Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Making good on campaign promises

Voters on Tuesday obviously wanted change in Cincinnati and Kentucky. They put two new faces on Cincinnati Council and gave a Republican the keys to Kentucky's governor's mansion for the first time in 32 years.

The Cincinnati School Board remained one area in which the voters sought no change, re-electing incumbents John Gilligan, Rick Williams and Florence Newell.

A significant disappointment Tuesday was the apparent defeat of Ohio's State Issue 1, a key piece in Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier plan to shift Ohio into a high-tech economy. With more than 92 percent of the votes counted, the issue was losing by almost 100,000 votes.

But old and new, those elected Tuesday face significant issues in the coming years:

Cincinnati Council

Charterite Christopher Smitherman and Republican Sam Malone won seats on Cincinnati City Council, placing seventh and eighth, respectively. They will fill a vacant seat and knock incumbent Republican Chris Monzel out of his post.

We believe their fresh perspectives are needed to deal with the issues facing the city:

Election reform: The new council must make sure proposed council election reforms are thoroughly aired. If proposals call for council members to be elected by districts or a combination of districts and at-large, one formidable challenge will be to devise a fair method for drawing district lines. Reformers also must decide if the mayor's powers need further strengthening.

Article XII: The new council should bring on the debate about Article XII, which prohibits the city from giving "any claim of minority or protected status" to gays, lesbians or bisexuals. Repeal of the 1993 law would require a vote of the people.

Development: Council needs to set clear direction on re-starting The Banks riverfront project and re-energizing the Fountain Square and Washington Park areas. Public Safety: Safe streets in safe neighborhoods should top the list of council objectives. Council should demand that police be relentless in driving violent, drug-dealing criminals from this city. Push for reforms agreed to in the 2002 Collaborative and Justice Department agreements to restore a close partnership between police and residents.

Incentives: The new council should pursue a two-track strategy on development incentives: (1) Develop and keep refining clear guidelines on which incentives the city should and should not offer businesses in bidding wars. (2) Keep building up community assets such as schools and cultural attractions which make this city a magnet for families and young professionals.

Cincinnati Public Schools

As Cincinnati Public Schools face some of their toughest challenges ever, voters Tuesday decided to stay with incumbents on the school board. John Gilligan, Rick Williams and Florence Newell all will return for their second four-year terms. This seven-member school board is closely watched because it governs the region's largest public school system, with more than 40,000 students, and because the schools are so closely entwined with the overall health of the region's core city.

The job ahead is enormous. This board will shepherd the district's most ambitious building project ever - a $1 billion overhaul over the next 10 years. Quickly, the board needs to hire a professional project manager to keep it on track and on budget.

The board's top priority is to raise dismal student achievement and graduation rates. CPS remains on "academic emergency" as ranked by the state. Another arduous task is re-negotiation of the district's contract with the teachers' union, including a long talked about pay-for-performance plan linked to student progress. The makeover of neighborhood high schools, which is attracting nationwide attention and private money, must continue.

Kentucky governor

Rep. Ernie Fletcher's victory in the Kentucky gubernatorial race marks an historic moment for the Bluegrass State. He will be Kentucky's first Republican governor since Louie Nunn left office at the beginning of 1971. For that matter, no Republican had been elected to any statewide constitutional office since 1966. Twenty of Kentucky's 25 governors since 1900 have been Democrats.

Those seeking a reason for this stunning switch may point to scandal-plagued incumbent Gov. Paul Patton's woes, and fellow Democrat Ben Chandler's difficulty in distancing himself from Patton during the governor's race.

But it's more than that. Fletcher's victory accents a broad shift that's been taking place in Kentucky politics over the past decade. Led by fast-growing, economically vibrant Northern Kentucky region that leans toward the GOP, Republicans have been able to challenge Democrats' decades-long dominance at several levels. The party now holds a 22-16 majority in the state Senate, and seven of Kentucky's eight members of Congress are Republicans.

Fletcher's win should be a boon for Greater Cincinnati. He ran on a pledge to "clean up the mess in Frankfort," and the expectation is he will bring in plenty of new faces to change the statehouse culture - giving Northern Kentucky greater political clout. Our region also will play a key role in Fletcher's plans to turn around Kentucky's economy. His tax-reform and development policies will take shape with an eye toward Northern Kentucky, which he calls the state's "economic engine." How he shapes Kentucky's role in the region's top project, replacing the Brent Spence Bridge, will be crucial.

His victory may have national implications. President Bush campaigned vigorously for Fletcher, and having another governor's seat in the GOP ranks - along with the recent addition of California with Arnold Schwarzenegger - gives Bush a boost for next year's presidential contest.

Kentucky is wrestling with a budget deficit, a tax burden higher than any surrounding state, a large and inefficient state government, and a transition away from a tobacco economy. Ernie Fletcher's election Tuesday shows that Kentuckians realize these are difficult problems that require new voices, visions and solutions.

Other issues

All elections bring change, and it is important for the Greater Cincinnati area to use the November 2004 election as an opportunity for fresh beginnings. Our region is blessed with a wealth of talent in business, the arts, education and other areas, and it has breath-taking aesthetic beauty.

There is no reason why Cincinnati can't emerge as a city that is attractive to a diverse cross-section of America and become a destination point in the very near future.

Elections also hold great promise, and this one was no different. Candidates pledged to get the city "back on the right track," urged racial and cultural healing and promised dynamic economic development. We will hold them to those promises.

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