Sunday, December 02, 2001

A bad binge

Sobering look at our hangover

        Things are not good here. And while you might argue that things are tough all over, it looks as though the Queen City of the West is suffering more than most of her peers.

        Our reputation is shot. Already burdened with Jerry Springer and Mapplethorpe and Marge Schott and Larry Flynt, now we are famous for race riots.

        Fourth Street looks like a giant grimace of pain — with teeth broken and missing. Gidding-Jenny and Pogue's and McAlpin's and Herschede's and Henry Harris and Newstedt's and Mabley & Carew are dim memories. But the face of retail continues to crumple. After 55 years, Jack's Camera closed Friday, and Saks continues on the dole, another $6.6 million in public money to stay open.

Some ugly truths

        Census 2000 has showered us with irrefutable and uncomfortable truths. The prosperity of the '90s missed us. We have a greater poverty rate than all but a dozen other U.S. cities.

        Homeownership here is among the lowest in the nation — 38 percent. In Over-the-Rhine, the figure is 3 percent. Cincinnati lost 9 percent of its population over the last decade, more than all but nine U.S. cities.

        And have you had to find a new doctor lately? Because yours retired early. Or packed up his scalpel and years of expensive schooling and went to another city. One where he could make more money.

        A terrible litany of pain.

        It would be more comfortable to list all the things that are right. Our charitable heart that enables us to meet a United Way goal after Sept. 11. Our river city beauty. Our cultural stamina. Our incomparable libraries and parks.

        But we have had a decades-long binge of self-satisfaction. And we are waking up with a hangover.

        Maybe we can't begin to recover until we admit to our problems, just like the unquestionably successful 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

        “Hello, my name is Cincinnati and I'm a mess.”

A higher power

        We could seek help from a higher power, Washington, D.C., and federal aid to help rescue a worthy and determined city.

        We couldn't be in a better position to be heard. Cincinnatians Bill DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds planned the Bush inaugural. Congressman Rob Portman is a trusted confidant of the president. And the Tafts and the Bushes have been friendly for years. There's no shame in asking friends for help when you need it.

        Another step is a fearless moral inventory. Are we racist? Sexist? Anti-gay?

        Personally, our citizens have the right to be all these things. Institutionally, we can be none of them. The program suggests a willingness to make amends, to build bridges. Maybe the jokes about India-noplace and Cow-lumbus didn't do these communities any harm. In fact, while we were yukking it up, they have made us look kind of silly. But it wouldn't hurt to see if they'd like to shake hands and pass along any advice.

        Starting right now, we have a new form of government. Our mayor has long-overdue powers, including one allowing him to select an executive to run the city. A new year is only a breath away. Seems like a good time to start.

        First, we need a sponsor, one who has made a successful recovery. One who can appreciate and understand our demons. Accessible. Familiar. Tough.

        “Hello? Northern Kentucky?” Can you help with an intervention?

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


The bands are back
Music program withers at CPS
Four examples of kids and music coming together
Luken takes charge
Lynch's CAN seat in danger
Council faces tough pursuits
Readers make holiday wishes come true
Wehrung trial is talk of village
Firefighters working on race issues
School blends old, new design
Tips aid Latinos' move
Traditions comforting
Tristate A.M. Report
Wider I-75 in the works
BRONSON: Criminal justice
CROWLEY: Kentucky Politics
HOWARD: Some Good News
- PULFER: A bad binge
Township begins process for police hires
GOP fails to reach budget compromise
Ohio weighs tax change on leases
State defends process for anti-smoking push
500 haven't cashed their rebate checks
Bridges get a space-age fix
Drunk driver gets 6 months for death
Killer faces new perjury charges
Medicaid must pay druggists top U.S. fee
New try for telemarketing limits
Railroad sparked growth