If Cincinnati City Hall were a book, it would be a Raymond Chandler mystery, populated by hard-eyed fat men in tweed topcoats and fedoras, chomping cigars, sneaking sips from silver hip flasks while they wait outside the office of Boss Cox.

If it were a painting, it would be one of those brooding Homer Winslow houses: blank windows darkened by charcoal shadows, haunted by the ghosts of dead political dreams.

But, let’s pretend it’s a stock. Let’s say the ticker symbol is BCC, for Blue Chip City.

Would anyone buy it? Good question.

The price-to-earnings ratio would be minus $51 million — same as the growing city deficit. Or, it could be $300 million in the hole, counting generously unfunded pensions. Management effectiveness makes GM shares look as security-blanket safe as Procter & Gamble. And the City Hall board of directors has spent a year on research and development for a product that was hauled off to the ash heap of history in the 1950s: streetcars. Although they could barely pay the bills to keep enough cops on the street, management invested in a new environmental anxiety department to save the world from global warming and scold us about eating meat and taking long showers.

Yet the stockholders keep re-electing most of the same directors. I blame archaic at-large elections in which council members elected by everybody are accountable to nobody. Without districts to keep them on a leash, they are free to run through any neighborhood tipping over trashcans and barking at the moon.

So, Cincinnati as a stock? You’d have to be huffing paint to invest in such a company.

But I did. For 17 years, I have contributed my city earnings taxes. Although I don’t live in the city, I worked there every day, as associate editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial department, then columnist until last July, when the Enquirer was torpedoed by the economy, listed to port and pitched dozens of crew members and passengers overboard. Me included.

But I remain a stockholder in Cincinnati. And so are you if you live in the Cincinnati orbit. All of us have ownership. Our quality of life portfolio rises and falls with the health of the city.

When drug crime and gang homicides exploded after the riots of 2001, the creeping decay and fear spread like a blood stain, first through the inner-city war zones, then to first-ring neighborhoods such as Westwood and North College Hill. Families in the outer suburbs stopped coming downtown from Montgomery and Mason. Some small businesses went into a coma and died. Some big ones looked at the flooded basement, rolled up their pants and stepped across the water to Northern Kentucky or north to Butler County.

Those of us who pay attention know all that. And we know a city cannot be managed like a business. Making government is not the same as making widgets. Widgets serve a purpose. Most of what happens at City Hall does not. Widgets make money. City Hall makes money disappear.

Still, I am optimistic.

After a peaceful time-out from the daily menu of fast-food headlines, I have a much healthier view of the city. Downtown is more dynamic than it’s been in years. It even shows vital signs of a nightlife. Crime is in check because Mayor Mark Mallory came up with the radical plan to let the police do their job. The bulimic growth of local government has been put on a revenue-starvation diet. And, compared to many cities, we have clean government. For all the partisan thumb wrestling, Cincinnati is just too darned well mannered for corruption.

So I’d say Cincinnati is a stock with lots of upside growth potential for one big reason: Its human resources.

The people who make Cincinnati work are ready for a rebound, longing for a comeback, desperate for a winning season. In a city that measures its happiness on the JumboTron scoreboard of sports, the ubiquitous football metaphor fits like a Chad Ochocinco jersey.

If Cincinnati were a team, it would be the Bengals — frustrated by bad management, disappointed by years of futility, cursed by weak draft choices but still, after all, full of hope and faith that one of these days, we will all get to Disneyland.

And thanks to Cincy Magazine, I have a new front-row seat and I’m back in the game.

Peter Bronson covers Cincinnati politics and other topics for Cincy Magazine. Join him on his blog at www.peterbronson.com.