Morning News: Flynn floats non-rail streetcar expansion idea; officer involved in alleged CPD DUI coverup dismissed; Hartmann's change of heart on Trump

Mayor John Cranley mostly played nice during the streetcar opening festivities, touting the city’s wider revitalization.

click to enlarge Mayor John Cranley at the opening ceremony for the Cincinnati Bell Connector
Mayor John Cranley at the opening ceremony for the Cincinnati Bell Connector

Hey all. Here’s a brief rundown of your news today.

So, did you ride the streetcar? I hopped on Friday for the media preview after hearing 15 speakers, including streetcar opponent Mayor John Cranley, give speeches for its official launch. Cranley mostly played nice, spending his time on stage touting the city’s wider revitalization. Many of the other speakers were staunchly pro-streetcar politicians and activists, including former mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the last election, and former mayor Mark Mallory. Qualls couldn’t help getting a couple digs in at Cranley, as did a few others.

• One of the more politically interesting appearances came from Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who is challenging Cranley in the 2017 mayoral primary. Simpson got big applause from the crowd gathered to see the opening ceremonies, which makes sense. She’s been a big supporter of the project in her two terms on Council. While Simpson’s speech was energetic and very well-received, there was a subtext: Simpson will have to thread a needle between the part of her base made of up urban progressives who cheer the streetcar and the city’s African American community, many of whom are less enthusiastic about the project for various reasons and supported Cranley in 2013. So far, Simpson has done this balancing act by reframing questions about a streetcar expansion in terms of wider regional transit. Will this strategy work? We’ll see.

• Speaking of the streetcar expansion, Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn has some ideas about that. He told the Cincinnati Business Courier at the Friday launch that he’d be interested in studying whether it would be possible to create a kind of temporary expansion using a rubber tire trolley on dedicated lanes up Sycamore Street and Auburn Avenue into Uptown. Flynn argues that this extension would look much the same as the streetcar — it would make limited stops, have similar stations and cost the same fare-wise — but would cost much less than running tracks up the enormous hill separating the two parts of the city. Flynn has, for now at least, opposed spending city funds to study the feasibility of rail going Uptown, which poses significant technical challenges involving a Duke Energy power line underneath Vine Street, the least steep major thoroughfare the streetcar could climb. It’s unclear if current streetcar technology would make it possible for the cars to traverse the steeper hills on Sycamore or other streets.

• Ok. On to non-streetcar related items. A Cincinnati Police officer acquitted last year for an alleged cover-up of a fellow officer’s DUI has been released from the force for undisclosed medical reasons. At about 5 a.m. on a morning in March 2015, Officer Jason Cotterman responded to an accident on West McMicken Street, where fellow officer Sergeant Andrew Mitchell wrecked his vehicle into a telephone pole. Mitchell was off-duty at the time. Court records reveal Cotterman did not administer a field sobriety test, even though a witness said Mitchell was “wasted.” Cotterman and fellow officer Sergeant Richard Sulfstead were found not guilty in March, when a Hamilton County Court ruled the incident was not a legal matter and should be handled with internal discipline procedures by CPD. Mitchell, who admitted to drinking four beers that night, was eventually cited with traffic violations for the incident. No record of other disciplinary action has been released by CPD against him, Cotterman or Sulfstead. Court records from that case reveal disturbing text messages from Cotterman to Sulfstead in the days after the crash. Those included jokes about punching a fellow officer in the jaw and veering off the road and hitting another officer with his car if he ever saw her out walking. Cotterman told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he was let go from the force recently for “being a little too stressed.” He has appealed his dismissal and has a hearing Sept. 22 about whether he will be reinstated onto the force.

• Well, this is what you call a change of heart. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann has decisively changed his tune when it comes to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Back in December, Hartmann said Trump was “the most offensive public figure I’ve ever seen.” But after speaking with him briefly at a recent fundraiser in Cleveland, Hartmann has seen the light, apparently, praising The Donald as someone who “represents people like me who want a change in Washington and don’t believe regular Republican candidates can bring that change.” Hartmann began switching over to team Trump following the sound defeat of his chosen candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, in the GOP primary. Hartmann says he still doesn’t agree with Trump on everything, but that his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, is worse. Trump, down several points to Clinton in most nationwide polls, almost certainly needs Ohio (and thus, the backing of pols like Hartmann) if he’s going to win the White House.

• Finally, if you read our recent story about Ohio’s biggest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, you know the school could lose millions in state funding because it can’t prove students are logging on to meet online “attendance” requirements. Turns out ECOT isn’t the only school in the state with that situation. Many Ohio online charters, including Quaker Digital Academy, Buckeye Online School for Success and others, don’t measure time spent online and thus could lose millions in funding depending on ECOT’s eventual fate. The fight between the Ohio Department of Education and ECOT over login records could change the face of online charters in Ohio due to the widespread lack of attendance record keeping at the virtual schools.

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