News: A New Charter

Cincinnati's old-line third party wants big change

Jymi Bolden

City council should stop "punishing the poor" and work on solutions, according to Charter Committee candidate John Schlagetter.

Some party members might call their new candidates' ideas common sense, some progressive. But John Schlagetter and Christopher Smitherman won the Charter Committee's endorsement for Cincinnati City Council because of their concern about issues that affect people every day.

"Charter's not a screen door for higher office," Schlagetter says. "We do not have a litmus test for endorsement and we are not beholden to national platforms. We truly believe in non-partisan politics. A lot of us think we're progressive, but then we have different ideas about what that means."

Smitherman and Schlagetter are non-incumbents. The party's third council candidate, Jim Tarbell, is running for his fourth term.

Schlagetter unsuccessfully ran in 2001 as a Charterite. Why is he trying again?

"The city's still going down the tubes," he says.

'Ghost of the Midwest'
Smitherman, who attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts to focus on his vocal talents, owns his own business as a financial planner. He says he was attracted to the Charter Committee because of its focus on the arts, community based policing and environmental issues.

"Talking about neighborhood development and business development — those aren't things that go against each other," he says. "These are things that are in harmony."

He and his family live in the neighborhood where he grew up, North Avondale.

"I moved back to Cincinnati because I thought it was a nice place to raise a family," he says.

Schlagetter, an architect, would like to focus on ways to keep people living in Cincinnati. He's concerned about the rate at which the city's population is dropping while the budget continues to increase.

"By 2020 our city will have lost another 100,000 residents," he says. "Not adjusted for inflation, in 100 years, when no one lives here, we'll have an annual budget of $1.5 billion."

On his Web site (, Schlagetter details his plans for keeping Cincinnati from becoming the "Ghost of the Midwest."

One problem is the city fails to focus on attracting employers who pay decent wages, according to Smitherman.

"The city has a responsibility in marketing our city to potential employers and creating jobs for people in our city so they can raise their families," he says.

Schlagetter shares that goal, showing its application to city operations. He says he's been tracking Cincinnati Fire Department statistics, for instance, since 2000.

From 1998 through 2002, the neighborhoods with above-average calls for service per capita were downtown and the riverfront, Queensgate, Over-the-Rhine, Lower Price Hill, Camp Washington, South Fairmount, North Avondale, West End, English Woods, Walnut Hills, California, Millvale, Corryville, Winton Place and Winton Hills.

Three-fourths of the fire department's rescue calls are for emergency medical services. In low-income neighborhoods, many of those calls are from people who don't have a medical emergency but lack medical insurance or transportation to see a private doctor.

Instead of treating the non-urgent calls as abuses of the system, city council should focus on creating jobs with health insurance benefits, according to Schlagetter.

"While non-emergency cases as determined by our qualified EMS personnel should be deferred to patients' normal health care providers," he says, "the larger issue is continued attempts to punish the poor in our city because it's easier to do than focusing on pro-growth policies that create economic opportunity, decreasing poverty and increasing access to private health insurance. The problem is everybody focuses on election year fixes instead of long-term solutions."

'Addressing the demands'
Smitherman believes African Americans who vote a straight Democratic ticket are making a mistake. The Democrats have a majority of seats on council now.

"You have to think about what team you want in place downtown," Smitherman says.

Schlagetter sees voters disillusioned by what the major political parties do on council but continue to vote the way they always have.

"There's kind of a co-dependency with partisanship in this town," he says.

Schlagetter is a board member of Ohioans for Growth and Equality, a non-partisan group addressing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues at the state level. Last week he was elected to Stonewall Cincinnati's board.

Schlagetter believes Cincinnatians can be open to a candidate who is gay.

"It doesn't mean vote for me for that reason, but don't not-vote for me for that reason," he says.

Schlagetter says better safety, health, arts and culture are important goals, but he sees jobs and housing as the biggest issues.

"Per the 2000 Census, Cincinnati has over 148,000 occupied housing units and almost 18,000 vacancies," he says. "Simply filling these vacant units with owners will increase our homeownership rate by 18 percent to 46 percent."

Since his last campaign, Schlagetter has been researching issues and neighborhoods.

"My platform is the condensation of a 3-foot high stack of research material," he says. "Voters like candidates who know what they're talking about."

Smitherman believes recent city budget cuts weren't well thought out, including the elimination of the Office of Environmental Management and the repeal of the Air Quality Ordinance.

"We just cut things without doing due diligence," he says.

Smitherman and his wife have four children, one of whom has asthma attacks every other week. The city's air quality is important to him, he says.

Policies on other issues also send messages about the kind of city Cincinnati is, especially its attitude about inclusion and diversity, according to Smitherman. Article 12 of the city charter, which prohibits granting equal rights to gays, probably keeps gays and heterosexuals away, he says.

"How do we have Article 12 on our books and how does that impact our economy?" he asks.

During his last campaign, Schlagetter said council members should quit making sarcastic comments and instead listen to citizens who speak at council meetings.

"When 500 of your customers show up and want to talk about a defect in your product or service, you don't put them on hold," he said in 2001.

His advice is similar when it comes to the civil rights boycott of Cincinnati. Schlagetter says the boycotters took their issues to city council and were ignored.

"The issue isn't whether you support the boycott or not," he says. "The issue is whether you support ending the boycott by addressing the demands or continuing it by ignoring the demands." ©