Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Slowly, crime is emptying neighborhoods

Click here to e-mail Peter Bronson
Houses in the suburbs come in different sizes and colors like racks of Dockers slacks. But Price Hill is an older closet, crammed with every style in the architectural wardrobe: arched entries, bay windows, pillars, tiled roofs, stucco, green awnings, wrought iron, second-story porches and sharp-peaked roofs as steep as a crime wave.

These leafy, middle-class streets are the battleground where Cincinnati may be won or lost. "Neighborhoods are under siege. Price Hill and Westwood are two of the city's biggest that are embattled," said Pete Witte, a former council candidate who owns Baron Engraving on Glenway. "We don't have a voice at City Hall."

That could change. About 100 people marched down Glenway last Thursday "to say we're here, we're proud of our neighborhood and we're staying here," Witte said. Another march is set for Thursday at 7 p.m., beginning near Elder High School, where senior Maurice Kennedy was shot and killed on Sept. 26 as he tried to break up a fight.

On Oct. 12, Witte expects an overflow at the monthly Price Hill Civic Association (7:30 p.m., 4109 W. Eighth St.). The next night, he hopes to jam City Hall for a council meeting at 5:30 p.m..

"In eight or nine years, I have never seen anything touch a nerve like this. It's a straightforward connection to what is going on on our streets."

Terry Deters, also a former council candidate, runs a funeral home on West Eighth. He says the city is losing the middle class in Price Hill, and council doesn't care. "In our parish, I can go down a long list of people who've left," he said. "They say, 'I'm leaving while I can still get something out of my place.'"

Deters saw a man beaten senseless by a gang of teens across the street from his funeral home last spring. "I'm a funeral director, and I thought he was dead," he said.

But his campaign in 2003 had already convinced him that crime is the top concern "in every neighborhood, across the board, black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, everywhere." Yet on council, "a very vocal minority is setting the agenda," and crime is not on it, he said.

Witte said the question at a meeting last week was, "Why hasn't this council done more to address the immediate concerns of crime? Why are large groups of thugs allowed to gather on corners and totally change the perception of a business district and neighborhood, with robberies, drugs and shootings?"

His answer: "Half of the council are afraid to have the cops break up these groups."

Westwood leaders begged City Hall for more cops, then gave up and turned to the Guardian Angels - who are now talking to Price Hill.

Crime is Cincinnati's shark at the beach, but council members blame the cops or act like the smarmy mayor of Amity Island in Jaws - "Shhh - don't talk about it, it makes us look bad."

Unless they're out to lunch when opportunity knocks, Republicans will pick a tough crime fighter to replace Councilman Pat DeWine, if he is elected to the county commission.

Or we might even hear a word seldom spoken in polite Cincinnati: "recall." A recall election requires signatures of 15 percent of the votes in the last city election. "That kind of thing could really snowball," Deters said.

Or the city can do nothing - and more families will leave their homes in Price Hill and pick one off the rack in the safer suburbs.


E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.

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