by German Lopez
Supporters hold town hall-style meeting in effort to stop cancellation of project
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed. Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding."As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar."Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.
Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents fight back as newly elected city government threatens to cancel streetcar project
1 Comment · Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents
are organizing with supporters of the $133 million streetcar project in a
last-stand effort to keep the project on track.
by German Lopez
John Cranley wins mayoral race; three non-incumbents win City Council seats
Cincinnati’s streetcar project lost big on Tuesday as voters ushered in ex-Councilman John Cranley over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race and three non-incumbents who oppose the project to City Council, according to unofficial election results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. With all precincts reporting, Cranley handily defeated Qualls 58-42 percent. Cranley ran largely on his opposition to the $133 million streetcar, while Qualls promised to expand the project.Voters also elected three non-incumbents to City Council: Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray. The three non-incumbents oppose the streetcar project, which means re-elected Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman are now part of a 6-3 majority on council that opposes the project.Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the streetcar project — also won re-election. Incumbent Democrats Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas lost.It’s unclear if the newly elected council and mayor will stop current construction on the streetcar once they take power in December, given concerns about contractual obligations and sunk costs that could make canceling the project costly in terms of dollars and Cincinnati’s business reputation. But Cranley and the six anti-streetcar elects on City Council vested much of their campaigns on their opposition to the project, which they claim is too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.Supporters argue the project will produce a three-to-one return on investment — an estimate derived from a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR and a follow-up assessment to the HDR study from the University of Cincinnati.City Council’s new make-up will be five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent. That’s a shift from the current make-up of seven Democrats, one Republican and one Independent.The new council slate will be the first to take up four-year terms following a city charter amendment voters approved in 2012.Sittenfeld also landed a huge win and easily topped the City Council race with 10,000 more votes than Winburn, who, at 27,000 votes, got the second most ballots cast in his favor out of the nine council victors. Sittenfeld netted nearly 5,000 more votes than Cranley did in the mayoral race, although Cranley ran in a head-to-head race with Qualls while Sittenfeld was one of nine candidates voters could pick out of a pool of 21.Citywide voter turnout ended up at roughly 28 percent.Other election results:Cincinnati voters rejected Issue 4, which would have privatized Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees, in a 78-22 percent vote.In the Cincinnati Public Schools board election, Melanie Bates, Ericka Copeland-Dansby, Elisa Hoffman and Daniel Minera won the four seats up for grabs.Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved property tax levies for the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 80-20 percent votes.This story was updated with the final reported results.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld may not support the current incarnation of the streetcar project, but he’s progressive enough on every other issue to gain CityBeat’s support.
by German Lopez
Councilman collects more than 1,500 signatures
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has resolved his petition problems and will appear on the ballot for reelection this November.
“The (Hamilton County Board of Elections) confirmed last
night we have more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot,”
Sittenfeld wrote in an email.
Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Board of Elections,
says the board has so far verified more than 900 signatures out of the
1,500 Sittenfeld turned in. Council candidates need 500 to get
on the ballot.
Sittenfeld was one of two candidates who faced petition problems
last week. In his case, petitions were found to have
crossed-out dates with corrections written on the back, which election officials
said might disqualify hundreds of signatures. In response, Sittenfeld renewed
his petition drive.
In a Facebook post this morning, Sittenfeld thanked a
93-year-old family friend, a former teacher, City Council candidates and
other volunteers for helping with the effort.
Mike Moroski, who was told his original batch of petitions fell 46 signatures short, wrote on Twitter that he turned in more than 1,100 signatures this morning. In a statement, Moroski thanked his team and participants
for helping him collect the signatures, which the Board of Elections will now need to verify.The deadline for turning in City Council petitions is Aug. 22. Once the Board of Elections finishes verifying the numbers, it will release the full slate of candidates.
How P.G. Sittenfeld found himself at the center of the city’s parking plan drama
2 Comments · Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was
one of the first to find out about a memo that’s spurred renewed calls
to halt the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages
to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
by German Lopez
P.G. Sittenfeld, Mike Moroski renewing drives
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and City Council
candidate Mike Moroski are both facing issues that could keep them off
the ballot this November, but both candidates are renewing their
petition drives to correct the issues before it’s too late.
Council candidates must file 500 valid petition signatures
to the Hamilton County Board of Elections by Aug. 22 to get on the ballot, but two different
circumstances are putting those prospects in doubt for Moroski and
In Moroski’s case, he fell 46 signatures short of the 500
needed. Because the petitions were already filed, he now has to regather
all of the necessary signatures and file them to the Board of
Moroski told CityBeat that he’s already collected
more than 200 signatures in the past 24 hours and intends to turn in a batch of 800 to 900 before the filing deadline.
“We’re determined to get on the ballot, and we’re determined to win,” he says.
For Sittenfeld, the circumstances are a little more
technical: Because dates were crossed out on various petitions and
corrected on the back of the forms, the board isn’t sure whether the
rules allow them to accept the signatures. If the petitions aren’t
accepted, Sittenfeld would fall under the 500-signature threshold, even
though more than 700 valid signatures were confirmed, according to
To avoid the problems entirely, Sittenfeld is now regathering the necessary signatures.
“The four board members of the (Board of Elections) will
make the final decision on the validity of my petitions and I hope and
believe it is unlikely that they will invalidate my signatures,”
Sittenfeld said in an emailed statement to supporters. “However, I am
leaving nothing to chance and am determined to continue serving the
citizens of our community.”
Both candidates are asking supporters who signed the old
petitions to come back to them and sign the new ones. If not, they might
not appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
by German Lopez
History suggests fundraising is not necessarily an indicator of strength
Ex-Councilman John Cranley is outraising Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls in the 2013 mayoral race by roughly $124,000. Some are
calling the fundraising lead an important indicator of strength, but the history and research of money in politics show the lead might
not matter much, if at all.
The numbers came in yesterday as political candidates from
around the state filed their finance reports. So far, Cranley has
raised about $472,000, compared to Qualls’ $348,000. Of that money,
Cranley has about $264,000 still in hand, and Qualls has nearly
The disparity is unsurprising to the campaigns. The
Cranley campaign has always said it needs $1 million to win. Qualls,
who’s been polled as the slight favorite, has a tamer goal of $750,000.
The City Council races are similarly sprawled with cash.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading the pack with nearly $279,000,
while newcomer Greg Landsman topped challengers and even
some council members with a total raised of $165,000.
Given all the cash pouring into the campaigns, many people
assume it plays a pivotal role. But a look at the history and research
shows fundraising might not matter all that much.
Money clearly didn’t matter in the 2005 mayoral race.
During that campaign, former State Sen. Mark Mallory spent nearly
$380,000. Ex-Councilman David Pepper spent $1.2 million — more than
three times his opponent. Mallory still won the vote 52-48 percent.
In contrast, money might have boosted Sittenfeld to second
place in the 2011 Council races, putting the relatively new challenger
only behind the widely known Qualls. Sittenfeld raised $306,000 for that
campaign, the most out of anyone in the race.
Still, most political science points to money having a
marginal, if any, electoral impact. Jennifer Victor, a political science professor
at George Mason University, explains the research in her blog: “Campaigning may help voters focus their attention (see this), be persuasive in some cases (see this), and help deliver successful message (see this).
Frequently, macro-economic trends are the best predictors of
presidential elections. History tells us that all that money spent by
outsiders may not affect the outcome of the election — because campaigns
(generally) don’t matter (see political science research here, here, and here, for example).”
Instead, political scientists cite other factors as
much more important indicators: economic growth, the direction of the city, state
and country, incumbency or successorship, name likability and
recognition, and political affiliation.The mayoral primary election is Sept. 10, followed by the final election on Nov. 5. The next finance reports are due Oct. 24.[Correction: This story originally said $134,000 when the correct number is $124,000.]
by German Lopez
Behind the parking plan drama, state budget cuts local funding, bridge to get federal bump
Being one of the first to discover a critical memo put Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at the center of an ongoing drama
regarding the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and
garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The memo criticized
the financial details of the lease, but it was kept from the Port, City
Council and the public for nearly a month. Ever since the controversial
parking plan passed City Council and was upheld in court, concerned
citizens, business leaders and critics like Sittenfeld have been calling
on the city and Port to rework or halt the deal. So far, the city and
Port have stuck to their support. The city will get a $92 million lump
sum and at least $3 million a year from the lease, which it currently
plans to use to help balance city budgets and fund development projects,
such as the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The latest state budget secured more cuts to city and county governments,
putting local governments at a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two
years compared to 2010 and 2011, according to a new report from
progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local
government funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But
the latest state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash
in extra revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that
legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts. For Cincinnati, the
original cuts cost the city more than $22 million in revenue.
The Brent Spence Bridge was bumped up in a federal funding priority list
through a successful amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio
Republican. The amendment prioritized $500 million for obsolete and
structurally unsound bridges, but it’s so far unclear how much of the
money will go to the Brent Spence Bridge project, which state officials
estimate will cost $2.7 billion. Currently, Ohio and Kentucky officials
plan to pay for the bridge project by enacting tolls.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor this
year, is calling on the city manager to produce a plan that would
structurally balance Cincinnati’s operating budget by 2016. “To build on
the momentum Cincinnati is now experiencing, we must set a course now
for a fiscally sustainable future,” Qualls said in a statement. “That’s
why I’m urging that we have a plan to reach structural balance by 2016,
restore reserves and increase the city’s pension contribution, minimize
using the parking lease payment to restore budget cuts and continue to
invest in neighborhoods and jobs to grow revenue.” The announcement
comes more than one week after Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating
and criticized the city for its exposure to unsustainable pension
liabilities and reliance on one-time sources to fix budget gaps.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor,
is rolling out his jobs plan today. The initiative will provide a job
training program for individuals facing long-term unemployment or
underemployment, which the Cranley campaign estimates will result in 379
individuals per year obtaining full-time, permanent jobs. The
program will be mainly paid for by pulling funds from the city’s Office of
Environmental Quality, Department of Finance, travel and the state
lobbyist. “My deepest conviction is that there is dignity in work. I
believe all able-bodied adults should work and be self-sufficient. And I
believe society has an obligation to ensure the opportunity to work
exists,” Cranley said in a statement.On Second Thought: “Facts vs. Perceptions in Trayvon Martin Coverage.”
Police yesterday shot and killed
Roger Ramundo, an allegedly armed Clifton resident. Officers had
been called to the area of Clifton and Ludlow avenues by a mental health
provider, who said there was a person with mental health issues armed with a gun, according to interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul
Humphries. Police said they tried to first subdue Ramundo with Tasers
during an ensuing struggle, but they were unsuccessful and the man
pulled out his gun and fired a shot. That’s when one officer fired two
shots that hit Ramundo, who was then taken to University Hospital, where
he was pronounced dead.
Gov. Kasich isn’t providing clemency
to a Cleveland killer who stabbed his victim 17 times, overruling a
rare plea for mercy from prosecutors but siding with a majority of the
state parole board. Billy Slagle will be executed on Aug. 7.
Ohio will take a hands-off approach
to promoting Obamacare, even though outreach will be crucial for the controversial
health care law. President Barack Obama’s administration estimates it
will have to enroll millions of young adults into health care plans to turn the law into a success.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County is investigating if Obamacare could result in lower property taxes by allowing the county to shift costs to the federal government.
A Cincinnati money manager is being accused of running an “elaborate Ponzi scheme”
that cost investors “tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars,”
according to a July 20 complaint filed in the Hamilton County Common
The average price of a flight from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport dropped, but the airport is still the second-most expensive in the nation.
CityBeat gave Internet cat-celebrity Lil Bub an in-depth look in this week’s issue. Find it online here.
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