If you thought 2003 was an eventful year - a war in Iraq, terror alerts at home, a struggling economy, continuing racial tensions in Cincinnati and our region's pressing growth/development issues - look out. The coming year promises to top it.
Many of the same issues that dominated 2003 will continue in 2004. The Iraq conflict, and America's involvement in it, is far from over. Public school reform, accountability and the need to improve student performance are perennial topics vital to area families.
But this year will bring its own themes. Nationally, of course, it is a presidential election year - and the campaign inevitably will generate its own set of issues, putting a national agenda on the table. Add that to the unique challenges facing Greater Cincinnati, and it's clear 2004 will bring plenty to ponder and decide.
Sorting out this tangle of issues, personalities and events - and bringing it into focus - is something we consider part of our job at the Enquirer Editorial Board. So on this page today, we've identified a number of main themes that we plan to address in 2004, including a brief description of the key elements in each. It's not a complete list, but it touches on areas we think will matter greatly to residents of Greater Cincinnati.
We'll return to these topics throughout the year. Our hope is that by bringing constant attention to them, we can nudge the discussion along and work toward solutions - but only with help from you, the readers. So join in the discussion, and welcome to Agenda 2004.
The young faces that dominate the new council have put forth ambitious ideas and promises. We'll try to hold them to the agendas they ran on. Council will have to help lead a tough crackdown on crime, a key issue for newcomer Sam Malone and others. It should push to better police-community relations, sort out its changing role in development with the emergence of 3CDC, and address social concerns, such as a proposed repeal of Article 12, that affect the city's image.
Officials will have to make headway not only on the obvious, economic engine-starting projects downtown - encouraging the housing boom, restarting the proposed Banks district on the riverfront, expanding the Convention Center and renovating the Fountain Square district - but on projects to revitalize our neighborhoods, such as the forward-looking Columbia-Tusculum plan announced last week.
Cincinnati Public Schools will be dealing not only with the start of its massive school-building project but with continuing reforms and a renewed push to improve student test scores. The pressure will be on other area districts as well, with greater accountability demanded of all schools. Our continuing task is giving the public, especially parents, the tools to become better informed and more involved in their schools.
Still wracked daily by violence from insurgents, post-Saddam Iraq faces a difficult push toward stability in 2004. A key concern for area residents is the U.S. timetable for disengagement from Iraq - when our soldiers will come home. Meanwhile, we'll be dealing with frequent terror alerts and security issues, while continuing to debate how much, if any, of our freedom is at risk in the push for greater security.
The election of Republican Ernie Fletcher as governor marked a historic shift for the Bluegrass State. Among Fletcher's tasks are addressing the budget deficit, crafting fundamental tax reform, and changing the bureaucratic culture in state government. Hot-button issues include tobacco policy and gambling expansion. One challenge for booming Northern Kentucky, which helped put Fletcher over the top, is how to maximize its political muscle in Frankfort.
America appears headed for a presidential race that could be as close as the still-disputed (in some quarters) 2000 contest. But that's not the only notable race. Greater Cincinnatians will be voting to return or replace several representatives and senators in a closely divided U.S. Congress. In Ohio, four of the seven seats on the Ohio Supreme Court are in play, and General Assembly races could be a referendum on the dominant GOP's handling of state issues. Hamilton County could see two intense commissioner races.
The lack of violent reaction to the death of Nathaniel Jones in a November altercation with Cincinnati police shows how far the community has come since the upheaval over the death of Timothy Thomas in 2001. But the continuing acrimony and mistrust the Jones case exposed show how far we have yet to go. Serious inequities must be addressed, and it will take honest dialogue and bridge-building.
The stakes are high as the region makes a bid for a Brent Spence Bridge replacement. Under discussion are projects to modernize I-75, build a new I-71 ramp to Uptown and more. Meanwhile, high traffic congestion keeps getting worse, with new choke points cropping up throughout the area. Voters rejected a light rail plan in 2002, but some kind of mass-transit alternative may be imperative.
Let us know
One last agenda item has to do with the Enquirer's Editorial and Opinion pages themselves, along with the Forum section. In 2004, we will strive to build on the changes we've made recently to our pages, giving our readers more ways to have their voices heard. These are your pages. So tell us: What do you think should be on the agenda for 2004, and how should we approach these issues? What topics would you like to see addressed on these pages? Send your ideas to 2004 Agenda, Enquirer Editorial Page, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or fax (513) 768-8610.
FORUM: 2004 agenda
Hot Corner: Nipping at the heels of the newsmakers
Police don't need more meetings
Re: Kentucky tobacco tax proposal
EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINES
Tax repeal brings reality check
School-funding lawsuits cost taxpayers
Time to get real on Social Security
Letters to the editor