Sunday, December 27, 1998

Round and round, and slightly forward




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

year in review
       
[AP Year In Review]
Special Year in Review
from Associated Press
If 1998 in Cincinnati had a motto, it would be, “To be continued.”

        Every time we turned around this year somebody was giving us the old runaround. News seemed to be circling the airport with no place to land for the last 12 months.

        And, when the end of the year brings mostly a feeling of being back where you started, well, it makes you tired. Instead of ringing out the old year with a sense of accomplishment, you feel the new year can't start soon enough.

        Along with the rest of the country, we went round and round with sordid tales of Bill and Monica. We got stuck in the spin cycle with Bill and Saddam. Here at home, the Reds' stadium deal went through more U-turns and spinouts than Marge Schott's reported sale of the team. And plans for riverfront development on the Cincinnati side of the Ohio seemed to be drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch. Now you see them. Show them to city council and — Poof! — now you don't.

        Some things did get done. Ground was broken on the Bengals' stadium. Voters picked the riverfront over Broadway Commons for the Reds' stadium. And the nearly three-year renovation of Fort Washington Way finally began.

        Northern Kentucky is building an aquarium, landed a 3-D IMAX theater, opened a convention center and is putting up a tall tower for a gigantic bell. Warren and Butler counties continue to boom with business openings, housing start-ups and highway construction.

        The year was also distinguished by tales of bravery and sacrifice. Plus, important comings and goings.

        But, through it all, there was the runaround.

Deja vu
        When a year ends with the same headlines as it began, one might surmise that progress is not our most important product.

        Paging through the headlines of 1998, I was struck by how the news from the city's big-league franchises and bush-league leaders was the same in December as it was last January.

        As they did at the first of the year, the Reds and the Bengals still stink. Their taxpayer-financed stadiums are turning into money pits. The teams' owners continue to possess the charm of Linda Tripp.

        Meanwhile, the city's comprehensive plans for developing downtown and the riverfront remain where they were in January. On the drawing board. Incomplete.

        City council proved to be a slippery benefactor after promising to give the cash-strapped Cincinnati Public Schools $5 million a year for the next 20 years. The money would come in handy. The system's school buildings need $700 million in repairs. But after council finally decided how to pay the money, Cincinnati Public Schools balked. You might wonder where the students figure in this runaround.

        These issues speak to the vacuum of leadership and consensus that plagues our city and brings the runaround to Cincinnati. Maybe next year, our leaders will be able to put aside their petty differences, ignore the special interest groups and work together for the common good.

True blue
        Another big story in this community happened beneath the surface. I'm talking about our town's attitude toward the police.

        In 1997, police and citizens were at odds. Charges of police brutality led to calls from the community for the establishment of a civilian board of review to police the police. Then came the Dec. 6, 1997, shooting deaths of two Cincinnati cops, Daniel Pope and Ronald Jeter. In January, Covington Officer Mike Partin fell to his death in the Ohio River. His body was not recovered until May, a long, sad wait we shared with his widow, Lisa Partin.

        Less than a month after Officer Partin fell to his death, Cincinnati Officer Katie Conway was shot four times at close range as she sat in the front seat of her cruiser. Slumped in the front seat, with her attacker at the wheel, she returned fire and killed the man.

        Over those early months of 1998, I think, these tragic stories of dedication and courage had a significant impact on the community's attitude toward the police. I'm not saying everyone feels the cops can do no wrong. But people now have a better understanding of what the police face while they're on the beat in Greater Cincinnati.

Going in circles
        But back at Runaround News Central, there was more inaction all year long.

        The NCAA played stall ball for 22 months while investigating the University of Cincinnati's basketball team. Results were finally announced in November. The Bearcats responded by going undefeated.

        Downtown retail development twirled around hopes for a major new department store. But then Maison Blanche dropped out of the race. And Nordstrom, we learned this month, is going to Columbus next. We can wait.

        Even the city's symbol, the Tyler Davidson Fountain on Fountain Square, got the runaround in 1998. In June, news broke that the fountain was in danger of collapsing if it was not repaired. At the time, city officials said a fund-raising campaign would kick off in September, just in time for the hundreds of thousands of visitors the fountain receives during Oktoberfest. September and Oktoberfest came and went. No campaign.

        Now, the holiday season is upon us. An estimated 250,000 visitors are expected to visit the square. Still no official fund-raiser. Maybe the city is waiting for the fountain to collapse so people can drive by the bronze “Genius of Water” after it lands on the fourth level of the square's underground parking garage.

Comings and goings
        A number of people had no use for the runaround. They went places and did things this year. Some called it quits.

        Bobbie Sterne and Dwight Tillery ended their long years of service at City Hall. They were replaced by two councilmen with name-appeal, Jim Tarbell and Paul Booth.

        Cincinnati took over the statehouse in Columbus. Four of the top offices in the state — governor, secre tary of state, treasurer and president of the Senate — were won by Cincinnatians: Bob Taft, Ken Blackwell, Joe Deters and Richard Finan.

        McAlpin's had already closed its downtown store. Then the Dillard's department store chain bought Fairfield-based Mercantile Stores, parent company of McAlpin's. Bye, bye, McAlpin's everywhere.

        Gibson greetings didn't send a thank you card to the 480 workers let go when it closed its Amberley Village plant. The greeting card company is still based here, but the cards are made elsewhere.

        Mayor Roxanne Qualls tried to say good-bye by seeking a seat in the House of Representatives. "But Steve Chabot got in the way. And now various city council members have to wait a little longer for their shot at the top job in Cincinnati.

        Mayors were actually pretty entertaining in 1998. The Qualls campaign had its moments when Bill Clinton came to call. A dog named Goofy was “elected” mayor in Rabbit Hash, Ky. Then, after he was impeached as mayor of Williamstown, Ky., ex-mayor Bob Jones got busted on bank robbery charges.

        As the year ends, we learn that new Councilman Jim Tarbell has sold his hangout and hijinks hatchery, Arnold's Bar & Grill. At least it seems the place will stay the same as The Bald One moves on.

Home sweet home
        What lingers most in my mind, thinking back over 1998, are the people who brought a lump to my throat.

        People who showed kindness. People who showed courage. People who showed they care.

        Two kindly and spirited Cincinnatians, Louise Nippert and Patricia Corbett, each gave more than $5 million to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. They wanted to make sure the city will be able to enjoy great music in the next century.

        A shy young woman with a lion's heart took four bullets from a .357 Magnum. Each shot slammed into her body with the force of a sledgehammer. Police Officer Katie Conway took those shots. Then, she courageously fought for her life. And won.

        Looking back over a year in the life of our community made me remember that many's the time I thought about people who are not in the news. These men and women don't make headlines by working hard, paying their bills and going home every night to be with the ones they love.

        But they make this city great by taking time out from their busy lives to volunteer at church, to paint a classroom, to read to others who can't. Or, like Charles Barnett, to fly a flag.

        Charles washes windows for a living. And he flies the flag over the World War II memorial in Mohawk. He cuts the grass and keeps things looking tidy around the memorial that sits next to his house.

        Charles is not a veteran. He flies the flag because he cares. He feels it's his duty to honor the men and women who fought for our right to enjoy life.

        The good news for 1998 and the year to come is that we have so many Charles Barnetts in our town.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

What a year it was
1998 in the Tristate
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Big-name flops trim hits list
Good will to men not evident among council, Dems
Merger mania hits home
RADEL ARCHIVES