Failure to Launch
Cranley tries to make his own mark on the city, with limited effect

Those of us who grew up in the “space age” can recall one memorable buzz phrase: “escape velocity.” It was the speed a “space vehicle” needed to escape the gnawing grip of Earth’s gravity. Without it, the “payload” came crashing back to Earth, with ugly effect.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen a new Cincinnati mayor struggling, without much success, to achieve escape velocity over at 9th and Plum. Even before his swearing in, John Cranley was trampling on multiple toes and inserting both feet into his capacious mouth.

First, he unceremoniously dumped long-serving City Manager Milton Dohoney, a quietly competent administrator who had kept the city afloat through the Great Recession, while sparking a civic renaissance in the central city and many of its neighborhoods. Out he went, even before the new term began, with a hefty severance package.

Cranley then canceled the “Parking Deal” (the long term lease of city lots and meters designed to fund the Port Authority and its economic development agenda). Before the election night party beer bottles were recycled, the new mayor used his new Council majority to bully the big hitters on the Port Authority Board to cancel the deal, effectively defunding the Port, and leaving more than a few bruised egos in his wake.

Stomping hard on another hot button, he proclaimed three days after the election that the “conversation about the streetcar was over.” Despite tracks in the ground and two prior referenda that supporters believed validated their hopes and dreams, Cranley’s edict seemed to say, “Shut up and sit down.”

The mayor’s streetcar-conversation ban ignited a firestorm that packed several chaotic Council sessions at City Hall. Cranley, in his roll as presiding officer, alternated between disinterest in pro-streetcar testimony while poking at his PDA and hectoring the four Council members who had the temerity to disagree with him. At the end of one long hearing, he preemptively shut off leading Council vote- getter P.G. Sittenfeld, petulantly declaring he had “endured” enough.

During those first few days, Cranley insisted that he was not a dictator, only to find the Enquirer, which once had endorsed him, urging completion of both the streetcar and the parking deal, and calling him out on “dictatorial tendencies.”

By his second week, Cranley was facing a petition to put the streetcar on the ballot once again. Wrapped in a cordon of city union officials at a press conference, he claimed a rising murder rate in the city was one reason we couldn’t afford a streetcar. “If we build it, you will get shot” seemed to be his new message. But at least he was “conversing.”

While the city’s murder total was up in 2013, after a 2012 reduction, overall violent crime has been down for several years. That’s good news, right? Safer streets encourage folks to come downtown to enjoy Washington Park and the new OTR restaurants. But the new mayor was touting a rising murder rate as a reason to disinvest in the central city. You had to wonder what the folks at Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce, who work hard to attract shoppers, residents and businesses to the city, were thinking about Cranley’s new “scare ‘em away” talking points.

By his third week, Cranley was confronted with a veto proof Council majority for completing the streetcar, and a promising new progressive agenda for 2014.

Let’s hope that the mayor’s “crandlers” can clean up the debris he’s left on the launching pad and figure out a way to achieve escape velocity on relaunch. Otherwise, we are all in for a long four years. 

Don Mooney is a partner at the
Cincinnati office of Ulmer & Berne LLC, and is active in local politics.