Best Of 2016

2016 Public Eye Staff Picks: The city's and state's best news and political events and the people involved as determined by CityBeat staff.

2016 Public Eye Staff Picks

BEST HAPPY ENDING TO A CONTENTIOUS HISTORIC CONSERVATION BATTLE

Last year, it looked like efforts to renovate revered Cincinnati landmark Music Hall were stuck. Hamilton County Commissioners scuttled an attempt to include the building, built in 1887, in a countywide tax levy that is currently raising funds for Union Terminal’s big fix. But then Ohio awarded the building $25 million in historic preservation tax credits, and private donors stepped up in a big way, helping get the building closer to a fully funded $123 million renovation. That work will kick off in earnest this summer, and the only bad part is we won’t be able to enjoy its amazing interior while taking in a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or Pops concert during the process. Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-621-2787, cincinnatiarts.org.

BEST WAY TO POORLY FIRE YOUR POLICE CHIEF

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley capped a long, contentious summer in the city by unceremoniously canning then-Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. The chief had just been informed when a news release about his firing was sent out, and Blackwell had yet to see a report compiled by the city manager with allegations about CPD’s hostile work environment and other problems under his leadership. The quick nature of his release set off protests and tense exchanges at City Hall between Cranley, Cincinnati City Council members and community leaders. It also garnered national news coverage at a time when the city was being recognized for its use of community policing, which Blackwell had come to symbolize. 



BEST BIKE PROJECTS THAT STILL HAVEN’T HAPPENED

We wouldn’t be Cincinnati if we didn’t have potential for really cool things and a torturous road ahead for us to get to them. So it is with the daunting project of making the city more bicycle friendly. We’ve come a long way — cyclists who traverse the now-bike-friendly stretch of Central Parkway into downtown will tell you that — but there is much more to be done. Expanding those bike lanes into more neighborhoods like Northside would be a great start. And then there are larger projects like Cincinnati Connects, which seeks to create a “bicycle superhighway” by boosting and linking bike trail-building efforts such as the East Side to Uptown route known as Wasson Way. Achieving all that may look daunting, but it’s well worth the effort.

BEST PROSPECT FOR BIG CHANGE ON THE HAMILTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

It’s no secret: Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati these days are a lot more CeeLo Green (the uh, less polite version of his big hit “Forget You” seems a pretty apt soundtrack for the relationship) than Al Green (officials for the two bodies are definitely not singing “Let’s Stay Together” to each other any time soon). With everything so standoffish, it would be refreshing to see a change of pace for the commission, and the coming election seems like the right time for voters to go that route. Enter Democrat Denise Driehaus, a familiar face in Cincinnati who has made regional cooperation a centerpiece of her campaign. Beyond that, Driehaus could also tip the partisan balance of power on the commission toward Democrats for the first time in years, giving the county’s governing body a much-needed shake-up.

BEST USE OF A POPULAR OLDER BROTHER’S NAME ON THE BALLOT

Everyone knows Joe Deters. Now, not everyone likes the controversial Hamilton County prosecutor, but you’d be hard pressed to get better name recognition in a local election. His brother, Dennis Deters, seems to have recognized this and will borrow the name “Joe” — his middle name — when he appears on the ballot for Hamilton County commissioner in November. Is that weird? A little. Dennis Deters hasn’t used that name on any other official documents or election registrations. Perhaps it’s just an attempt to squeeze a little extra love from voters, who will have to choose between Deters and well-known Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus.

BEST PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING AT A LOCAL MUSEUM

Many museums feel it sufficient to survey the past from the safely removed vantage point of the present day. But the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center takes charged, multi-faceted problems — from human bondage to race relations — and drags them into the here and now. From conferences on modern-day slavery to programs exploring urban violence like the ones around recent art exhibition Kin Killin’ Kin, the Freedom Center has an unblinking eye on the dark issues confronting people here in Cincinnati and around the world. What’s more, the center provides inspiration and information to confront them. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 E. Freedom Way, Downtown, 513-333-7739, freedomcenter.org.

BEST PARANOID ATTEMPT BY a CITY COUNCIL MEMBER TO KEEP HOMELESS PEOPLE AWAY FROM SCHOOLS

If you blinked, you missed it, but it’s worth recalling Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s weird move trying to get panhandling banned outside Cincinnati schools. That in and of itself seems par for the course for poverty-phobic conservatives, but it was Smitherman’s reasoning that raised some eyebrows. The independent conservative councilman cited school shootings and his wish that no strangers approach his kids, even his 17-year-old son, without his permission as he pursued the proposed ordinance. Luckily, it went nowhere, probably because other council members heeded the reams of data showing that the homeless are no more likely than anyone else to pose a threat to the public.

BEST SURVIVAL STORY

Since 2009, lawmakers in Ohio have been chipping away at the legal legs on which the state’s abortion providers stand, passing ever-tighter restrictions designed to cut down the number of clinics that perform abortions here. Those new laws have led to some close calls for Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic, Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center. But through stubborn legal fights, the organization has been able to keep conservative lawmakers from making Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to a clinic, even as legislative attacks on Planned Parenthood continue. Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center, 2314 Auburn Ave., Mount Auburn, 513-287-6484, plannedparenthood.org.

Cincinnati voted no on Issue 22 - Illustration: L.D. Nehls

BEST BRUISING DEFEAT AT THE LOCAL BALLOT BOX

Mayor John Cranley had a rough go of it this November when he proposed a property tax hike to pay for 16 different parks projects throughout the city, as well as deferred maintenance the Cincinnati Park Board has said is currently out of its reach. Money for parks seems on its face like a noble endeavor, but there were some problems: The tax boost was presented as an amendment to the city’s charter that gave the mayor and the park board he appoints near-total control over the money collected. Then there were questions about big contributions the park board made to the tax boost’s campaign. Voters said “no, thanks” by a two-to-one margin in November, handing Cranley a humbling defeat.

BEST TERRIFYING WEED-HEADED MASCOT FOR A POLITICAL CAUSE

Oh, Buddie, we barely knew ye. The mascot for ResponsibleOhio’s ill-fated bid to make it legal to sell marijuana from 10 grow sites around the state owned by the group’s investors was… unique. Superhero costume, complete with cape? Check. Rippling musculature and skin-tight body suit? Check. Enormous and terrifying marijuana bud for a head? Of course. The reign of his dankness on college campuses and in liberal towns around the state was short lived, and by the end even his allies betrayed him. ResponsibleOhio organizer Ian James called Buddie “a mistake” in interviews after the failure of the group’s bid. But we’ll always remember that giant green face, even if only in nightmares.

BEST HISTORIC SUPREME COURT VICTORY

It finally happened, and it started right here in Cincinnati. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage equality to all 50 states, thanks to plaintiffs against Ohio and other states’ anti-gay marriage laws, including Jim Obergefell, Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers. Based on the order in which his case was filed, Obergefell’s name is in the title of the historic Supreme Court ruling, and the unassuming Over-the-Rhine resident who fought to appear on his late spouse’s death certificate has become a national icon for LGBTQ rights.

BEST ILLUSTRATION OF THE VITAL NEED FOR POLICE BODY CAMERAS

If not for a tiny camera worn by the police officer who shot him, there might be no chance of justice for Samuel DuBose. University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing pulled DuBose over in July for a missing front license plate. Shortly afterward, DuBose was dead. Tensing said his arm got stuck in DuBose’s steering wheel and he was being dragged, but the footage shows Tensing shot him with no provocation before his car started moving. Tensing was later dismissed from the force and now faces murder and manslaughter charges. In the aftermath, UC’s police department is undergoing reform, and the Cincinnati Police Department is now phasing in body cameras for all of its officers.

BEST UNFORCED POLITICAL ERROR

The national debate over Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. following horrifying attacks on Paris by extremist group ISIS was a strange thing for a mayor to weigh in on. While a bigwig here, the city’s top guy has little say over national policy around refugee resettlement — even Ohio Gov. John Kasich couldn’t really keep Syrians out of the Ohio if he wanted to. Mayor John Cranley’s press release about refugees might have been just a strange footnote if he hadn’t sided with panic-stricken conservatives freaked out about undercover terrorists infiltrating Cincinnati. In doing so, Cranley mystifyingly alienated fellow Democrats while accomplishing exactly nothing in the process.

BEST IDEA TO EXTEND EDUCATION TO MORE CINCINNATI KIDS

Hey, did you know that Cincinnati has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country? If you didn’t, you do now. What are we going to do about it? There are a few different ideas, but one with a lot of momentum right now is Preschool Promise, an initiative seeking to provide preschool to all Cincinnati Public School students. Studies show that early exposure to quality education helps boost a child’s chances of academic success and ability to climb out of poverty. While there’s much work to be done to help low-income folks suffering right now, extending preschool to all kids could be the start of a generational shift toward a more equitable Cincinnati. Preschool Promise, askpreschoolpromise.org.

BEST CONTINUING POLITICAL DRAMA KEEPING US ON THE EDGE OF OUR SEATS

We’ve already seen the always-controversial Cincinnati streetcar gliding around its three-mile loop through Over-the-Rhine and downtown on empty test runs like some space-age ghost ship. And it’s well on its way to ferrying its first riders come September. But that doesn’t mean the issue is settled in the eyes of its opponents. 2015 saw freakouts over contingency funding, whether the streetcar will make enough money from naming rights to shore up operating costs and proxy wars over parking spots and parking meters in Over-the-Rhine tied to the transit project. Will 2016 be the year the streetcar proves opponents wrong? Stay tuned.

BEST WEIRD, DESPERATE GRAB FOR ATTENTION

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has had a heck of a time getting attention in his bid to become the GOP nominee for president. But it’s not like he didn’t try. His weirdest “hey, look at me” moment probably came in November, when he proposed creating a new government agency that would spread Judeo-Christian values in the Middle East. It was meant to be a way to capitalize on Donald Trump’s rampant xenophobia, but it just made Kasich look like he’s stoked on creating propaganda and making government bigger, two things conservatives are always paranoid about.

BEST CONTENTIOUS TOPIC TO DISCUSS (OR AVOID) WHILE EATING FANCY FOOD IN OTR

Over-the-Rhine has definitely changed. There’s little denying it. Other formerly low-income neighborhoods might soon follow suit, which has kept gentrification an ongoing minefield of a topic around town. That makes it a little awkward to eat gourmet pizza in a neighborhood where the median household income is still well below the poverty line, sure, but it also means that it’s past time for those difficult conversations. With upcoming redevelopment in neighborhoods like Walnut Hills, Northside and Price Hill, there is plenty to talk about.

BEST SHADE THROWN BY A U.S. SENATOR AT OHIO’S STATE LAWMAKERS

Admit it, passing a bill allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry their guns on college campuses and day cares in the aftermath of multiple school shootings was a bit much. At least that’s what U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown was thinking when he called Ohio state lawmakers “lunatics” for passing that bill in November. We’re with him on that one.

BEST SORE LOSER

Rowan County, Ky. Clerk Kim Davis was none too happy about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage over the summer. So she exercised her God-given right: refusing to do her job. Except that’s not exactly a right when you’re a county employee taking taxpayer money while refusing to marry anyone until the gays aren’t allowed to wed anymore. Davis’ adherence to her bigotry — err, religious beliefs — landed her in jail for a few days, and Rowan County has since resumed marrying people.

BEST CITY COUNCIL EFFORT IN RESPONSE TO LEELAH ALCORN’S TRAGIC DEATH

The tragic suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn late in 2014 shone new light on the plight of young members of the LGBTQ community, especially those subjected to so-called “conversion therapy.” But a year later, City Councilman Chris Seelbach stepped up and introduced an ordinance to ban practices that try to convert LGBTQ teens to heterosexuality. The practice isn’t part of accepted therapeutic science, and Cincinnati became the first city to ban it when council passed Seelbach’s ordinance in December.
A July 31, 2015 candlelight vigil for Samuel DuBose - Photo: Nick Swartsell

BEST CONTINUED PUSH FOR RACIAL JUSTICE

Cincinnati activists protesting the police shootings of Samuel DuBose, Tamir Rice and many others aren’t only using rallies in the streets to bring to light economic and justice system discrimination against people of color. They’re also holding teach-ins, book clubs, open discussions and even bowling outings. Somehow, in response to one of the most charged and polarizing topics imaginable, Cincinnati Black Lives Matter has managed to create an inclusive, if relentless, local movement. Cincinnati Black Lives Matter, facebook.com/blacklivesmattercincinnati.

BEST TOTAL WASTE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS

Speaking of Planned Parenthood, your tax dollars paid for something that can only be described as an extended fishing session by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Following the release of heavily edited video footage by anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organ tissue in Texas, DeWine launched an investigation into Ohio’s clinics. He didn’t find any illegal tissue sales, but did claim that the organization was contracting with a company that dumped fetal remains in landfills. Just a few things: The state of Ohio uses the same company, and officials in Kentucky where the landfill is located say investigators never reached out to them and that they dispute the AG’s claim. Oh, and The Center for Medical Progress? A grand jury declined to indict Planned Parenthood and instead indicted the anti-abortion activists on federal records-tampering charges.

BEST SURPRISE EXIT FROM AN ULTRA-POWERFUL PERCH

Turns out it wasn’t all power, extravagant tanning bed trips, emotionally cleansing crying jags and Pope visits for the most powerful man in Congress. House Speaker John Boehner, who represented the suburbs just north of Cincinnati, surprised everyone when he resigned from his post in September, effectively ending his political career. Was it the death threats from his deranged country club bar tender? Did the Pontifex impart some life-changing wisdom for the staunchly Catholic Boehner in a visit immediately preceding the speaker’s exit? Nah, the reason was much more mundane: The tea party forced him out.

BEST TWITTER FLAME WAR

John Kasich GOP primary attention grab take two: The Ohio guv trying to tangle with reality TV star and aggressive hair piece-wearer Donald Trump on Twitter. It didn’t take a political scientist to predict that this one wouldn’t go well for Kasich, but he tried it anyway, enduring pretty awful jabs like this Trump gem: “I want to do negative ads on John Kasich, but he is so irrelevant to the race that I don’t want to waste my money.” Ouch. @realDonaldTrump; @JohnKasich.

BEST NO-BRAINER BALLOT INITIATIVE TO MAKE STATE POLITICS FAIRER

Do you remember when your Nintendo would get some dust in it and everything looked all scrambled? Envision a game of Tetris under such conditions and you’ve pretty much got Ohio’s state legislative districts. They’re crazy looking, and there’s a reason for that. Lawmakers — most recently Republicans — have drawn them that way to give distinct advantages to their party by isolating opposing voters and consolidating their own constituents. The result? Even though the state splits nearly evenly in presidential contests and went to Democrat Barack Obama in the last two elections, our state house is 67-percent Republican. It’s called gerrymandering, but a fix is on the way. Voters passed Issue 1 last November, approving a big change in the way redistricting happens. That should make elections fairer and more representative. Consider it the political version of blowing dust out of that Nintendo cartridge.

BEST EVIDENCE THAT SOMETHING’S AMISS WITH OHIO’S CHARTER SCHOOLS

First, Ohio Department of Education staffer David Hansen got caught excluding online charter schools from the state’s charter school performance measures. Oops. Hansen, husband to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign manager Beth Hansen, subsequently resigned. But not before he fired off a federal grant application that may net the state $71 million to create more charter schools. That application said that the state had only six low-performing charters. But after questions from the feds, the state turned around and admitted that number was actually six times higher. Oops. Meanwhile, state lawmakers and charter boosters are still in the grips of charter-mania, making plans to establish more.

BEST LONGSHOT SENATE CANDIDATE

Everyone loves an underdog. Well, maybe not the Ohio Democratic Party, but most people. So while Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s run for U.S. Senate at first seemed quixotic, it was pretty gutsy and admirable. What’s more, Sittenfeld, just 31, made some headway. Sure, he lacked the name recognition and poll numbers of his primary opponent, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, but Sittenfeld made some good policy points, raised some impressive campaign dollars and racked up some real endorsements during his run. In the end, the momentum stayed with the more-connected and experienced Strickland, who will challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman this fall, but Sittenfeld showed himself to be a sharp, committed campaigner and may very well have set himself up for success down the road.