By any measure, Cincinnati is in trouble, torn by racial conflict and rapidly losing population. Now the city is facing an estimated $25 million deficit.
With the mess Cincinnati is in, why should any incumbents be returned to city council? That's one of six questions CityBeat asked the seven council members seeking reelection.
We started with a definition of terms.
You say 'riot,' I say 'rebellion'
The defining moments of 2001 in Cincinnati — and the foreseeable future — took place April 9-14. Some call the disturbances following the fatal police shooting of Timothy Thomas a "riot." Others prefer "rebellion" — not justifying the street violence but casting it as a political phenomenon.
"Clearly it was a rebellion, to me," says Councilman Paul Booth. "We've had a simmering, festering problem in our city for some time.
The civil disturbance was just a response from persons who felt unheard, left out and locked out. The real question is, what message do we get? Where do we go from here?"
Councilwoman Alicia Reece rejects both terms.
"I consider April 'unrest,' " she says.
Newspaper clippings of the 1960s showed bodies lying in the street — something that didn't happen in April.
"During that period of the unrest, besides Timothy Thomas, there were no deaths," Reece says.
Vice Mayor Minette Cooper also sees what happened in light of other disturbances.
"I consider it a rebellion," she says.
Cooper was attending college in Washington, D.C. in 1967, four months pregnant when riots broke out.
"They had armed national guards at every corner and they had people that were really doing things," she says.
For Cooper, the way to prevent civil unrest is by addressing the part of the population that feels it has nothing to lose.
"I think that we need working people, because working people have something to lose," Cooper says. "They have a home and things of value."
Councilmen Chris Monzel, John Cranley and Pat DeWine saw a riot in April.
"I think it was a riot for the main reason that innocent people were hurt, innocent businesses were destroyed," Monzel says.
Monzel said the city is trying to listen to the problems of the citizens but is facing tough problems that won't be solved overnight.
"It was a riot," Cranley says. "People's lives were destroyed. Property was destroyed. Violence is not the answer. Give peace a chance."
Of all the incumbents, Councilman Jim Tarbell uses the mildest term for the April disturbances.
"I think most of it was careless behavior," he says. "Most of it was taking advantage of our vulnerability at the time. In the case of the Over-the-Rhine situation, 75 percent of the people arrested came from outside the neighborhood."
Fixing the police division
The Cincinnati Police Division is the subject of dozens of lawsuits and an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. What should be done to get the police under control?
Cranley believes the city needs 75 more cops. Council passed the proposal, as yet unfunded, but some of his fellow Democrats on council have been reluctant to back it.
"The 75 more cops proposal is an illusion," Reece says. "I think there's a couple truths that have to be told."
Only 35 of the officers will be on the force at the end of 2002, the full 75 not until 2004, Reece says. She estimates 75 new officers will cost the city $160 million over 18 years. Reece says residents do not want more rookies on the street.
"What people have told me is they want experience on the streets," she says.
The police division has 1,013 officers, of whom 836 are on the street, Reece says. The 2001-2002 police budget, without the additional police officers, comes up to $212 million, she says.
"To put an illusion that council is anti-police is incorrect," Reece says. "We voted for more money than any other council for police."
Reece attributes part of the surge in crime to reports of a police slowdown.
"The criminal element feels they have a green light to infiltrate into Cincinnati, or the criminal element that lives in Cincinnati felt that was an excellent opportunity to run loose," she says.
Booth says the city needs to take a closer look at the things that lead to crime.
"More police does not really address the root problem," he says. "If we're going to add more police, we also have to go back and address those conditions that cause economic deprivation."
In 1999 Booth called for a cultural audit of the police division by an independent organization. City council declined.
"The whole purpose of it was not to indict the police department but recognize the fact that police/community relations is really at a low ebb in our city," Booth says.
The community should support the police who do their job well, he says.
"But we obviously have to have police officers on the force who really recognize the value and worth of the citizens, regardless of what their background is or what neighborhood they live in," he says.
Monzel thinks having more citizens in the Citizens on Patrol program would help.
"We always complain about community/police relations, but we always beat up the police," he says. "The first word is community."
Tarbell thinks communications between the police division and the city administration is key. He also says the division should change the focus of assignments from specialization to beat cops.
"Guys that are out on the street every day — you just get effective coverage that way," he says. "The specialized units are kind of waiting around for something special in their category."
The city should use outside attorneys when it comes to firing cops, according to DeWine. So far, the city has lost attempts to fire 14 officers.
"The arbitrators have overturned all these firings," he says.
Cooper thinks providing customer service is part of the job of a police officer, and reminding them is important.
"There's not a person in this city who does not appreciate the fact that we have police officers," Cooper says. "I think it's just a matter of redirecting, encouraging and working with officers. Things that are important need to be consistently reinforced."
Art for the city's sake
City government is not only about law and order. What role should the city play in fostering the arts?
Reece suggests public and private partnerships to bring arts to recreation centers.
"So many people come in and out of our rec centers," Reece says. "They come there for athletic purposes, but I'd like to see a cultural component as well. When you have arts in neighborhoods, they tend to prosper."
Cooper would like to see the arts be more affordable.
"People who are the gung-ho artsy people go anyway," she says. "People do not go places where they don't feel comfortable."
Exposure to the arts should start with youth, according to Booth, who wants more family-oriented arts for children.
Monzel is in favor of establishing a cultural commission of volunteers to advise the city.
Tarbell says the arts have brought Cincinnati national attention, especially recent performances by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the May Festival Chorus at Carnegie Hall. The city's ownership and maintenance of Music Hall is important, he says.
"In terms of the wealth of exposure and the number of dollars provided, it's dramatic," Tarbell says. "It's also used by everybody and their brother for special events."
Reclaiming abandoned buildings
Cincinnati has about 2,000 abandoned buildings, according to Cranley. How to clean them up?
Booth says the city needs a housing court.
"Many of our abandoned buildings are due to the fact that many of the property owners really don't care," he says.
City council unanimously approved Booth's proposal for a housing court to make dealing with absentee property owners easier. The city is waiting for state approval.
Monzel says the city has to act.
"We need to develop these abandoned buildings or get rid of them," he says. "In Northside, an abandoned building is where a 13-year-old girl was raped and killed."
Reece, DeWine and Monzel stress streamlining the processes to rehabilitate buildings.
The city must recognize the asset the buildings represent, according to Cranley.
"Our greatest asset is the integrity of the buildings and their character and architecture, but they're very expensive to bring up to modern standards," he says.
Tarbell says there are several ways to deal with abandoned buildings.
"One is concentrated code enforcement to shake the rascals loose that are speculating or just not paying attention," he says. "Most of the abandoned buildings in the inner city are very important, very historic, and they're not going to be replaced. Every time a historic building is replaced, almost without exception it's replaced by something of a lesser quality."
According to Tarbell, efforts are underway to draft a financial support system for investment in inner-city neighborhoods, using private and public funds to encourage development.
One way to draw people back to city living, besides well-maintained buildings and neighborhood infrastructure, is public transportation.
Tarbell believes having a light rail system is critical.
"If Sept. 11 wasn't a wake-up call in terms of our dependence on foreign oil and the automobile, I don't know what is," he says.
Monzel believes light rail is too costly and not well thought out. He would rather see more busing and high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
"In the Midwest, we are so car-oriented that it is going to be a mindset that is going to be difficult to break," he says.
While Cranley says he's not ready to rule out light rail, he thinks it's more important to look at more versatile forms of mass transportation, such as busing.
Booth believes light rail would act as a regional draw to the city.
"I think light rail is essential if we want Cincinnati to really buzz," he says.
DeWine sees light rail as a possible part of the mix of mass transportation at some point, but says the plan on the table makes little sense. The proposed route — along Interstate 71 from Mason to downtown — wouldn't be useful to everyone, he says.
"It doesn't serve the majority of the people who live here," DeWine says.
Cooper says light rail is important but not something the city needs right away. For her, MetroMoves — the proposed overhaul of the Queen City Metro bus system — comes first.
"Before you talk about light rail, let's talk about inside transportation," she says.
Why keep this council?
One subject officeholders like to talk about is themselves. With the mess the city is in, why should any of the incumbents be returned to office?
"Nobody has taken on more substantive and controversial legislation to change the status quo than me," Cranley says. "I have a legislative record that is unsurpassed by any other council member."
Cranley wrote the legislation for a diversion program, similar to one used by Hamilton County, to allow first-time offenders to avoid criminal records. He also sponsored the legislation to ban racial profiling by police.
Monzel, appointed to council earlier this year, acknowledges dissatisfaction in the city.
"I think people have a right to be upset with the way the city is being managed," Monzel says.
But he says he has taken action to change some of the problems, including a proposal to reduce the number of reports council requests from city administrators.
"I think being an incumbent, I see these things that need to be changed," Monzel says. "That's why I think we need to keep some incumbents on."
Cooper has been on city council for six years, serving as vice-mayor for four years and chair of the finance committee for three.
"I think what I represent is experience," she says. "I think you need somebody who knows how you got where you are."
Reece says that many of the problems confronting council were inherited.
"I think it's important to note when I got to council there was already a mess to clean up," she says. "You don't get to civil unrest in two years."
Reece says she fought to keep the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission in place.
Tarbell says his position hasn't changed since the first day.
"I spend most of my waking moments working on the issues," he says. "What I specifically have to offer is a certain amount of experience on the city streets and also being in business for the last 40 years. I think I have a certain amount of institutional memory."
DeWine says he pushed to make candidates disclose campaign contributions before elections. He also worked with Reece on civil service reform, which appears on the ballot as Issue 5 on Nov. 6.
"I'm proud of what I've accomplished on council," DeWine says. "I've tried to stick up for the taxpayer every day."
Booth says change is good but so are stability, maturity and experience.
"We take the hits, we learned from any mistakes that we made and we make a commitment to do better," he says. ©