By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLLEGE HILL - Issues of safety and neighborhood development dominated the first neighborhood candidates forum of the 2003 Cincinnati City Council campaign Tuesday night in College Hill.
Like most such forums, the format - three minutes of candidate speeches followed by a few minutes of audience questions - didn't provide much opportunity for give-and-take among the candidates.
So while most candidates talked about the need to reduce crime and redevelop troubled business districts such as Hamilton Avenue and West North Bend Road, few provided specifics. Republican Sam Malone even claimed to have a "secret plan" for the intersection.
The format allowed most candidates to stay on message: Republicans blamed 30 years of Democratic-Charterite rule for Cincinnati's ills. Challengers pleaded with voters to give someone else a chance. Incumbents touted their records on cracking down on crime, blight and litter.
College Hill Forum President Karen Dudley asked the 23 council candidates who attended what they would do in the next two years for College Hill.
"There are 52 neighborhoods," said Damon Lynch III, an independent. "I don't know how many neighborhoods I'll get to, but I know there's one neighborhood that probably won't be asking that question. And that's downtown. They've already gotten theirs."
He said the billion-dollar riverfront development was like "building a new front porch when the house is falling down."
The three-hour forum also allowed College Hill residents the chance to challenge incumbents on their records and plead for greater responsiveness from City Hall.
David Pepper, an incumbent Democrat, was at the receiving end of the most questions, and defended City Council's recent votes to give a $52.2 million tax incentive and grant package to Convergys Corp. and build a $12 million parking deck for the Kroger Co.
"We are paying for years of failure to create a competitive downtown environment," Pepper said. "If the votes had gone the other way on both of them, we would be looking at cuts of $6 million starting next year in the general fund, which pays for police and fire and neighborhood development."
To many Republican candidates, the best way for City Council to be more responsive to neighborhoods such as College Hill is to change how council members are elected. Pete Witte pushed his plan for district representation, and John Connelly and Terry Deters said City Council should return to a part-time job.
"I can't stand it when people run for City Council and make it a full-time job. They shouldn't make a penny more than a living wage," Connelly said. "Right now, we have 10 bosses in the city. Ten. We need one boss - the mayor."
Democrat Samuel T. Britton, Charterite Nick Spencer and independent Eric Wilson did not attend.
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