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City, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful at odds over blight data; activists march against Murray, Gaston deaths; Sittenfeld picks up newspaper endorsement

click to enlarge Washington Park and Music Hall
Washington Park and Music Hall

Hey all! Hope your weekend was a good one. Here’s your news today.

Recent funding shifts by Cincinnati city administration away from a prominent anti-blight organization have caused a rift between the city and the group’s supporters. Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black earlier this month informed City Council and Mayor John Cranley that he would be redirecting $100,000 from nonprofit Keep Cincinnati Beautiful to private contracting group Four Evergreen because the latter completes blight mitigation work cheaper and more quickly. But supporters of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful contest that claim, saying that the city’s data is inaccurate and that the group has actually reached its targets at a lower cost per lot.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful chairman Brad Lindner, CEO of United Dairy Farmers, fired off a strongly worded letter to the city condemning the move and a Cincinnati Enquirer story that reported the city’s data without confirming it with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful. Lindner said the purportedly erroneous data was “negligently presented to the public” and called the Enquirer’s reporting “sensationalized and mean spirited.” The paper says the data was presented in a Cincinnati City Council meeting, where representatives from Keep Cincinnati Beautiful were present but did not contest it. Enquirer leaders say the paper will continue to look into the issue.

• At least 40 racial justice advocates gathered yesterday in West Price Hill and Westwood to protest the deaths of Melvin Murray, Jr. and Paul Gaston after encounters with Cincinnati police. Gaston died Feb. 17 after he was shot multiple times by three CPD officers. CPD officials say he was reaching for a realistic-looking pellet gun in his waistband at the time. Murray died in a car accident following a pursuit by police. Murray’s family said officers in that pursuit failed to render aid following the accident and might have rear-ended Murray’s car, which was demolished after the incident.

Protesters at yesterday’s event gathered in West Price Hill, near the site of Murray’s accident, and then marched to Western Hills, near where Gaston died. There, they observed three minutes of silence symbolizing the three hours they say Gaston lay in the street after his shooting. Organizers are pushing for the dismissal and indictment of officers involved in both incidents. City officials say the officers acted appropriately in both situations, though they did condemn dash cam audio of the officers in Murray’s chase calling him a “dumbass” and other insults.

• The Queen City has landed on a dubious list, ranking 10th most distressed city in the country on a new list by The New York Times. The ranking was devised from seven factors, including percentage of adults who are employed, the percentage of adults who have a high school diploma, the city’s poverty rate, housing vacancy rate and other factors. Cleveland was the nation’s most distressed city, and Toledo also made the list at number four.

• With Music Hall’s major renovations just a few months away, the project’s leaders are showing the public just what kind of transformation they’re envisioning for the Cincinnati landmark. Those changes include a new lounge area behind the auditorium, fewer but wider and more comfortable seats, a more luminous lobby area and restoration of windows on the building’s façade that are currently bricked up. Those changes, along with many others, are projected to cost $135 million. State tax credits, the city and private donors have stepped up to cover most of that cost, but $5 million remains to be raised to fully fund the project.

• Finally, U.S. Senate hopeful and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has picked up a powerful endorsement in his underdog Democratic primary race against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, one of the state’s biggest newspapers, has endorsed Sittenfeld over Strickland, saying the former is more specific about policy proposals and has shown a willingness to engage with important issues that Strickland hasn’t. You can check out the paper’s weird slideshow endorsement here. Earlier this month, Sittenfeld also picked up an endorsement from former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste, a prominent Democrat.

Strickland still leads Sittenfeld by a wide margin in almost all polls and is currently neck and neck with incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in polling around the general election. But Sittenfeld’s campaign points to the endorsements as signs his campaign is picking up steam ahead of the state’s March 15 primary.

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