CityBeat Endorses: Yvette Simpson for Mayor

Cincinnati must do better to harness the big resurgence happening in urban areas in ways that empower all of its citizens, including those with the least.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION: DAVID WILSON
Illustration: David Wilson

In the aftermath of a second Ray Tensing mistrial this summer, Mayor John Cranley sat behind his desk at City Hall, telling reporters he was heading to Over-the-Rhine for dinner with his wife and that the city would remain open for business.

His opponent, Yvette Simpson, was out in a rainstorm, talking to Cincinnatians who were angry or worried about what was coming next.

Both were acts of political theater, no doubt, but they illustrate the choice between Cranley and Simpson.

A city’s mayor should represent and be present for the people at large, no matter how uncomfortable that job becomes. That’s one of the reasons we’re endorsing Simpson for mayor.

Simpson has a holistic, bottom-up outlook on many of Cincinnati’s challenges that we find compelling. We like her Ready, Set, Go plan for putting more city investment into neighborhoods. She has put forward promising proposals on workforce development and plans for bringing more jobs to Queensgate — long a shamefully underutilized area — and Bond Hill. We’re intrigued by her ideas on public transit, including Metro's woes, though we’d like to see more detail from her.

[The Election Issue: CityBeat endorses Derek Bauman, Tamaya Dennard, Michelle Dillingham, Lesley Jones, Greg Landsman, David Mann, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young for City Council.]

Beyond these policy points, we like Simpson because she has taken bold stances supporting those who don’t have friends in City Hall.

Simpson took a stand for Avondale residents who will have to live with the effects of a half-billion-dollar development in their backyards and have had to struggle with decades of pervasive poverty and disinvestment. Her effort to aid neighborhood groups as they sought more from Children’s Hospital wasn’t politically wise or especially effective, and, from now on, we hope she works on these issues earlier in the process. But we hope she is there to advocate for those who might otherwise not be heard and bring up ideas at work in other cities.

With our current mayor, there’s a pattern of top-down decision-making and waffling on core values that concern us.

Recall the time Cranley called for a temporary halt to Syrian refugees, then later declared Cincinnati a sanctuary city. Or the tumultuous, poorly managed firing of Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. (And his cringe-worthy email to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in which he boasted about how he went about firing Blackwell after telling the public he wasn’t responsible for that firing.)

There was the whole episode with Cranley’s proposed charter amendment to raise money for parks projects he would hand-pick, and then the fallout after the Park Board was caught funneling money to the campaign to pass it.

One of Cincinnati’s most treasured assets is its historic architecture. But Cranley appointed to the city’s Historic Conservation Board a developer, Shree Kulkarni, who has demolished historic buildings — and given lavishly to Cranley’s campaign.

Questions have also arisen about deals involving public land in which developers have donated to Cranley’s campaign sought to buy on the cheap. The buyers in one deal uptown — Kulkarni and Dan Neyer — have together donated roughly $32,000 to Cranley’s campaign and an associated political action committee through various LLCs. Another now-scuttled deal in Oakley had similar apparent conflicts of interest.

The mayor’s campaign has taken $300,000 from such LLCs, which allow big money donors to give the $1,100 limit multiple times over. Simpson’s campaign has received only $30,000 this way.

[The Election Issue: CityBeat endorses NO on Issue 1, YES on 2, YES on 3, 4, 5 and 24.]

Yes, Cranley’s forcefulness has netted some very good things for the city. He surely helped attract the glittering General Electric building at The Banks, the coming downtown Kroger location and more.

And credit where credit is due — Cranley has made some efforts to fund affordable housing, though a few million dollars here and there won’t solve the region’s 40,000-unit deficit when it comes to attainable places to live for low- and moderate-income families. He's also helped to shore up the city's pension, a major accomplishment. The jury is still out on his other keystone victory-- helping to broker a deal between the city and Hamilton County over control of the Metropolitan Sewer District. Time will tell if that deal is a good one.

These points made, we wish Cranley had used his iron will to better the economic status of everyday Cincinnatians more often during the past four years, instead of driving for signature development deals that involve high-rises full of luxury housing or high-level corporate jobs. This is especially pertinent when considering that those big deals come with big property and earnings tax abatements. The upshot: Everyday taxpayers aren’t seeing most of the benefit that could have accrued to the city’s coffers from the flurry of development.

And these shining victories aren’t all Cranley’s, either — the U.S. is seeing a generational shift back toward urban areas, something that started in Cincinnati before Cranley’s tenure as mayor. Some developers have even cited the streetcar — which Cranley campaigned against — as one reason for their big investments in the city.

While these developments might shore up Cincinnati’s economy in some ways, it’s hard to see how they’ve moved the needle to help the 30.5 percent of the city who lived in poverty in 2016, or the 40 percent of children who did.

Yes, that’s down slightly from past years. But the state’s poverty rate as a whole is also dropping — it was at 14.5 percent last year. We can do better, and Cranley’s ideas haven’t gotten us there. His Hand Up Initiative, for example, ended up with $4 million in federal block grants once used for other human services programs but has resulted in just 550 jobs so far.

Simpson, meanwhile, has fought tooth and nail for every cent available in the city’s human services fund, often against budgets drawn up by Cranley’s administration. She has also pushed some worthy programs like the Homeless to Work initiative. That approach includes help with housing, jobs and counseling and has had great results in other cities. We’d like to see it expanded.

Simpson’s work with youth — her efforts on youth employment, the annual Youth Summit and getting into the weeds with the Youth Gap Analysis to find out exactly what low-income children in the city need — has also been consistently excellent. In the long run, we believe it will make a positive difference.

Cranley touts his focus on the basics, including a balanced budget. But that is required under state law, and his own city manager said the city’s last budget — which had a $26 million deficit — came “within millimeters” of requiring layoffs.

And despite adding new officers to the Cincinnati Police Department, crime has spiked at times during Cranley’s tenure and hasn’t declined significantly overall. As of Oct. 21, murders in the city were up 6 percent and assaults up 15 percent year-to-date over the three-year average, according to CPD reports. His fault? No. But it’s time to try something new.

Simpson has proposed more holistic, public health-focused efforts to lowering the crime rate, including one that seeks to treat trauma from neighborhood violence to prevent further violence. Again, cities have tried this approach, with some success.

Simpson isn’t perfect. A few of her proposals have lacked the meat such vital issues deserve. She has also bent the truth about Cranley a few times during a rather acrimonious campaign, though the mayor has done the same.

The bottom line is that Cincinnati must do better to harness the big resurgence happening in urban areas in ways that empower all of its citizens, including those with the least. The city’s greatness doesn’t hinge on its ability to defer to a few big corporations or developers to keep them around. Cincinnati’s greatness comes from all of its residents.

Yvette Simpson understands this, and that’s why we support her bid for mayor.

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