Western & Southern’s Shame Knows No Bounds

In its ongoing fight against the Anna Louise Inn, Western & Southern has sunk to a new low: It is now accusing ALI of discriminating against men.

Mar 27, 2013 at 9:18 am

If a new letter released to the public on March 20 is to be believed, Western & Southern is not letting down in its ongoing fight to run the Anna Louise Inn out of the Lytle Park neighborhood. But the financial giant has sunk to a new low this time around: It is now accusing ALI of discriminating against men (see City Desk brief on page 12).

For Cincinnati’s progressives, the continuing legal onslaught should come as little surprise. In this city, progressives are all too used to seeing conservatives take up legal battles after facing public opposition and even losing at the ballot box. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) in particular has taken up legal challenges that contrast decisions made by voters — most notably after two referendums on the streetcar project failed. Most people would give up after facing multiple rounds of voter rejection, but Cincinnati’s conservatives are a special kind of obstructionist.

The Anna Louise Inn hasn’t shown up at the ballot box, but it has received enough public support and provides a good enough service — providing aid to women trying to turn their lives around — that there’s really no question Western & Southern is engaging in pure obstructionism.

What’s scary is the financial giant may have finally landed on solid legal footing. In public comments, both ALI’s leaders and City Solicitor John Curp, who received Western & Southern’s letter, have said they’re not sure if the Inn can keep its women-only status if it carries out renovations with the help of federal funds.

But it doesn’t matter if Western & Southern has a legal case. Throughout history, many policies have been approved by the legal system but disapproved by the public, from segregation to prohibition. On the flip side, there are many illegal acts that the public now says should be legal, with same-sex marriage being one of the most predominant examples.

Similarly, ALI should be able to provide services exclusively to women. The unfortunate reality is there are still many societal problems that afflict only one sex, and organizations should be able to help women address those problems, even after receiving federal funding. Burdening a small organization that already needs federal aid to carry out renovations with the requirement of providing extra services doesn’t make sense financially or morally.

Western & Southern’s actions are particularly worrying when looking at the company’s endgame: They want to replace the Inn with a luxury hotel. That’s right, years’ worth of legal challenges are a subterfuge to replace a longtime, dutiful provider of social services with a hotel just to make the area feel more like the upscale neighborhoods where Western & Southern’s CEOs can function in xenophobic peace, far away from the “evils” of urban life, like women stricken by poverty.

So when the financial giant tries to act like it’s being a good steward for the city, no one should fall for it. Western & Southern’s primary concern is not whether the city is exposing itself to legal trouble; its main concern is whether they’ll be able to build a giant hotel to round out the Lytle Park properties that are already mostly in their possession. Besides, if it wasn’t for Western & Southern, it’s likely no one would be raising this legal issue to begin with — the problem is only a consequence of the company’s repeated attempts at removing the Anna Louise Inn.

As everyone who’s previously read about this story probably knows by now, the worst part of Western & Southern’s very public tantrum against ALI is it could have all been avoided if Western & Southern bought the property years ago, but it refused to raise its offer to match what turned out to be below market value. In 2009, Western & Southern refused to accept the Inn’s $3 million price tag after making a $1.8 million offer. Two years later, the Hamilton County Auditor valued the plot at $4 million in 2011 — meaning even ALI’s price was generous.

At this point, Western & Southern is long past the point of saving face, but it should consider pulling back before it joins the obstructionist ranks of organizations like COAST.

Other News and Stuff

A new Saperstein Poll suggests Ohioans have dramatically shifted on same-sex marriage, with 54 percent now supporting a new amendment to legalize gay marriage and only 40 percent against it.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s son wrote a column giving insight into why his father took so long to change his stance on same-sex marriage after finding out his son was gay: “Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public.”

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] or @germanrlopez