Morning News: Minority, women-owned businesses getting more city contracts; lawsuit over CPD District 5 HQ; Portman wavering on Trump nominee

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is reportedly not so sure about Andrew Puzder, the fast food CEO Trump has picked to be secretary of labor. Puzder recently admitted he hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the United States.

click to enlarge Will U.S. Sen. Rob Portman actually vote against a Trump nominee? We'll see. - Gage Skidmore
Gage Skidmore
Will U.S. Sen. Rob Portman actually vote against a Trump nominee? We'll see.

Good morning all. Let’s talk news, shall we?

The proportion of city contracts going to businesses owned by minorities is up, Mayor John Cranley announced yesterday. Upon taking office, Cranley set a goal that 15 percent of the city’s contracts would go to those businesses — a mark the city surpassed last year, tapping minority-owned businesses for 17 percent of its contract work. Contracting to female-owned businesses is also up, and together, businesses owned by women and minorities account for $112 million in city contracts — a quarter of all contracting paid out by the city. In 2015, that number was just $8.5 million. Much of those gains came from private companies agreeing to subcontract work to minority-owned firms. Contracting equity is a big issue in a city with huge racial gaps when it comes to economics. Cranley will likely use the gains in his re-election campaign, where he’s fighting tooth and nail for the votes of black residents, but he can’t take full credit for the upsurge. Cincinnati City Council in 2014 pushed to spend $1 million on a so-called Croson study, which looks at race and gender disparities in city contracting. The study showed that minority and woman-owned businesses exist in Cincinnati, but that they weren’t getting their fair share of opportunities to go to work for taxpayers on big city projects. The study gave Council a legal basis to create a city-approved list of minority subcontractors and to require big companies to use them when doing work for the city.

• Did Cincinnati Police Department’s District 5 headquarters contribute to an officer's cancer death? That’s what a lawsuit recently filed by the widow of a deceased officer suggests. Conditions at the office have been controversial of late, with some city and police officials pushing for a new building for CPD. Paula Hammer-McGuire claims that her husband, Robert McGuire, got lung cancer after he was exposed to toxic substances in the District 5 building over a course of years. He died last year — incidentally, on the same day that another District 5 officer, Stephanie Bradford, also died of cancer. Air quality tests show that the building is standard for an office building when it comes to substances like mold, radon and asbestos, and there is no concrete link between the building and cancer. Still, the Fraternal Order of Police says that at least 30 officers who have spent significant time in the building have come down with various cancers — including five who died in 2015 and 2016. The city has offered to let officers who spend most of their shifts in the building work from other CPD facilities, and City Manager Harry Black has pushed a $10 million plan that would relocate the headquarters to Central Parkway by 2019.

• Traffic is reaching record amounts on the 53-year-old Brent Spence Bridge, and as it does, accidents are also going up. Motorists crash on the bridge an average of two times a week, a function of the more than 186,000 vehicles that cross the bridge a day. Traffic is up 36 percent from its level in 2002, and accidents rose 52 percent between 2010 and 2015 compared to the six years immediately previous. President Donald Trump promised to make the bridge a priority during a campaign stop here last year, and a leaked list that his administration says isn’t official put the bridge second in line for big infrastructure projects the federal government could help tackle. But there has been little other movement from the administration on a fix for the bridge, and Trump has indicated his approach to infrastructure fixes would involve private companies and tolling — so far a political no-go for Kentucky. State House legislators there passed a law prohibiting tolling on the Brent Spence.

• New opioids are making their way into the heroin dealers are selling in Greater Cincinnati, Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says. There were 43 suspected heroin overdoses last month, and some of those look like they involved new kinds of fentanyl, a super-powerful opioid that dealers mix with heroin to increase its potency and addictiveness. Those overdoses clustered on several days in the month, suggesting they occurred as a particular shipment of drugs with the additives hit the streets. Sammarco says the new forms of the additive are an example of why her lab needs updated — the equipment in her current, outdated facility can’t effectively test for the substances.

• If there’s anything the Ohio Democratic Party wants next year, it’s to take back the governor’s mansion. After Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald took an embarrassing beating in 2014, and with state Democrats hurting to get a few wins on the board, you’d think they’d be all hands on deck for next year’s race. And they are… sort of. But they’re also sort of not, in true state Democrat fashion. A dozen potential candidates have indicated they may be interested in running for the state’s top job next year, but none have committed. The party would love to see U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Youngstown take a crack at it, but he’s non-committal, citing concerns about his family. Another potential all-star, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, would also be a good choice. But he heads the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and can’t engage in political activities while he’s in that post. Also on the list are lesser-known possibilities like Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Meanwhile, The Ohio GOP has three state-level candidates raring to go, including current Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. All three are off to the races, actively raising money for their bids, lining up high-level supporters and establishing campaigns. Meanwhile, Democrats are waiting to see who will show up at the starting line.

• Finally, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman so far has stayed pretty close to the party line when it comes to President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. He voted for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for example, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both highly contentious picks. But he’s reportedly not so sure about Andrew Puzder, the fast food CEO Trump has picked to be secretary of labor. Besides what some see as the absurdity of hiring a labor secretary from one of the most notoriously labor-unfriendly industries in America, Puzder further endangered his bid when he recently admitted he employed a housekeeper who wasn’t eligible to work in the U.S. That’s directly contrary to much of the rhetoric that has been coming out of the Trump camp about immigration and its threat to American jobs. Portman says he’s waiting to hear Puzder answer questions about that incident before he makes a yes or no vote on his nomination.