Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Council hopefuls quizzed on air

WCIN-AM's forum hosted all 20 hopefuls, about 200 spectators

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The entire 20-candidate field for Cincinnati City Council was grilled for three hours Monday night on a live radio show on everything from job discrimination at city hall to neighborhood development to the definition of “pork.”

        About 200 people filed into Integrity Hall in Bond Hill for the three-hour candidates' forum, broadcast live by WCIN (1480-AM) and hosted by WCIN talk show host Lincoln Ware.

        Candidates fielded questions, first from a panel of African-American journalists and civic leaders, then later from the audience.

Find the leader
        The candidates — particularly the seven incumbents — were asked If they could say who is in charge at city hall — the city manager or council — in light of last week's report from City Manager John Shirey saying that the city is at risk of running budget deficits in the near future and should stop further non-emergency spending.

        Some council members criticized the city manager for coming to them too late with the report.

        “Every year since I have been there, the city administration has come to council with dire predictions,” said Councilman Todd Portune, a Democrat.

        “Then, by the middle of next year, the city manager comes in and says everything is OK.”

Pork vs. development
        Republican council candidate Diane Goldsmith said that sometimes it is council's fault when the city manager appears to be in charge.

        “If there"s not clear leadership on council, then the city manager fills in that void,” Ms. Goldsmith said.

        One example of the kind of non-emergency spending that Mr. Shirey said council needs to stop is the $14.5 million in new projects that council funded on a 7-2 vote in January, much of which critics said was “pork barrel” spending.

        Some of the money went to projects in Cincinnati's African-American community. Monday night, one of the panelists, the Rev. Donald Jones, asked the candidates to explain “why it is called "economic development' when it is spent for the riverfront or downtown and "pork' when it goes to the African-American community?”

Spending defended
        Most of the candidates who responded defended the $14.5 million in spending.

        “There's not a single council member who has not supported something at one time or another that someone can call "pork,'” said Councilwoman Jeanette Cissell, a Republican who voted for the spending.

        Democratic Councilwoman Minette Cooper, who chairs council's finance committee, said the council majority “met the needs of people at different strata in the community. We used taxpayers' dollars to help fulfill taxpayers' needs.”

        Candidates were asked what council can do to reduce the number of police shootings of African-American males in the city.

        Democratic council candidate Forrest Buckley said part of the problem is caused by inexperienced police officers.

        “You've got young police officers on the street with very little experience who, in some cases, are panicking and shooting people when they don't have to,” Mr. Buckley said. “And there are police officers who are coming in with an attitude and, at the end of the day, going home to the 'burbs.”

        Republican challenger Pat DeWine said the city needs to “rewrite the rules so we can get rid of bad police officers. We've just had a case of a police officer arrested five times — and he couldn't be fired. That's wrong.”

        The candidates were asked to comment on a recent report to council from the NAACP alleging widespread racial discrimination in city jobs, including minorities being passed over for promotions and disproportionate numbers of minority workers targeted for discipline.

        Democratic council candidate Charlie Luken called the NAACP report “very disturbing. That kind of discrimination can not be tolerated and council has to make it clear that it won't be.”

        Councilman Paul Booth, a Democrat, said Cincinnati should “adopt the model of Atlanta. There, the motto is "a city too busy to hate.' That's what we have to be.”


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