Morning News: Drama over Park Board chair; Cranley set to announce Western Hills Viaduct replacement funding proposal

Some council members are balking at Mayor John Cranley's move to replace Cincinnati Park Board Chair Diane Rosenberg, who thought her term ran until 2021.

Cincinnati City Hall - Jesse Fox
Jesse Fox
Cincinnati City Hall

Hello, Cincy. It’s news time again.

Mayor John Cranley will mix it up in his second term, announcing yesterday before Cincinnati City Council's meeting that he’s naming Councilman Christopher Smitherman as his new vice mayor. Smitherman will be replacing Cranley’s fellow Democrat and loyal ally David Mann, who will replace Cranley ally Republican Charlie Winburn as head of the powerful budget and finance committee.

Smitherman is technically an independent, but voted in the Republican primary in 2016. That’s raised some hackles among Democrats, to say the least. And if you’re missing the thrills and chills of mayoral elections, the move has amplified buzz about a potential 2021 race between Smitherman and Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld. My thought? Both Sittenfeld, council’s top vote-getter, and Smitherman, popular with the city’s conservatives, are clearly interested in running for mayor. But it’s too early to know what that race will actually look like, and Cranley’s move seems more about keeping strong alliances on council after harsh battles with the outgoing group and uncertainty ahead. Cranley is losing a once-reliable ally in Winburn and another councilman, Kevin Flynn, who often sided with the mayor. Of course, council will also be short one of Cranley’s biggest opponents as his mayoral challenger Councilwoman Yvette Simpson departs.

• On that note, Cincinnati City Council met yesterday for the second-to-last time this year, and there was no shortage of political drama. Debate broke out over Mayor Cranley’s move seeking to replace Cincinnati Park Board Chair Diane Rosenberg.  Some council members — and Rosenberg’s attorneys — are balking at that. Cranley says Rosenberg’s term ends Dec. 31. But Rosenberg says she was told her term runs until 2021, and she has a letter from the city’s clerk of council with that date. That’s what the city’s website said until recently as well, council members Sittenfeld, Simpson, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach point out. City administration says that was an error on the clerk’s part and that Cranley is clear to appoint Jim Goetz, who has served on other city boards at Cranley’s appointment, to take Rosenberg’s place. Look for this to be one of the first battles when the new council starts Jan. 2. Sittenfeld, Seelbach, Young and newcomers Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman have signed a motion saying they won’t approve a replacement for Rosenberg.

• Hey, everyone agrees the Western Hills Viaduct needs a replacement. Here’s some (potentially) less controversial news: Cranley today at 2 p.m. will announce funding sources for a new bridge over the Mill Creek Valley into Cincinnati’s west side. The current viaduct, built in 1932, is crumbling and has been identified as one of the region’s top infrastructure needs. Putting a new bridge there is going to cost something like $335 million — money you don’t generally find in your car’s cup holders or under the couch cushions. So far, Hamilton County has been able to scrape together $33 million for its part of a local contribution toward the project by approving a $5 auto license fee, and there is another $22 million in grants for the project. But roughly $257 million in funding is still unaccounted for.

• So, will the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority (aka the authority formerly known as the Port of Greater Cincinnati) be involved in a stadium FC Cincinnati will potentially build? The group has been included in infrastructure plans put forward by Mayor John Cranley. But officials with the authority says there’s no formal deal to that effect yet. Read more in this Business Courier story.

• Heck, all that may not even matter. Major League Soccer's Board of Governors meets today, and they have expansion franchises on their agenda. What does that mean? Despite a flood of “today is the day” posts from folks, the truth is we don’t know. We might learn today that FC Cincinnati isn’t one of the teams Major League Soccer selects for an expansion franchise, making the whole stadium debate moot. Or, we could learn they beat out Nashville, Detroit or Sacramento and will be part of the MLS. Or league leaders might decide they’re not going to decide today, or that they won’t discuss a decision they do make. So… stay tuned for… something.

• To close out, here’s a wild, tragic story out of Kentucky making national headlines. State Rep. Dan Johnson apparently took his own life yesterday evening. His death comes after a profile by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published Monday that included allegations that Johnson sexually assaulted a 17-year-old. There are other parts of the profile that outline very unflattering details of Johnson’s life before he became a state representative in 2016. Johnson, a preacher and staunch conservative, denied the allegations in the story, which he mistakenly attributed to NPR. Authorities began looking for Johnson after a Facebook post he made appeared to be a suicide note. He was found dead outside his car on a bridge in Mount Washington, Kentucky.

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