Morning News: Council members doubt city manager's honesty; Trump spurns NAACP invite; Sanders backs Clinton

A special meeting of Cincinnati City Council’s Rules and Audit Committee yesterday got very, very real, with two council members challenging the honesty of City Manager Harry Black.

click to enlarge Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks in Union Terminal - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks in Union Terminal

Hey hey Cincy. Here’s what’s going down today around town and beyond.

A special meeting of Cincinnati City Council’s Rules and Audit Committee yesterday got very, very real, with two council members challenging the honesty of City Manager Harry Black and others asking tough questions about a $55,000 payment city administration ordered for a Columbus law firm last July in order to end a unique work arrangement with city subcontractor Sam Malone.

The intrigue first surfaced during an audit of the Metropolitan Sewer District, which gave out millions in no-bid contracts under the previous administration. But a revelation about the hush-hush payment was left out of the audit’s final draft. Two weeks ago, it was revealed that city administration ordered the rushed final close-out payment to Malone, which it ran through law firm Brickler & Eckler. The tone from the top — City Manager Black — regarding that payment has been described as “threatening” by various members of the administration. Black denies any threats were made regarding the payment and says he simply wanted to close out the unusual contracting relationship Malone had with the city, wherein he was paid through the law firm.

Council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young, however, questioned that assertion. Seelbach put together his own set of political subtexts around the payment. Malone, a former City Councilman himself, has close ties with Councilman Charlie Winburn. Seelbach drew attention to the timing of the payment to Malone — within days of Winburn changing his pivotal vote on a $400,000 loan to Clifton Market opposed by Mayor John Cranley — and wondered if there was any connection between the two. Winburn and high-ups in city administration deny any tie between those events. Seelbach and Young have floated the idea of subpoenaing some of the people involved in the payment, including Deputy City Solicitor Luke Blocher.

• This is both not surprising and very surprising all at the same time. GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump will not accept an invite to speak at the upcoming 107th NAACP national convention starting this weekend in Cincinnati. As mentioned yesterday, Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will be here, speaking on July 18. Trump has alienated many in minority communities with various statements about Muslims, Hispanics and other groups, but continues to insist that he will win large numbers of minority votes in November despite dire poll numbers from those groups. Turning down an invitation to speak at the event is pretty rare. The last time the convention was in Cincinnati, in 2008, both GOP presidential nominee John McCain and Democrat nominee Barack Obama spoke.

• On a related note: With stakes very high in the coming presidential election, and debate about race swirling around the nation due to high-profile police shootings and other big problems, what role will black voters play in November? Will they help propel Clinton to victory over Trump? Will black communities turn out in record numbers like they did for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012? That’s complicated, experts and black leaders say. Some of it will hinge on what Clinton does to engage African American voters between now and the election. While polls show Clinton with a huge 95 percent of the black vote over Trump, the key will be whether those voters back Clinton enough to come to the polls. That means it's incumbent on the Democrat candidate to articulate how she can help struggling black communities. Her appearance at the NAACP convention could be the start of her accomplishing that — but she’ll have to bring something special, some leaders say.

• In the meantime, recent polls show Clinton and Trump locked in a dead heat in Ohio, a vital state for winning the White House. That’s nothing new — the two have been nearly tied here for weeks — but it shows the stubborn divisions running through the Buckeye State and the nation. Clinton has run far more ads and has more staff on the ground in Ohio and has more money to spend fighting Trump. But Ohio also has a large number of angry, conservative white voters who have taken to Trump’s anti-immigration message. Poll respondents said Clinton was more intelligent and prepared to be president than Trump, but also said The Donald was more trustworthy and honest. Barring some major development, this one could go down to the wire.

• Finally, let’s wrap up this presidential-election themed morning news with one more bit: Yesterday, Clinton’s campaign got a big boost when former primary opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed her as the Democratic nominee. That’s a big deal, because the fiery Sanders had pledged to fight Clinton all the way to the convention. Sanders drew a high level of support from progressives in the Democratic Party, voters Clinton will need in the general election as she runs against Trump. It’s unclear how many Bernie fans will make the switch with him, but his endorsement means that Clinton can focus 100 percent on the general election now.

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