Cover Story: Don't Let Us Down

Take a tip from the mayor: It's time for fundamental changes in Cincinnati


The clock ticks, bureaucrats meet, people wait, April gets further and further away. Has it really been six months since Cincinnati split apart at the seams, spilling our guts out in front of the whole world?

Sadly, it has. And despite the good intentions of meeting hosts, rally organizers and commission panelists, this community has little to show in terms of concrete steps toward fixing the fault lines that divide us.

After the April riots, Mayor Charlie Luken threw down the gauntlet to us, declaring, "We've got to make some fundamental changes." In a later interview with CityBeat, he reiterated, "Things are radically going to change here and expectations are going to be raised."

Truer words were never spoken. Unfortunately, our leaders haven't led, and we've seen neither fundamental nor radical change. As a result, expectations are that the status quo will triumph once again.

So we must take matters into our own hands, as Tuesday's city elections offer Cincinnatians the opportunity to shape the future.

Do you favor agents of change or enemies of change? The possibilities of new leadership or the same old same old? Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

The following endorsements in Tuesday's races reflect CityBeat's recommendations for changing the way Cincinnati does business, beginning at the top. There's no better way to facilitate fundamental, radical change than electing Courtis Fuller mayor.

We'd like to see a city council filled with individuals of diverse backgrounds, ages and policies, all geared toward a unified vision of changing Cincinnati for the better. Our endorsed field has members of four different political parties and an independent, five members under 35 years old and just three incumbents — a body that can form coalitions and partnerships to fit the issues.

We'd like to see the progress already made in the Cincinnati Public Schools system maintained and have endorsed all three incumbents running.

We'd like to see Cincinnatians pass civil service reform, opening all department head positions to outside candidates, and campaign finance reform, closing off big-money contributions and giving newcomers a better chance of getting elected.

We'd like to see fundamental, radical change in city government, and nothing short of that will move our community forward. Back in the summer, CityBeat offered a nine-point menu of changes called "Cincinnati MUST" (as opposed to the city's official blue-ribbon panel, Cincinnati CAN, which has put forth few concrete ideas).

Our recommendations: Police Chief Thomas Streicher must resign; police foot patrols must be established in Over-the-Rhine and other troubled neighborhoods; the Citizens Police Review Panel must be given subpoena power; the stalled rehabilitation of Findlay Market must be finished; abandoned buildings in Over-the-Rhine must be cleaned up; city employees must be required to live in the city; official discrimination against gays and lesbians must be ended by repealing Article 12 of the City Charter; civil service reform must be enacted by passing Issue 5; and an ombudsman's office must be empowered to help citizens cut through bureaucracy and gain access to city services.

Our endorsements were based primarily on how well candidates' positions reflected these and other ideas for progressive change, as well as how candidates stand on issues CityBeat considers core values (better public transportation, support for the arts, tolerance for diversity).

This is no time to gamble with Cincinnati's future — if we sit still now, if April has taught us nothing, if we don't roll the dice and bet that the future will be better than the past, we don't deserve to be called "citizens." Your voice is needed Tuesday more than ever before — don't let Cincinnati down.

Note About the Judges: There are 42 judgeships elected in Hamilton County (Municipal Court, Court of Common Pleas and Court of Appeals), and Republicans occupy 34. Even though CityBeat isn't endorsing candidates in the four contested races for Municipal Court, we recommend — in the name of fairness, diversity and fundamental, radical change — you consider voting for the Democrats (Edward Felson, Deborah Price Rambo, Darlene Green Kamine and James Patrick Kenney).

Note About the Charts: CityBeat once again has compiled "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts of candidate endorsements from the media, political groups and civic organizations (beginning on the next page). Information was collected from the endorsing organizations and the candidates.

Cincinnati Mayor: Courtis Fuller
The real test when considering an incumbent's record, as articulated in presidential races, has become this: Are you better off today than you were X years ago? So answer honestly: Is Cincinnati better off today than it was two years ago when Charlie Luken became mayor?

The answer, of course, is no. What else needs to be said?

OK, maybe a few words about why the man who'd replace Luken would be appropriate.

Much has been made about Fuller's leap into the mayoral race at the last minute, his astounding victory in September's primary contest and his quixotic, almost aloof, campaign since. He's been marching to his own campaign drummer, and Luken — along with the city's mainstream media — have cried foul.

Well, that's too bad. Fuller is running this race his own way, which bodes well for those who hope the mayor's office can transform into a beacon for fundamental, radical change. If he wins, he'll sweep into office with almost zero support from the city's business, political and media establishment. How refreshing.

Such a break with politics-as-usual is exactly the prescription for dragging Cincinnati kicking and screaming away from the status quo. Of course Luken, the major parties, the daily newspapers and the corporate leaders are up in arms — a Fuller win destroys the world they've created, the world that spawned April's unrest.

Fuller doesn't offer specifics, they say. Here are a few specific Fuller proposals: allow neighborhoods to tax themselves for reinvestment in neighborhood projects; aggressively reclaim and rehab abandoned buildings; offer low-interest loans to residents and businesses along major city streets to make facade improvements; review and revise city building codes to facilitate home ownership; make the Violent Crimes Task Force a permanent police department feature; add community-based prosecutors to work with neighborhood police officers; allow first-time offenders to do community service instead of jail time for their crimes; give the Citizens Police Review Panel subpoena power; repeal Article 12 of the City Charter; form a cultural commission to implement arts and cultural programs in neighborhoods; seek cultural tourism opportunities in historic neighborhoods; form a downtown development authority to fast-track projects; finish the stalled rehabilitation of Findlay Market; explore the creation and promotion of an "Avenue of the Arts" downtown; expand the downtown convention center; establish a foundation to raise college scholarship money for Cincinnati Public Schools graduates; and hire a creative, risk-taking city manager who will foster teamwork and problem solving.

Are those enough specifics for you?

The truth is, Luken also espouses many of these ideas, or versions of them. And sure, the current mayor knows more about the inner workings of City Hall than Fuller. But where has all of that experience gotten us?

No one has better ideas for leading Cincinnati than Fuller, and no one else has his sincere enthusiasm for carrying this city on his back to a better place. There's really no choice for Cincinnati but to elect Fuller.

Cincinnati City Council
Jane Anderson: Her academic background as a UC political science professor will bring a much-needed thoughtful approach to council. She backs creating a city liaison to Cincinnati Public Schools, preserving affordable housing in the city, tax breaks for citizens wanting to rehab older houses and repeal of Article 12. CityBeat endorsed Anderson two years ago, and we again think she'd bring a welcomed big-picture focus to council.

Laketa Cole: She has experience at City Hall working for Councilmen Dwight Tillery and Paul Booth, yet she's running as an independent candidate. She vows to help citizens get listened to at council meetings. She favors investment in neighborhoods, additional help for small businesses and repeal of Article 12. We think Cole has the right combination of experience and independence to help the city in the next two years.

David Crowley: He and his wife Sherri have been involved in local political meetings, forums and issues for years, and now he's decided to throw his hat into the election ring. Maybe he's finally matured enough (at age 64) to say, "I want to make a difference," and we think he will. Crowley backs repeal of Article 12 and wants more accountability for the police force. Like Jim Tarbell, he's been a small business owner and can see city government through the eyes of the average citizen.

Dawn Denno: She has years of experience working on issues important to working families and the poor — here in Cincinnati, across the state and even internationally. She's a big proponent of better public transportation, redevelopment of brownfields and repeal of Article 12. Denno offers an activist's point of view in a time when the status quo must go.

Pat DeWine: Has it really come to this, that DeWine — who's completing his first term on council — could be the only Republican among the city's top 10 elected positions (council plus mayor)? Well, we'll gladly take him. His track record of working with folks like Alicia Reece on citywide projects and getting behind charter admendments like the "strong mayor" change and this year's Issue 5 speaks volumes about DeWine's approach to governing. It's not about the party with him — it's about the people.

Wes Flinn: A musician, a composer and a teacher, Flinn sees himself as a throwback to the Founding Fathers' days of citizens, not career politicians, serving their fellow citizens in office. Such a council would be much more responsive to important issues, he says, and we agree. His support for the arts is unquestioned. We also like the idea of electing a Green Party candidate to council — remember, CityBeat endorsed the party's Ralph Nader for president last year — since filling local offices with such candidates is the only legitimate way to build a true national third party, a very worthy goal.

Akiva Freeman: He reminds us of Alicia Reece two years ago — fresh, young, enthusiastic, unconventional. He's not afraid to say he supports gentrification of underdeveloped areas and hiring more cops — not exactly progressive positions — but he clearly has a holistic, big-picture approach to city issues. Perhaps his background in property leasing and management gives Freeman the right combination of business savvy and down-to-earth values we'd like to see on council.

Alicia Reece: Like DeWine, she's coming off an impressive first term on council — a period when she often tried (with little success) to get her colleagues to face the tough racial, economic and neighborhood problems facing Cincinnati. Reece gets criticism from all sides — some whites accuse her of favoring African-American interests (during the April unrest) and some blacks accuse her of not rubber-stamping their agenda (since April). Her independence, enthusiasm and ability to work with people across party lines make her worth returning to council.

Jim Tarbell: If all of CityBeat's endorsed candidates were to win — yeah, right!— Tarbell would become the senior member of council. Who'da thunk that, when only a few short years ago he was the consummate outside agitator? Still, one has to think he'd be in line for Vice Mayor in a Courtis Fuller administration, which would provide Tarbell with the opportunity to get council to deal with his core issues: better neighborhood planning, more attention for Over-the-Rhine, cleaning up abandoned buildings and better support for the arts.

Cincinnati School Board
Melanie Bates, Catherine Ingram, Harriet Russell and Sally Warner

The next board's agenda includes significant decisions about which Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) facilities will be renovated, which will be closed and which will be rebuilt entirely. It has to finish the high school restructuring program and make a final decision on the district's new teacher evaluation system that ties salaries to performance.

A lot of good has been done in the CPS system during Superintendent Steven Adamowski's first three years in the job. A lot remains to be accomplished. But the system clearly seems to be moving in the right direction.

The new high school restructuring plan, in particular, has been a bright spot. Taft and Aiken ninth and 10th graders are in a "preparatory academy" with groups of 75 to 90 students taught by four teachers. Taft is now a technology institute and Aiken a university high school, with 11th and 12th graders focusing on the core standards and begining a specialized career focus. Similar reforms are planned for other high schools.

Eight candidates, including three incumbents, are competing for four seats on the seven-member board. Lynn Marmer, who joined the board in 1994, declined to run again. Because many board votes are 4-3 decisions, this election could establish a new balance of power.

CityBeat recommends keeping incumbents Ingram, Russell and Warner on the school board and adding Bates, an elected member of the Ohio Board of Education representing Hamilton and Warren counties.

Issue 1/Hamilton Co. tax levy for Health and Hospitalization: YES

Issue 2/Hamilton Co. tax levy for Children's Services: YES
Issue 1 is a five-year levy that renews 4.73 mills and increases 0.66 mill to provide health and hospitalization services in the county. It would generate about $53 million per year and cost the owner of a $100,000 house $70.05 per year (up from $50.74 per year now).

Issue 2 is a five-year levy that renews 2.77 mills to provide support for children's services and the care and placement of children. It would generate about $40 million per year and would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $64 per year.

Issue 1 reimburses indigent care expenditures for University Hospital (receives 80 percent of the funds) and Children's Hospital (20 percent), which together provide services to approximately 40,000 indigent county residents per year. Besides hospital-based care, Hamilton County utilizes funds from this levy to provide inmate health services and Tuberculosis Control services (both of which are state mandated) and alcohol and drug treatment services (including programs for offenders involved in the Hamilton County Drug Court). County voters have approved levy funds to support these functions every five years since 1966.

The county's Tax Levy Review Committee addressed two controversial issues surrounding this levy — deciding that University and Children's hospitals didn't earn a profit from these funds and remaining divided on whether additional area hospitals that also provide indigent care should be allowed to be reimbursed with these funds. The split is over whether for-profit hospitals should benefit from a county tax levy.

We think Issue 1 provides a substantial benefit to Hamilton County residents and should be passed, even with the additional millage. But we think county officials should think long and hard before giving public tax money to for-profit hospitals.

As for Issue 2, Ohio law requires the county to provide services to children and families who are affected by abuse, neglect or dependency. Hamilton County voters have approved levy funds to support these functions every five years since 1986.

The Children's Services Division works in partnership with Juvenile Court, law enforcement, the county prosecutor, hospitals, other social service agencies, churches, community centers, schools and daycare providers. From all indications, the work is necessary and done professionally and within budget. The levy was even reduced for two years recently when Children's Services found federal money for a foster care pilot program.

We think another five-year allocation of funds is worthwhile.

Issue 5/Cincinnati amendment for Civil Service Reform: YES
Issue 5 will change the Charter of the City of Cincinnati to turn the following previously civil service classified positions into unclassified positions — all department and division heads, all deputies or assistants to department heads, professional housing and economic development positions, police chief, fire chief and assistant police chiefs and assistant fire chiefs. It further states that the police chief and fire chief can be removed only for cause.

What it means is that the top 98 positions in the city administration, when open, will be able to be filled by someone outside of the administration — not just by the top test-taker or the person with the most seniority. All other administration positions remain under the current civil service system.

Back in 1997, Cincinnati voters faced a somewhat similar Charter amendment, but that one reclassified only two positions — police chief and fire chief. It was defeated.

This time around, the amendment was expanded to include every top department and division head, so as not to appear too focused on just the police chief. And that's one of the most appealing parts of Issue 5 — the entire city bureaucracy will benefit from fresh faces, new ideas and different experiences.

But make no mistake. Issue 5 is on the ballot again this year because of one position — Cincinnati Police Chief. And it's back because there's a titanic battle raging over who ultimately controls public safety in Cincinnati — the citizens of Cincinnati or top cops protected by civil service.

There's a growing feeling among many Cincinnatians that our police department is out of control and that the current system of choosing chiefs and his assistants only reinforces the department's lack of accountability to council, the city manager and city residents.

Think about the police department's performance in the last 12 months alone: acquittals and dismissals in every case stemming from faulty arrests and overzealous use of force at last fall's TransAtlantic Business Dialogue here; a federal lawsuit against the city over the department's alleged use of racial profiling; the death while in custody of Roger Owensby Jr. and the fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas, leading to indictments of three officers; several citizens injured by nonlethal ammunition fired after Thomas' funeral; a citywide work slowdown by police officers; more acquittals in cases of faulty arrests and overzealous use of force at a June 1 protest in Mount Adams; a total of about 50 civil rights lawsuits pending against the city; and a U.S. Justice Department report that finds the police needing better use of force policies and reporting, better public accountability, better monitoring and better training.

All the while, Chief Thomas Streicher has remained cool, calm, quiet and unmoved. If two or more of those types of incidents had happened under Streicher as the manager of a local carwash, he'd have been fired by now. So why can't the police chief be held accountable for his department?

Even though he won't return CityBeat's phone calls to discuss such important matters, Streicher does find time to appear at rallies against Issue 5, where his basic message is that the Charter amendment would allow politics to influence public safety. In his mind — and those aligned with him, including Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen and Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress — "politics" would pressure council and the city manager to replace a wonderful chief like Streicher and replace him with an incompetent lapdog of an "outsider."

What Issue 5 comes down to, for us, is the same deal with Mayor Luken: Look what the current system has produced. If Cincinnatians really think the current police department administration has provided the best possible service and protection, then by all means keep the system intact.

If any of you think the current system has helped produce the current distrust between police and community, as we do, then please help change the system.

Streicher gets to keep his job either way — despite what he says — so Issue 5 is much more of a long-term solution than a quick fix. Unless, of course, he resigns immediately, as CityBeat has suggested (see "The Chief Problem," issue of Aug. 30-Sept. 5).

Just remember that Cincinnati can always benefit from new ideas. The city's long-held tradition of civic insulation has helped create a population that cares deeply about its hometown, but it's also managed to keep power concentrated in a few hands — Cincinnati-born white males — long after other major American cities have grown and diversified. We have to believe that, if a police chief were ever hired from outside the city, the community would be better for it.

And that's something to remember: The amendment doesn't require the city manager to hire a chief from outside the department — it simply gives him or her another option.

Issue 6/Cincinnati amendment for Campaign Finance Reform: YES
Issue 6 will change the Charter of the City of Cincinnati to provide for limits on contributions to candidates in council or mayoral elections; additional contribution and expenditure reporting requirements; penalties for making or accepting contributions that exceed the limits and for failing to file a report; partial public financing of campaigns of candidates who accept expenditures limits and meet other eligibility requirements; and creation of the Cincinnati Elections Commission to administer the whole shebang.

In another election, this amendment would have received major attention from voters. Campaign finance reform, after all, has been debated heavily and pushed by civic-minded groups here and across the country over the last decade. It's the final iteration of reform that started a few years ago with council spending limits — later struck down by the courts — and has been slowly, surely grinding forward.

The main component of this plan is spending limits agreed to voluntarily by candidates — with those staying under the limit receiving 2-1 matching funds from the city and those busting the limit getting no matching funds. Such voluntary limits seem to be the only type of reform plan that passes scrutiny by the courts.

The amendment would bar all candidates from accepting contributions larger than $1,000 from individuals, $2,500 from political action committees and $10,000 from a political party or another campaign fund. There's nothing bad about that at all.

The only big negatives about Issue 6 are the provision that creates a new election commission (do we really need another commission?) and the allocation of city money as matching funds (do we have anything left in the budget for such a commitment?). We don't buy the argument that this plan somehow limits free speech, the red herring that's always thrown out against campaign finance reform. When big money counts more in our electoral system than votes, then free speech has already been done in.

Issue 6 isn't about helping good, underfinanced candidates run better campaigns for mayor and city council. It's about helping them get elected. We'd rather city residents pay for that kind of system than big campaign contributors.

Election endorsements by JOHN FOX. Research for endorsement charts by MARIA ROGERS.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.