs with much of the party after he attempted to launch an effort at comprehensive immigration reform. That’s sunk him with the party’s far-right faction. Bush, meanwhile, struggles with the general bad aftertaste the public remembers from Dubya’s presidency. Kasich’s chances may come down to the GOP’s estimation of how toxic the Bush name still is. We’ll see.

• I’m going to be brief with this because it’s maddening, but newsworthy: There could be an end in sight to the big fight going on in Washington over Loretta Lynch. No, not Appalachian songstress Loretta Lynn. I'm talking about the woman President Barack Obama has nominated to replace outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Lynch would be the first female African American A.G., and her nomination has been pending for five months as the Senate battles over voting on her. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has signaled he won’t put Lynch’s nomination vote through until another matter is settled: a Senate vote on a bill that would fight human trafficking. Sounds simple and like something everyone can get behind, right? Except that Republicans have tacked on an anti-abortion provision in that bill, and Democrats are refusing to pass it as it stands. But, according to this story, negotiations are underway to push the Lynch nomination to a vote after several high-profile Republicans have publicly criticized the hold up on her nomination. Phew. Everything is a mess. Everything sucks.

• Finally, let’s read this really quickly and dream: Japan’s maglev bullet train just set a new speed record of 375 miles an hour. At that speed, it would take you about 48 minutes to get to Chicago from Cincinnati. So if the United States was more forward-thinking in its transit policy, you could hop on the train after work, grab some deep-dish pizza and a can of Old Style (or if you like the taste of burning tires, a bottle of Malort), and be back before bedtime. (This is a slight exaggeration, of course, and it would be insanely complicated and expensive if not impossible to build such a train here, but still. We can dream, right?)

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Good morning all. Hope your weekend was rad. Let’s get down to business on this news thing.

The city of Cincinnati plans to ask the federal government for some cash for a network of bike trails branching off the proposed Wasson Way route between Avondale and Mount Lookout. The city is preparing to apply for Transit Investment Generating Economic Recover, or TIGER grants, that would help finance the network of commuter bike paths. The city applied with a narrower plan that only encompassed Wasson Way itself in 2014, but didn’t win one of the highly competitive grants. A lone bike trail doesn’t stand much of a chance in the application process, which favors transportation projects that provide a bigger impact over a wider area. The city hopes it can win some of the billions of dollars the federal government has awarded for such projects with its new plan, which will spread out through a number of Cincinnati neighborhoods. Mayor John Cranley has made bike trails a priority during his time as mayor, often over on-street bike lanes, which Cincinnati’s last city council preferred and which some bike advocates say are better for commuters.

• Let’s keep talking about transit projects for a second, shall we, because we never talk about transit and it’s an incredibly benign topic that no one could ever get upset over. (That is sarcasm, by the way.) Anyway, if you want to hear some, let us say, spirited civic debate, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is hosting the first of two public hearings about Cincinnati’s streetcar operating procedures and fare structure tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the main branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. See you there! If you can’t make that one, there’s another one next Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Over-the-Rhine Community Recreation Center on Republic Street.

• Here’s the latest on the planned redevelopments around Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine. Developer Model Group has announced it will forgo 35 of the apartments it originally planned for the area and will instead build nine condos. Seven of those have already sold. Model’s plans still include 23 apartment units. The shift signals a new turn for the northern part of OTR, which hasn’t seen as much condo development as the neighborhood’s southern portion. The move seems likely to fuel fears about gentrification in OTR as the neighborhood’s property values continue to skyrocket.

• Speaking of gentrification, it’s a serious topic, right? We’ve covered it a bunch here at CityBeat, and think it’s always worth discussion. However, this story is a bit mystifying. It seems to suggest that the spike in poverty in Covington is at least in part caused by development in Cincinnati neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine. Sounds fascinating. The only problem is, there’s absolutely no evidence presented that supports that. 

Here’s one of the many puzzling questions that comes from assuming poor from OTR are heading to Covington en masse: Poverty has been rising across the region, including in Cincinnati, which saw a 5.1 percent increase in its poverty rate since 2009. Covington saw about the same boost. What’s more, the increases have been happening since at least 2000, well before much of the city’s current development boom. If both cities’ poverty rates are rising at the same rate and have been since before development started in earnest, doesn’t it seem like Cincinnati isn’t just pumping all its poor and displaced into Covington, and that a larger systemic issue is at play?

A much more likely scenario: Specific factors like the heroin crisis (which is mentioned in the article) and a general widening of income inequality nationally (which is not mentioned) are creating a greater divide between the middle class and the poor. Meanwhile, poor folks displaced by high prices in center-city places like OTR are heading off to an array of areas, some in the more obscure and distant parts of the city limits, some outside of it, creating small, incremental ticks in those neighborhoods’ and municipalities’ poverty rates.

• Briefly, in case you didn’t hear about it: A group of Muslim students in Mason wanted to have a (voluntary) day where other, non-Muslim students were encouraged to wear hijabs (head scarves) as a way to foster a broader cultural understanding and build bridges between students. Instead, that event, called “the Covered Girl Challenge” has been cancelled after an outside group called Jihad Watch raised a huge fuss about it. The group seems to be claiming that the student group has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant Islamic group. Jihad Watch says hijabs are oppressive to women and that Mason’s public schools shouldn’t be promoting them. The main trouble, according to the school, is that an invitation to the student-organized and led event was sent out in an official school email, something that comes across as promotion of a religion. That’s why the event was cancelled, school officials say. Jihad Watch has cheered the cancellation, because there’s clearly nothing scarier going on in America today than a young woman in a public school choosing of her own free will to wear a scarf on her head for a day in an attempt to understand the experiences of other young women at the same school.

• If a provision recently included by state lawmakers in Ohio’s budget passes, many of the state’s college professors will lose the ability to bargain collectively over salaries and benefits. The law would reclassify any professor who is involved in planning curriculum or other decisions as management, making them ineligible for band together and negotiate their terms of employment. As you might guess, a number of college faculty are up in arms over the sneak attack, which smacks very much of the state’s attempt several years ago to eliminate public employee collective bargaining rights with HB 5. That bill was defeated after statewide protests. 

• Gov. John Kasich was hanging out with powerful Republican groups in New Hampshire last week, where he made his strongest signals yet that he's running for president. He hasn't announced yet, but he's told big GOPers to "think of me" as they mull their choices.

• Finally, got a hot tip about Democratic presidential possibility Hillary Clinton? U.S. Sen. And Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul wants to know. You can send tips about fundraising activities at the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary’s charitable organization, from a form on Paul’s website. The outspoken libertarian-leaning Republican has been hinting for a while now that some big bombshell about the Clinton Foundation is about to fall and hobble Hillary’s campaign. Those bombshells are supposedly contained in a new book due out next month by author Peter Schweizer. The New York Times, Washington Post and Fox News all have exclusives ready based on information in the book, apparently, but Paul’s casting about for tips on the Internet does not inspire great confidence that he’s sitting on big info. A suggestion: Have you tried the Craigslist missed connections section? I can see the listing now:

“You were at a fundraiser for my presidential campaign. You whispered something vague but titillating in my ear about foreign donors and Hillary. Please contact me via my website, where you can also buy an awesome T-shirt.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Good morning, y’all. Before we get to the news this morning, I want to plug a cover story we have coming up in a couple weeks. I've been working on it since February, and I really hope you all will take a look when it goes up April 29. It deals with one of the city's forgotten neighborhoods, a group of people fleeing incredibly difficult circumstances and a place where cultures from around the world mix in an incredible way. The folks in the story deserve your attention for their courage and patience. That's all I'm going to say for now. I hope you'll check it out.

There is a lot to talk about today, so I'll stop promoting and get to the news.

Let’s start with the positive stuff first. Cincinnati City Council yesterday declared April 28 John Arthur day in honor of the late Over-the-Rhine resident and gay rights activist who passed away in 2013 from ALS. Arthur’s husband Jim Obergefell has since fought the state of Ohio to get his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate, a battle that will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court April 28. The case will almost assuredly be a history-making event. Look out next week for our feature story on the battle that could determine the future of same sex marriage.

• Council also locked horns, once again, on the streetcar yesterday. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed a motion that would direct the city administration to prepare a report on possible funding for Phase 1B of the transit project. Sound like a small step? It is. But oh, what a fuss it raised. The next hour was dominated by arguments over the project, including recent revelations that revenue won’t be as high as anticipated, Mayor John Cranley again touting a residential parking permit plan as a way to make up some of the difference and calls from at least one council member to can the project entirely. After all the fireworks, the motion passed 5-4. You can read all about it in our coverage here.

• What else is new around town? Well, our own Nick Lachey, of 98 Degrees fame, wants to turn over a new leaf (heh see what I did there?) as a marijuana farmer. Lachey has invested in a ballot initiative by marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio. In return for putting up money for the effort, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by this summer to get its proposal on the November ballot, Lachey will become part owner of a marijuana farm in the city of Hudson, which is in northeastern Ohio. That farm will be one of 10 under ResponsibleOhio’s plan, which would restrict commercial cultivation to a select number of sites. The group also tweaked its proposal after some criticism, and the current plan would also allow home growers to grow a small amount for personal use. Critics, however, including other legalization efforts, still say the plan amounts to a monopoly.

• Representatives from some area school districts, including Princeton City Schools, are lobbying in Columbus today in protest over state budgetary moves that would cut millions from their budgets. Princeton serves Lincoln Heights, Glendale, Woodlawn and much of Springdale and Sharonville in addition to other areas. Some school employees have taken personal days off from work to protest the proposed elimination of a state offset for the so-called Tangible Personal Property Tax. TPP was a big part of funding for many schools like Princeton. It was eliminated by lawmakers in 2007, but the state continued to funnel funds to schools to make up for the loss. Now, with Ohio’s new proposed budget, that offset will gradually be eliminated. Princeton receives nearly a quarter of its budget from the payments. It’s one of a number of schools on the chopping block from the new budget, which is a milder form of Gov. Kasich’s proposed financial blueprint for the state’s next two years. Kasich’s plan would have cut half of the districts in Ohio while increasing funding for the other half, mostly low-income rural and urban districts. State lawmakers have eased some of those cuts, but the prospect of losing money has caused ire among schools like Princeton, Lakota and others.

• There are a lot of other things happening in the state house today. Lawmakers are mulling whether to eliminate funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests. The state’s GOP legislators would like to eliminate the $33 million used to administer the tests, effectively killing them off. Part of the reason lawmakers want to eliminate them is that they’re tied to so-called federal Common Core standards. State Republicans are generally opposed to the standards, though Gov. John Kasich supports them. The tests’ roll-out this year has also been rocky, marked by complaints about glitches and difficulty. But there could be a big price tag for the political statement being made by eliminating the tests:  the loss of more than $750 million in federal money for education in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

• Elsewhere in the state house, the GOP is raising ire among its own with other measures in the state budget. Republican State Auditor David Yost has cried foul at an attempt to remove oversight of disputes about public records requests from his bailiwick. State lawmakers say that the auditor’s office is responsible for financial accountability of state offices, not their public records. They want to remove the auditor’s power to receive complaints about public records requests and issue information and citations about such requests. Yost says removing his office’s power to oversee public records request issues weakens his ability to hold other public offices accountable and is unconstitutional. The Ohio Newspaper Association has also come out against the move. Reporters file a lot of public records requests, after all, and I for one don't want to have to sue someone every time I want some information that YOU should be able to know.

• What’s going on in national news, you ask? Stories about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle trip continue, revealing little other than the utter intellectual bankruptcy of some of the national political press. The initial story about the stop in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle earlier this week was a bit of a campaign stunt in and of itself (Hillary’s campaign staff tipped off the New York Times about the stop, leading to this incredibly important breaking news) and now we’ve just spun down into the dregs of mindless chatter about a burrito bowl. Not even a real burrito! Burritos are for eating, not for think-piecing. Why do you folks get paid to do this, again?

Meanwhile, Kasich is getting some interesting press that could boost his chances in the Republican 2016 primary contest for the presidential nomination. National publications are calling him everything from the "GOP's Strongest Candidate" to the "GOP's Moderate Backstop." Ah, national media. Gotta love it.

I'm out. Tweet at me, email me, hit me up on Livejournal. Just kidding. I haven't logged into Livejournal in forever. Weeks, at least.

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<![CDATA[Council Passes Motion Asking for Report on Streetcar Phase 1B]]>

Cincinnati City Council today passed a motion asking the city administration to draw up a report on possible funding sources for the planning and construction of phase 1B of the streetcar.

But the relatively small step caused a firestorm of controversy, illustrating how politically divisive the transit project remains. The motion, authored by City Councilman Chris Seelbach, launched a contentious hour of debate among council members about whether it was appropriate to look ahead to the next phase of the controversial transit project when the current phase, a 3.6 mile loop around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, has yet to be nailed down.

The motion passed on a narrow 5-4 vote, with council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Wendell Young voting for the measure. Council members Charlie Winburn, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray and Christopher Smitherman voted against having the city produce the study.

Seelbach said the idea was to gather information to make an informed decision about next steps.

“This motion doesn’t say we’re ready to study Phase 1B of the streetcar,” Seelbach said. “All it says is we want some facts on paper about opportunities we may even want to pass up. I think that’s a very fair conversation we want to have. But let’s at least get the facts on paper.”

Seelbach cited the availability of federal TIGER grants, $500 million of which have been made available for fiscal year 2015 to cities proposing transit projects that spur economic development. Supporters of extending the streetcar say the city should start planning now so it can apply for future federal money that would help pay for a route extension.

But streetcar opponents, including Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, said the focus now should be on the project’s beleaguered current phase. They pointed to a recent revelation that the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority projects revenues for the streetcar will be well under earlier expectations.

“I guess my question is, 'Why aren’t the supporters of the streetcar leading the $500,000 new deficit that we discovered yesterday,' ” said Cranley. “Where is the plan to solve the revenue gap we discovered yesterday? Let’s make Phase 1 a success. Instead people want to write more checks and spend more money on Phase 2.”

Early estimates placed revenue from ridership and advertising sold on the streetcar at $1.35 million in the first year. But adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, SORTA told council yesterday. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation. Opponents like Cranley and Smitherman say the project's first phase is a financial mess that will leave tax payers holding the bag. 

Cranley used the opportunity to again propose a residential parking pass for residents of Over-the-Rhine. In the past, he's floated proposals to charge as much as $300 a year to residents who want to park in the street in the neighborhood. Citing the number of new high-price condos springing up in OTR, Cranley said the owners of those high-price abodes should have to foot some of the bill for the amenity running past their doors. 

But supporters of the project fired back, saying the project is meant to spur economic development and must be looked at through that lens. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said investment spurred by the streetcar, including new development in Over-the-Rhine, would far outweigh the expenditures the city will make. She chalked up continued opposition to the streetcar, and the motion to produce a report, to politics.

“I think it really comes down to leadership,” said Simpson. “We made a commitment to a project, and there are times when there are challenges. The campaign is over. Our ability to put our best foot forward on this project will really determine the success of the project.”

Originally, the streetcar was intended to run from The Banks to a location uptown. However, after Gov. John Kasich eliminated millions in state funds from the project, it was scaled back. The route now ends near Findlay Market. Supporters, however, including many who pushed the streetcar through a contentious three-week pause in 2013, haven’t given up hope that the second leg can be completed into the area around the University of Cincinnati and the area’s major hospitals.

The debate over the motion once again opened up old arguments.

Councilman Charlie Winburn called once again for the streetcar to be halted entirely, saying it should be “scrapped altogether.” Winburn told City Manager Harry Black that he didn’t have to follow the motion, which doesn’t have the force of law, and asked the city administration to disregard it. The city solicitor confirmed that the motion was non-binding, and it is unclear whether the city manager will direct city administration to produce the report.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Morning all! Let’s get started on this news thing right away. I’ll be brief today.

Good news for transit drama junkies: The next episode of the streetcar soap opera just dropped, and it’s a double feature. Turns out the 2013 pause in streetcar construction while Mayor John Cranley railed against the project and Cincinnati City Council mulled pulling the plug could end up costing the city $2 million. The city has already spent about $1 million on costs associated with the pause, and now the team responsible for the streetcar is negotiating with a consultant involved in the construction of the streetcars over how much it owes for other costs related to the work stoppage. The cars themselves will be delayed six months because of the three-week pause, the streetcar team says, since the company making the cars thought the project was dead at the time. That cash will have to come out of the streetcar’s contingency fund, which will have about $1 million left after payments related to the pause are made.

Meanwhile, estimates for how much money the streetcar will rake in every year are down, according to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, much less than the originally-estimated $1.35 million. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation.

• We’ve known for a while that the current site of the Anna Louise Inn, an historic women’s shelter downtown near Lytle Park, is slated to become a luxury hotel. Now we know which luxury hotel. Marriott announced yesterday it is bringing its Autograph Collection hotel concept to the site. Autograph Collection hotels are high-end, boutique accommodations. Others include European palaces and swanky hunting lodges. Plans have been in the works to relocate the century-old women’s shelter after a protracted and contentious legal battle between the city, Anna Louise Inn operators Cincinnati Union Bethel and insurance giant Western & Southern ended in 2013. A new CUB facility is being constructed in Mount Auburn.

• Here’s a quick one: Two Cincinnati lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Lou Sirkin and Brian O’Connor of Cincinnati-based firm Santen and Hughes have filed in a California U.S. District Court on behalf of an organization called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project. Three sex workers and a prospective client of sex workers are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which Sirkin and O’Connor say is a constitutional issue. Sirkin has worked on a number of constitutional and individual rights cases across the country.

• Lebanon City School District is facing a civil rights complaint from the mother of one of its students. Heather Allen has filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that issues of racial discrimination and bullying haven’t been taken seriously by the district. Allen says her biracial children, as well as other black children in the district, have been subject to racist jokes, taunting, repeated use of racial slurs including the n-word and an alleged threat from another student who Allen says had a knife. Nine incidents total are listed in the complaint, which comes a few weeks after an Instagram photo surfaced from a district student bearing racial slurs and a threat toward a black Lebanon student. The district thus far has not responded to media inquiries about the complaints, though it did address the Instagram photo, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction over that issue since it happened off school property.

• Former death row exonerees took to the capitol yesterday to advocate for changes to Ohio’s death penalty. Six men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and who spent time in prison for their wrongful convictions gathered to urge lawmakers to adopt 57 recommendations for changes to the way the state administers justice made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Capital Punishment. Among them was Ricky Jackson, who was finally freed last November after spending 39 years in prison for a murder in Cleveland he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated thanks to the work of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative co-founded by Mayor John Cranley in 2003. The Innocence Project is the subject of this week’s CityBeat news feature — it just won a new trial for three other Cleveland men who may have been wrongfully convicted in another murder. Check it out.

• Finally, your 2016 update: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida entered the presidential fold Monday, declaring he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, there is noise about who former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton will tap for vice president. Will it be former San Antonio mayor and current Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro? Some think-piece writers think so. It seems clear that Castro, along with his brother, U.S. Rep Juan Castro, are both being groomed by the Democratic Party for bigger things. The Castro brothers are promising stars in the party, to be sure, but there’s also a pretty calculated element to the speculation: Rubio is strong with Hispanics thanks to his own Hispanic background, and Castro as VP could be a way to counteract that, political pundits say. Ew. Politics is gross.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know the drill.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hello all. What’s up? Let’s dive right into the news today.

If you live uptown and frequently need to hop on I-75 north, I have some bad news for you. It’s going to be another, oh, five years before the already years-old ODOT project to revamp I-75 makes it easier to access the highway from uptown. Let’s ruminate on that length of time for a minute. It’s an entire high school career plus a year of college. Or the amount of time it takes the average person to put 65,000 miles on a car. Or for some folks, multiple long-term relationships. The hang-up comes from a proposed connector bridge that will allow for easier access from I-74 to the area around Cincinnati State College. That construction is in the same area as the planned new northbound ramp, meaning the latter will have to be put off until 2020. That leaves uptown residents wanting to head north with the option of two complicated workarounds that probably add at least a few minutes to commute times. Happy driving y’all.

• In more positive news, it sounds like the city’s July 14 parade for the MLB All-Star Game is going to be something else. Usually, these kinds of things are limited to a few pickup trucks full of ball players on the way to field from their hotels, but Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini says this year will be different. Floats, music and other festivities inspired by our annual opening day parade will fill the mile-long parade route, which goes from the Westin Hotel downtown past Fountain Square to Great American Ballpark. The All-Star Game is a big deal for any city to land — estimated economic impact for the city is somewhere in the $60 million range.

• Over-the-Rhine business course MORTAR will graduate its first class of entrepreneurs today. Locals William Thomas, Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods founded the group last year with a focus on increasing socio-economic diversity in the city’s startup culture. When you picture a startup entrepreneur, you might immediately think of a young white middle class male, which would be understandable since that demographic makes up a large percentage of entrepreneurs, especially in hot new markets like tech. MORTAR’s mission is to go beyond that, founders say, and to extend the opportunity to start a business to anyone in the city with a good idea. Tonight at Elementz, on the corner of Race and Central Parkway, the first class will take their ideas public during a series of presentations lasting from 6-9 pm. First year participants include Black Owned Outerwear founder Cam Means and soap maker Evie Cotton.

• I knew y'all were smart. Cincinnati is among the most literate cities in the country according to a study by Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Jack Miller. Miller measured literacy in America’s 77 biggest cities by studying bookstores, libraries, newspaper circulation, education level and Internet usage to come up with his ranking. Cincinnati ranked 12th, just above Raleigh, N.C. and just below Portland, Ore. We are far and away the best Ohio city on the list — runner up Columbus ranked just 21st. Minneapolis took the top spot this year after a four-year run in the top spot for Washington, D.C., which finished second this time around.

• The Ohio Board of Education voted yesterday to end the state’s stipulation that school districts have at least five of eight specialty positions in each of their schools. Those positions included librarians, music teachers and physical education teachers. The rule change has been hotly debated among educators and officials. Opponents say it will mean that students in many low-income schools will no longer be guaranteed arts, music and other important humanities education. Boosters of the rule change say it allows local school districts more autonomy with how they spend their budgets.

• Is Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal dead? Looks like its prospects are grim, especially when it comes to the tax boosts the governor suggested to make up for his proposed $5.7 billion in income tax cuts. The GOPers in the Ohio General Assembly love the cuts, but hate the offsets, which include a sales tax hike. State lawmakers are expected to tweak Kasich’s budget to cut about $1 billion in income taxes while forgoing the sales tax hikes and some other big measures in the budget. Kasich’s plan has taken fire from both the left and the right. Progressives point out that shifting the tax burden from income toward sales taxes puts a higher proportional burden on the state’s low-income workers and that cuts to taxes on businesses and the tax bills of the state’s top earners is a regressive move that favors the wealthy. Conservatives, on the other hand, say the sales tax hike would encumber businesses and slow the economy. Both the state House and Senate will have to vote to approve a final budget agreement.

• Big news here: While Hillary Clinton was driving around in her Scooby Doo campaign van yesterday, she passed through Ohio and stopped for some Chipotle. Surprisingly, this news story says, no one in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle recognized her, probably because they were too focused on their double barbacoa double cheese double sour cream burritos. Dude, when I’m eating a burrito, the wailing ghost of James Brown could come in spitting fire and singing "Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and I probably wouldn’t take much note, but then the wailing ghost of James Brown isn’t running for president in 2016 (unfortunately).

• Finally, new revelations have surfaced in the shooting death of Walter Scott,
North Charleston, South Carolina man, by police officer Michael Slager April 5. North Charleston police have released audio recordings taken immediately after the incident in which Slager tells his wife he shot Scott while the man was running from him and then later laughs about the adrenaline rush to a supervisor. Scott was black, Slager white. The incident is the latest racially charged police shooting to capture the nation’s attention in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hello all. I hope you got out and enjoyed the weather this weekend, which was spectacular. I took a nice six-mile hike organized by Imago, a Price Hill-based nature preserve and environmental education organization and Park and Vine, the planet friendly general store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. It was pretty great to spend the day hiking through the OTR, the West End and the Price Hills.

On to the news! The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced it’s bringing incredibly popular OTR light show LumenoCity back Aug. 5-9, but it’s going to be a lot different this year, at least when it comes to admission. The two-year-old event has up to this point been a free offering to the public. The first year, the light show was open to anyone who wanted to drop by. Last year, however, organizers sectioned off the park and required show goers to claim free tickets online, citing massive demand. More than 30,000 people showed up for the four nights of the show. Those tickets sold out in a flash, and some ended up on eBay for pretty crazy prices. This year, organizers have set up a lottery for tickets. Those who are randomly selected from the lottery will pay up $20 for tickets, which will be limited to four per household and 6,000 per night.

• So this is kinda hilarious. It looks like Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is down one really killer Halloween costume after a recent magistrate’s decision. As you probably know, a year ago, a group of Greenpeace activists staged a protest at Procter and Gamble headquarters over the company’s use of palm oil, the harvesting of which they say has lead to the destruction of rainforests. As part of this protest, one of the activists repelled down the side of P&G in a tiger costume. For whatever reason, Deters wanted that costume. He wanted it bad. He asked a Hamilton County Court magistrate if he could keep it (it had been held as evidence), but the magistrate recently told Deters to give the dang tiger suit back to the dude.

• Normally, the flow in Washington when it comes to making the big money is that you serve in the government side of things, as a legislator or on a legislator’s staff, then move on to the lucrative lobbying positions that big interests groups hire to gain influence in D.C. But it works both ways, apparently. Here’s an interesting piece about how some national politicians with local ties are hiring former lobbyists to join their Washington staffs. Which seems weird and a little shady, right? Well, it’s not illegal, and the former recipients of big corporate cash swear they’re only working for their bosses (read: us) when they make the move to a legislator’s office. Hm.

• Heroin is a big issue in both north and south of the Ohio River. But the legislative ways Ohio and Kentucky deal with the crisis are very different. Kentucky has recently passed a raft of new laws that look to alleviate the drug’s hold on the region, including making things like needle-exchange programs easier. It’s also ramped up penalties for traffickers bringing the drug into the state. But police officers in Ohio are more likely to carry overdose recovery drugs like Narcan, while many Kentucky police departments are still weighing the drug’s benefits against its costs and possible dangers. What’s more, Ohio is poised to pass more measures ensuring addicts leaving prison get the anti-addiction medication they need. Will the two states ever get on the same page? Unclear.

• The Ohio Democratic Party on Saturday officially endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his campaign for U.S. Senate, tilting the party’s primary further away from Cincinnati City Councilman and Strickland primary opponent P.G. Sittenfeld. That wasn’t entirely unexpected — Strickland has statewide name recognition, polling that shows him trouncing incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman by nine points at this early point in the campaign, and the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton — but it stings all the same. Especially brutal is what Strickland said at a meeting of the state party’s executive committee of delegates Saturday.

“This isn’t a Little League Baseball Game,” Strickland said, probably muttering a condescending “son,” under his breath. “This is a U.S. Senate race.” Dang. It’s getting heated in this thing.

• Is cursive making a comeback in Ohio? No, no, not Cursive, the band I spent many of my angst-ridden teen years rocking out to. I’m talking about the squiggly script students used to be required to master in grade school. These days, districts decide whether or not they teach the handwriting method, but that could change with a new proposed law that would make it a mandatory part of public education. I’m against it. Art is hard and so are those loopy letters. Full disclosure, however, my handwriting is absolutely awful.

• Quick, but important and kind of scary: Remember last summer when we had that gross toxic algae thing in the Great Lakes, in part due to industrial fertilizer runoff? It shutdown Toledo's water supply for a minute, and it could be a big problem again this year.

• Finally, Hillary Clinton is officially running for president again after her Sunday campaign rollout. The former secretary of state and Democratic frontrunner is already on the campaign trail, hitting up Iowa as we speak, reportedly road-tripping in a black van she’s dubbed “the Scooby Doo Van.”

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Hello Cincy, let’s talk about the news today.

The big story, of course, is the death of Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old Mount Saint Joseph freshman who very publicly and courageously battled inoperable brain cancer. Hill inspired many across the country, continuing to play basketball with Mount Saint Joe even as her illness weakened her. Through her advocacy, she raised $1.4 million for cancer research with nonprofit cancer research agency The Cure Starts Now. Hill passed early this morning.

• Cincinnati’s next big brewery has set its opening date. Northside’s Urban Artifact brewery, located in the historic St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street, will have its grand opening two weeks from today on April 24. The space will also be a concert venue, and has a unique business model: live music every night of the week that will be recorded, if the artists wish, and streamed on the space’s website. Eventually, Urban Artifact will offer a restaurant at the location as well.

• Local high school students in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren Counties will be able to take a free college class and get a textbook free of charge this summer at Cincinnati State Technical Community College, the school announced yesterday. The offer is open to 2015 graduates and those who will be freshmen in the fall at Cincinnati State as well. Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens says it’s a way for the school to give back to the community while hopefully enticing area students to enroll at the school in the future. 

• Cincinnati schools are making strides in terms of educational achievement by students, but those gains aren't universal and highlight glaring racial and economic gaps, a new study from Cincinnati's Strive Partnership has found. You can read the full study here. Look for more coverage on educational inequality in Cincinnati from us in the near future.

• There’s a pretty interesting wrinkle in the race for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. Democratic challenger Ted Strickland has polled nine points ahead of Portman and many points ahead of his primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. But Strickland has actually raised less money for his campaign than either of them. Portman has raised over $2 million for the race, Sittenfeld has raised $750,000 and recent campaign filings show Strickland has pulled in about $670,000. That’s not far off from Sittenfeld, and Strickland has much more name recognition from his stint as governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2011. Strickland announced his campaign later than Sittenfeld, a fact his campaign manager says explains why he’s trailing right now.

• Here’s a really informative rundown on the upcoming Supreme Court battle over marriage equality that centers around Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and gay marriage bans in several other states. The case will almost certainly be precedent-setting, and momentum is on the side of marriage equality; many federal circuit courts have struck down other states’ bans, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld bans in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. That’s created a conflict in federal court rulings, something the Supreme Court will have to sort out with its decision. The nation’s highest court already struck down a federal ban on gay marriage two years ago, and now advocates on both sides are holding their breath for this decisive battle. Arguments before the court kick off April 28.

• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president Sunday in New York City, according to a number of national news outlets. Clinton is the decided front runner for the Democratic nomination; so much so that some have accused her of a rather blasé approach to the campaign thus far. Clinton has a strong fundraising network and big support from high-level Democrats, though. But she has already had to tussle with a potential scandal: the revelation she used her personal e-mail account for State Department business while she served in that position. That wasn’t illegal at the time, and Clinton has turned over thousands of those e-mails, but critics say there’s no way to know whether she has turned over all of them. Despite these early stumbles, there are few other Democrats who seem feasible challengers. Those on the left in the party have been pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, but she so far has declined to entertain the idea. More recently, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, has made noises that he might be interested in the race. It’s unclear, however, how Sander’s very progressive politics (he’s an avowed socialist) would play with the mainstream Democratic base.

• Finally, a measure designed to prevent businesses who contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT individuals kicked in Wednesday. The law, which stems from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in July, means that those companies can’t consider sexual orientation when they hire. Outside this measure, which only applies to companies who do business with the federal government, there are not laws against employment discrimination against LGBT individuals federally or in Ohio.

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Good morning y’all. How are you? I’m feeling great today because I just polished off a 6,000-word draft for an upcoming cover story that you’re definitely going to want to read. That’s always a great feeling, and a short-lived one — soon comes the editing process. But let’s stay focused on the here and now, shall we, and talk about the news today.

Could $40 million in new development, including a sought-after grocery store, be coming to Avondale? It’s becoming more and more of a possibility. Developer The Community Builders is looking at expanding development plans associated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which seeks to improve individual and neighborhood-level outcomes in low-income communities. Developers and the Avondale Community Council and Community Development Corporation have received $30 million from that program, and by using that money to attract other investment have turned it into $100 million for development in the neighborhood. So far, that money has gone to rehabilitating existing structures, but it could soon be used to build new developments, including the so-called Avondale Town Center, a key mixed-use development including a grocery store Mayor John Cranley mentioned in his State of the City speech last year. The development is still in the planning phases, and no grocer has been selected yet, but so far 118 units of affordable and market-rate housing and 80,000 square feet of retail space are on the table as goals.

• More legal troubles could be in the works for the former officials from a local charter school in the West End. Former Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy Superintendent Lisa Hamm and Treasurer Stephanie Millard were implicated in the misspending of more than $500,000 in a 2013 special audit by the state. On Tuesday, State Auditor David Yost released another report saying the two misspent money even as that audit took place, opening up the possibility more charges could be filed.

I want to make a special note about this story. The Cincinnati Enquirer has called the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy a “magnet school” in at least two articles I’ve seen about it, including the one linked above. That doesn’t appear to be the case at all. Magnet schools are themed public schools run by local districts like Cincinnati Public Schools. (See also: the Department of Education's description of magnet schools.) Charter schools aren’t accountable to local school districts, even if they’re publicly funded. Part of the scandal around CCPA is that its controlling board, which is not the city’s Board of Education, didn’t approve the spending in question. The existence of that stand-alone board shows that CCPA is a charter, not a magnet. The school doesn't appear in CPS' magnet school listings, for instance, because it isn't a magnet under CPS.

Am I missing something? Correct me if you have more insight. In the meantime — why does the distinction matter? Because charter schools have had serious accountability problems in Ohio in the past few years, and we should call CCPA what it is — another charter school with lax oversight and a problematic power structure. To call it a magnet school is to saddle Cincinnati Public Schools with at least one more big problem it doesn’t actually have anything to do with. OK, sorry. Onward.

• Greater Cincinnati developer Jeffery Decker is facing a federal court filing over an insurance claim on a multi-million dollar mansion that burned down in Indian Hill in January last year. Decker filed a lawsuit asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to award his family millions for an insurance policy from Chubb National Insurance Co. The Decker family received an advance $700,000 payment on the insurance policy before the insurance company filed a counter claim asking for the money back after Decker’s phone records revealed he was at the house much later in the day on the day the fire happened than he initially claimed — up until about 15 minutes before smoke was reported on the property. Chubb is alleging that Decker misrepresented his whereabouts the day of the fire in his initial claim and therefore invalidated the insurance policy.

• The Ohio Democratic Party could endorse former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in the state’s 2016 Senate race over primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. So far, the party has stayed neutral on the race, at least officially, though some high-level Democrats have asked Sittenfeld to bow out of the race. Strickland is the favorite, having garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and having the advantage of massive name recognition in the state that propelled him to take a nine-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman. 

• President Barack Obama yesterday called for an end to so-called "gay conversion" therapy in the wake of the December death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn, whose given name was Joshua, committed suicide late last year after her parents barred her from getting gender transition treatments and instead took her to Christian-based counseling to try and convince her to give up her transgender status. The Obama administration's call to end the therapy method came in response to a Whitehouse.gov petition that received more than 120,000 signatures.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," the response reads. "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

• Finally — ah, the nostalgia. By the time I got around to hitting up Forest Fair Mall as a youngin, it was already a creepily empty shell that housed a Guitar Center, a food court with flickering florescent lights and not much else. Now there are discussions about revitalizing the hulking indoor mall in Forest Park, perhaps with a mixture of uses beyond mall retail. Sounds interesting, though honestly, I’m a bit more entertained by the creepy, zombie apocalypse vibe of the place as it stands. Hm. Do I smell a Walking Dead theme park opportunity? I think so.

That's it for me. I'm done writing things for the next half hour at least. In the meantime, hit me up. Email  me or tweet at your favorite exhausted news dude.

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Good morning y’all. Let’s get right to the news.

Are million-dollar homes coming to Over-the-Rhine? At least one of the city’s big movers and shakers thinks so. Reds owner Bob Castellini made that prediction last night during a speech at Music Hall for the Over-the-Rhine Chamber’s annual Star Awards, which spotlights the neighborhood’s growth and its business leaders. Castellini is on the board of 3CDC, the developer that is approaching $1 billion in projects completed in the neighborhood and downtown. He’s bullish on the idea that the once-neglected neighborhood will continue to see high-price new developments. He highlighted condos in 3CDC’s Mercer Commons development that have sold for more than $400,000 as one example of growing interest in high-end living in OTR. Following new development, median household incomes and property values have been going up in the historically low-income neighborhood in the last few years. That’s caused a lot of fanfare, but has also stoked fears about gentrification, apprehensions that came up again recently when a developer proposed $400,000 single-family homes in the neighborhood’s less-hyped northern area. Some advocates in the neighborhood say there isn’t affordable housing there.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is shifting gears in his campaign for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld’s campaign manager Ramsey Reid has left the Democrat’s team, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Sittenfeld’s campaign says his departure was planned from the beginning and that a new campaign manager and other new hires will be announced shortly. Sittenfeld recently ramped up his team, hiring a spokesman, a finance director and a polling specialist in his underdog primary battle against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland is a heavy favorite to win the primary. He’s garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and is currently polling nine points ahead of Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Sittenfeld has been steadfast about staying in the race despite pressure from some Democrats to bow out.

• If you need proof that the weather here really is a bummer and that you’re not just a big whiner, here it is. A new study by a popular meteorology blog called Brian B’s Climate Blog shows Cincinnati is ranked 5th in the country for major cities when it comes to dreary weather. The city tied for that… err, honor… with Cleveland and Lexington. Buffalo took the top spot, followed predictably by Seattle, Pittsburgh and Portland. The climate blog considered three factors in its rankings: total number of days with precipitation, total annual precipitation and total annual cloud cover. If you need more anecdotal evidence, just find your nearest window.

• A new bill in the Ohio House would allow concealed carry in the state without a license if passed. The
bill, proposed by State Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville, has 20 cosponsors and support from State Rep. Ron Arnstutz, the second-most powerful Republican in the House. Lots of dudes named Ron are into this idea, which makes me think of the ultimate Ron. Anyway, the bill would do away with licensing and training requirements for those who want to carry concealed weapons, limiting concealed carry only to those below the age of 21 or people who aren’t permitted to have guns due to their criminal background or other legal reasons. Five other states, including Kansas, have already approved unlicensed concealed carry, and 10 more states are considering similar measures. Gun rights groups have applauded the bill, but opponents, including law enforcement groups, say it will make the state less safe.

• With bicycle commuting on the rise, both nationally and, I’m hoping, in Cincinnati, do we need better data collection practices from police when it comes to cyclist-car accidents? It seems that way, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study, summarized in this CityLab post, suggests that most data collection methods used by public safety agencies around the country are outdated and don’t consider the differences between cars and bikes and don’t make allowances for the different situations in which the two could collide. Better data could lead to safer bike infrastructure, the authors of the study say.

• Finally, it’s almost becoming a sentence in which you can just fill in the blanks with the latest shooter and deceased. Michael Slager, a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina shot an apparently unarmed black man named Walter Scott over the weekend. The police incident report says that Scott had the officer’s taser and that Slager feared for his life. But a video taken by a bystander contradicts all of that, showing Slager firing eight rounds at Scott as he ran away. After Scott fell to the ground, Slager appears to casually drop something next to him. More officers soon arrived, though none are seen administering the CPR the police report alleges took place. Scott died at the scene. The incident has drawn national attention and a murder charge for Slager — a rarity perhaps brought about by the graphic and shocking video taken by a witness.

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Hey all! Upside today: The Reds won last night. Downside today: It’s really gross outside. Now that I’ve covered the perfunctory topical conversation points, let’s get on to the news, eh?

Investigations continue into a deadly drive-by shooting that happened over the weekend near the Walnut Hills YMCA. Seventeen-year-old Kelcie Crow died in that shooting and two other teens were injured. Police say a fight broke out at a birthday party at the Y, after which a white van drove by and fired at least 60 shots at the large crowd of teens. Police say they don’t currently have any suspects in the shooting. The shootings and Crow’s tragic death have drawn a lot of attention around the city, including from Cincinnati City Council. City Council Law and Public Safety Committee Chairman Christopher Smitherman vowed the city would find and bring to justice the perpetrators. He also placed some blame for the lack of leads so far on what he calls a “no snitching” mentality among some in the community.

• Over-the-Rhine based business accelerator The Brandery has announced a unique project with developer Urban Sites that will provide housing in the neighborhood for entrepreneurs coming to Cincinnati as part of the group’s yearly class of new startups. The Brandery has signed a lease with the developer for two buildings on Walnut Street with 14 two-bedroom apartments that will become a housing option for participants in The Brandery’s accelerator program, which connects young startups with funding, branding and design help as well as potential corporate clients. The accelerator’s fifth class wrapped up in October last year. Each year the accelerator accepts 10-12 startups from around the country and worldwide for its four-month program. About half of these companies stay in Cincinnati after graduating from the program, the group says. The apartments will be somewhat subsidized for participants, the group says, and are a way to meet the needs of entrepreneurs while they’re in town focusing on growing their businesses.

• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, a nonprofit bike sharing program that started last year, just got its first big sponsor. UC Health will pay to put its logo on the nonprofit’s bikes for three years, the hospital system announced yesterday. Red Bike is looking for other sponsors as it continues to grow. Currently, the bike share has 33 stations spread around downtown, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. An expansion in Northern Kentucky is planned as well. The bike share was kick-started last year by a $1 million grant from the city.

• At first, I thought this was just today’s weather forecast, but it turns out it’s a real thing. This summer, a Cincinnati street will turn into a giant waterslide for a day when Slide the City brings its 1,000-foot slide to Jefferson Avenue near UC. You can slide on the street, but it’ll cost you: )ne slide costs $20, three times will cost $35 and unlimited slides will set you back $60. But you also get a tattoo, a mouth guard, a bag and T-shirt with that. So yeah.

• Ah, my alma matter never fails to embarrass me at least once a year. Police at Miami University are investigating a slew of racist and homophobic graffiti in a residence hall there and have also discovered similar graffiti at two of the school's frat houses. You can read more about it at the link above. I'm going to go burn all the Miami spirit wear I own, though I actually bought it from a thrift store a few years after I graduated because it was super-cheap and I was broke.

• A nearby university wants to play host to one of the 2016 presidential debates. Wright State University in Dayton has applied to host a debate next year and is one of 16 sites vying for the opportunity. The school has played a role in presidential campaigns in the past. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate at Wright State, and President Barack Obama has also campaigned at the school.

• Speaking of the election, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Paul is vying with a crowded field of GOP contenders for the party’s nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his campaign a couple weeks ago, and others who have yet to formally declare their intentions, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. As we talked about yesterday, Paul has tried to distinguish himself by playing on the Libertarian legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president several times himself. The younger Paul is trying to walk the line between his father’s rabid followers and the more traditional GOP establishment, where big donors and powerful endorsements are to be had.

Another area where Paul has distinguished himself from the pack is in presidential campaign merchandise. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and check out these hot items, including this Ladies Constitution Burnout Tee which, as the website says, is “soft and gauzy… wears well, looks great and sends the statists a message.” Yes. There’s also the NSA spycam blocker (a small plastic piece that slides over your computer’s built-in camera), the Real Rand Woven Blanket (for those times when you want to be all wrapped up in the warm embrace of something other than the nanny state) and something called the Rand Paul Bag Toss Game. I didn’t click on that one. Oh yeah, and you can also get an autographed copy of the constitution for a cool grand, which is probably the most libertarian product ever. 

That's it for me. Tweet, email or comment with your favorite swag from a presidential contender — or to get my shipping address so you can send me the giant Rand Paul birthday card you're going to send me in November.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Hey all! Today is Opening Day. You already know this. What you don’t know is that it’s my first Opening Day back in Cincinnati after a few years of missing them. So let’s resign ourselves to the fact that half of the news blog today will be dominated by stuff around this most momentous of holidays.

All kinds of stuff is going on in connection with the game. Here are the highlights: Cincy’s opening day parade has been happening for oh, 96 years now and will kick off at noon at Findlay Market, heading down Race Street through downtown. Taft’s Ale House in Over-the-Rhine right off the parade route has its grand opening today, and from what I’ve heard, it’s already packed. There are also big screens and food vendors in Washington Park so you can enjoy the game there as well.  

The Reds are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, a pretty common foe on our first game of the year. We’ve played them 27 times in our season opener, and the Reds' first Opening Day in 1882 was played against their predecessors, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (we lost). I hate to tell you this, but we have a pretty bad record against our rivals to the east. They’ve won 19 times when the teams go head to head on opening day. Take a look at the full history of Reds opening day here, including records of our losses against the terrifyingly named Cleveland Spiders in 1891 and the tragic Chicago Orphans in 1900.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what the ballpark is looking like heading up to the game. Oh, wait, my bad, that was the Reds/Pirates Opening Day game from 110 years ago. The reds lost 4-9, bee tee dubs. But we’ll win this time, right? Also btw, more than 18,000 people attended that game. Incredible.

• On to non-baseball related news. Cincinnati ranks among the country’s most affordable cities for housing, according to a study by real estate website Zillow.com. I’m usually pretty wary of these kinds of website-conducted studies, but this one does have some interesting data points. According to the Zillow study, Cincinnati has the seventh-most affordable mortgages of the cities it measured across the country, and the sixth-lowest amount of income spent on rent of cities across the country. Keep in mind these are relative rankings, and that Cincinnati ranks rather well comparatively because it’s not growing as fast as some other cities.

However, the country as a whole is in the middle of an affordable housing conundrum. As the report says, “Rental affordability is as bad as it's ever been across the U.S., in part because there are not enough new, affordable units to meet demand.”

On related note: Though it may not be booming the way Austin or San Francisco are, Cincinnati is again growing, rather than shrinking, in terms of population size. The city saw a slight bump in population over the past couple years, and is projected to top 300,000 people again sometime around 2020.

• This is kind of shocking to me: Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, is currently out-polling incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman by nine points in a Quinnipiac University poll on the 2016 Senate race released today. Portman is running for his second term in the Senate representing Ohio. He’s raised boatloads of money, has the backing of much of the GOP and is unbothered (thus far) with a primary challenger. The only issue that could keep conservatives away is his embrace of marriage equality, but I can’t imagine dyed in the wool Republicans swinging over to a liberal Democrat or staying home because of that. Still, Strickland leads Portman 47 percent to 38 percent among likely Ohio voters. Strickland announced his campaign last month. He’s facing Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the Democratic primary.

• Here’s a less-shocking poll: a slim majority of Ohioans favor marijuana legalization. Another Quinnipiac poll released recently found 52 percent of Ohioans say they favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Forty-four percent opposed legalization, and four percent were undecided. That’s almost identical to a poll by Quinnipiac last year. However, that doesn’t mean ballot initiatives like those put forward by legalization group ResponsibleOhio would pass if presented to voters in November. The poll measures general sentiment, not the sentiment of those likely to vote. Off-year elections are notoriously thin when it comes to voter turnout, and that could derail legalization efforts. Also complicating the picture is ResponsibleOhio’s particular proposal, which would limit commercial growing to 10 sites around the state. That’s been a controversial provision, with both conservative critics and other legalization advocates saying it amounts to a monopoly on the crop.

• Let’s do a really brief presidential campaign roundup before I bid you adieu for the day. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who many hold as a frontrunner in the GOP 2016 presidential nomination contest, described himself as Hispanic on his voter registration in 2009, the New York Times reports today. While Bush speaks fluent Spanish and his wife was born in Mexico, he himself does not have Hispanic roots. Bush has built his platform in part on his appeal to Hispanic voters, whom the GOP desperately need as they attempt to expand their base beyond old, male white people. But uh, nominating yourself as a member of a minority group on official documents may not endear you to that group. A spokesman for his campaign could not explain the error, but Bush has shrugged about the revelation on Twitter, laughing it off as a slip of the pen.

• Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has been getting a lot of press lately, and there are reports he may announce his presidential campaign tomorrow. Paul’s walking a tightrope between the deeply Libertarian politics of his father, Ron Paul, and the kinds of proposals needed to cuddle up to establishment Republican donors. Paul’s been working to reach out to crowds outside the traditional GOP power base, talking about justice system and drug law reform and other issues that have become hot points with minority and traditionally progressive voters. Meanwhile, he’s also been trying a less isolationist tack on foreign affairs issues, calling for increased funding to America's military, among other proposals. As Paul dances, the press has tried to pin him down. He’s alternately described as a radical seeking revolution in the GOP and a candidate going moderate as he seeks the party’s nomination. Is he turning into just another Republican suit, or a fed-abolishing Libertarian constantly asking himself “What Would Ayn Do?” My guess is he’s not sure yet himself. Love him or hate him, Paul will make the race interesting in the coming year.

Tweet at me, email me, comment: get at me with your news tips and best opening day celebratory revelry ideas.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Good morning y’all. I cannot wait for this weekend so let’s get to it.

Are you a businessperson in Indiana steamed about the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act? A lot of people are. In the wake of controversy around Indiana's law, which as written allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of religious beliefs, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black is making a pitch to Indiana businesses: Come to Cincy. We’re more accepting, and that’s good for business, Black says. Black has already written to companies like Yelp who had planned to expand in Indiana but are now pulling back thanks to the new law signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week. Many businesses have balked at such RFRA laws, both in Indiana and elsewhere, saying they’re morally objectionable and bad for business. Pence and Indiana lawmakers announced a fix to the law earlier this week that they say would prohibit discrimination. But many of the law’s critics, including big business, say the fix isn’t enough. Now Cincinnati is looking poach some of that business expansion for its own.

• Another day, another embarrassing streetcar argument. At yesterday’s City Council meeting, Mayor John Cranley lashed out at the city’s streetcar team, saying it had “secretly” spent $200,000 on studies for the transit project’s potential second leg into uptown. It turns out that last February, the team, led by project executive John Deatrick, spent about $70,000 out of a fund set aside for streetcar studies in 2008. The team authorized the full $200,000 in contracts to two firms to do budget and cost benefit analyses but paused the work when it became clear focus on the current phase of the streetcar was the priority. Cranley says the 2008 City Council resolution creating the original $800,000 pot of money for studies didn’t specifically authorize the streetcar team to use the money and that the studies are an example of a “culture of secrecy” around the project. The team says it was unaware it had to ask for special permission to undertake the analyses for phase 1b. Phew. City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to discipline city personnel, says there appears to be no grounds to punish members of the streetcar team. Can we just stop the fussin’ and the feudin’, please?

• Parking rates are changing in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Tuesday. The shifts, which are tied to usage in the areas, have been planned for a year and were given final approval by Cincinnati City Council yesterday. Rates will go up or down by a quarter in various parts of the downtown/OTR area. In general, rates will go down or stay the same west of Vine Street, ranging from $2.00 an hour south of Sixth Street to $.75 an hour north of Central Parkway. East of Vine Street, rates will go up; it will now cost $2.25 an hour to park south of Central Parkway and $1.25 an hour north of it. The city has watched usage rates in various parts of downtown/OTR since January to come up with the new rates, a kind of makeshift “dynamic parking” effort. In other cities, sophisticated data crunching can change parking rates on meters according to demand on an hourly basis. That won’t happen here, but by shifting rates according to the parking market, city leaders hope to incentivize parking turnover in busy areas and encourage drivers to park in less-used locations. Some of the funds from the parking boost will go to the streetcar, and some to the general fund, City Manager Harry Black says.

• I grew up in Hamilton, where the grisly legacy of James Rupert is hard to escape. On Easter Sunday 40 years ago, Ruppert murdered 11 members of his family in a house on the corner of Minor Avenue in Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood. At the time, it was the largest mass-murder in U.S. history. Yesterday, Rupert had a parole hearing. The parole board’s decision hasn’t been announced yet, but the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office is strongly objecting to his release.

• Hey, here’s a weird one. Need some new nude photos in front of Music Hall? There’s a guy who may be able to hook you up on Opening Day, when he comes to Cincinnati to shoot nude photos of folks in front of local landmarks. He’s done it in a number of big U.S. cities, sometimes with getaway drivers nearby due to the illegal nature of being naked in public. I can’t avoid comment on this quote in the Enquirer, so here it comes:

“I am looking for Americana, the history of the United States,” Harvey Drouillard says. “I am looking for the crown jewels." Crown jewels indeed.

• A few days ago, I told you about how the Ohio General Assembly floated a proposal that required college students and other somewhat transitory voters to register their car in Ohio if they wanted to vote here. Many Democrats have likened that measure to a poll tax; it would cost most students $75 to re-register their cars and if they don’t and try to vote, their current registration would become invalid. Gov. John Kasich apparently agreed with the detractors, vetoing the measure Wednesday. The provision was tucked into Ohio’s transportation budget legislation, which moves forward without the voter registration law.

• Finally, U.S. negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program have made big headlines lately, with a lot of politicking going on around the fact that we’re negotiating with the country at all. But according to some sources, those negotiations have taken a fruitful and promising turn lately. Here’s the latest on where things stand with U.S. efforts to keep Iran from developing nukes. The whole process is fascinating and terrifying stuff.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hey all. I’m hyped for the season’s first thunderstorm, which is officially rolling in as I type this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s finally spring. On to the news.

Residents displaced by the King Towers fire in Madisonville last Thursday will be able to stay in their extended stay hotel in Blue Ash for another two weeks, but after that their fate is uncertain. The 20-plus residents can’t move back into the building until it is investigated and cleaned, a process that could take months. Many have lived in the building for a long time and don’t have access to cars to get around. The fire injured several and killed firefighter Daryl Gordon, whose funeral drew thousands from across the country yesterday to downtown Cincinnati.

• A proposal by Cincinnati developer North Pointe Group in Over-the-Rhine would build 21 single-family homes on some city-owned vacant lots on Main Street north of Liberty Street. It would also redevelop a vacant building there into eight so-called “workforce apartments.” North Pointe says the houses will sell for around $400,000 to $600,000 each. The apartments will all be approximately 630 square feet and cost about $800-$950. The plan has drawn some controversy, which we explore in our news feature this week. North Pointe says it will need to tear down popular basketball courts on the land. After some residents complained, the developer agreed to keep two of the six hoops standing. But some are still skeptical of the proposal, saying it could change the character of the neighborhood.

• Cincinnati-based news giant E.W. Scripps Co. is officially out of the newspaper business for the first time in its 135 year history as of Wednesday. In a merger with Journal Communications, based in Milwaukee, Scripps has traded off its remaining newspapers for 12 TV stations and 34 radio stations across the country. The company has said it’s looking to expand its presence in TV and to own radio stations in the markets where it also broadcasts TV news. That could mean Scripps could eventually acquire radio stations here in Cincinnati.

• Suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter would like the Ohio Supreme Court to remove her ongoing felony trial from the county’s court system. Hunter is being retried on a felony count of misusing a court credit card after a technicality kept a jury from considering evidence for that charge when Hunter was tried late last year. A jury hung on eight of nine felony counts in that trial, convicting her of one count related to information she allegedly gave her brother, a county court employee, about an inmate.

Hunter and her attorney, Clyde Bennett II, say Hunter can’t get a fair trial in the county thanks to acrimony between her and many of the judges here. Bennett says prior decisions by Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker, who is currently presiding over the case, were used as evidence in Hunter’s earlier trial, causing a conflict of interest. Judge Norbert Nadel presided over Hunter’s original trial, but he retired earlier this year and Dinkelacker was elected to replace him. Dinkelacker previously presided over an appeals court where he made the rulings in question about Hunter’s case.

• Another local connection to the weed-legalization efforts led by ResponsibleOhio: Cincinnati-based developer David Bastos is an investor in the ballot initiative, which aims to legalize the sale of marijuana and restrict commercial growth to 10 marijuana farms around the state. Bastos is a partner in Bridge Property LLC, which would establish one of those farms in Lucas County. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect 300,000 signatures by this summer in order to get their amendment to Ohio’s constitution on the November ballot. Should it pass, Ohioans over the age of 21 would be allowed to buy marijuana, apply for a marijuana vendor’s license (similar to a liquor license) and grow small amounts of the drug for personal use, a late concession to opponents of the measure’s limit on commercial growth.

• The Cincinnati Reds are on track to break their season ticket sales records, thanks in part to the MLB All-Star Game coming to the city July 14. The Reds’ previous record at Great American Ballpark is 15,648. Last year they sold about 14,500 and they’re on pace to reach more than 16,000 sales this year. There’s a clear incentive for baseball nuts to make the big commitment: Season ticket holders are automatically offered the opportunity to purchase All-Star Game tickets, which are a hot item. Both half-season (40 games) and full-season (80 games) ticket holders get a crack at the All-Star Game tickets.

• The 2016 Senate race in Ohio is heating up. Republican Senator Rob Portman, nearing the end of his first term in the Senate, will have to fight off either Gov. Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, both Democrats, in that contest. But he’ll have a lot of ammunition. Portman reported he’s raised $2.75 million in the last 90 days for his campaign. Portman has steeled himself for a primary challenge from the right — he angered some conservatives with his pro-marriage equality stance after his son came out as gay — but so far, no challenger has materialized and Portman has netted big cash and big endorsements. Portman could face a big challenge from Strickland, who is Ohio’s former governor and who has been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton. All this alignment of cash and big-name endorsements shows how crucial Ohio will be to the 2016 election, when the presidency and control of the Senate will both be on the line.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me, comment or email me with your news tips.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hello Cincy. Let’s get straight to the news.

The weather is beautiful and perfect for honoring a hero, even if the occasion is incredibly sad. Today is the funeral for firefighter Daryl Gordon, who died last week after falling down an elevator shaft while fighting a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville. Large crowds of fire officials and civilians gathered downtown this morning to pay their respects to Gordon, whose funeral service began at 10 a.m. at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral on West Eighth Street. Support has come from across the state and, really, from across the world. Firefighters from Columbus (which is sending nearly 200), Anderson Township, Covington, Deerfield Township, Delhi Township, Springfield Township and Sycamore Township will be manning Cincinnati’s fire stations so firefighters here can attend the ceremony. Firefighters from as far away as London and Montreal have traveled here to attend the service. Flags are flying at half-mast across the state in Gordon’s honor on the order of Gov. John Kasich. Gordon was a 26-year veteran of Cincinnati’s Fire Department.

• So I’m getting a serious aversion to the word “streetcar.” Not because I’m opposed to the controversial transit project, necessarily (though my personal feelings about it are admittedly complicated) but because it’s becoming Exhibit A when it comes to how our city struggles ludicrously with big decisions. Yesterday’s Cincinnati City Council Transportation Committee meeting is a good, or really, bad, example of this.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting was the stuff of migraine sufferers’ nightmares, with back and forth arguments about whether or not to ask SORTA to use union employees to staff the streetcar (more on this in our print edition), a motion demanding that SORTA hand over bids it has received from companies interested in operating the streetcar, whether or not to study possible ways to pay for the project’s next phase, whether or not cost estimates for moving utilities for the project’s next potential phase were hidden from council for a year and more.

Having a number of tough decisions to make in a meeting is one thing. Not making any of them is another all together. The committee made no progress on any of those questions and has tabled a number of the motions it discussed until later this month. Awesome. When I was out of town, I watched the initial drama unfold over the streetcar project with a mix of jealousy that I didn’t get to cover it and gratefulness that I didn’t have to. Now I’m just tired of hearing about it. Like it or hate it, the tracks are in the ground. Stop politicking, both sides, and just get it done already.

• Elsewhere, part of council did decide one thing yesterday: The Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee would like to see Pete Rose reinstated into Major League Baseball so he can be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. The league’s new commissioner Rob Manfred has signaled that he’s willing to talk with Rose about reinstatement, though he’s not making any promises. Council made a similar resolution nearly two decades ago, but members now see a new opportunity for Rose in Manfred’s statements. While it was passing a resolution about baseball, the committee also asked  MLB to recognize black baseball players from the Negro League in the days before baseball was integrated, allowing them to be eligible for the Hall of Fame as well.

• Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Gov. Mike Pence March 26, has been making scorching national headlines because it seems to allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community. Could a similar bill come to Ohio? It doesn’t seem likely. Interestingly, Ohio lawmakers tried briefly to pass a similar law last year. The bill was killed early over concerns that it would allow discrimination, and lawmakers say they won’t be trying to pass similar legislation anytime soon.

But Gov. John Kasich has indicated in recent statements that he’s interested in something of a compromise bill — one that offers language both guaranteeing protection of religious freedom and prohibiting discrimination against gays. Ohio does not currently have a law prohibiting hiring or housing discrimination against LGBT people. Meanwhile, following the intense criticism Indiana has received, Gov. Pence has walked back a bit on the law and is now calling on the Indiana State House to clarify it with language making it clear businesses are not allowed to discriminate against gays in the name of religious freedom.

• Meanwhile, Arkansas has also jumped into the “discrimination in the name of religious freedom game,” passing its own RFRA law yesterday. That’s drawn a sharp rebuke from an unexpected source — corporations in the state. Walmart has asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill, and Hutchinson has in turn asked lawmakers to make changes to it. Congress passed a federal RFRA law in 1993, and now 21 states now have some form of RFRA law. Importantly, these vary in whether they stipulate that businesses are included in the protection of religious freedoms and whether they can use the law as a defense in lawsuit proceedings. Texas, Indiana and Arkansas are among the few states with this language in their laws. Many legal experts believe these bills are popping up lately in response to the continued march of pro-marriage equality rulings in federal courts as well as the legalization of gay marriage in many states. Thirty-seven states now allow gay marriage. Ohio is arguing before the Supreme Court next month in defense of its 2004 gay marriage ban.

• Finally, here’s a crazy-alarming but really well-executed infographic showing the rise of incarceration rates, by state, throughout the United States from 1978 to 2012. Prepare to be highly depressed. Ohio is well up there in terms of prison population percentage, with 440 inmates per 100,000 people in the state. That’s not as high as some states — Louisiana has almost 900 per 100,000. Still. Yikes. The rise comes from a number of factors, including America’s war on drugs, the advent of the private for-profit prison and other factors. Great.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Good morning Cincy! It’s finally getting to be bike commuting weather again, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve missed showing up to work all sweaty and out of breath with terrible helmet hair, and I’m sure my coworkers have missed it as well. Anyway, enough about my transportation habits, which I seem to talk about a lot in the morning news blog. Let’s get on to the news.

Sweet. More streetcar politics ahead. Moving utility lines to make way for a streetcar extension will be twice as costly as it was for the track currently being laid between Over-the-Rhine and downtown, according to an estimate performed last year by Duke Energy. Duke says the task, which is necessary before tracks are put down, could cost up to $38 million. Boosters want to get started on the next step for the streetcar, which would extend it near the University of Cincinnati and several of the city’s hospitals uptown. Councilman Chris Seelbach last week introduced an ordinance asking the city to begin looking at plans for the extension. But Mayor John Cranley, an ardent opponent of the project, has dismissed calls for the next step of streetcar as “silly.” Those pushing the city to begin planning for the uptown leg of the streetcar say if plans aren’t in place, the city could lose out on millions in federal funds that could help pay for next steps.

• More than 20 residents at the King Towers apartments in Madisonville are wondering where they’ll be staying following the tragic fire that swept through the building last week. That fire claimed the life of Cincinnati Firefighter Daryl Gordon. Representatives for The Community Builders, the building’s owners, on Sunday told residents they needed to be out of their temporary hotel rooms by 11 a.m. Monday morning. That caused an outcry from the residents and others, including members of Madisonville Community Council. Boston-based The Community Builders has since extended residents’ hotel stays until Wednesday and has promised to help find a solution for temporary housing for the residents while the building undergoes clean up and investigation, a process that could take months.

• Ready to start paying for Union Terminal? The county’s sales tax boost kicks in Wednesday after voters approved it in November. You’ll pay an extra .25 cents on the dollar so the county can pay for much-needed renovations to one of Cincinnati’s most iconic landmarks. The rate is going from 6.75 percent to 7 percent.

• A Greater Cincinnati area school district is boosting anti-drug messages to its students in anticipation of a potential marijuana farm nearby. Monroe Schools says a marijuana farm that would be established should legalization group ResponsibleOhio get its way is unwelcome in the city and that it sends messages to students that cancel out years of anti-drug efforts. One of the group’s 10 proposed grow sites would be in Middletown, less than two miles from Monroe’s K-12 public school. In response, the school district, some community leaders and law enforcement officials have teamed up to redouble anti-drug messages to teens, because telling a teenager not to do something is obviously the best way to make it seem uncool and unappealing. Meanwhile, ResponsibleOhio has responded by pointing out their legalization effort is only for those 21 and over. They also claim that the drug is already readily available to many on the black market and that their proposal would limit or eliminate that market.

• Ohio prison officials want to get inmates job interviews. Ohio Prison Director Gary Mohr has discussed efforts to recruit businesses who are willing to employ former inmates and has proposed setting up some inmates with job interviews upon their release. The program aims to cut recidivism among inmates and keep the number of repeat offenders in Ohio’s prisons to a minimum. Studies suggest those who find jobs after being released from prison have a much lower rate of additional criminal activity.

• In national news, here’s an alarming number: Law enforcement agencies make no arrests in one-third of all murders in the United States. That’s up from just 10 percent of homicides in 1965. Though violent crime has gone down across the U.S. in recent years, so have the percentage of cases in which police even find a suspect. The number of murders solved by law enforcement is even lower, since the FBI’s “clearance rate” only measures arrests, not convictions. The bureau estimates some 200,000 murders have gone unsolved since the 1960s. Law enforcement officials often blame a so-called “no snitch” attitude found in many low-income communities, where they say a number of community members refuse to cooperate with the police and help them find suspects. But some experts point out that murders of law enforcement officers, which often take place in those same neighborhoods, have a very high clearance rate, suggesting a difference in priority for different kinds of murder cases.

That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. Comment. Have you gotten your bike out yet? What’s the best spring bike ride location in Cincy? Let me know.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Good morning y’all. It’s the end of the week and the sun is out. Those are both good enough reasons to keep this news update short, so just the facts for you today.

Starting on a somber note, officials continue to investigate the death of Cincinnati firefighter Daryl Gordon, who fell down an elevator shaft while responding to a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville yesterday. Gordon was a 30-year veteran of the department. Two other firefighters and four residents where hurt in the blaze, which broke out early yesterday morning. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to Gordon.

• Will you be able to walk around The Banks with an open beer in time for the Major League Baseball All Star Game in July? It’s looking increasingly possible. The Ohio House passed a bill allowing the creation of so-called “open container districts” this week. The proposed law could allow cities to designate specific areas where people can drink a cold one right out on the sidewalk. But the timeline is tight for would-be All Star Game revelers. The bill still has to go to through the state Senate and get Gov. John Kasich’s autograph. After that, the city could rush through designations for specific districts but would have to wait 30 days for them to take effect. The race is on.

• Three men who have wrongfully spent the past 18 years in prison may soon walk free thanks to efforts by the Ohio Innocence Project, which is based at University of Cincinnati’s College of Law. The Innocence Project announced yesterday that a Cuyahoga County Judge has thrown out the convictions of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson based on new evidence. The three will be released on bond and get a new trial. Their incarceration stems from the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson, Jr. in Cleveland. Wheatt, Glover and Johnson who were nearby, were eventually arrested for the crime and convicted on the testimony of a single 14-year-old eyewitness. That witness later recanted her testimony and other evidence surfaced casting doubt that the three had a role in the crime.

• Ever been in a situation where you have to spend extended amounts of time the same room with someone who is competing with you for the affections of your crush? That’s probably how former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld will feel tonight when both attend and speak at the Ohio Democratic Party’s annual dinner. The two are currently going head to head in the party’s primary for the chance to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman. Making things especially uncomfortable is the fact that Sittenfeld had signaled he wouldn’t continue with campaign if Strickland entered the race. But the city councilman gained some good fundraising momentum and has decided to stay in the contest. Most of the higher-ups in the Democratic party have backed his more experienced foe, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in it to win it. I really hope someone seated them at the same table. 

• I mentioned a couple days ago that the Ohio House was mulling a fetal heartbeat bill that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That bill has now passed the House thanks in part to local state representatives Jonathan Dever of Madeira and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason, who both voted for the proposed law. The bill will now make its way to the state Senate, where it faces skepticism from some moderate Republicans. They say the bill wouldn't survive an inevitable legal challenge. Some supporters of the measure, however, say bring it on — they see the ensuing legal battle as a way to challenge the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision prohibiting abortion bans. 

• Let's jaunt next door to the great state of Indiana where Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law yesterday a measure that prohibits the government from restricting religious freedom unless absolutely necessary. Critics of that bill say it could allow businesses to refuse service to people, including LGBT individuals, based on the business owner's religious beliefs. Pence says the bill will do no such thing, but that hasn't stopped backlash from forming. A number of businesses, including the NCAA, and even some religious groups have expressed reservations about the law, which takes effect in July. OK, let's leave Indiana now.

• News is happening in national politics. So much news. Well, really, political quasi-news that probably doesn’t actually make a difference but that we should pay attention to anyway because politicians are technically our employees and they haven’t really done that great of a job lately. One of the more interesting, and probably meaningless, stories on that front right now is that powerful Republicans in key primary states are saying that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is so far the only presidential candidate to officially announce his campaign, has no chance of winning. A poll of 100 influential Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire found that not one thought Cruz had a chance at the nomination, let alone prevailing in the general election. That’s important because those states are big in the primary game. Winning them signals to other delegates and funders around the rest of the country that you’re a serious contender.

• The other big story in national politics is that the most powerful, and many would say infamous, Democrat in the Senate will retire after his current term. Sen. Harry Reid, who is currently the Senate minority leader, has been a thorn in the side of nearly every Republican in Congress. Reid is a bare-knuckle brawler of a legislator who pulled out just as many nasty tricks during his time as Senate majority leader as his counterpart in the House, Republican John Boehner has. Reid’s 10-year turn as majority leader ended last November when Republicans took control of the Senate, but he’s continued to be a force there. The 75-year-old’s term ends next year. Republicans are rejoicing, seeing a rare opportunity to take Reid’s seat as one of Nevada’s two Senators.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Morning all. Are you as disappointed with the soggy gray awfulness outside as I am? Over the past few days I’ve been tuning up my bike, getting ready for spring. My plan was to get it out today and ride to work instead of walking. But this morning has been more kayak commuting weather, and since I don’t own a kayak, I’m working from home. Bummer. Anyway, let’s move on to news. This is the weekly City Council update edition, where I tell you about all the zany stuff our council members got up to yesterday.

First, council passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in the state of Ohio authored by Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay elected official.

“The protection and equality we want is no different than what everyone wants," Seelbach said, highlighting the ways in which his life with his partner are the same as any married couple’s. Seelbach also drew attention to the continued court battles being waged by Cincinnatians against Ohio’s gay marriage ban. Among them is Jim Obergefell, whose case against Ohio’s gay marriage ban will be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. Obergefell is seeking to be listed on his late husband John Arthur’s death certificate. The two were legally married in Maryland.

“Our city could have fought us, as our state continued to do, but instead our city stood on the side of love with a message that is resoundingly clear: We welcome, accept and love everyone,” Obergefell said in a written statement read by a representative from LGBT rights group Why Marriage Matters.

Six council members voted for the resolution, with Councilman Charlie Winburn voting against it and two, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray, absent from the meeting for unrelated reasons. Winburn applauded Seelbach’s advocacy for the issue, but said he didn’t agree with its premise. Winburn has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage. Cincinnati joins several other Ohio cities, including Dayton and Columbus, in supporting marriage equality.

• More council stuff: our esteemed deliberative body yesterday rejected another stab at a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have created 400 permitted spots around the neighborhood. The plan would have cost residents in the area $109 a year, plus $5 each for guest permits. Some council members, including Seelbach, said the price is still a bit too high and probably not necessary to generate the revenue needed. “I think we’re close,” Seelbach said. “This is close to what we would support. But the annual permit at $109 is the highest in America.”

Vice Mayor David Mann said he expected the plan to pass.

“This continues to be a work in progress,” Mann said. “We’re very open to changes as we implement and see how it works … but I think it’s time to do something. It’s been in and out of committee for three months.”

• Council also named a whole block of Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington after John "Johnny" Johnson, who has been working at Camp Washington Chili in the neighborhood for a mind-boggling 64 years. That's pretty cool. The restaurant, which I have patronized many a late night after various shows, has received national accolades for its chili, which is awesome. Johnson's uncle started the restaurant in 1940, and he began working there in 1951after coming here from Greece.

• The road is long and difficult and every step is studded with obstacles. No, I’m not talking about an underdog team in the NCAA tournament, nor the plot of a Tolkien novel. I speak of the streetcar, which is facing yet another round of drama this week involving contracts for who will operate the transit system. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, tasked with finding employees to operate the streetcar, must choose between two types of bids: those from companies that will manage SORTA’s union employees and those that will hire their own. Democrats on council want SORTA to go the former route and consider only bids that rely on employees from the Amalgamated Transit Union, of which most of SORTA’s employees are members. A past effort by council to get more details about the bids in relation to this wish drew sharp rebuke from the Federal Transit Authority, however, which said that any attempt to change SORTA’s bid process could result in loss of federal funds for the streetcar. The feds provided more than $45 million for the nearly $150 million project.

"If confidentiality is not maintained,” wrote FTA attorney John Lynch in a Monday letter to SORTA, “that presents risks to the process and increases potential exposure to protests and legal action from the proposers. The council's proposed changes to the procurement process could be perceived as giving preferential treatment to one contractor over another."

Now a new motion proposed yesterday by most of council’s Democrats would direct SORTA to only consider bids in which SORTA employees are used to run the streetcar. That motion needs two more votes and isn’t binding — it’s asking, not telling, SORTA to hire ATU employees. That motion also leaves maintenance personnel out of the equation, which is important because that’s a sticking point in negotiations between SORTA and the ATU on what using union workers would look like. The two are tangling over a few specialized maintenance positions that require particular electrical engineering training. The ATU says whoever does those jobs should be union members; SORTA says it has the right to hire outside workers for those positions. Phew. So there you have it. Bids for operating the streetcar are due at the end of the month, and SORTA’s board will vote to award the contract in July.

• Here’s a completely unsubstantiated, unscientific observation: People named “Woody” seem much more apt to support legalization efforts for marijuana. First there was Woody Harrelson, and now we have Taft Broadcasting Co. Development Director Woody Taft. Taft and his brother Dudley are among the funders of an ongoing effort by ResponsibleOhio to get an Ohio constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot. The Tafts are just a couple of the big names in town who have invested in the legalization scheme, which would legalize production and sale of marijuana but limit commercial cultivation to 10 legal growers. That dimension of the provision has raised ire from other pot legalization advocates. ResponsibleOhio has modified its proposal to allow for home growth of small amounts of weed, but those growers would not be allowed to sell their products.

The Tafts would be part owners of a marijuana cultivation farm proposed in Butler County should the ballot initiative pass.

“Our current laws are archaic and cruel to the people in Ohio who need medical marijuana,” Woody Taft said in a statement sent out by the pro-marijuana group.

• Finally, eight protesters were arrested outside House Speaker John Boehner’s Washington office yesterday. No, they weren’t up in arms about his continued efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or his moves to stymie Democrats’ immigration reform agenda. Nor were they there staging an intervention for Boehner’s all-too-evident tanning bed addiction.

Instead, they were all riled up about the fact that Boehner and other congressional Republicans haven’t moved fast enough on a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The House was set to vote on the bill way back at the beginning of the year, but some moderate GOPers balked at the ban because it required a woman to report her rape or incest to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exception to the proposed law. Members of the Christian Defense Coalition, who were the protesters praying outside of Boehner’s office, say his failure to push that bill through is a “betrayal” of the pro-life cause. Boehner’s office shot back that he’s the most pro-life speaker in history, which seems a hard claim to fact-check considering abortion was illegal for much of our country’s history.

That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. You know the drill. 

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