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Mayor and council sworn in, streetcar supporters rally, streetcar builder warns mayor

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Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council

were sworn in

yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail

here

.

Among the new city government’s first priorities is canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar supporters yesterday

gathered in Washington Park

and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity. They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November 2014 ballot.

Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars

wrote a letter

to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.

Councilman Smitherman

told The Business Courier

that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but

a 2009 press release

from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still,

a Nov. 21 letter

confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes in the past few years.

Ohio is one of five states whose economy

worsened in the past three months

, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.

A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid expansion to

boost the local government fund

, but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to

expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds

, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.

More women will get access to maternity leave

under Obamacare.

The federally run Obamacare website

relaunched in the past week

, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.

Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices

dropped across the state

.

Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog:

The Cincinnati Forum

.

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