By Anna Guido
MADISONVILLE - It was candidates' forum with a twist - very few in the audience could even vote.
But candidates for Cincinnati City Council are getting used to coming to Seven Hills Upper School here - Thursday's forum was the school's second in two years.
The five candidates who appeared Thursday - Democrats Laketa Cole, John Cranley and David Pepper, Charterite Jim Tarbell and newcomer Republican Leslie Ghiz - even turned in a bit of fireworks, showing students at the 9-12 school some grass-roots campaigning in action.
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Ghiz, in particular, spoke directly. She learned in law school, she said, that Cincinnati has a history of intolerance around social issues.
"That's something we need to work on, and it can start in City Council," she said. "And I don't agree with some of the decisions being made by City Council, including the way taxpayer dollars are being spent."
Pepper defended council. "I disagree with Leslie," he said. "We do know what's going on. We just need to become a city that knows how to keep and attract young people."
Tarbell talked about "dispelling the myth that downtown is not an appropriate place to live."
Others, like Cole and Cranley, pointed out that council has many young members, themselves included.
"Hopefully," Cole told about 300 students in the school cafeteria, "one day you will be taking over our seats to lead the city."
Students, under the direction of history teacher and event organizer Beth O'Brien, prepared questions in advance.
One came from Frederick Hall, 16, a junior from Milford.
"The city of Cincinnati is kind of dead economically - what are your plans to bring it back?" Frederick asked.
Pepper responded that as recently as two years ago, the city had no economic plan. "We're working hard on changing that by looking at what successful cities are doing to drive job growth," he said.
The candidates agreed that the city must remain attractive to young people and strive to retain them. "Safety and schools are two non-negotiables," Pepper said.
"We need to become a city that knows how to keep and attract young people."
The value of such forums, said Todd Bland, the school's principal, is that being engaged politically and knowing how the city runs "is incredibly important for all of our lives."
After the forum, teachers were encouraged to hold informal debriefings and to incorporate issues from the day into their lesson plans.
"This sets a great example for students, seeing people involved and invested in their community," O'Brien said.
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