Bob Fluharty had a great idea.
Or, at least he thought he did.
He came up with a way to end the city's shortage of old-fashioned cast-iron lampposts.
But he underestimated the west side's highly developed sense of inferiority.
Bob Fluharty gets paid to solve big problems. He's the supervising engineer in charge of Cincinnati's street lights. He knows lampposts. But he needs someone to shed some light for him on the city's east-west rivalry.
There are 1,100 of these old lampposts lighting streets in Bond Hill, Clifton, Price Hill, Westwood, Oakley and Hyde Park. If you haven't seen these antiques around town, you can spot them in old Jimmy Stewart movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Harvey. Gene Kelly got soaked dancing around one in Singin' In The Rain.
Old vs. New
The old posts are ornate cast iron, thick with layers of green paint and topped with a teardrop-shaped globe of clear, pebbled plastic. They give off a glow that's warm and welcoming.
The light poles are between 50 and 60 years old. And nobody makes them any more.
The city loses about two posts a year to bad drivers and errant cars. And, the supply of replacement posts has been depleted.
So, Bob decided to remove all 12 posts from North and South Clerose Circles in Price Hill and replace them with new ones. The posts would be reconditioned and stored until the next car takes one out.
He picked the west-side streets because of their size - they're small - and their surroundings. They're not around a bunch of other streets with old-fashioned lamp posts.
He swears on a stack of east-side vs. west-side comparisons that geography was "not a factor."
Bob wanted a small side street "so when we replaced the posts, it would look uniform."
The replacement posts are just as ornate as the old ones, only slightly taller, with brighter lights and made of black fiberglass. They would go with the new wiring and new foundations that already have been installed.
To someone who lives in the burbs and has his street lights bolted to old dead tree trunks that are festooned with wires for cable TV as well as electric and telephone lines, the replacement lampposts look quite elegant. They're already in service in front of Clifton's Good Samaritan Hospital and downtown in the section of the historic Betts-Longworth district that played host to last year's CiTiRAMA. "I thought everyone would see this as a good deal all around," Bob says.
He didn't bargain on "that joke."
East vs. West
One day, while workers were replacing a light on South Clerose Circle, a resident asked if the old posts were going to Indian Hill. In response, a worker joked:
"The old lampposts are going to Hyde Park."
That's Hyde Park, as in the snooty east-side enclave that's looked on by envious west-siders as City Hall's most-favored neighborhood. "That joke" set off a howl of protest in Price Hill.
That's no surprise to Peggy Maue, president of the Price Hill Civic Club. "One thing you never want to do to the west side of town is pit Price Hill vs. Hyde Park," she warns.
That means war.
One battle will be waged today at City Hall. The great lamppost debate is on the agenda of City Council's Public Works committee meeting.
On another front, Bob Fluharty has sent letters to the residents of North and South Clerose Circles. In light of the controversy, the letter asks them to vote on the new posts or the old ones. Ballots must be turned in by Aug. 15.
Bob Fluharty hopes the election will put an end to this tempest. "The people have been very polite," he says. "But I've heard lots of protest."
He should be thankful it was just over lampposts. West-siders are very protective and possessive about the fixtures in their neighborhoods.
Imagine the blood that would have been shed had he gone after their lawn geese.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.