Morning News: Cranley launches re-election bid; work begins on Wasson Way; Sen. McConnell greeted by 1,000 protesters

The city needs to help create a “truly progressive and better public transportation system,” Cranley said, endorsing a countywide sales tax boost proposed by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to expand bus service in Greater Cincinnati.

click to enlarge Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke

Good morning all. Here’s your news today.

Last night, Mayor John Cranley officially kicked off his re-election bid with an event in Price Hill. Cranley is facing challenges from Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and former University of Cincinnati Board Chair Rob Richardson Jr., both fellow Democrats who have pitched themselves as progressive alternatives to Cranley’s sometimes-centrist approach. But the mayor say he’s also a progressive, albeit one who can work with people who have different political leanings. As if to underscore his point, four City Councilmembers from multiple ideological perspectives sat in the audience: Republican Amy Murray, Charterite Kevin Flynn, independent Christopher Smitherman, who often leans heavily conservative, and Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat who often votes fairly liberally.

• While environmental and housing issues were also among the “progressive” issues Cranley touched on, he spent a lot of time on the region’s flagging public transit system. The city needs to help create a “truly progressive and better public transportation system,” Cranley said, endorsing a countywide sales tax boost proposed by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to expand bus service in Greater Cincinnati. But Cranley also outlined a plan to boost funding for infrastructure should that tax increase pass. Should voters approve the proposed county-wide 0.5 percent sales tax boost, Cranley said he would reduce the current city earnings tax that funds Metro from 0.3 percent to 0.1 percent and use those remaining tax receipts — about $15 million a year — for maintenance of roads and bridges. It’s a plan that plays to Cranley’s centrist leanings — a focus on basic city services — while also counting on county voters to increase transit funding. Cranley, Simpson and Richardson will square off in the May 2 mayoral primary. The top two vote-getters will compete in the November general election.

Work is underway on the Wasson Way bike trail, which will someday wind through the city’s east side on its way to Xavier University. Crews have started working six days a week on a 4.1 mile stretch of the 7.6 mile trail that still has some unused railroad infrastructure. Removing the old rails is expected to take four to six weeks. The completed trail, which will connect with the Little Miami Trail in Newtown to Victory Parkway, is expected to cost up to $11.2 million.

• Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke has been at his post for nearly a quarter-century, and he’s starting to think about retiring after the 2018 elections. The longtime Democratic Party power player has started to float ideas for who should replace him, throwing out four names you may or may not have heard of. Burke says those names aren’t an exhaustive list, but just a way to “start a discussion.”

Burke’s picks: Janaya Trotter Bratton, a civil rights attorney at Gerhardstein & Branch; Christie Bryant Kuhns, a vice president at UC Health and a former state representative; local political consultant Jared Kamrass, who has run campaigns for Mayor John Cranley and other well-known local and regional Democrats; and Anne Sesler, a former aide to U.S. Sen. John Glenn and current political consultant. None of those on Burke’s list have committed to seeking Burke’s seat just yet.

Burke’s departure from his powerful perch could present a sea-change for local Democratic politics. The party chair has been on the opposing side of some issues championed by up-and-coming urban progressives in the party. For example, Burke is also an attorney at Manley Burke and works on high-profile local land use and zoning cases. Those cases include the recent battle over the Dennison Hotel, in which Burke worked with attorney Fran Barrett representing the Joseph family, who own the Dennison and pushed to tear down the building in the Main Street Historic District.

• Welp, there’s been some serious awkwardness between Covington’s new Mayor Joe Meyer and City Manager Larry Klein, but that’s about to be over. Klein announced yesterday that he will leave his position after nine years as manager. Meyer says there’s no feud between the two, but campaigned hard against Klein when seeking election and has made it no secret he wanted the city manager out. Covington’s mayor doesn’t have the power to fire the city manager, and Klein had the support of the city commission, but Meyer made moves to limit the manager’s power, including stripping Klein’s ability to set the commission’s agenda at its meetings. Meyer says Klein is hard to work with and that he should have stepped down after the manager’s office discovered in 2013 that former Covington Finance Director Bob Due had embezzled over $800,000 from the city. However, the city commission gave Klein glowing praise for his fiscal management and success in attracting new businesses to Covington. Klein says tension with the mayor’s office played into his decision to leave.

• Let’s stay in the Bluegrass State for a second, where U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got a visit from about 1,000 angry Kentuckians yesterday. McConnell, speaking at a chamber of commerce meeting in Lawrenceburg, Ky., drew protesters eager to ask questions about President Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments and a number of his controversial policy decisions, including a travel ban from Muslim countries and his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. McConnell has stood behind Trump on his appointments, who critics say are unqualified for their roles, and his executive orders, some of which federal courts have declared unconstitutional. A few protesters managed to get into the chamber of commerce meeting and ask questions, which McConnell dismissed.

“This country for about 240 years has been an open country where you can express your points of view as long as you do it peacefully," McConnell said. "And we’re proud of that. So I’m proud of those folks out there. They don’t much like what I’m doing. Now I’m going to express myself. Why are they protesting? They did not like the result of the election. Winners make policy and the losers go home."

Finally, speaking of Trump, his administration will move forward with a massive expansion of deportation efforts, including hiring 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, 5,000 more border patrol agents, getting more help from local law enforcement agencies and expanding the categories of undocumented people prioritized for removal. You can read the full details of the new Department of Homeland Security guidelines here.

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