GUEST EDITORIAL: Get Over It, Then Get Ready

Don MooneyStreetcar supporters. Vine Street Taco- Noshers. Urbanistas. Roxanne and Quinlivan dead-enders. I feel your pain. We just had our butts kicked in city elections where only 29% of the electorate bothered to show up.

If you own property or a business in OTR you may be calling a realtor. Maybe you’re checking to see if it’s too late to cancel the granite countertops for that flashy new Main Street kitchen. Or just banging your head against the wall while trolling through for a one-way ticket to Portland.

Before you bail out, listen to a grizzled, cynical political warrior who has been on the losing side of plenty of elections, and won a few too, over 40 years on these mildly mean streets.

First, the election is over. Your team lost. Did you vote last year for 4 year terms? Oops. Get over it. Licking wounds for more than 48 hours is unsanitary.

Give some grudging credit to John Cranley and his handlers. He put together an unlikely coalition: Tea Partiers who just hate the messy melting pots of cities; (some) African American voters led to resent the idea of white urban professionals insisting on rides cushier than smelly Metro buses; and more than a few west siders convinced that “gentrification” in your neighborhood means more “undesirables” in theirs. (See Pete Witte’s twitter feed if you think I’m making that up.)

Mr. Cranley is hardly the first candidate to win an election by whipping up resentment in the “neighborhoods” about spending on development “downtown”. He won’t be the last. Many politicians have built entire political careers in this town on being against stuff.

The mayor-elect could care less if you call him “Can’t Do Cranley”. At 39, he sees this as a launching pad to greener pastures, even if he leaves shoe prints on your backs to prove he keeps his promises.

Advocates of the streetcar – and I’ve been one of them – have allowed their pet project to be painted by COAST and Chris Smitherman as a wasteful contraption designed for Chablis sipping metrosexuals, who think they are too good for the bus or the family mini-van. Can’t these precious young professionals read their iPads on the number 24, or get stuck behind a truck on the viaduct like the rest of us? Don’t take it personally. It’s just politics.

We have not sold the incredible progress downtown and in OTR, despite the great recession, as a model for other neighborhoods with their own aspirations for cool restaurants, modern transportation and rising property values. So in Price Hill and Mt. Washington, your rising neighborhood is seen as a threat to theirs, not as a sign of good things to come to our city.

Those of you with skills and no kids to tie you down can’t be blamed for bailing out now. With Cranley in the Mayor’s office and a hostile Council majority, the streetcar is on life support, and the air soon may start coming out of the downtown/OTR balloon. No doubt there are bright folks at 3CDC, dunnhumby and all those hip new branding firms with OTR addresses already tuning up their resumes.

We are now in an age when public investment will comes in the form of hiring the 200 more cops Mr. Cranley has promised, to protect us from ourselves.

But if you choose to stick around and fight another day, think a little more strategically:

Get to know the neighborhoods and convince them that what is good for the central city is not a threat to Westwood or Oakley. There is life on the other side of I-75 and Mt. Adams. Explore. Collaborate. Cross-Pollinate a little. Try the burgers at Zips and Camp Washington Chili.

Create a vision for a modern transportation system that does not begin and end in downtown and OTR; then sell it. Gas prices aren’t going down. Work with the Uptown institutions to develop a funding model that does not rely on council to come up with more cash. Develop a long-term vision that includes connections to Price Hill, Northside, Avondale and Walnut Hills.

Dig in for a long, hard but constructive fight with the new mayor and right-leaning majority on City Council. Give some credit to COAST and Smitherman for their relentless opposition to the outgoing regime. Now they hold sway with a mayor and council that owe them big time.

Progressives may need their own version of COAST to litigate, referendize and challenge the mayor and council. Look for wiffs of scandal and corruption to expose. And remind the city of their promises: restore 200 cops, fix the pension system, neighborhood development and no new taxes. No problem.

Recruit and bolster the next generation of city leadership. Low turnout says more about the candidates than the voters. Don’t expect voters to show up when the candidates don’t persuade them they have something at stake.

The absence of an African American candidate in the mayor’s election explains a lot about turnout in 2013. For eight years you were fortunate to have an African American mayor who “got” your aspirations. Find the next one: Yvette Simpson? Eric Kearney? Rob Richardson? Work with them or others and prepare them for 2017. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

Remember that politics is cyclical. The faction that will take over at City Hall come December are political heirs to the crew that ran the city from 1997-2005; and before that in the 1980’s. They had their ups and their downs. But no cycle lasts forever. Be ready and rested when the next wind of change blows.

Don Mooney is a local attorney and longtime Cincinnati political activist. He served for more than 20 years on the Cincinnati Planning Commission and is a former Treasurer of Cincinnatians for Progress. If you would like to submit a guest editorial to UrbanCincy you can do so by contacting our editorial team at

  • wklis

    Rob Ford regenerated?

    • I’m not sure what element of the Rob Ford situation to which you are referring, but there was an interesting story from the National Post in Canada about the situation that led to Rob Ford getting elected:

      “And of all his enablers, the most culpable are the strategists, the ones who fashioned his image as the defender of the little guy, the suburban strivers, against the downtown elites, with their degrees and their symphonies — the ones who turned a bundle of inchoate resentments into Ford Nation. Sound familiar? It is the same condescending populism, the same aggressively dumb, harshly divisive message that has become the playbook for the right generally in this country, in all its contempt for learning, its disdain for facts, its disrespect of convention and debasing of standards. They can try to run away from him now, but they made this monster, and they will own him for years to come. Get help? He’s had plenty.”

    • Jake Mecklenborg

      The difference is that Ford is from a lower-class background whereas Cranley is from a wealthy family and has an elite education, but nevertheless has convinced the proletariat that he’s “just like them”. The local media seems to be unaware that Harvard is located on a subway line, or that Boston has the largest intact streetcar system in the country. It’s unimaginable that someone could live in Boston for 4+ years and never become intimately familiar with the T…Cranley is of course feigning his ignorance of how high quality public transportation helps create high quality city neighborhoods.

    • Eric Douglas

      David Mann also went to Harvard and was quite the progressive there when he was young, from the book “Common Ground”:

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    The supreme irony of Tea Party assistance to Cranley is that Cranley will turn around in 1, 3, 5, or 7 years and unseat Brad Wenstrup, who himself was discovered and coddled by COAST in his barely-there 2009 campaign against Mallory. To his credit, Wenstrup has avoided the anti-city rhetoric that typifies Steve Chabot, himself in danger of being stomped by the P.G. Sittenfeld political machine. But killing the streetcar is part of Cranley’s grand strategy to demonstrate to Clermont County that he’s the “real” fiscal conservative.

    • David Thomas

      I can’t imagine Cranley could win Wenstrups seat unless it was a massive Democratic wave election. District is too far red. Same goes for PG and Chabot. Democrats (can we honestly call Cranley a Democrat?) in Cincy will have to go somewhere else to move up other than congress until this house lines are redrawn in 2020.

    • Jake Mecklenborg

      Cranley will get the Democrats who never bother to vote to show up, then split the Republican vote. So far Wenstrup, unlike Chabot, has done nothing to harass the City of Cincinnati for political gain. But soon Cranley will start attacking Wenstrup, shrouding him in a cloud of suspicion. This is what the COAST boys did to Jeanie Schmidt. They just kept kicking her and kicking her…she underestimated them (like we did with regards to Cranley’s nonfactual attacks on Qualls) since there was little to no fact in their accusations. She didn’t campaign for the primary and in a blink lost her congressional seat. Wentrup’s big problem is that he hasn’t run a single real campaign yet. When the signal is given, Cranley will fire up his machine and he’ll get stomped.

    • matimal

      It really is tribalism. That is the source of their power. They will proverbially die for their band of merry warriors as they seek to keep the world at bay. Everything is justified in defense of the tribe. If they successfully defend the tribe, they win. The collateral damage doesn’t even enter their consciousness because they never value what is lost in the first place. The only way to beat them is to fight fire with fire.

  • Jon White

    I think the key for progressives winning elections in Cincinnati will rely on having a strong progressive African American candidate. Qualls is a terrific public servant, but not a strong candidate. Her competencies and policy wonkery don’t really resonate (although she was the top council vote getter just 2 years earlier). I think Eric Kearny could be a strong candidate for mayor. Yvette is starting to leave her mark. It’ll be interesting to see if PG opts to run for mayor eventually or run for Congress. Speaking of PG, I don’t understand his mass appeal. Obviously he comes from money, but what has he done to endear himself to the city so much to receive so many votes. Especially when he first got elected. And where in the hell did David Mann come from to receive so many votes? He hasn’t been around for years.

    • Eric Douglas

      I think PG’s appeal is his ability to play both sides, attend Cranley campaign rallies without supporting him, working with Qualls but objecting to the parking lease. To me, the council-elect make up shows the inability of local progressives to find 8-9 candidates to fill up their ballot. Voting is as much about keeping the other guy out of office as it is about electing Seelbach or Simpson.

    • Neil Clingerman

      PG always says positive stuff no matter what, he’s very good at making all people feel good about him. You have to look at his voting record to see that he has a tendency to side with the traditionalists.

    • PG is the most well-spoken politician I’ve seen at the local or state level. He’s also very sincere and passionate (or at least very good at appearing that way), and generally conveys a positive message.

      David Mann served on Council for 18 years, 4 of those as Mayor, and was in Congress for 2 years. A large portion–perhaps a majority–of the local electorate is made up of those who have spent 25+ years in the city and can remember David Mann’s previous political career well.

  • Eric Douglas

    It’ll get interesting what Cranley and Smitherman have to say once the streetcar is cancelled, or “paused”, and crime doesn’t go down and the city’s population continues to decline.

    Some blame could also go around to local CEO’s seemingly uninterested in the project now, and the current administration’s failure to get construction started sooner or setup an apolitical 3CDC or Port Authority-type entity to run it.

    • matimal

      Opposition to streetcars IS really opposition to Cincinnati, but the average income, and taxing potential of cincinnati Residents continues to grow. One $50,000 a year resident is worth several $15,000 residents in terms of taxes and expenses. The coasters are conducting something of a rearguard action against larger economic forces that are working FOR Cincinnati. Their tactics may not have changed, but the economic landscape sure has. In the past, all arrows pointed in the same direct for anti-urbanists, now anti-urbanists find themselves standing on much shakier economic and political foundations. Some well-timed actions might just push them off their perches and buy us some political room.

  • runofthemill

    I live in Chicago and will say that the only thing about Rahm I support is his transportation agenda…aside from that he’s a prick. He’s using the TIFs up here for his buddies and not what they’re designed for (millions for a Depaul arena while public schools crumble)…on to my point, I caught a wiff that cranley is touting TIFs to help the neighborhoods. Seems like Cranley would be a Rahm in how these would be used. I truely wonder how Cincy would fair with a ward system and TIFs(if done right). Gotta stand up to the old guard of Cincinnati status quo. Who knows maybe I’ll get involved if/when I move back to the queen city.

    • Jake Mecklenborg

      We have TIF districts; in fact they were established and to some extent drawn by John Cranley about ten years ago. The streetcar is using OTR Tif’s.

    • Right. I was just reading the in-depth article in Chicago Magazine about the use of TIF districts in Chicago. The idea that TIF districts enable politicians to make geographically based promises to others seems reasonable. With that said, I don’t totally understand what they’re saying about the TIFs inability to create jobs.

    • Eric Douglas

      The aldermanic system is way better than the citywide candidate system we have here. Each neighborhood as a point-person for issues and you don’t have one or two neighborhoods essentially running the entire city.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I also live in Chicago, and while I agree with you that the aldermatic system allows for SOME neighborhoods to get the treatment they deserve (it works great for the good half of Chicago terrible for the bad half), its still a system that is very rife for supporting a boss style government. I think a nice system for Cincinnati which would avoid the pitfalls of both systems would a hybrid like what I’ve heard Indiapolis has – perhaps ward representatives who serve two year terms and at large council who serves 4. That way the neighborhoods would represented and the city at large would be protected from the kind of cronyism that pervades Chicago.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I still wouldn’t compare Rahm to Cranley, as rough and Chicago-y as Rahm is, he at least understands that Chicago has to compete on the global stage – he doesn’t view Chicago as competition with Schaumburg IL he sees it as a global city that should be competing with other global cities in the same league as Chicago is in. He thinks big and does have a can do attitude which is something Cincinnati really needs IMO (just not his Chicago boss tendancies).

    • runofthemill

      I do agree that Cincinnati needs a little Chicago progressive attitude…heck Mallory showed that by getting the track laid right before the election (2003, Daley and Meigs field). As a teacher in the city by default I hate Rahm, although if he was head of transportation it’d be a different story.
      Anyway, check out our union president…she stood toe to toe to our mayor. Take notes from her on how to get locals at least progressive locals on your side, register them to vote, run candidates. At least for the next four years be loud and in your face (politely). People need to be fed up (or more familiarized) with COAST and any politicians perpetuating their agenda. Flyering, handing out pamphlets. Direct action. Flooding the streets…protesting in rush hour traffic. So on and so on.

    • runofthemill

      Also, I think in regards to enriching friends and having the media on his side or controlling the message they compare. Also, Rahmbo is from the northern suburbs, not Chicago. Just like I’ll never be considered a Chicagoan after being here for over a decade…I’m still a transplant.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I am curious what it would take to reform Chicago schools to the point where most middle class people would be happy sending their kids to them (other than the lottery magnet schools or some charter schools). Its a big fight and I hope the side wins that reforms the system. (This is getting way off topic though) To bring it back to Cincy once Cincy can capture the empty nesters its next challenge is attracting more families. Schools are a difficult problem to fix.

    • Mitchell Brown

      I’m from Chicago (hello neighbor, runofthemill) and I can tell you Chicago schools are the reason folks run to the burbs. Its not the teachers fault either. The answer? My hobby-horse is better technical schools that offer the children of the poor and immigrants a more “tangible” education. However, the classist resistance to technical education is a high hurdle to overcome. Now, on to Cinci, – ORGANIZE. Be tough. Be as tough as the old Democratic ward heelers in Chicago’s 1st ward. Politics is all about organization. Our lives are so full of distractions these days though its hard to keep an organization focused on anything more than 1 or 2 issues. That’s a lesson for any and all cities by the way, not just the Queen City. A friend of mine once said that the problem with the Democratic Party is that it represents people who don’t vote. Learn from the conservative Tea Party – they organize and they get out the vote. Oh, and just so you know, I’m going to be the 3rd person in my group of friends who will be visiting Cinci. Two (couples) went at different times, for different reasons, this summer and they RAVED about it. I took to Google Earth and noticed Cinci is a BEAUTIFUL city. I’ll be dumping some disposable income in your town soon. Take stock of your physical attributes and market them. Beauty will always sell. Beauty will always attract.

  • Good article. The five bold lines should be bullet points on every person’s bedroom wall, regardless of your beliefs.

    I’d like to add this: For 10+ years the message portrayed in Cincinnati has been one of re-building downtown and OTR. Just in the last two or three years, the momentum has really reached the point of self-fulfillment.

    Can we blame the neighborhoods for feeling jealous? Sure, those of us who understand how the city operates know about neighborhood CURC’s, TIF funding for infrastructure, Plan Cincinnati, form-based codes, and Focus 52. We know the neighborhoods are receiving attention. But these initiatives get bypassed in the media, and the perception in the neighborhoods is that City Hall is ignoring 49 neighborhoods to focus on 3 (OTR, downtown, and Pendleton) with a total population of less than 5% of the city and less than 1% of the region.

    Those of you who live there: Don’t take this jealousy personally. Yes, there are negative voices out there spewing hatred. People making racist comments and degrading “entitled yuppies.” But these are far from the majority. When a certain west-sider made racist comments about Yvette Simpson, the people of Westwood started a petition that gained nearly 400 signatures saying they wanted to “take back the neighborhood” from bigots. We all know COAST has too strong a voice in this city, but there’s a reason John Cranley backed off their endorsement–very few people want to be associated with their brand of politics.

    The more everyone engages the “trolls”–those who spew hatred and negativity–the more this hatred catches on and spreads. The more OTR/downtown residents fight back against a perceived “anti-city” sentiment being pushed by a half-dozen or so individuals with an anti-suburb or anti-neighborhood sentiment, the more you are marginalizing yourselves and guaranteeing the 95+% of people who DON’T live in OTR or downtown will turn against you. And that’s exactly what happened in this election.

    I’m sure I have upset a few people on these boards whose opinions I generally agree with but whose rhetoric I find inflammatory and counter-productive. We all say things we regret sometimes. But calling out the same bigots and trolls with inflammatory comments only gives them a voice and makes your own arguments weaker. Making the same “you don’t live in Cincinnati” or “you don’t deserve a voice” comments only marginalizes your own voice. And it discourages the voices of those who DON’T live in the city but still support it.

    Over 70% of the electorate didn’t turn out to vote, and the message after the election was “shame on you for not voting.” No, shame on US who did campaign for candidates and issues for allowing the message to turn so negative that people felt too discouraged to turn out. Shame on US for using the same stale, outdated arguments to try to speak logic to an emotionally charged public. People either weren’t listening, or didn’t want to listen. And turning further to hatred and trolling isn’t going to make things any better.

    Mr. Mooney is right. The election is over. John Cranley is mayor for 4 years. Quit lamenting, quit the blame game, and get over it.

    And most importantly, collaborate with him and Council, and prepare for the next 4 years.

    I very publicly supported Roxanne Qualls in the election, and my #1 reason was because I’ve personally seen her willingness to listen to and collaborate with those of ALL races, classes, and beliefs. It saddens me to see some of her supporters compartmentalize and degrade people with opposing viewpoints the way Ms. Qualls never did or would. We are above this, people.

    Let me be clear that this negativity is not indicative of the larger movement. The Town Hall meeting led by Mr. Messer, Mr. Mooney, and Mr. Schneider last Thursday was not only very informative but also very positive. The vast majority of streetcar supporters–whether OTR/downtown residents or not–are very positive and polite. Many are good friends.

    Let’s dig in, but remain positive. No one wins a fight that they set themselves up to lose.

    • TimSchirmang

      Well said. There are more great points in this post and your comment than I can recall ever reading on this site.

  • kdy

    Glad to see PG has reversed his stance on the streetcars. What’s good for one neighborhood in Cinti is good for the entire City and Hamilton County. 20 cities across the country either have streetcars, are building streetcars, or are putting them to a vote. I’m proud to be one of these cities. And I think that many of those on council are more non-partisan than we know. Obviously PG is not sucking up to Cranley. Can you believe I voted for Cranley? And I’m as liberal as they get. This is why. I was vehemently opposed to the parking deal and I took the risk that the streetcars couldn’t be squashed. Lets see what happens.