Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Jail Situation: Raw Numbers

Commissioner David Pepper and Councilmember Leslie Ghiz are reportedly collaborating on a plan through which Cincinnati would pay to incarcerate individuals sentenced for misdemeanor offenses in Campbell County, Kentucky. I supported the public safety tax when it appeared on the ballot. But I keep hearing from people (largely on the margins) that Hamilton County's correctional system should be large enough as is. So I set out to find out how we compare to other cities.

Here's what the Internets has taught me:

Cincinnati has a population of about 332,458. Hamilton County's population is about 842,369. Its jail capacity (now that Queensgate is closed) is 1,448. That's about one bed per 581 county residents. (If Queensgate were open, total capacity would be 2,270 for a ratio of 1:371.)

Columbus has a population of about 747,755. Franklin County's population is about 1,118,107. Its jail capacity is 2,331, for a ratio of 1:479.

Cleveland has a population of 444, 313, with Cuyahoga County at 1,295,958. County jail capacity is 1,749. But Cuyahoga County is unique; in 2004, local municipalities operated jails with an additional (cumulative) 700 beds. That leaves a combined ratio of one bed per 529 residents.

Pittsburgh has a population of 312,819; a total of 1,219,210 live in Allegheny County. It has 2,700 jail beds, for a ratio of 1:451.

So what do we know? Of the three most populated counties in Ohio, Hamilton County has the highest number of residents per jail bed. I threw in Pittsburgh, because it is of similar size and nearby. It, too, has a lower ratio of population to jail beds than Cincinnati.

This is based on my quick tour of Google. I leave open the possibility that I have overlooked something critical to this analysis. But if it is correct, then it is maybe not so surprising that the jail is severely overcrowded.

Reminder: Be Happy

Cincinnati Imports has organized another happy hour, this one set tomorrow at Northside Tavern beginning at 5:30.

Just so there's no confusion (or excuses): this is not a blogger meet-up or twitterer tweet-up or anything like that. So while a few of us will make the trek to Northside from our behind-the-keyboard location in the basement of our mothers' houses, that's not true of the vast majority who showed up at the last, very well-attended happy hour put on by Liz, Lauren, and Avani.

Hope to see you there!

Digging a Hole

Chris Smitherman is digging himself a hole he will not get out of, unless he is looking for the GOP to drop him a rope.

Vigils and Tax Relief @ Hugo

The Know Theatre's next show opens on April 11th. Here's a little taste:

Also, if you are looking for a way to spend your tax refund, look no further than Hugo for the Know's Post Tax Relief Fun! on April 16th from 6 to 9 PM.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Coverage of the Widmer Trial

It's wrapped up for the day, but WLWT is liveblogging the Ryan Widmer trial in Warren County. The software being used actually permits readers to pose questions to the blogger in real time. It's an interesting way of covering a live event and one that is, in this instance, quite effective.

Final Weekend For Bent

This weekend is the last chance to see Newstage Collective's production of Bent. The importance of this show is captured in the video preview:

Tickets are $20 and available on-line at www.newstagecollective.com or at the door. The final performances are April 2-4 at 8 PM and April 5 at 3 PM. Don't miss this show.


Kevin Osborne uncovers the unseemliness of the Chris Smitherman and Chris Finney relationship.

He has another blog post adding to the print article.

Yeah, I really don't see how anyone can see the Finney-Smitherman union as anything other than a "Fuck You" to the GLBT community.

Is Smitherman tilting the local NAACP to the right on some issues to appease Finney? This article puts that thought in my mind. That aside, I think the Enquirer needs to stop reacting to every press release from Smitherman.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Miami Makes Frozen Four!

Love and honor to Miami,
Our college old and grand,
Proudly we shall ever hail thee,
Over all the land.

Alma mater now we praise thee,
Sing joyfully this lay,
Love and honor to Miami,
Forever and a day.

Read all about Miami's first ever trip to the College Hockey final four.

Cincinnati Has a Buzz

We still have a ways to go but a 4% increase in YPs is a sign that things are looking good.

I Just Want To Bang On The Drum All Day

One of the real joys of living in Cincinnati is the opportunity to hear the Cincinnati Symphony.  It's become a  bit cliche to say this, but it's true:  we are shockingly fortunate to have a symphony orchestra this good in a city the size of Cincinnati.

Last night, CSO performed three pieces, the world premiere of a piece by Jeremy Mumford, a percussion concerto by Jennifer Higdon, and Beethoven's Fifth.  Janelle Gelfand's review of Friday's concert (with the same program) is here.

I'd never heard a percussion concerto before, but it was terrific.  Read Gelfand's review for a more coherent description of the performance, but it was breathtaking.  The audience rewarded it with one of the most robust standing ovations I've seen at Music Hall (and perhaps the most sustained approval of any non-Paavo-conducted performance).  I'd read a review of Colin Currie's (the featured percussionist) performance of the work with another orchestra, so I was expecting an excellent performance from him.  I didn't realize, though, how much work the piece left for the CSO's own percussionists to do (or how brilliantly they'd do it).

I'm going to politely disagree with Gelfand's review of the Mumford piece.  That was the kind of work that gives people bad feelings about modern orchestral music.  (When the conductor feels the need to explain to his audience "how to listen to" the work his orchestra is about to perform, there's a good chance the next fifteen or twenty minutes of your life will be a bit unpleasant.)  And any time you read in a review about "tone clusters," you know that the music is comprised of the discord that pops up in the background of your worst dreams.  (Yes, my dreams are often scored--aren't yours?)

It was a particularly interesting--odd?--choice to place the Mumford on last night's program, with Higdon and Beethoven.  Beethoven's Fifth is one of those pieces that even non-hardcore symphony-goers enjoy.  So, frankly, was the Higdon.  But the Mumford?  After the concert, I couldn't help thinking of Liz's review of JeanRo's "nose to tail" dinner.  Both are artistic forays that people would really like to convince themselves they're sophisticated to enjoy, but at the end of the night, you'd be a lot happier with a classic (like Beethoven's Fifth or a fillet mignon).  So maybe it's my fault--my musical palate just isn't up to Mumford's level.

Luckily, a few weeks from now, all I (or most people, I suspect) will remember from the evening will be Currie's amazing performance of Higdon's awesome concerto.

Local, Local, Local!

I want to see more of this type of article in the Enquirer. A locally written profile of a local musician. Actual local articles about local people is so refreshing!

Yeah, I know this is done at the Enquirer on a regular basis, it is just not done enough.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bold Fusion 2009

This year's Bold Fusion took place this past Thursday and I again had to work, so I want to open up a post to solicit front line takes on the event.

I will point people to well done first hand take from Redkatblonde.

Other reports and background are
a report from the Enquirer,
a webpage of resources from the event, and
photos of participants.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cincinnati Bible War

Because I didn't grow up in Cincinnati, I didn't get the education in local and state history that a lot of you received in grade school.  So I'm always interested in learning more about Cincinnati's history.

Next week, the Ohio Supreme Court will sponsor a seminar on the "Cincinnati Bible War."  Until the 1870's, a school board policy mandated daily reading from the King James Bible in public schools.  When the board acted to repeal that rule, a local group sued in an effort to reinstate the required reading.  The case ultimately made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which sided with the school board.  (The court avoided the Establishment Clause issues and instead rested its holding largely on the legal authority of the school board to make such a decision, and the lack of authority for the judiciary to review it.)

The provided link will take you to an interesting (and brief) introduction to the subject, led by Linda Przybyszewski, formerly of the University of Cincinnati (and the author of a really good biography of the first Justice Harlan).  I wish I could be in Columbus Wednesday for the event.  

More Signs Of A Growing Number Of Downtown Residents

One of the ways, perhaps, to gauge the success of those who want Downtown to be a neighborhood (as opposed to merely a retail, dining, and bar district) is to look for services that cater to Downtown residents.

A few days ago, I noticed a sign in a window of a building on Plum Street just north of Fourth indicating that a veterinary clinic will soon be opening.  Building Cincinnati (in all likelihood to be announced as 2009's best blog in CityBeat's Best of Cincinnati edition next week) had this story back in January.

It seems to me that this is the type of business geared towards neighborhood residents; I'd think it unlikely people will drive downtown to have their pets cared for.  So I view this as a positive sign regarding the number of people living downtown.  At some level of population density, there should be some sort of tipping point that will have lots of resident-geared services coming downtown.

Tower Place Revisited

The power of blogging is its instantaneousness.  You can read something, react to it, and share your reaction with the universe.  And sometimes, that can be its downfall, as well.

Earlier this week, I criticized Chris Bortz and City Council for delaying action on a request by Northeastern Security Development Group to vertically divide the property that includes Tower Place Mall into two separate lots.  Since then, I've talked with (and been chewed out by) a couple of people whose opinions I respect and who know far more about real estate than I do, and it seems that Bortz is probably taking a fairly prudent course of action.  

(Mr. Bortz, by the way, graciously offered to speak with me about the issue....I called him back--in hindsight, probably when he was in the middle of Wednesday's Council meeting--but didn't start a phone tag game, because sometimes I have to pretend to actually be a lawyer who blogs rather than a blogger who practices law.)

NSD is an out-of-town development company and, as far as I can tell, doesn't have any history of development projects in Cincinnati.  So Council doesn't have any basis on which to simply trust in their promises of pouring money into Tower Place.  Granting their request would make it a lot easier to sell off the mall and retain the parking garage.  Yes, it's possible (as I pointed out) that they'll let Tower Place die in the absence of action from Council.  But Council doesn't want to act in such a way as to make it easier for them to kill off Tower Place.

So Council just needs a clear picture of what NSD has in plan for Tower Place.  They need to see a real commitment to turning Tower Place around.  No one wants to see the mall fail.  Council has limited power to help it succeed, and in this instance, they're doing what they can to make sure an out-of-town developer with no local ties doesn't turn a quick buck at the expense of a key downtown attraction.

So there you go.  I'm wrong, again.  And apologies to Council and Chris Bortz for my too-quick reaction.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NFL Rules Changes Announced

According to this story at ESPN.com, the NFL owners have decided that tackling is too likely to cause injury to their highly paid athetes. Beginning in the 2009 season, a player will be considered "down" when a member of the opposing team touches him with two hands between the knees and shoulders. Knocking a player to the ground will result in a fifteen-yard penalty and an ejection.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, when asked about the wisdom of the rules change, responded, "By the middle of the second quarter, most of our fans are too intoxicated to know what's happening on the field of play." He continued, "Fans only care that their favorite player is in the game, not what that player is doing."

New Hope For Tower Place, If Bortz Doesn't Get In The Way....

The Enquirer reports that Northeastern Security Development, the owner of Tower Place Mall, is hoping to revitalize the mall by attracting new, "unconventional" tenants. The company needs, though, to arrange some financing to make improvements both to the parking garage and the exterior of the building. As I blogged over a year ago, improvements to the exterior are much needed and would be extremely welcome.

So NSD has come to City Council looking for help. What do they want? A chunk of money? Stimulus funds? A tax break? No: they just need City Council to divide their property into two lots, one for the garage (which is profitable) and one for the mall (which currently is not). Such a division is apparently required in order to secure financing. Chris Bortz,--the chair of Council's Economic Development Committee--is standing in the way. According to the article:

At issue is whether Northeastern has a long-term commitment to the mall–or if it’s just asking for the separation so that it’s in a better position to sell the less lucrative retail space.“The question remains, ‘What if?’” says councilman Chris Bortz, who chairs the economic development committee. “We don’t want to be left in a situation where we have a dark mall and the attached parking garage is doing just fine. They may have the best intentions, but we can’t predict the future.”
Davis said the concern is unjustified. “What good is it to own a parking garage next to property that is vacant?” he said. “We’ve spent millions of dollars to buy this, and we want it to be successful. Fourth Street has great potential, and to say we helped turn Tower Place around, I’d love to put that feather in my hat.”
Bortz said he’s doesn’t plan to revisit Northeastern’s request until the council receives the firm’s plan for the mall. “It’s in a holding pattern for now,” he said.

So let's review. Tower Place Mall wants to bring new in new tenants. Its ability to do so is derived, at least in part, from its ability to secure financing to upgrade the facility. And its ability to get financing is dependent on the lot subdivision it is requesting from Council. But Bortz won't even take the matter up for consideration until Tower Place tells him who its tenants will be--which it can't do, because it's likely no one will commit until the financing is in place. Brilliant.

One wonders what the problem is here. Why does the legal division of the property make it more likely that we'll have a "dark mall" with a vibrant parking garage? That's nearly what we have now. And if NSD isn't able to secure financing, that is what we'll end up with for sure.

Chris Bortz's experience with residential development has been an asset for City Council the last few years. But this is another example of how City Council is, on balance, pretty inept when it comes to downtown, non-residential development.

For those of you who favor the streetcar (as Bortz does), remember: a streetcar is great, but no one will ride it if there's nothing to do once you get off. Tower Place Mall sits just a block off the proposed streetcar route, and if it's revitalized properly it will be a significant draw downtown.

We threw millions of dollars at Saks to stay in town. We can't help another company out with a simple administrative matter? Why does it seem lately that if a development project isn't being run by 3CDC, Council just doesn't care about it? With regional unemployment at its highest in a quarter-century, City Council should be making it easier for business to operate, not harder.

Lavomatic Cafe: New Website

A new website for LavomaticCafe :: Urban Food & Wine Bar In addition to the new website, there is a new name for the parent company: Relish Restaurant Group, renamed after Jenro departed the organization.

Furlough II at the Enquirer

CityBeat has the full story of the 2nd furlough for Gannett, which includes the Cincinnati Enquirer.

How is the news business going to survive? Are people just not bothering to pay attention? Do they care anything about knowing what is happening in their community? I honestly wonder how people are consuming local news. As we get less and less of it, are they going to notice when it is gone?

Monday, March 23, 2009

We Scooped the Enquirer!!!

Carl Weiser confirmed yesterday what we blogged over a week ago: Lemarque Ward is running for City Council. And all I had to do to get the story was show up to a parade....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chris Finney NAACP Lawyer?

I am getting the impression that the local NAACP and it's fearless leader Chris Smitherman have rid the city of all racism. I say that because they are wasting their time (again) on a Charter Amendment that is not needed and unwise, not to mention it has nothing to do with their mission.

Furthermore, they must believe Civil Rights no long matter if they are going to use Chris Finney as a lawyer. The Beacon ponders this as well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cincinnati is Becoming Bicycle Friendly

You know by now that I have a pretty de minimis standard as to what it means for a community to be "bicycle-friendly." Luckily for my two-wheeled friends, some of our leaders have much higher aspirations.

First, our newest Council member, Greg Harris, is pushing Council to pass a resolution that would require Spring Grove Avenue, set for some resurfacing this spring, to have a bike lane. It looks like this will be passed at tonight's Council meeting. Harris has been doing a good job of picking his spots and judiciously using the bully pulpit that comes with an office in City Hall.

Second, the Enquirer reports that the City will begin painting "sharrows" on some streets this spring. Sharrows designate lanes as shared space for both motorists and bicyclists. For a little more information (and a picture of what a sharrow looks like) check out this blog post.

I'm still not giving up my car (or the right to curse at bicyclists who ride in the wrong direction on one-way streets downtown), but I'm glad to see the City making it a bit easier for those who do.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rescue Me: Cincinnati Enquirer, or The National Inquirer?

Cincinnati firefighters are the new Bengals. They're always getting into trouble, and they're going to be subject to extra scrutiny even when they haven't done anything wrong.

But the Enquirer is going too far. A blog post by Jane Pendergrast links to a series of 92 photographs that someone posted to the website of a Fort Myers, Florida, newspaper. The pics are purportedly of Cincinnati firefighters on spring break.

I quickly went through the pictures, many of which are of bikini-clad beach-goers (okay, maybe I went through some of those more slowly). I'm not sure if all of the people pictured are supposed to be Cincinnati firefighters, just the men, some of the men, or what. I don't even know if any of the people who are allegedly Cincinnati firefighters really are Cincinnati firefighters--and the Enquirer doesn't seem interested in finding out.

I suppose this is the natural consequence of a newspaper attaching blogs to its website and recruiting its journalists to post. Ultimately, what the Enquirer staff posts there will be no better than what any other blogger posts on his or her own blog. The problem is compounded when the newspaper's website's front page links to blog posts in a manner indistinguishable from the manner in which it links to actual stories (the kind that appear in the print edition). So until you click the link, you don't know whether you've read a headline or a blog post title. Apparently, the Enquirer now considers the two to carry equal weight.

Besides the question of authenticity, Pendergrast's post raises the question of newsworthiness. Assuming some or all of the pictures are of Cincinnati firefighters, so what? These pictures are patently different from the "Real Men of Genius" videos publicized in the last few weeks. Those videos were apparently made inside firehouses and shown at an official event. Instead, in the pcitures, they're on vacation. They're not wearing CFD uniforms, or anything else that would identify them as firefighters. Firefighters are not elected officials. They're just municipal employees. Granted, they do a tremendously important job for the City, but they're still just employees in one of the City's departments. Are Parks Department employees now going to be subject to this level of scrutiny? Are we going to be treated to summer vacation pictures of snow plow drivers?

This reminds me of an odd moment I had the first time I visited Cincinnati. I wanted a local newspaper, and walked into a Walgreen's and asked for one. The clerk told me that the Enquirer was "over there." I didn't know what the name of the local newspaper was, and assumed she was referring to the National Inquirer. So I said again that I was looking for a newspaper. We went in circles a couple times before the poor clerk realized what a moron I am.

Given Pendergrast's post, I'm no longer sure there's such a big difference between the two publications.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Good Eats: Gilpin's Bagel and Deli

Last month, I mentioned that someone was working to open a new restaurant on Seventh Street between Vine and Walnut. Gilpin's Bagel and Deli is now open for business; they opened a few days ago. I believe this is what's called their "soft opening," as they have some Grand Opening festivities planned in the future.

I stopped in today for lunch, and wound up with a bagel sandwich (turkey, cheddar, and a garlic-herb spread on a sesame bagel) and a cup of soup. The staff was friendly and the food was good. I chatted with the folks behind the counter as I waited for my sandwich, and learned a little bit.

Giplin's steams its sandwiches. The machine on which this happens looks like a panini machine, only with steam billowing out from time to time. The result is quite good. The place is loosely modeled on a similar bagel shop in Oxford. (Maybe Griff can compare the two for you sometime--the only place I ever visit in Oxford is Area I Court.) But apparently, there are significant menu changes from the Oxford restaurant, and there's no affiliation between the two.

Gilpin's will be open for pretty long hours, planning breakfast, lunch, and after-hours service. In a few weeks, they'll have finished up an area upstairs where you can enjoy your meal while watching a game on TV. And they also have a catering service available. It all seems quite ambitious, but the folks running Gilpin's seem young and eager--aren't they supposed to be ambitious?

The menu seemed a little cumbersome at first. I grimaced a little when I was told that ordering a non-vegetarian sandwich is a "simple six-step" process, but it turns out that all of those "steps" merely involve choosing your bagel, your meat, your cheese, your spread, your cream cheese, and your veggies. They were very generous with the amount of turkey on the bagel. And the soup (chicken with rice) hit the spot. (Although given the size of the sandwich, it all would've been too much for lunch had I not waited until after 2:00 to eat.)

Anyhow.....the concept is cute, the staff is friendly and energetic, and the food is good enough for a return visit, especially at Gilpin's quite reasonable prices. So help stimulate the economy and go check it out!!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cincinnati Tea Party Harkens Back To Eighteenth Century

In 1773, American colonists led by Samuel Adams gathered at Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act, a law passed by the British Parliament.  The parliament had exempted Britain's East India Company from duties on teas that colonial merchants were required to pay.  The Act was particularly galling in that the Americans were not represented in Parliament.  Disguised as Native Americans, they rushed aboard ships laden with the tea and dumped the tea into the harbor.

Earlier today, scores of Cincinnatians gathered at Fountain Square for a protest in the best tradition of the Boston Tea Party.  The parallels between today and 1773 are striking.

After all, who would not be incensed by the massive taxes just imposed by our Congress?

Oh--what?  Congress didn't raise taxes, but instead lowered them?  That's all right.  The laws passed passed by our government are still onerous.  Just as in 1773, the citizens of this continent are subject to laws passed by a legislature in which they have no elected representatives and by a king whose power to rule is derived from God, rather than the people.

Oh, dear.  You say that's not right either?  We just elected the entire House of Representatives?  And the two senators that represent each state are directly elected by the people of that state every six years?  Wow....not even the Framers believed in direct election of the members of the Senate; that required the 17th Amendment.  And...we have no king?  Just a president who was elected by a majority of voters just four months ago?  Geesh.

Well...the parallels are still obvious.  After all, the Cincinnati Tea Party was near water.  And the people there want to sell tea at lower prices.  I think.

OK.  Maybe there are no parallels between the tea parties across the country and the Boston Tea Party.  Maybe calling the gatherings "tea parties" is really just a clever marketing gimmick thought up by those who are disappointed that their candidates lost in November.

I suspect the mood of the Cincinnati Tea Party crowd is accurately captured in this Enquirer picture.  Note the clever sign near the front of the crowd reading "Nobama's Bin Lyin'."  Now there's some intelligent public discourse for you.  

Thanks to DF--you know who you are--for inspiring this post.

More on Council 2009: Politics and Race

According to the 2000 Census, African-Americans make up nearly 43% of Cincinnati's population. But only 2 of 9 Council members (or 22%) are African-American. Why is there such a disparity? And will the gap narrow in 2009?

The HamCo Republican Party has already announced its slate of endorsed candidates. Of the five GOP candidates, only one, Rev. Charlie Winburn, is African-American. Last week, the Beacon published Tim Burke's response to an inquiry about whether the HamCo Democratic Party's ticket will be racially diverse. Burke wrote, "At least 50% of our City candidates will, almost certainly, be black." Last week, in two separate posts (here and here) Nate Livingston suggests that the Democratic Party isn't leaving itself much space to endorse candidates of color this fall. He also notes that the party has been slow to endorse black candidates; he forgot, though, (or was too kind) to mention in support of his argument regarding the parties' poor treatment of black candidates that in 2007, the Dems reportedly approached one of their endorsed black candidates, Wendell Young, about leaving the race to make room for Roxanne Qualls.

Tim Burke is a lawyer, and we lawyers always have a tendency of talking in a way that makes you wonder if you really know what the meaning of "is" is. He writes that 50% of his party's "City candidates" will be black, not that 50% of the City Council candidates will be black. So, he leaves himself room to include Mayor Mallory as a "City candidate," meaning the party would need to include only 4 African-Americans on its Council slate in order to fulfill his pledge.

Where do we stand now? Historically, the Dems endorse all of their incumbents. So Berding, Cole, Harris, and Thomas will all be endorsed, barring any surprises. As mayor, Mark Mallory's voice carries a lot of weight in the party (much as a sitting president's voice has significant impact in a national party). One would anticipate, then, that Quinlivan and Fischer, already endorsed by Mallory, will be endorsed by the party. And given that Representative Driehaus is a fairly politically astute politican, it'd be surprising if he endorsed a candidate that wasn't headed towards his party's endorsement; that means Nick Hollan would be the party's seventh endorsed candidate.

That calculus means that, if Burke's prediction is to come true, both of the of as-yet-unknown endorsed Democrats will be black. (And this assumes that Qualls won't seek to return to her home in the Democratic party and will instead continue to run with only the Charter Committee's endorsement.) Assuming that leaders in the party have people in mind for these spots, why haven't they had the media rollouts thus far enjoyed by Fischer, Quinlivan, and Hollan?

In a city whose population is nearly 50% black, why does the Democratic party seem to have such a hard time identifying black candidates? This is particularly perplexing given Burke's assertion that 50% of the 220-member Cincinnati Democratic Committee is black. Are black candidates out there and being ignored or snubbed by the party? Does the party need to do a better job of identifying and nurturing black candidates? The HamCo GOP is on a mission to identify viable candidates from the suburbs to take control of county government. Should the HamCo Dems have a similar focus on identifying and supporting black candidates (for either City offices or county offices)?

I generally don't blog on issues of race--not because they're not important or interesting, but because I'm not sure I'm skillful enough to do so in a way that furthers intelligent public discourse. So let's (please!) keep things calm and civil in the comments.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Handicapping the 2009 Council Race

The election is still nearly eight months off.  We don't yet know who the Charter and Democratic parties will endorse (we don't even know who all the incumbents will be).  But that shouldn't stop us from far-too-early, pointless prognostication, should it?

I'm curious about this question:  which of the non-incumbents will have a shot at winning a Council seat this year?  I know it's early, but here are my thoughts.

It could be the "year of the woman," so to speak.  I suspect Quinlivan will do well, with both Mallory's and (probably) the HamCo Dem endorsement, along with huge name recognition.  And Amy Murray, with the HCRP endorsement, may well be a candidate to watch; I'll bet she runs an energetic campaign and quickly makes up for non-Hyde Park voters' current lack of familiarity with her (although I'm a bit disturbed that she doesn't seem to have a campaign website yet).

Tony Fischer, also Mallory-endorsed (almost certainly Dem-endorsed, and perhaps Obama-endorsed by the end of the campaign) has to be viewed as a strong contender (of course, he might not be a non-incumbent by election time).  I also think Lemarque Ward is a candidate to keep an eye on.  He's known by a lot of Cincinnati leaders, and I'll bet he puts together a strong grass-roots force.  I don't know if he's seeking the Dem endorsement, and if so, whether he'll get it.  And Nicholas Hollan, a Driehaus-endorsed candidate (which may foreshadow a Dem endorsement) will likely enjoy strong West Side support.  Finally, Reverend Charlie Winburn, 2007's first runner-up, has to be the early non-incumbent favorite.

How about the opposite--non-incumbents without a prayer?  Again, it's hard to know.  But one candidate who is apparently trying to stake out a last place spot for himself is newcomer Daryl Cordrey, a Republican who did not gain his party's endorsement.  Based on his website, he will seek a seat on Council employing a troika of poor grammar, typographical errors, and race-baiting (in the sole entry on his blog, he tells us he is running because Cincinnati is on "the brink of becoming another Detroit" and refers to "the Jesse Jackson wanna be [sic] Chris Smitherman").  Looks like we've found our 2009 fringe candidate.

What are your thoughts?  Who am I missing?  Who's doomed to fail?  Who will keep us entertained?  What are the issues that are going to drive the campaign?

Of Parades And Politics

Reason Number 1,247 to live downtown: once in a while on a Saturday morning, a parade goes by your front door.

First, kudos to the high school marching bands that were in this morning's parade. The St. Patrick's day parade is always an awkward one for marching bands: quite a while has passed since the end of football (halftime show) season, and it's a while before you need to be ready for the summer parade season.

Second, today's parade marks something of an unofficial start to the meet-and-greet portion of campaign season. Several local politicians were out and about. I missed the first third of the parade, so I'm not sure who I missed, but here's some observations about what I saw:

  • Jeff Berding isn't quite ready for the fall campaign yet; he's still using banners with the slogan from his last campaign, "New Leadership for Change." I'm not sure you can run on that theme when you're an incumbent.
  • Greg Harris was out, meeting people and shaking hands. So were Amy Murray and Chris Monzel.
  • Laure Quinlivan had some folks carrying her banner, but I didn't see her. That's kind of strange.
  • There were some Council candidates in the parade who I'd not known were running. Brian Garry (who finished 18th in 2007's race) is gearing up for the 2009 campaign. Lemaque Ward, founder of the Cincinnati Dream Academy, was energetically shaking hands, even at the parade's conclusion on Plum Street. Kevin Flynn, an attorney whose website indicates he is endorsed by the Charter Committee (I haven't seen any announcement about their full slate of endorsements--can someone point me?) was present. And there was another new candidate whose name I don't quite remember--Polovich, perhaps? (Someone help me out here.) Steve Pavelish, who finished 23rd in 2007, was out shaking hands.
  • Steve Chabot hasn't stopped campaigning since 1994 and today was no exception. And either Jean Schmidt or her twin sister was also in the parade.
It was nice to see both the nice crowd and the large number of local politicians at the parade.
(Post updated on 3/15/09, with some help from philgirl in the comments.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Help Recovering CPD Sergeant Get to Disney World

You might remember that back around Thanksgiving 2007, Cincinnati Police Sergeant Bryce Bezdek was seriously injured on I-75 while he was laying stop sticks in an effort to end a high speed chase. The driver who was being pursued lost control of her vehicle, slamming into a truck that slammed into Sergeant Bezdek; that driver was eventually sentenced to serve 20 years in prison. (Original coverage here.)

I just saw on Facebook (and there's also a story at WCPO) that Modern Mom is sponsoring a contest; first prize is a Florida getaway vacation to Disney World. Sergeant Bezdek's wife, Toni, has entered a video. To see (and, hopefully, vote for) her video, go here.

As of a few minutes ago, the Bezdeks have a commanding lead, with over 15,000 votes, constituting about 97% of all votes cast. The contest runs through next Friday. You can vote once per computer per day.

There's a lot of platitudes that could be written here. Suffice it to say: Bezdek's a guy who was injured while trying to protect our community, and who by all accounts is making an unabashedly courageous recovery. So point and click a couple times, and help him, his wife, and his kids get to hang out with the Big Cheese for a few days. Vote!!! I can't think of a family more deserving (and perhaps in genuine need) of a few days of fun in the sun.

And I suspect (apart from possibly noting the results of the contest next week) that this is the last time this blog will ever link to Modern Mom.

Vernon Manor Closing

The Vernon Manor will close its doors at the end of the month. I don't have much to say, other than it's unfortunate. The Vernon Manor has been a terrific, historic, non-downtown place for guests to stay. When I was in law school, it was where we housed out-of-town judges (primarily federal appellate judges and state supreme court judges) who came in for the annual moot court competition, always to positive reviews.

JenJen (a/k/a Tavern Wench, my favorite bartender blogger), alerted us to the news on her own blog and in the comments to the post below. I wanted to bump the story to provide a thread for folks to share their thoughts.

Best Advice Column Ever

Except for the fact that I was in Cincinnati while I was reading this, there's no discernible Cincinnati connection here. I just had to share this.

A woman sends a letter to an advice columnist with the following question:

How do I tell my fiance that I want to adopt children, because he's so ugly I don't want to bear children that might end up looking like him?

Have a great weekend!

Support Streetcars!

On March 25th you can show your support for Streetcars in Cincinnati by attending a fundraiser at Grammer's.
5:30PM to 7:30PM
Suggested Donation of $35 (Contribute on-line)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Police officers have really difficult jobs; I'm quite sure I couldn't handle the responsibility, stress, or thanklessness of the position. But sometimes, I just can't fathom what motivates their policies and procedures.

This morning, as I drove to the Justice Center a little before eight o'clock, the traffic light at Central Parkway and Vine was out. I'd heard about the problem on the news; I hadn't realized that the light wasn't even flashing red, but was just dead. So I was pleased as I approached the intersection to see a police car, lights flashing, parked at the corner. I assumed an officer was directing traffic at the intersection. A good idea, given how many pedestrians cross Central Parkway there.

Nope. The officer was sitting in his car. Maybe he was there, prepared to catch anyone who didn't treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Beats me. But he sure wasn't much help to people trying to safely cross the street or drivers trying to navigate the intersection.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some Truth About the Kirkland Case

The details trickling out regarding the murder of thirteen year-old Esme Kenney are grisly. Whomever committed this crime engaged in an unspeakably horrific act against humanity. If that person is Anthony Kirkland--the man under arrest and accused of the murder--he will most likely face the harshest sentence allowed under Ohio law, the death penalty.

A trio of commentators have emerged today to use this week's events as an opportunity to raise the possibility that systemic failures in the criminal justice process paved the way for Esme's death. But the Enquirer editorial board, Peter Bronson, and several members of City Council all seem prone to histrionics, exaggeration, and outright falsehoods. So let's see if we can clarify the question they all raise: Why was Kirkland free?

The Enquirer reports that Kirkland was convicted in 1987 of killing his girlfriend and then setting fire to her body. That's obviously a horrible, horrible offense, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the most recent allegations against him. He was sentenced to serve 7 to 25 years in prison. He served 16, and then was paroled. From the editorial board:

Convicted of that killing, he received a 7-25 year sentence, which seems a light sentence given the grisly details of the case. He was paroled in 2003 and released from probation 13 months later. That's one big crack [in the system] - 16 years for intentionally immolating someone.

Should Kirkland have been paroled in 2003? I don't know. I wasn't at the parole hearing. I don't know what influenced the parole board to let him go. (The fact that he spent 16 years in prison for an offense committed while he was a teenager was probably considered by the board.) But this is why Ohio sentencing law changed in the mid-1990's in favor of "truth in sentencing." We don't want parole board members deciding how long a defendant should serve; that's a judge's job. These kinds of indefinite sentences no longer exist. When we hear about people being released early for parole, we're hearing about "old law" cases--that is, offenses committed prior to 1996.

So, what about the years since Kirkland was released from prison? In 2005, he was charged with rape and aggravated burglary. But he went to trial, and a jury found him not guilty. I'm unwilling to fault "the system" for that. In 2007, he was twice charged with crimes. The first time, he was charged with two counts of kidnapping, inducing panic, and endangering children. This is where Bronson jumps the shark:

But he wound up serving just 115 days on two counts of unlawful restraint. One of the charges that was dropped was "endangering children."

Usually, when people talk about charges being "dropped," they're referring to the prosecution dismissing charges. But that's not what happened here. Instead, Kirkland went to trial and was acquitted of endangering children and inducing panic. He was found not guilty of kidnapping, but
guilty of the lesser included offense of unlawful restraint, a misdemeanor.

Later that year, he was arrested for importuning, a felony, and public indecency, a misdemeanor. Again, Kirkland went to trial. He was acquitted of public indecency, but convicted of importuning. And this is where the Enquirer editorial board's handle on the facts goes awry:

He went back to jail for about a year before being paroled again - another crack.

Umm, wrong. He didn't serve his sentence in "jail," he spent it in prison (at least the part of it he hadn't already served by the time his case went to trial). What's more, he was sentenced to the maximum sentence: one year. He was also classified as a sex offender as a result of that conviction. He was not released on parole--parole no longer exists. Instead, once he served his full sentence, he was placed on post-release control, or PRC. PRC is supervised by the Adult Parole Authority and begins after certain offenders have completed their sentence. It is not an alternative to prison. When an offender violates the terms of PRC, the Parole Authority has the option of returning him to prison for up to nine months or half of his prison term, whichever is greater.

And now we get to Kirkland's recent conduct and abode. While on PRC, he was ordered to live at the Volunteers of America halfway house. City Council has complained in the past (and does so again today) of sex offenders being relocated to Cincinnati to live at the VOA. But this isn't what happened in this case. Kirkland was from Cincinnati. Once he served the one-year sentence, he would have returned to Cincinnati. While our leaders are right to be concerned about Cincinnati becoming a "dumping ground" for sex offenders from across the state, that trend did not impact the Kirkland case. And wasn't placing him in the VOA, under at least marginal supervision, a better choice than no placement at all? City Council members question the propriety of permitting a "serial killer" to reside at the VOA, but that's not quite right. He wasn't known to be a serial killer at the time of his placement, and he wasn't being supervised in connection with the 1987 murder any longer.

Everyone raises a valid point about the VOA's ridiculously bad judgment back on February 29th, when Kirkland apparently was expelled from the facility for fighting with a fellow resident. It appears that the VOA didn't notify Kirkland's parole officer for three days that Kirkland had been kicked out. I cannot fathom why. The parole officer would have immediately reached out to Kirkland, and if he couldn't have found him, a warrant would have issued. Did those three days make a difference? We'll never know.

Cases like this rightly cause us to evaluate and re-evaluate our criminal justice system and its strengths and weaknesses. But such evaluation should be based on facts, not half-truths and fear.

Sorry for the long post.

Why Are There Two Convention Centers?

Instead of discussing combining convention bureaus, I wonder why the Sharonville convention center exists? Why on Earth would it expand? Who would ever want to have a convention there? If you want a small trade shows that feeds on local businesses/residents, OK, I can maybe see that, but who would travel on purpose to Sharonville for a convention, seriously? Gun Show, yeah, out of town convention, no.

GOP Still Hates the City

When you can't field more than 5 candidates for Cincinnati City Council it is clear your party either just doesn't care about the city or just down right hates it and cares only about the burbs. There are months ahead before candidates have to collect enough signatures and the local GOP is done endorsing. Sure, if you want to actually be a winning candidate, you need to be raising money now to have a reasonable chance, but not everyone has a chance anyway. Major political parties that are serious about a political race actually play to win it. The GOP I contend, at least those I'll label "the powers that be," would like to see the city fail, much like many want to see President Obama fail. Those living in the suburbs, the money base for most things GOP in the area, are not inclined to fund anything in the City, even a GOP candidate. Sure a few might, but most don't care to fund their own local township races, so the city is like a foreign political county.

No, I am not saying all Republicans want the city to fail, just those with the power. Those with the power would rather see the city slide into the river so attention and power and federal funding for the area could be reentered in the burbs. That would build up their power more, which yeah, is the goal of nearly every person ever labeled as part of the "powers that be."

I will applaud all 5 of the GOP endorsed candidates for City Council: Leslie Ghiz, Chris Monzel, George Zamary, Charlie Winburn, and Amy Murry. All I believe care about the city and in ways I may not agree with, want the city to succeed. Yes, that even goes for Charlie Winburn!

All of that said, sure there is a method to a short slate. When you want to try and gain a seat or two, then a short slate is logical plan to get you there. That hurts in the long run. You don't build up a big enough bench, which is a massive GOP problem right now that shows no signs of changing.

Monday, March 09, 2009

CincyFringe 2009 Line Up Announced

The 6th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival has announced it's line up.

The festival runs May 26th through June 6th. More details are here from the Enquirer.

For the 3rd year in a row, TheConveyor.com is planning on wall to wall, beer to beer, and play to play coverage of festival. We'll have reviews and more here. The Fringe Blog will be back again and so will the overabundance of cheeky commentary from Fringe participants.

Visual and Film Fringe are still accepting applications until March 27th, so get full details at www.cincyfringe.com.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bigotry in Butler County

Yes, the headline is a broken record, but adoption policy in Butler County discriminates against Gays. Guess who the bigot is: Mike Fox, former Butler County Commissioner. I guess he needs more bad press to counter the bad press his scandals got him. What better way to rally support than to tap into a subtle bigotry.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

'Round The Cinciblogosphere: End of an Era

Well, Jean-Robert at Pigall's is no more. I'm fortunate to have eaten there once, for a three-course lunch a few years ago. I remember distinctly two things: the best scallops I've ever had, and my only experience with purple potatoes (mmm....potatoes and purple, together).

I kept waiting for Griff to invite Jack, Julie, and me out to Pigall's to mark the closing but alas, the perks of blogging aren't what they used to be.....so I've had to settle for reading about other bloggers' last meals there.

Kate's random thoughts on a final four-star meal are here. Graham ate at Jean Robert's this week (okay...it was a couple weeks ago, but I'm trying to get his blog's name into the sentence). And go read which of Jean Robert's morsels got into Liz's belly here (yes, Liz blew it in her review of Adriatico's, but her terrific recounting of her Pigall's meal--as well as her great story on a foray into a sort of extreme-cuisine-meets-fine-dining-purgatory--has caused me to stop frothing at the mouth.

I'm sorry to see the restaurant go. I'm not sure how such restaurants fit into markets outside of New York and Los Angeles, particularly in the present economy. But such restaurants remind us why the phrase "culinary art" exists. Jean Robert, when he's at his finest, isn't just dishing up sustenance; he's creating art and memories. And I hope that downtown restaurant gets another opportunity to support a four-star dining experience).

CPS School Board: Not At The Head Of The Class

Dumb, dumb, dumb. That's the only way to describe the continued failure of the Cincinnati school board to respect the spirit, intent, and (frankly) the text of the Public Records Act. As we noted last month, CPS hatched a scheme to shield the names of applicants for the vacant superintendent position from public scrutiny: the board rented a post office box for the reception of applications, and won't open them until March 16, at which time it will attempt to hire someone as quickly as possible.

CPS has held its ground. And so has the Enquirer, which today filed a lawsuit in the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to force the board to release the applications in response to Public Records Act requests.

I recognize that there is at least one good reason to permit applicants' names to be immune from public disclosure: good candidates might be discouraged from applying given that there's a guarantee that their present employers will learn they're seeking work elsewhere. But the only way to fix that is for the General Assembly to change the statute.

Besides being fairly illegal, the board's decision is also bad practice. Trying to compress the consideration of applications for its top job into as little time as possible leaves them with a wide margin for error. Moving into a time period in which (a) money will be tight and (b) the state's educational system may undergo fundamental changes, the board needs a strong, competent leader. But its process is making it less likely that one will be hired.

The Enquirer is represented by Jack Greiner, a partner at Graydon Head & Ritchey. It looks like Mr. Greiner has been practicing for about 25 years. My guess is that he bills at a rate of $350 or $400 per hour (perhaps more). Assuming I'm correct and the Enquirer wins its suit, CPS will be on the hook for his fees (the Public Records Act contains a "fee-shifting" provision, permitting a successful litigant to collect attorney's fees and costs).

HamCo GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou says his party will field "qualified" candidates in the next school board race. Given the current board's short-sightedness on this rather easy issue, I'll be leaning heavily towards casting my ballot for some "R's" in those races.

Finally, for those of you who were wondering why the lawsuit was filed in the appeals court, rather than in the Common Pleas court (our trial level courts): it's because of the nature of the suit. The Enquirer is seeking a writ of mandamus--essentially, an order compelling a government official to obey the law. Ohio law says that such suits, unlike ordinary suits for damages, may originate in any court--the applicable Common Pleas Court, a Court of Appeals, or even the Ohio Supreme Court.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Imports At It Again

At cincinnati imports (someday soon I'll find out why "liz" is so opposed to capitalization), Liz announces a couple of upcoming events. On March 21, the plan is to head out to Cincinnati Gardens to cheer as Lauren (known by her rabid fans as Miss Print) and the Cincinnati Rollergirls as they take on the Hard Knox Rollergirls in the season opener.

Plans are also in the works for a Happy Hour on April 1st. No location has been announced.

I'm somewhat embarassed that I never posted on the imports' first Happy Hour. It was a great event! I was thrilled to meet some of the best bloggers in town. Liz and Lauren have pictures here. This last one is important: it memorializes the historic first meeting between Griff, on the right, and myself (note the somewhat awed look in my eyes). That's right, Griff and I had never met before that night. Anyhow, the event was fun enough that I'm looking forward to the April Fool's Day event. And it's so fun to hang with that crowd that I just might have to figure out what a twitter is and crash the next tweet-up....

Oh---for those of you who are concerned by the picture: the pornstache was a very, very, very, short-lived experiment in facial hair, and ended shortly after that night.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bockfest Starts This Friday!

It is that time of year again. Bockfest starts Friday March 6th and runs through Sunday the 8th. Friday is the big night with events starting at 6 PM with the Parade at Arnold's up to Main Street. Best viewing will likley be around 12th and Main, where the blessing of the beer takes place after the parade. Get your holy water burns at no extra cost!

Jake Speed takes the stage at 9PM at Bockfest Hall (Formerly Jefferson Hall).

Other places you may find me will be Arnold's and Grammer's, which are easy to get to via the free Bockfest shuttle!

Admission is free, so come on down!

Don't Be a Wussy!

When it comes to confronting people with bad news, don't act like the Band Wussy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ignoring the "Go Directly To Jail" Card

We've all heard by now of the lack of space in the jails in Hamilton County. Most of you have heard that the sheriff has initiated a sentence deferral program, whereby certain offenders are told to come back at a later day to serve a sentence of incarceration. Today's Enquirer reveals something that was fairly predictable: defendants aren't necessarily reporting as ordered. And according to the Enquirer, there's nothing that can be done to penalize them for remaining at large.

The situation is of some concern (but probably not as alarming as the Enquirer makes it out to be) to me. Yes, I'm a defense attorney and I'm never happy when someone is sentenced to jail--every jail sentence represents, to me, some form of societal failure or detriment. But I'm also a member of this community and a realist: sometimes, jail is the last, best option for punishment and deterrence. I think there are a couple things that could be done to encourage people to show up to serve a deferred sentence. But before I offer my suggestions, let's clear up some potential misconceptions about the Hamilton County criminal justice system.

First, it's extremely difficult to be sentenced to incarceration for a misdemeanor offense in this county. It happens in one of two situations: either the offense is particular violent (an assault or domestic violence conviction that goes beyond the "garden variety" version of those offenses), or the defendant is a recidivist. In the latter circumstance, sometimes we're talking about someone who was placed on probation and is now on a second or third probation violation, or someone who has multiple, close-in-time convictions similar to the one for which s/he is now being sentenced.

Second, the Enquirer reports deferral is only for "non-violent" offenders. If this is true today, it has not always been true over the past three months. Also, space is especially tight for female offenders. (My understanding is that this is because when Queensgate closed, the first floor at 1617 Reading Road was converted to a men's jail, decreasing the number of beds for women system-wide.)

Third, right now, judges don't always know whose sentence will be deferred and who will go in immediately. After the court imposes sentence, the defendant is taken from the courtroom by the criminal bailiff to the holding cell on the sixth floor of the courthouse, where s/he is thoroughly patted down. From there, s/he is taken across the street (via a connecting bridge) to the Justice Center, where s/he is processed. S/he is then informed if his or her sentence is being deferred.

So how do we get convicted offenders to show up to serve their jail sentences? There is no real "carrot" involved here; instead, the justice system has to find a "stick." I think there are four ways judges and prosecutors can influence defendants' behavior post-sentencing but pre-incarceration:

1. Charging escape. I haven't researched the caselaw on this, but my quick reading of Ohio Revised Code 2921.34 make me believe people who miss their deferral date could be charged with escape. This is because that crime applies to one who "purposely fail[s] to return to detention . . . following temporary leave granted for a specific purpose or limited period." If the problem is that the "temporary leave" is granted by the sheriff rather than the court, then the court could, upon request of the sheriff, order the temporary leave (in other words, the court "furloughs" the defendant). Of course, in this scenario, escape is a misdemeanor offense (meaning that the defendant would serve his time in the county jail rather than prison), so this could further exacerbate the space shortage, but the possibility of an additional six-month sentence is strong incentive to show up as ordered by the sheriff.

2. Charging contempt. As part of sentences of incarceration, judges could begin ordering defendants to comply with all sheriff-imposed reporting requirements (e.g., calling or coming in on the deferred sentence date). If the defendant fails to do this, the court could then impose an additional sentence for contempt. Again, this requires more utilization of bed space to initiate and more resources (this would be "indirect" contempt, so a hearing would be required). But the hope is that the mere possibility of additional incarceration would deter individuals from skipping out on their sentences.

3. Detail eligibility. If you've been to the Justice Center or the courthouse, you've no doubt seen inmates wandering about, seemingly unsupervised, collecting trash, mopping floors, and performing other custodial functions. These men are on "work details," for which they typically get two or three days of credit for every one day of detail work. (You generally hear this called "2-for-1" or "3-for-1.") This means someone who is sentenced to six months in jail can get out in as little as six months, or even less. Judges can make defendants ineligible for details, but rarely do so. The sheriff should make any individual who fails to report as ordered ineligible for work details that decrease the amount of time to be served. (I'd suggest the same thing for treatment programs that make mitigation by a judge likely, but (a) we should never make someone ineligible for treatment, and (b) last I knew, sentences were not being deferred for individuals who were serving their time in programs like men's extended treatment.)

4. Conditional sentences. This requires the judge and the sheriff to work together, so a judge will know, at the time of sentencing, whether a defendant's sentence will be deferred by the sheriff. If the sentence is to be deferred, the judge could announce a conditional sentence. For instance, if the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor (carrying a possible 180 days in jail) and the court wants to impose a 90-day sentence, if the sentence is to be deferred then the court could announce its intent to impose 90 days and instruct the defendant to report back to the courtroom for actual sentencing and surrender at the end of the deferral. The court would instruct the defendant that if s/he fails to appear for sentence, the court will impose the maximum 180-day sentence instead of the 90 promised.

No one would describe me as a "law-and-order" guy. But failing to obey a court order--like a sentence--should have consequences. My suggestions assume, of course, that judges are using incarceration only where appropriate: for particularly brutal crimes or as the last sentencing option, only when a defendant has repeatedly demonstrated, over time, non-amenability to treatment or other, more rehabilitative opportunities.

Hook Us Up, Kroger: An Open Letter to Mr. Dillon

David Dillon
CEO, The Kroger Company
1014 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

RE: Downtown Cincinnati

Dear Mr. Dillon:

I write concerning the critical gap in the grocery market in downtown Cincinnati. As a downtown resident and worker, this is of serious concern to me. But more importantly, the issue raises a pressing business opportunity for your company.

Kroger has regularly been criticized for its only downtown/Over-the-Rhine store at 1420 Vine Street. We've even done our fair share of lambasting at the Cincinnati Blog. We certainly appreciate the company's efforts to revitalize the store during a few years ago. Ultimately, though, the store's footprint is simply too small for the store to one that your company can be proud to have in the shadow of your corporate headquarters.

A few days ago, because I was "in the neighborhood," I made my first visit to your "Fresh Fare" store in Kenwood. I'd never been to a "Fresh Fare" Kroger; I was impressed. Comparing the Vine Street Kroger to the Kenwood store is like comparing a summer weekend festival's attractions to those at King's Island. Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

The people of downtown and Over-the-Rhine deserve a quality grocery store from the grocery company so closely identified with the Queen City. But that's an argument that's been made for a long time, and one that repeatedly falls on deaf ears in the Kroger hierarchy. So let's focus on why Kroger's interests are served by an expanded downtown location.

More people live downtown and in Over-the-Rhine than did a few years ago. And while the Vine Street store is sufficient if we need a few things, it's not good enough for weekly shopping. That means that people who can do so drive outside of downtown to buy groceries. But once I'm leaving downtown, the chance that I go to Kroger (either to Bellevue or Hyde Park, most likely) is only one-in-three, at best. I might go to Meijer. I might go to Bigg's. Or maybe, I'll get wild and crazy and head all the way out to Jungle Jim's.

There's land available for a Fresh Fare Kroger. There's a big parking lot on the eastern edge of downtown known as "Broadway Commons." The owners don't seem really married to hanging onto the property. They wanted to sell to permit the building of the baseball and football stadia there. More recently, they were hoping a casino company would buy them out. I'm sure they'd sell to Kroger.

Think about the business a Fresh Fare store would do at that location. New residential buildings are opening all time in downtown and OTR. Within the next half-decade, residents will start occupying housing in the Banks. Kroger should already have a store in place by then; it's much easier to attract business from those looking to develop habits, rather than to change pre-existing habits--which is what will happen if Kroger continues to take a wait-and-see approach to downtown residency.

But it's not just your neighbors who would frequent a Fresh Fare store. Think about all the people who, on their way home from downtown jobs, would stop in your store to pick up dinner. Broadway Commons is on the way to I-71 from downtown. It's perfect!

I realize it's tough to think about expansion in this economy. But downtown and OTR is one of the few areas to which people continue to relocate. Kroger should take advantage of this, rewarding both itself with lots of new business and longtime OTR residents who have steadfastly patronized the vastly inferior OTR store out of loyalty to your company.

Kroger is a great Cincinnati company. It should have a great Cincinnati location.


Donald Caster