A lot happened in Cincinnati and Ohio in 2012, and, for the most part, the year was good to progressives around the nation and in Cincinnati. There were some problems here and there, but the Democratic majority on City Council and President Obama’s successful re-election campaign made for a less frustrating year in news, at least for those of us covering it every day.
City Hall in particular was unusually productive. It’s weird how that works out; when young, diverse people replace four conservatives, City Hall suddenly becomes more efficient. The first good news came when City Council carried out voter-approved powers to begin the process of energy aggregation via its selection of FirstEnergy Solutions (FES). The process allows eligible customers to pool their buying power as a larger unit to then buy electricity entirely from renewable energy resources provided by FES. In Oakland, Ill., energy aggregation is already saving customers $15 for every $100 on their energy bills.
Then Councilman Chris Seelbach, the city’s first openly gay council member, successfully pushed same-sex health benefits for the city’s employees. A city report estimated the plan could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits, but City Council overwhelmingly agreed that was a worthwhile price for LGBT equality.
City Council also approved Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan since 1980. The plan emphasizes urban living with more transportation options, including biking and light rail, and community health and sustainability programs.
Of course, there was some bad — well, mixed — news. City Council passed a budget that supposedly avoided laying off 344 employees, but the budget relies on privatizing the city’s parking assets to help pay $21 million of a $34 million deficit. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has criticized the plan, pointing to the experience of Chicago, where meter rates doubled after the city privatized its parking meters.
The streetcar also had a mixed year. In general, the project moved forward as city government continued laying down the groundwork. But that’s despite opposition from some local groups. Rep. Steve Chabot, who allegedly represents Cincinnati in the U.S. House of Representatives, cut off federal funding for the streetcar, which Cincinnatians approved in two different ballot measures. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) also did its best to slow down the project with belligerent tweets and a lawsuit trying to reverse a deal with Blue Ash that opens up airport money to the streetcar. Finally, Duke Energy and the city still haven’t resolved who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate streetcar construction.
Then there was the election. Of course, President Barack Obama, whom CityBeat endorsed, won and carried Ohio. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, also reclaimed his Senate seat representing Ohio in a feisty face-off against the notoriously dishonest Republican Josh Mandel, who is now stuck serving as the state treasurer. In a surprising victory, Democrat Jim Neil beat Republican Sean Donovan for the sheriff’s office, making Neil the first Democrat to hold the office in 36 years.
In bad election news, Rep. Chabot reclaimed his congressional seat, largely thanks to redistricting giving him easy votes in Warren County.
Speaking of redistricting, Issue 2 failed. The ballot initiative sought to replace Ohio’s redistricting system, which state officials control and abuse for political purposes, with an independent board. But voters, perhaps due to the confusing, long ballot language put in place by the Ohio Ballot Board chaired by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, rejected the measure.
On the bright side, other CityBeat-endorsed ballot measures passed. Voters approved the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) levy. If the levy had been rejected, CPS would have been down $51.5 million a year, or about 11 percent of the district’s budget. That would have been terrible news for a school district that has already faced a decade of budget cuts, partly due to a dwindling Cincinnati population.
Voters also approved four-year terms for City Council. The measure was pushed largely by Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who said the longer terms will let City Council get more done without worrying about re-election. The four-year terms will kick in after the 2013 election.