Cincinnati's 1 Percent

Rich people get to do whatever the hell they want in this city. Maybe that’s the way it is in every city and anyone surprised by it is a simpleton who clearly grew up on the wrong side of I-75. But the influence that Cincinnati's rich people have over th

Rich people get to do whatever the hell they want in this city. 

Maybe that’s the way it is in every city and anyone surprised by it is a simpleton who clearly grew up on the wrong side of I-75. 

But the influence that Cincinnati’s rich people have over the direction of this city and the distribution of its resources should disturb everyone. 

This week, Cincinnati Union Bethel finally agreed to sell the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern, ending two-plus years of lawsuits by the insurance giant that effectively obstructed city and state processes of distributing federal loans earmarked for low-income housing and historical preservation. 

The Anna Louise Inn qualified for the loans, which it planned to use to renovate its historical building in the Lytle Park district, where it has been helping women in need for more than 100 years. As a result of Western & Southern blocking the funding in court for so long, the organization has been forced to give up a building that was donated by the Taft family in 1909 and named after their daughter for the express purpose of helping low-income women. 

The Inn has been fulfilling this mission ever since. It will continue to do so in its new location in Mount Auburn, a neighborhood home to other social service agencies and less wealthy people. In a year or two, Western & Southern will turn the Anna Louise Inn into the hotel it’s always wanted next to the other hotel it already renovated.

[Find CityBeat's collection of Anna Louise Inn coverage here.]

After years of complicated legal disputes and heated public relations battles, the debate is no longer about whether or not the Lytle Park district is the best place for a social services agency. 

It’s about who’s in charge of anything anymore. 

City leaders could do nothing but stand on the sidelines while Western & Southern sued the Anna Louise Inn and the city of Cincinnati over zoning technicalities, going so far as to have a high-ranking executive attempt to distribute pages of mug shots during a zoning hearing to suggest that women living in the Inn contributed to crime in the neighborhood. That same executive, Eagle Realty President Mario San Marco, a couple years earlier wrote that he was “delighted” to serve on a board that gave the Inn’s prostitution recovery program an award. Then he singled the program out as being bad for the neighborhood. 

At least he wasn’t the one who wrote a letter complaining about “pungent marijuana smoke” and residents of the Inn having sex in the park’s shrubbery. That was a different Western & Southern employee. 

If this is what Western & Southern CEO John Barrett calls the “high road,” it’s news to most people close to the situation, although his friends over at The Enquirer on May 13 legitimized his version of the conflict by publishing an editorial using the company’s PR-speak — “win-win” — in the headline, in addition to a friendly Q&A with Barrett just hours after the announcement of the pending sale.  

“Stay on the high road, stick with the facts and persevere,” Barrett told The Enquirer’s Josh Pichler, himself familiar with local Fortune 500 company executives because his father used to be the CEO of Kroger. “Do not fall for the bait, don’t get into it. It’s a win-win deal, so get a win-win deal. And we did.”

When Western & Southern in March accused the Anna Louise Inn of potentially discriminating against men, many thought it was a pathetic, last-ditch effort to secure a property that — as reported only by CityBeat — it turned down a chance to buy back in 2009. Turns out, crying reverse discrimination might have been the company’s home run swing.

City Council has been helpless the whole time, its members offering their support for the Anna Louise Inn’s mission over the months, but most including a cursory side note that Western & Southern is normally a really great corporate citizen. 

You don’t win elections in this city pissing off powerful corporate executives. 

According to the theoretical concept of America, the Anna Louise Inn should have been allowed to continue its mission on its own property, which is near bus lines and jobs that helped give low-income women another chance at a healthy life. 

Maybe it’s OK — Mount Auburn has a lot of bus routes. They can always come back and visit the city-owned park anytime between dawn and dusk. 

A few weeks ago, CityBeat received an anonymous letter that read, “See how Cincinnati’s elite spend their time and their company’s money!” And because everyone loves a good episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, we were intrigued by the guest list on the itinerary for a Cincinnati Commercial and Commonwealth Club outing to The Sanctuary Camelback Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, Ariz., May 2-5. 

We were unable to verify whether the 10-page packet was an official itinerary of the exclusive business group’s outing — the Commercial and Commonwealth Club website requires a username and password to see anything — but if it’s fake someone went to great lengths to create the “C&C Activity Sign-Up Grid,” complete with options for driving-school sessions, glider soaring, golf, massages, mixology classes, museums, poolside lounging, Reds Fantasy Camp and six types of spa treatments.

John F. Barrett and his brother, C. Francis Barrett — whose noble vocations include representing Western & Southern in court against the Anna Louise Inn and serving on the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees — were on the list, along with a veritable who’s who of local powerful people: Enquirer president & publisher Margaret E. Buchanan, former UC president Gregory H. Williams, auto magnate Jeffrey L. Wyler, three Castellinis, three Keatings, one Portman and several II’s, III’s, M.D.s and Esqs. Even a grown man named Dudley.

Total members: 121; total staff: 5; total attendees: 126. 

The final page is the “C&C Credit Card Authorization Form” (for incidental expenses and single supplements for single occupancy rooms). The page before it included the question: “Do you need golf club rentals?” 

Whoever made it should have automatically checked the box next to, “No, I have my own clubs and they are fucking awesome.”

Am I mad that rich and powerful people enjoy hiking the Grand Canyon and pretending to play for the Reds? 

No, not really. 

Am I disturbed, offended and maybe just a little terrified that they can obstruct the city government and force out a women’s home with no repercussions a highly paid PR firm — and a little help from their friends at The Cincinnati Enquirer — can’t fix? 

Isn’t everybody?

CONTACT DANNY CROSS: [email protected]

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