Thursday, January 31, 2008

Art or Exploitation?

I know I'm having a strange day when I think something, and then read almost the exact thought printed in Peter Bronson's column. So today is a strange day.

Bronson was at the media preview of "Bodies . . . The Exhibition" at the Museum Center. He discusses it today. Included in his column was this:

I looked at another corpse throwing a baseball and wondered how it was so
different from the so-called "artist" photographer who was caught posing corpses
with keys and dolls in the lurid Hamilton County morgue case. They called that
desecration of a corpse. We call this educational.

How is the Museum Center exhibit any different? Diplaying posed bodies in the absence of the consent of the deceased (pre-death) or a family member (post-death) should not be cause for celebration in a civilized society.

If that creepy photographer Thomas Condon had put an exhibit of his morgue photographs together, I wouldn't have gone to see it. I doubt I'll be heading to the Museum Center to see "Bodies," either.

[Post edited by author to remove language suggesting the exhibition shouldn't be "tolerated" by our society.]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Waterboarding Would "Feel" Like Torture If You Did It To Me

So says the Attorney General of the United States today in response to a question by Senator Kennedy. But the Attorney General of the United States cannot admit that an "enhanced interrogation technique" that has been deemed "torture" by this country for most of its history and by almost all of the civilized world is, in fact, torture. Why is that? Because to admit this will be to admit a very dark truth ---- that over the past six year, despite its Constitutions, despite its rich anti-torture history, despite its laws, and despite its historic acceptance of the Geneva Conventions and other treaties banning torture, the United States has become a nation engaged in torture. Perhaps President Bush should have explained that to us in his final (Thank God!) State of the Union address as he weakly attempted to articulate a legacy out of an utterly failed presidency.

Perhaps someone should ask the Attorney General or the President whether we should any longer find torture shameful. As John McCain, the now presumptive Republican nominee for President, said back in October, "They should know what it (waterboarding) is. It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture. . . . . All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Patricia Corbett, arts patron, dies.

Patricia Corbett, who together with her husband J. Ralph Corbett, supported arts organizations from CCM, to the Cincinnati Ballet, Music Hall, and countless others, died today in her sleep. She will be missed, but I'm sure her influence will be felt for years to come.

Archbishop Divides 'Bodies' In Half

The Cincinnati Archbishop deemed the 'Bodies' exhibit at the Museum Center "unseemly and inappropriate" and has decreed that local Catholic Schools should not organize field trips to the exhibit. What makes no sense is that the Archbishop instead leaves it up to the parents:
If parents, as the primary educators of their children, believe that it has educational value, they should be the ones to take their children to see it.”
So on one hand the local Catholic Church has condemned the exhibit as unseemly, but then they defer ultimate moral judgment to the parents. This is just not logical. If it is OK for Catholic school kids to go the exhibit with their parents permission, why does it matter that the Catholic school doesn't organize the trip? If it is not good to go through school, why would it be OK to go with your parents?

If nothing else, hopefully this will help the exhibit gain more attendance. If they church condemns it, more people are likely to want to go to it.

OK Cincinnati Go

UncleRando breaks down the GoCincinnati into a great summation, one that even a suburbanite could comprehend! Now, if they just understood it.....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Coffeehouse Near UC

Options for coffee in the Clifton area has increased by one, with the addition of Taza. Has anyone been yet? What's the atmosphere like?

Mush!

There are times in a man's life when he must demonstrate to the world that he is indeed a man. Braving the harsh elements, maintaining self discipline under intense pressure, battling downtown traffic, and dressing up in a humorous (yet tasteful) costume are just a few of the demand tests that lie ahead in the Cinciditarod.

March 1st is the race. Are you man enough to organize your own team? Can you make it to the end of a grueling trek through the streets of Cincinnati? Can you legally obtain your own shopping cart?

If so, sign up by February 21st for the challenge of a life time, or at least for the Month of March.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heimlich Out of 2nd District Race

Phil Heimlich has quit the GOP Primacy race of the Ohio 2nd Congressional Race. Phil's political career is done, or he has to go into hibernation for a decade or two before the GOP will touch him with a 30 foot pole.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

YouTube Campaigning Comes To Southwest Ohio

Apparently every legitimate candidate now needs someone to sing about them on Youtube. Meet "Wulsin Girl."

It turns out that Wulsin Girl is actually Ann Driscoll, a 20 year-old first-year student at Berklee College of Music. If I ever run for office (unlikely!), I hope she likes me.....I can only imagine the really bad things she'd manage to rhyme with "Caster."

[Links via Malia Runyon at the Enquirer's Politics Extra Blog.]

WOXY's Rock 'n' Skate At Fountain Square

Indie Rock, ice Skates, and beer make for a fun evening on Fountain Square. $0.97 to skate and $2.00 skate rental. A nice deal for a fun event. It takes place this Friday Night (January 25) 7PM to 11 PM.

For more on skating at Fountain Square, hit www.myfountainsquare.com.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Are Streetcars The Answer? I'm Not Convinced.

I realize that I can openly disagree with Brian only so many times before I wear out my welcome, but I have to admit, I'm not sure that streetcars are the panacea that will revitalize downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems that everyone who has jumped onto the streetcar bandwagon wants to remind us what a great boon they've been in Portland, Oregon. Well, bully for Portland! I grew up in Buffalo, NY. And the streetcar fervor in Cincinnati sounds much like what we were told about a new subway in Buffalo when I was growing up. It'll spur economic development, people said. It will attract new businesses downtown and everywhere along the subway line, people said.

Guess what? Buffalo's subway system has been open since 1984. Does anybody think Buffalo represents a model of economic development? And quite frankly, from a demographic and cultural standpoint, which city does Cincinnati more closely resemble: Buffalo or Portland?

Why do people think that what was good for Portland of the Pacific Northwest will be good for Cincinnati, in the heart of the Midwest? Here are some statistics to show the differences:
Population: Cincinnati--332,252; Portland--537,081
Median income: Cincinnati--$29,554; Portland--$42,287
Racial composition: Cincinnati--52% white, 49% black; Portland--75% white, 6% hispanic, 6% black
Average number of days with high temparature above 90: Cincinnati--28; Portland--10.
Average number of days with low temperature below 32: Cincinnati--98; Portland--44.
Average snowfall: Cincinnati--23 inches; Portland--3.1 inches.
Average price for a gallon of gasoline: Cincinnati--$2.87; Portland--$2.97.

Streetcars may be a good idea. But lately, some have suggested that they're the most important piece of the puzzle to development in Cincinnati. That's going too far. The City's most impressive piece of real estate--the Banks--has sat empty for years because our local leaders can't get their acts together. And OTR residents are still in need of more places to work, shop, and play.

Without strong, competent leadership, streetcars won't do the city a bit of good. And we seem to have leaders who are great at talking about things, but not so good at seeing them through. Doing the homework to get things done seems to be more than many of our politicians want to do. Does anyone else remember that when the street car plan was rolled out at a Council meeting (a committee meeting, I think), Chris Bortz went so far as to say that the City wouldn't even have to pay to have the electrical lines (that would power the streetcars) to be installed, as the utility companies would no doubt do it free of charge, realizing how much money the streetcars would bring in from revenues from new businesses? And does anyone else remember the Enquirer reporting the next day that a spokesperson from Duke Energy indicated that they hadn't been approached about that, and that it would cost so much the company would be unwilling to absorb the cost on its own?

Urban planning and economic development is tough stuff. We need people in our leadership who want to roll up their sleeves, not just be on television as often as possible. Streetcars might be one piece in a very complex puzzle that will help Cincinnati be prosperous. But a solution in and of themselves? Color me decidedly undecided.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Deters Simplified

Justin Stenger wrote a good guest column in the Enquirer this week, rebutting the idiotic comments of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. A Simplified Deters is strong exhibited with this "if" statement from Justin:
"If Deters really wanted the streets of Cincinnati to be safer, he would encourage visits to the city's core, not discourage them."
Deters cares about getting elected again, that would be about it.

[Via Wes]

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's Streetcars!

UrbanCincy's readers say Streetcars should be the #1 priority for Cincinnati . In terms of Development, they are totally correct! Two other issues that should be constant priorities are fighting crime and centralizing social services outside of area being redeveloped. If you think I am talking about moving the Drop Inn Center, then you would be correct. It will move. The question for DIC management is do they get a good deal or are they forced to move?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Caton Mess

Since learning of the impending promotion of now-Sergeant Patrick Caton, I've really been struggling to sort through my views on the matter. That, no doubt, will suprise many of you. "Donald," you'll say, "Your civil practice includes civil rights law. You've got to be horrified that Caton is still a police officer, much less a sergeant."

And I am. But it's not that simple. This is a situation in which several deeply-held beliefs are in conflict. Maybe our faithful readers can help me sort them through in the comments.
  • I grew up in a union household. I believe that working men and women have the right to organize, and to bargain collectively for the terms and conditions of their employment. And I believe that employers must be required to abide by the agreements they enter into with the unions that represent their workers.*
  • I'm a criminal defense attorney. I believe--I have to believe--that an acquittal means something.
  • I'm a criminal defense attorney. I believe that the power of the police has grown stronger than the Framers of our Constitution (particularly with respect to the Fourth Amendment) had ever envisioned or ever would have approved.
  • I'm a civil rights attorney. I believe that citizens should not be subject to excessive force at the hands of the police who are sworn to protect us--all of us. And I believe that an officer whose use of excessive force causes serious injury or death should never get the opportunity to do it again. I also believe officers shouldn't use racial epithets while on duty. (They shouldn't ever use them, but I can't imagine them being subject to discipline for non-criminal, off-duty conduct.)
So where should that bring me with respect to Caton's promotion? Our criminal justice system found that he wasn't criminally liable for his conduct. His own department found that he used excessive force and shouldn't carry a badge and a gun any more. But a collective bargaining agreement-mandated arbitration found that the police department got it wrong.

I'm sure there are others out there who have sorted through this dilemna. How do you balance the values involved here?

* I also believe the City should require (through a CBA, where appropriate) most--if not all--of its employees (particularly our police) to live in the City. But that's a whole new discussion.

Dream Team? Freking and Chesley, Together At Last

Two of the most prominent members of Cincinnati's plaintiffs' bar, Randy Freking (of Freking and Betz) and Stan Chesley (of Waite, Schneider, Bayless and Chesley) have teamed up to take on the ultimate Goliath: Duke Energy. They've filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Ohio energy consumers, alleging that Duke has been offering rebates of recently-approved rate hikes to large consumers (so that those consumers wouldn't oppose those hikes, which are subject to approval by the Public Utilities Commission), and that those rebates have, of course, been subsidized by every other energy consumer (in other words, you and me).

It appears that that the allegations are to be supported by John Deeds. Deeds claims he was fired last year when he raised questions about Duke's payouts to corporate customers; he has filed a whistleblower action which is still pending (he's represented by Freking in that case).

From the complaint, it appears that there are at least eight attorneys who will represent that plaintiff class (assuming U.S. District Judge Weber certifies a class).

But if you're going to take on an energy company, I suppose you have to hope you've got an Erin Brokovich somewhere on your support staff. (Not really--I hated that movie!)

Freedom Center "Controversy"

Over at the Enquirer's Politics Extra Blog, Jessica Brown has a more balanced version of the story surrounding the Freedom Center's offer to sell part of its land to Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati than what we've been hearing from the media the last few days.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention: the Freedom Center is built on land given to it by the city and the county. Included in the gift is a 1.7 acre parcel of land between the Center and the Ohio River that the Center had intended to develop as a park. But the Freedom Center has never had enough money to do so so the land, like the rest of the area next to the riverfront, has sat fallow for several years. Now, the Banks Working Group wants the land to use as part of the Banks. The Freedom Center offered to sell the land back to the city and the county for $1 million, with each sovereign to apparently foot half the bill.

Based on the histrionics coming from the county commission, I'd assumed that the offer had come out of the blue. But that's not so, based on Brown's report:

The Freedom Center says it had been negotiating the $1 million price tag with the Banks Working Group since last summer. It had two assessments done that
actually placed the land at a much higher value. It says the negotiations were
in good faith and everyone seemed to think the request was reasonable.The
Working Group includes representatives from both the city and the county, so
none of the elected officials should have been surprised at the request, which
was reduced to writing Dec. 31, said Freedom Center's Paul Bernish.City council
wasn't surprised. Some council members even said they thought the Center would
ask for more. But somehow commissioners were caught off guard.

Of course, this whole episode is a PR nightmare for the Freedom Center (that seems to be Bronson's main point today). But I'm not sure that the Freedom Center's board has had much of a choice but to act the way it has. After all, the board has a fiduciary obligation to protect the assets of the Freedom Center, a non-profit organization. One of those assets is a highly marketable, very expensive piece of real estate. Giving it away would be financially irresponsible. If the Freedom Center weren't an entity, and were instead just some guy named Bob, and the county wasn't--well, the county, but instead just some guy named Fred, then you'd expect that Bob, upon realizing he couldn't use the land Fred had given him, would give it back to Fred if Fred had found a good use for it. But we're not talking about Bob and Fred; we're talking about local government and a non-profit organization. It's not as easy as our commissioners have made it out to be in their efforts to placate COAST. There may ultimately be a better way to resolve this than to simply take a pile of money from the city and the county, but everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Caton To Be Promoted To Sergeant

The Enquirer reports that Cincinnati Police Officer Patrick Caton and two others are to be promoted to the rank of sergeant tomorrow. Caton was one of two officers (the other was Blaine Jorg) involved in the in-custody death of Roger Owensby, Jr.

Following Owensby's death, Officer Caton was arrested, criminally charged, and fired from the force. He was acquitted of assault, and an arbitrator subsequently found (in a decision upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court) that dismissal was too harsh, and reduced the penalty to a five-day suspension.

Caton received $200,000 in back pay from the City. The family of Roger Owensby received $6.5 million from the City in settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit.

As the Enquirer notes, sergeants are named based on the placement on a "promotion-eligible" list, which is created solely as a function of an officer's score on a written test (as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement that governs his employment), not any exercise of discretion on the part of CPD supervisors. Here is what appears to be the current promotion-eligible list. As long as a list is "active"--which this one is until July 2008--each time a sergeant position becomes vacant, the highest non-promoted candidate gets the job. For instance, see this press release from October announcing the promotion of the 17th, 19th, and 20th candidates on the list.

This will almost certainly bring up bad memories and angry feelings for some in Cincinnati.

Life Imitating Art

Slate's comparison between Hillary Clinton and Tracy Flick is quite funny, regardless of your politics.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

BlackFinn Cincy

Via comments: here's the website Welcome to BlackFinn Cincy! which lists a headline "Grand Opening coming Soon" and it has the address of 19 East 7th Street.

It looks like the new owners are going to keep it pretty much like it is. This means other than changing some signage, the place shouldn't need many other physical changes.

McFadden's Closed, New Owners to Reopen

Popular night-spot McFadden's has closed down and according to the Cincinnati Business Courier, new owners are planning on opening under a new name.

It would appear the Courier may have scooped both the Enquirer and WCPO by finding out about the new owners.

I walked by myself yesterday and it doesn't look like it is shut down for good, it just looked like it wasn't going to open up on Monday. I don't know the last day it was open. It looked odd and caught my eye as I walked by because it had one of the large windows boarded up, like it had been broken.

The bar has been open for about 3 years or so, so this is about the time for reinvention. This is a very slow month for the bar business.

Monday, January 14, 2008

La la, la la la la

The Smurfs turn 50 this year.

It appears that there's a Smurfs movie in production.

For anyone feeling nostalgic, here's a link to the theme song.

BTW: If you're thirty to forty years old and can hear Schubert's Unfinished Symphony without thinking of Gargamel, then you're a more cultured person than I'll ever be.

Throwing Fruit From the Cheap Seats

It appears that Joe Deters thinks it wise to attack Cincinnati with out of date rhetoric, much of which, based on the excerpts, is just baseless. It is funny how many suburbanites posted comments on the Enquirer Blog, with comments like: "I go downtown twice a year." It is so disheartening to read a so-called "leader" of the community spout baseless crap from a distance. One would think that a leader would want to set an example, not instill panic.

The placement of this editorial in a fluffy lifestyle magazine is fairly clearly meant to be part of part of Deters re-election kickoff, even if the outlet is less than mainstream. What better way to fend off an opponent, then to put fear into the suburbanites? The Sharonville (et al) crowd fears the City based on the myths perpetuated on many fronts. One such front is the political rhetoric of people like Joe Deters. At this point Deters looks like a fear mongering fool when he has no one facing him in the election. Throwing fruit at the City is easy when you distance yourself both physically and rhetorically.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Where Should The Drop Inn Center Be?

This is another one of those posts in which I hope to spark a conversation.

We've heard a lot about the Drop Inn Center the past few weeks. This week marks its thirtieth anniversary in its present location. The Enquirer wrote on it here; the Enquirer's Politics Extra Blog discusses it here; and Dan Hurley covered it on Newsmakers this morning (Channel 12 really needs to start giving him an hour each week, when the Bengals aren't playing.) Drop Inn's history (particularly its midnight move) is very interesting.

Most discussions seem to assume two options: leave Drop Inn where it is, or close it and buld the much-discussed CityLink on the West Side. I'm wondering: is there a third alternative? Might there be a better spot for the Drop Inn Center? What if there were sufficient political will to purchase part of Broadway Commons (perhaps the western-most part, adjacent to the bus terminal) and rebuild the Drop Inn Center there? I suppose if the jail tax had passed, the Queensgate jail could have been converted to a homeless shelter.

There are legitimate concerns about Drop Inn's location. It's in the midst of an area that is being revitalized (or gentrified, according to some). It's near Music Hall (though I think CSO lovers too often scapegoat Drop Inn for declining attendance there--after all, the Center doesn't seem to deter opera-goers in the summer, judging by ticket sales). And it's a stone's throw from SCPA.

So assuming we don't want the homeless living en masse under the Brent Spence Bridge, where should they be?

Going Home Again

Courtesy of a friend whom (who?) I now owe a couple beers, I ended up at the UC-Villanova game last night. The trip to Clifton prompted the following thoughts:

1. I was in law school at UC from 2000 until 2003, the height of UC's physical transformation. So venturing onto campus beyond the law school meant dodging bulldozers and cranes. While I've been back to the law school several times since graduating, until last night, I hadn't been anywhere else. Walking though campus on the way to the game, I was truly impressed with what a great-looking campus UC has now.

2. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to watch college basketball in person, particularly when the game is tied with two minutes to play, and even more so when your team comes out on top. (No, I won't post the alma mater this time, though.)

3. As I looked at the students--those I saw on campus, in the student section at the game, the cheerleaders, and the players--all I could think was, "Damn, I'm old."

4. I have to remember that I rely on my voice to make my living. As I drove home with a scratchy throat, I couldn't help but wonder whether the Bearcats might have done just as well if I hadn't added my voice to the chorus of fans, who really came to life down the stretch of the contest. (Of course, that may just be another way of saying, "Damn, I'm old.")

More Coming To West Fourth Street

As this snippet from the Business Courier reports (subscription needed for the full article), one of the co-owners of the Bang nightclub is working on a restaurant, Boss Cox, in the 300 block of West Fourth Street. The restaurant will apparently be themed to reflect the history of Cincinnati politics. (The idea seems to me a spin on the Syndicate in Newport--a mildly dark, historical theme for an upscale restuarant.) Look for it to open this spring.

I have to admit: I was awfully wary of Bang when it first opened. Its owners don't have the best history of sustaning projects for the long run in the area. And when they opened Bang, they seemed to go out of their way to anger residents in the surrounding apartments and lofts (until Bang, the block didn't have a history of late-night entertainment, with the possible exception of Tina's, which brings a much quieter crowd). But Bang seems to have some staying power, and Josh Heuser really seems to be looking towards the future this time.

So even though I'm still not thrilled with the gun imagery on Bang's website, I'm more and more optimistic about its owners' intentions, and the viability of their vision for a Fourth Street entertainment district.

Hopeful signs

A few nights ago, a friend and I went to dinner. Nothing special--we were both working late, and decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Nada (in the space that formerly housed Bella next to the Aronoff). As we made our way over to the restuarant, my friend, who hadn't been out and about downtown on a weeknight in several months, commented, "There's a lot of people out. It's nice to see downtown come to life like this."

And a word about Nada. The food and the atmosphere were both great. Just avoid the supreme margaritas, or whatever the name of their high-end margarita is called--the bartender definitely snookered us a little; when we cashed out we were shocked that our three drinks totalled 42 bucks (that was almost as much as our food bill!).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Are We In The End Times?

Are we now in the much talked about End Times? When Peter Bronson gave praise to the character of a Democratic candidate for President I fear that the world may be coming to an end.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Contemporary Galleries to make way for condos

Is this progress or a sad day for Cincinnati design? Contemporary Galleries is closing for good to make way for some condos (and the owner's retirement). Not that I could really afford a whole lot at CG (though I do have some second-hand finds off of Craigslist, thank god for fickle consumers), but it is important to have resources such as CG downtown-- particularly in the CBD, which is booming with condos and people who want to furnish them without going to a chain store in suburbia. There are still a few furniture stores downtown-- Mainly Art comes to mind, Mica 12/v for home interiors-- but the closest contemporary, new furniture store is Abode in Covington.

I completely understand why the owner chose to do this: good offer for the space, planning on retirement-- but I can't help but hope that this isn't a mass exodus of retailers from the area (to be replaced by Ikea in West Chester--oy). Has anyone heard of any new retailers entering the market in Downtown?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hillary Unplugged

This video of Hillary Clinton in a rare, refreshing moment in which she seems to let her guard down is going to get a lot of play.

It seems as if it's been years since I've heard Senator Clinton say anything that didn't sound as if it had been designed to be the perfect soundbite and rehearsed several times. I suspect Senator Obama has become so popular because he so often seems to be reaching for an emotional connection with his audience; Clinton rarely seems to do so. (It's ironic, actually: if you had to imagine one of these two candidates telling a voter s/he "feels your pain," wouldn't you be more likely to envision it coming from Obama? I'm certain he's studied--and is sometimes emulating--Bill Clinton's '92 campaign stump-speech style, something HRC could do more of. If one were to combine Obama's ability to connect with HRC's mastery of policy, you'd have a chaste version of Bill Clinton.)

We need to see more raw, unplugged Hillary Clinton if she hopes to make a run on Super Tuesday.

[Full disclaimer: Bill Clinton ran for president the year I turned 18; he's the first person I ever voted for. Obama is the first--and only presidential candidate to whom I've ever financially contributed.]

Play Ball!

Season tickets for the Reds 2008 season are now on sale!

Is a season ticket package going to be the only way to get Opening Day seats (without resorting to a ticket broker)? Last year, they were included in the smaller game "packs"....

[Post edited due to Donald's inability to read a calendar]

Drive By In the Burbs

Well, better scratch off Springfield Township as a place to live. Once you have a Drive-By shooting, your neighborhood is hear-by off limits to Suburbanites. They'll be updating their detour maps just as quickly as possible.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Yet Another Reason to Fire Streicher

This time it is what I would call abuse of power through the special and normally unavailable use of police services. Tom Streicher is a bad police chief and needs to be fired.

Main Street Plan

Main Street, for those who haven't been down recently, is going through a few changes. That leaves it in a bit of a down period with recent closings and slow progress on opening up the new places. It's also been rougher as of late, including the New Year's Eve/Day murder at Ocho Rios. That said, there is something of a Plan. 3CDC appears to be on the case now, and is lending support to the effort to do to Main Street what is happening over here on Vine Street. Key points of their plan appear to include:
  1. Don't just let any fly by night promoter operate a bar.
  2. Look for Critical mass.
  3. Get more residents, make it a neighborhood with entertainment, instead of just an entertainment district.
  4. Get 3CDC to help.
  5. Fill the store fronts.
There is more to the the plans, and the article doesn't indicate they've got any type of formal or truly structured plan, but on there ground there is a manifestation of consistence starting to form. If we all can wait it out, I'm actually optimistic we will see most the venues mentioned reopen.

Eating Local - Cincinnati

Check out Cincinnati Locavore a fairly new blog covering food, eating, and doing so with locally grown foods.

Friday, January 04, 2008

City Council: District or At Large?

Commenters to my post about whether our elected executive is vested with sufficient authority jumped ahead to the post I had in mind for today: that is, the issue of whether Council should be entirely at large, entirely district-based, or some combination thereof.

The traditional criticism of a district-based legislature is that spending tends to be out-of-control in such systems. This study, for instance, purports to demonstrate that governments run by ward-based elected representatives have higher debt, spending, and taxes than governments with at-large representatives. Those who favor a district-based approach, though, argue that such a system ensures that minority communities have a voice in the legislature, and also permits candidates to win elections without the larger warchest needed in an at-large system.

There's an interesting juxtaposition with respect to our current situation, I think. On the one hand, the Charter committee lauds as one of its achievements the end of the ward system back in the 1920's. Until 1957, though, Council was elected using a proportional representation system, whereby voters ranked their preferences and the results were calculated accordingly. The pure at-large system has been in place for the past fifty years.

Here's the juxtaposition: Hamilton County Municipal Court. The judges aren't elected by the entire county; instead, each judge is elected from one of seven districts. I couldn't find a history of our municipal courts anywhere, but it's my understanding that the system is in place because of a lawsuit filed to ensure that minority communities could get judges elected, and that at one time, all of the judges were elected as Common Pleas judges are, by the entire county. (If I'm wrong, please point this out, preferably politely, in the comments.)

So why is the district-based system good for municipal court but bad for city government? Would a mixed system (at-large and district representatives) ensure that spending doesn't go crazy?

Your thoughts?

Smoke-Filled Back Rooms

Tim Burke and George Vincent have decided that elections just aren't worth the hassle.

I'm furious. I don't necessarily have a problem with either Portune or Hartman; what perturbs me is that each party has decided that it could manage to field just one endorsement-worthy candidate for county commissioner in a year when voter turnout will be extraordinarily high.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Is The Mayor Strong Enough?

No, that's not a late cheap shot at Mark Mallory's 2007 Opening Day pitch. Instead, it's a question about the proper organization of our city government. As most of you know, Cincinnati has only recently switched to a "strong[er] mayor" system of government; previously, the mayor was simply the City Council candidate with the highest vote total. My question: haven't we left too much power in hands of the city manager?

Electing a mayor separate from Council is an excellent step in the right direction. We now have a independent executive. But our city manager--who is not elected--still retains a great deal of power. Consider the power our charter gives the mayor:
It shall be the duty of the city manager to act as chief conservator of the peace within the city; to supervise the administration of the affairs of the city, except as otherwise specifically provided in this charter; to see that the ordinances of the city and the laws of the state are enforced; to make all appointments and removals in the administrative and executive service except as otherwise provided in this charter; to make such recommendation to the mayor and to the council concerning the affairs of the city as may to him or her seem desirable; to keep the mayor and the council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the city; to prepare and submit to the mayor the annual budget estimate for the mayor's review and comment prior to its submission to the council; to prepare and submit to the mayor and to the council such reports as may be required by each and to perform such other duties as may be prescribed by this charter or required of him or her by ordinance or resolution of the council.

Art. IV, Sec. 3. The manager (not the mayor) appoints the City Solicitor, finance director, director of public utilities, and superintendent of water works. Art. IV, Secs. 5, 7, 9. And he gets to fire them. Art. IV, Sec. 10.

Shouldn't all of these be the responbility of someone we actually elect? Clearly, there's a political benefit to having a strong manager. The mayor can let the manager make the tough decisions. Mallory seems to have fallen into a rhythm whereby the manager proposes a draconian, unpopular budget, and then Mallory gets to come in behind him just in time to play the role of Santa Clause. And consider the abuse Valerie Lemmie routinely took from City Council; certainly, the Council wouldn't treat an elected mayor that way.

So the manager gets to be a combination scapegoat/bad cop/punching bag. But is that good government? Don't we want the really important, difficult decisions to be made by our elected representatives? Should we have a mayor who is really just a figurehead, good for ribbon-cuttings and other ceremonies, or do we want a real executive?

What do you think?

Musical Chairs

Pat DeWine is not running for County Commissioner again, and instead is running for a Judgeship. Greg Hartman, Clerk of Courts, will run for County Commission and for State Senator Patricia Clancy will run for the Clerk of Court seat for the Republicans.

It would appear that the poll floating around in comments a week ago or so were right, showing Harris beating DeWine for Commissioner.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A P&G Blog????

I just don't see how big of an audience there would be for a blog about P&G. I just don't know what the Enquirer is thinking on this one.

New Faces On An (Already) Old Argument: Ohio's Sex Offender Registration Law

As of yesterday, Ohio's sex offender registration law changed, becoming even more draconian than it had been. You've all heard the arguments as to why inflexible registration laws are a bad idea, so I won't repeat them here. I do want to highlight, though, two noteworthy articles on the topic that have appeared in the past week.

Too often, when people think of "sex offenders," they think only of guys like this (known in the press as the "Purple People Bridge rapist," he'll be locked up until 2076, when he'll be 101). That makes it easy for our legislators to pass laws that continue to punish offenders well after they've served their sentences.

But as two recent articles show, a whole host of individuals who most people wouldn't object to living near are included with the unduly broad label "sex offender." City Beat notes that Tammy Welton (convicted of having sex with an adult inmate while she was a prison guard) is now subject to a lifetime registration requirement (see also this article in the Cleveland Free Times for more on Ms. Welton). And in an unusually thoughtful article (at least by Enquirer standards), Sharon Coolidge points out that Holli Burd will also be subject to lifetime registration. When she was 29, Ms. Burd was convicted of having sex with a 14 year-old boy. Since then, she's married and had a child of her own.

The point is: when the public realizes that the unduly harsh (and probably ineffective) registration laws don't just impact the really scary people that make headlines in the newspapers, maybe attitudes towards them will change.

Food in Cincinnati-- The Belgian Waffle Guy

Anyone who frequents Findlay Market knows the smell-- right outside of Kroeger's Meats, on the outside perimeter is when it starts smelling really good-- the sugary, vanilla-y scent of The Belgian Waffle Guy. The first time I noticed him, he offered me a taste, and it was the first (and only) time I've ever had a sample, walked past, then spun on my heel to actually buy whatever I was sampling. It's that good.

Jean-Francois Flechet, who is originally from Belgium, might be better termed as the "Liege Waffle Guy". These aren't the waffles from your Belgian waffle iron-- these are crisp and sugary and a little gooey on the outside, somehow both dense and fluffy on the inside-- and are simply the most amazing confection I've ever tasted. Over the past couple of months, I've had Liege- style waffles in two other places (in Bryant Park in New York from an outfit called Augustin's, which sells something like 17,000 waffles a day as well as from a cart somewhere in Paris) and both times my traveling partner and I both said, "Wow. They're just not the same as the ones we get back home". When we got back into town, we made a beeline for Findlay to chat with Jean-Francois about how good his waffles are. His secret? They're fresh-- frozen no longer than a week (unlike Augustin's, which are imported from Belgium, and thus a bit over-frozen and chewy in an unpleasant way)-- and made in very small batches.

The good news? Taste From Belgium has expanded outside Findlay Market-- you can now find his waffles at Newport on the Levee, freshly made on Saturdays and Sundays at the Coffee Shop on Madison (the best way to eat them is fresh and hot right off the waffle iron) and at a bunch of other independent restaurants and coffee shops throughout the city, including Daveed's and Honey.

I'm hoping to include a few more restaurant reviews this year, so join me in supporting local entrepreneurs and restauranteurs. And tell Jean-Francois that you heard about him here!

Does The City Really Need The Charter Committee?

Over the next several days, I intend to post a few (one per day) thoughts on the state of Cincinnati government and politics. My aim is not really to advocate for a particular point of view, but instead to develop a discussion in the comments. The perspective I bring to the discussion is that of a person who's now been a City resident for several years, and thus (hopefully) has some understanding of City politics and culture, but also who isn't necessarily attached to the traditional way of doing things here.

My first topic, obviously (from the title of my post), is the Charter Committee. And my question is simple: has it outlived its usefulness? I'm familiar with the history of the Charter Committee (summarized nicely here and here). It's a proud history, no doubt: the Committee sprang from necessity at a time when one national party dominated local politics, and did so with a fair amount of corruption.

Today, though, both the Democratic and Republican parties have a strong presence in City government. And I'm not sure what today's Charter Committee stands for. Presently, we have two Charterites on Council: Roxanne Qualls (who I'm pretty sure ran as a Democrat when she was mayor under the old system) and Chris Bortz. What unites those two (besides the Charter moniker)? In most cities, I suspect that most Cincinnatians who identify with the Charter Committee would be active in the local Democratic party.

So here it is: why have the Charter Committee? The party doesn't seem to have a cohesive platform. I don't think Qualls and Bortz won because they were members of the Committee, but instead did so because of their individual beliefs and character traits. (How many people were even aware, as they voted for the highly popular Qualls, that her allegiance--or at least her endorsement source--had changed?) Is the Committee still useful to the City? And if not, should people continue to support its candidates, or should it be allowed to die a dignified death?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Speaking of Murder --- From Statistics to Real Blood

Then there was this in the Main Street Entertainment District kicking off 2008:

Man Shot, Killed During Celebration
New Year's Turns Violent In Over-The-Rhine


Officers said that Pernell Thomas, 26, was shot and killed at about 1:30 a.m. at the club Ocho Rios at 221 East 12th St.

Apparently Mr. Thomas was shot in the forehead while on the dance floor.

Can someone tell me what kind of people carry guns with them when they go out to the Entertainment District? Some entertainment! Just think what we can schedule for the Banks. I don't get it . . . . . . . .

Congrats To LWHS Marching Band

I'm very non-PC when it comes to "regionalism" (I don't care much about what happens in the 'burbs). But I wanted to offer congratulations to the Lakota West High School Marching Band (in West Chester) for its appearance and performance in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. For those who missed it, the band was covered on both ABC and NBC. (They were on camera for much longer on ABC; NBC's marching band coverage was terrible overall.) They were the second high school marching band in the parade line-up; the first, a group from North Carolina, didn't seem to get nearly as much camera time, at least on ABC.

I was a band geek growing up (I was even the drum major of my high school band*), so I appreciate what the trip meant for these young adults (as well as the band's staff and the band parents). An invitation to the Tournament of Roses Parade is pretty much the equivalent of a college basketball team making it to the Final Four. It's a huge honor that is the culmination of more hard work than most people realize.

For those of who weren't involved in band growing up, here are some things you should know. First the members of a band like Lakota West spend an amazing amount of time practicing and drilling. They probably attend rehearsals daily after school (and spent one or two weeks over the summer at band camp). In addition to that, they all spend time at home practicing on their own. And this is in addition to the other demands on the time of high school students (which today seem much more rigorous than when I graduated 15 years ago).

And when the band manages to get good enough to be invited to a national event, their school inevitably rewards them with another task: fundraising. My parents were perennial pariahs at their workplaces; their colleagues knew that every fall, they'd be presented with another opportunity to buy whatever goods (usually candy, "hoagies," or candles) the music program was forced to hawk that year.

So: kudos, Lakota West. Thanks for your hard work.

* For those who followed the link to my alma mater, you'll see why it was inevitable that I become a criminal defense attorney: note the similarity in physical appearance between my high school and the Justice Center (I think the HCJC actually has more windows!).

Regional Homicide Totals

Brian asks a good question about the homicide trends in smaller municipalities in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. I don't know what's happened in places like Hamilton, Fairfield, Batavia, Newport, and others. But I was curious as to how other, roughly Cincinnati-sized cities in Ohio and surrounding states fared. Here's what I learned.

Columbus's homicide total dropped 24%, with 79 in 2007 and 104 in 2006.

Cleveland experienced its highest number of homicides in 12 years: 134 in 2007 and 119 in 2006.

Louisville homicides went up, with 67 in 2007 and 50 in 2006.

Pittsburgh recorded an increase in the number of homicides: 57 in 2007 and 39 in 2006 (for all of Allegheny County, in which the 'burgh is located: 2007--98; 2006--96).

Note that a more important measure of homicide trend would be the homicide rate (usually expressed in terms of homicides per 100,000 people); a city whose homicide total remained flat while its population decreased would experience an increase in the homicide rate.

I was unable to find the 2007 numbers for Indianapolis, Dayton, or Lexington, which I thought might be instructive. If you know those numbers (or even the trends), please post them in the comments with a link to the source. (And as always, please post any thoughts you may have on the topic in the comments!)

Homicides Dropped 25% in 2007

68 is not a number to be happy about but a drop of 25% is worth a cheer. I'd like to know how the rest of the area's jurisdictions faired. The fact that the media doesn't pay attention to murder rate changes in other areas means that we don't hear about it, unless you want to go out and gather news like a journalist on your own. If you are up for pestering a suburban police department that likely will give you a hard time about handing over stats, then have at it. We are less likely to know about things like how many murders took place in Fairfield, Mason, or Hamilton, since we have one less news gathering outlet.

Since it is New Year's Day, I don't know what kind of city bashers I'll get. They've been fairly quiet in 2007. In 2007 the City turned a corner. It is not there yet, but it is really starting to gel. It is hard to attack success, but I'm sure some troll will try.