Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book Recommendation: "The Last Campaign"

From time to time, I hope to pass along book recommendations from the pleasure reading I try to squeeze into my schedule.

For those interested in politics, grassroots campaigning and true "straight talk," I can't recommend highly enough "The Last Campaign," by Thurston Clarke. It's a quick read, summarizing the 82 frenzied days that Robert Kennedy ran for President before his tragic assassination.

The campaign is a remarkable story of a candidate putting it all out there, often in the face of deep hostility, but winning audiences over again and again by speaking directly, sincerely and from the heart--even if the views he expressed or issues he cared about had little in common with those audiences.

In such a short time, Kennedy put together an incredibly broad and diverse coalition of support--and he did it by going directly to the people, touching them, engaging them, and listening to them for hours at a time, day after day, up to the last day of his life (which tragically was the biggest, most important victory of the campaign).

Trust me, if you have any interest in politics, you will be glad you read this book.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Presidential Poll Summary

Every month, I conduct a citizen poll. While these polls are certainly not scientific, I always find the input and feedback to be illuminating (and often, suprisingly reflective of broader trends).

My July poll over the Presidential Election seemed to reflect what we're hearing in the news nationally--that a not insignificant number of Hillary Clinton supporters remain undecided at this point, and many say they will base their decision on how she is incorporated into the Obama effort. (Note: my prior poll showed Democrats split between Obama and Clinton about 50-50).

Overall results:

- it's clear I had more Democratic than Republican respondents, which is reflected in the overall results: Obama received 72.6% of the vote, and McCain receiving 15.1% of the vote. 12.6% were undecided. Four people said they would write in Hillary Clinton, and two will vote for Nader.

For Vice Presidential selections:
- Romney was the top choice for Republicans, with 28.6%; Rob Portman (2nd) received 19%
- Clinton was the top choice for Democrats, with 32.5%; Bill Richardson (2nd) received 13.8%

Undecided voters:
- of undecided voters, 72.2% said they wanted Sen. Clinton as Vice President
- and 52% of the undecided voters said the choice of vice present would "very much" affect their decision in November

Disappointed Primary Voters:

- When Republicans who supported another candidate in the primary were asked if they now support McCain, 64.3% said yes, 35.7% said no.

- When Democrats who supported another candidate in the primary were asked if they now support Obama, 61.8% said yes, 5.5% said no, and 32.7% said it depended on the running mate.


- "Jobs and the economy" dominated as the top issue, at 46.8%. "Gas prices/energy policy" came second (12.8%), and "conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan" came third (11.9%).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Waste HotLine! Bring Ideas!

We made great progress this week in bringing everyone on board to deal with our worsening budget scenario. From the courthouse to the engineer's office, elected officials and department heads have almost unanimously come forward to work cooperatively on getting through these difficult times.

And we will keep looking for more savings. But most importantly, we need more input, and more ideas. Your ideas!

I'm calling on any citizens, and particularly any county employees, to give me suggestions here on how to save money in any County department out there. Citizens and employees know better than anyone else where some of the waste might be--where inefficiencies may still be occurring, where there may be some "fat" that can be trimmed. And any savings we find along these lines means we minimize cuts to more critical services that no one wants to have to make.

If you want to give me an idea anonymously, great. (And if you only want me to see it, and don't want it posted, let me know that as well).

But whatever you do, if you have ideas, please let me know ASAP.

Remembering a Great UAW Leader

Last night, I and many others attended the visitation for Charlie Combs, a longtime labor and Democratic leader in our community. Charlie passed away earlier this week, sitting at home in his favorite chair, after a long bout with cancer.

His obituary appeared today in the Enquirer, and it sums up his incredible career fighting for workers in our community, particularly through the UAW. (I can't find it online yet).

Charlie and his wonderful wife of 50 years, Alma, were two of the first people I met with when I decided to run for City Council for 2001, and they have been wonderful friends ever since. They both have been tireless champions for improving the lives of people in our community--and never shy about strongly voicing their opinion on issues in our community and the Democratic Party.

Charlie and Alma also raised a wonderful family, including their daughter Cindy Combs, who many in this community know for her excellent work as an Assistant Cincinnati Police Chief (the first woman to achieve that rank).

Charlie, and his tireless voice for workers in this community, will be deeply missed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just in case . . .

In case we weren't clear enough before, here's a pretty good summary of our view on raising the sales tax (or getting rid of the property tax rebate that was part of the stadium vote) to solve our budget problems.

Summary: it's not going to happen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Congratulations Cincinnati, Congratulations NAACP!

Who would have predicted six years ago that the nation's oldest and most revered civil rights organization would be in Cincinnati taking notice of the progress we have made here? And gathering, in all places, at a revived Fountain Square--jumbotron and all--to help celebrate the moment?

Very few people, that's for sure.

Having just left a spectacular NAACP dinner on the riverfront, and having walked past an equally vibrant Fountain Square, I must say the vibe in Cincinnati is as good as it's been in a long time.

The NAACP Convention has really allowed all people, both from Cincinnati and visiting our City, to take stock in a community that is regaining its step. And the breadth and diversity of people taking part in this celebration have been great to see. Visitors have commented again and again that they want to return.

Congratulations and thanks should go to all those who brought the convention here, and to those--led by NAACP President Christhoper Smitherman and Convention Chairman Tyrone Yates--who did the legwork to organize this week-long success story.

Finally, amid all this celebration, it was great to see the front-page story today that the "Monitor" from the Collaborative Agreement has made clear that the Cincinnati Police Department has met its commitments under the Agreement. (
On that score, Chief Streicher and his many hard-working officers deserve a ton of credit for all that they have done.

(I took my fair share of lumps and political attacks for having helped negotiate the agreement as the only way forward following the violence and tension of 2001. But comparing where we are now versus 2001 (not just in terms of outside perception, but the reality of better police-community relations, leading to productive police-community partnerships and a crime rate that finally looks to be turning around from the spikes in and following 2001), it was well worth taking that heat.)

For a summary of this success, see

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reducing Jail Costs, Reducing Recidivism

I spent the weekend at the National Association of Counties annual conference in Kansas City (don't worry--I paid my own way). It was a great way to learn how counties across this country are dealing with the same challenges we are. And it's safe to say that we're not unique in facing economic and budgetary woes, overcrowded and expensive jails, and all sorts of other issues.

One big issue came up that we can do something about right away.

It turns out, the federal government works very hard to save money at the expense of counties like our's, not to mention of our most troubled citizens, by its policy of terminating Medicaid shortly after a person enters our jails. This policy has major implications:

1. It eliminates a critical benefit even before a person has been judged guilty of a crime, violating the basic principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.

2. It represents a massive cost shift from federal Medicaid to county taxpayers to pay for the medical costs of those in jail waiting for trial (if an inmate is not covered, the county is required by law to pay for the medical costs, and we pay millions per year to do so).

3. When a person leaves our jail (whether after serving a sentence, or even after being found innocent), he or she leaves without Medicaid. This has dramatically negative consequences on our effort to reduce recidivism, particularly for those with mental illnesses who rely on medical and drug care to keep them from repeating criminal behavior. Without Medicaid, they leave jail with no way to pay for their medicines. It also costs Hamilton County taxpayers because rather than Medicaid, the care of such individuals will be paid through our County indigent care levy.

Fortunately, there's something we can do about this problem.

First, a bipartisan bill recently proposed in Congress would end the policy of terminating federal Medicaid benefits for those who are in county jails awaiting trial. A letter my office is drafting along with Commissioner Portune and Sheriff Leis will be sent this week to our Congressional delegation urging them to support this critical change in the law. It will save County taxpayers millions of dollars in property taxes every year.

Second, while we wait for this legislation to pass, states have begun to pass their own laws that "suspend" Medicaid benefits on initial incarceration, as opposed to terminating them outright. Minnesota, New York, Florida, and others have passed such laws. This means that when inmates leave jail, the suspension on their Medicaid benefits is automatically lifted (which is much less complicated than "restoring" benefits after they have been formally terminated). Again, because citizens return to the community with their Medicaid benefits intact, it helps reduce recidivism, and saves County taxpayers millions. I will work with our local delegation to push for such legislation here in Ohio.

Third, while we wait for both those laws to pass, we have created a local working group that will pursue whatever steps are necessary to restore Medicaid benefits as quickly as possible as inmates leave our Justice Center.

A little common sense here could save county taxpayers millions of dollars while improving safety and reducing recidivism.

For more information on the bill presented in Congress, go to

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Queen City Progress

It's great to see talk of progress in Cincinnati at this week's NAACP convention. I certainly agree that so much has changed for the better since 2001 (even if we clearly still have work to do).

I was running for my first term on Council when the April 2001 riots occurred, and that first term, 2001-2003, was spent basically trying to ease the tense environment, return safety and stability to our streets, and heal police-community relations and trust. Amid a number of large-ticket items that got a lot of attention (the Collaborative, hiring 75 more police, etc.), a number of less high profile, specific changes occurred that have really made a long-term difference.

1. the formation of the CPD Mental Health Response Team. Basically, numerous Cincinnati police officers were trained in how to apprehend suspects who showed signs of mental illnesses (many of the most controversial police shootings in 2001 and previous years had involved suspects with mental illnesses). I believe this 2002 reform (along with, despite the controversy, the purchase of Tasers in 2003), is a prime reason Cincinnati has since become one of the nation's leading large cities in terms of how rarely fatal police shootings/incidents occur.

2. the creation of the Community Police Partnering Center. Coming out of the Collaborative Agreement, this new institution created a fresh new set of community-police partnerships in neighborhoods that had experienced high police-community tension in prior years. The hard work of the Center's staff has given communities a voice and strategy to battle violence on the streets, while helping build trust between community and police.

3. Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence. Pushed through and led by Cecil Thomas, the Mayor, the University of Cincinnati, numerous community leaders and law enforcement leaders, CIRV is fast becoming a national model in targeting neighborhood groups most prone to violent crime--and providing group members an incentive to cease and desist from such activity, or face serious jailtime. Again, the approach is being done hand-in-hand with community leaders.

No doubt, the biggest changes we need to make to permanently improve things involve education, economic opportunity, and investment in our communities. But for anyone looking to study how Cincinnati turned the corner on the crisis of 2001, these specific reforms made a real contribution.
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