Morning News: Richardson joins mayoral race; Blackwell firing drama continues; U.S. House GOP hobbles ethics oversight office

Republicans in the U.S. House are looking to defang an independent office designed to provide oversight of Congress. The move would put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of Congress and prohibit it from publicly releasing information.

Good morning all. Thank God 2016 is behind us, right? There’s no way 2017 can be anywhere near as bad, right? Haha. Right. It’s probably gonna be a shitshow, unfortunately. Anyway, on that happy thought, here’s your first update of the new year.

This year’s mayoral race will officially get a new contender today. University of Cincinnati Board Chair Robert Richardson, Jr. is set to announce his campaign at a 5 p.m. news conference. Richardson joins fellow Democrat Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson Yvette Simpson in challenging Mayor John Cranley. Richardson doesn’t have the name recognition that Cranley or Simpson have, but does have strong roots in Cincinnati’s black community and big connections in the local Democratic party. Meanwhile, Cranley himself is set to make a “major” campaign announcement today at a 1:15 news conference downtown. Is it a big endorsement? A campaign staff shakeup? Stay tuned and we’ll find out.

• As the mayoral race heats up, Cranley is fending off increasing questions about his role in the firing of former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. On Thursday evening, Councilman Wendell Young held a news conference during which several prominent black leaders, including black police union the Sentinels President Eddie Hawkins and Cincinnati NAACP head Robert Richardson, Sr., spoke out against Cranley’s perceived involvement in the firing of Blackwell. Cranley, meanwhile, held his own news conference at City Hall to rebut charges that he was involved in Blackwell’s firing. Emails from Cranley to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently surfaced in which Cranley says he “inherited a bad chief” and had to leverage the Sentinels to gain support for Blackwell’s ouster. Cranley dismissed Young’s press conference as political theater aimed at boosting his 2017 mayoral race opponent, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. Young is calling for an investigation into Cranley’s involvement in Blackwell’s firing.

• Will 2017 be the year that some long-sought-after developments get off the ground in Cincinnati? If the stars align properly, we might see ground broken on a new downtown Kroger location and a significant phase of the Wasson Way bike trail through the city’s East Side. A $40 million revamp of a central shopping plaza in Avondale, including a grocery store for the neighborhood, is also slated to begin this year, and a major project in the historic Baldwin building could bring 190 upscale apartments to Walnut Hills. Other big projects could also see their start this year, marking another phase of the city’s development resurgence.

• The Ohio General Assembly returns today for the start of its 115th session. There are bound to be plenty of ugly fights this year over issues like abortion, clean energy, the budget and others. Last term, Republican lawmakers passed a fetal heartbeat bill that would ban abortions after about six weeks, but Gov. John Kasich vetoed it. But a bigger conservative majority in the legislature could override that veto this time around. It’s a similar story for Ohio’s clean energy standards. Lawmakers last session wanted to make those standards voluntary for three years. Kasich shot down that bill as well, but conservatives look likely to try again. There’s also the messy issue of Ohio’s scandal-plagued charter schools, which need new levels of oversight, and a needed fix to the state’s unemployment insurance fund looming ahead.

• Finally, a bit of distressing national news: Republicans in the U.S. House are looking to defang an independent office designed to provide oversight of Congress. GOP representatives defied party leadership in passing the measure, which would put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee. To break it down real simple-like, that means that Congressmen would be in charge of keeping themselves accountable on matters like campaign finance, accusations of impropriety toward staff and other important issues. Several representatives, like U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas who have been targets of OCE investigations in the past, pushed the move. Among the new rules for the OCE: no investigating whistleblower tips, no releasing information to the public and an obligation to kill any investigation the House Ethics Committee deems unnecessary. That’s awesome, guys. Just really, really great.

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