Local politics in Cincinnati is in very rough waters. Our city was named after a highly respected Roman statesman, Cincinnatus, in the hope that it would be a shiny city — the Queen city — the crown jewel of the Midwest. Unfortunately, as we cross into the 21st year of the 21st century, our city is reeling due to scandalous politicians. Three elected officials have fallen, losing the status that they had basked in at the start of last year.
Rarely do we take the time to deeply explore what is wrong with our local politics but instead get caught up in the conversation about who should replace the corrupt officials or who should enter the next political race. The start of a new year should give us pause to consider seven problems. The first letter of each of these, taken together, forms the word TROUBLE. This article delves into the seven problems. Next month we will discuss seven solutions. Unless these are understood and addressed, more elected officials will continue to fall from grace and our image as a city will continually be tarnished.
Toxic Turf Wars and Feuds
This is not just a Cincinnati problem but a regional one. Within Hamilton County, toxic turf wars and feuding have poisoned both political parties. This has been established by many reporters over many years, but it first became clear to me in 2008. That year, the Hamilton County Republican Party and the Hamilton County Democratic Party colluded in an awful deal to ensure that their candidates for commissioner ran unopposed.
Rigid Clinging to Status Quo
Within Greater Cincinnati, it is evident that the culture of local politics has trended toward one dominant party. Small wonder that when I ran for commissioner as an Independent candidate, one party’s candidate did not bother to show up for a televised debate. As a matter of fact, both of my opponents blew off a neighborhood forum. This is because both parties have mastered the use of sample ballots at polling locations, thus making voters cling to the practice of straight-ticket voting. Elected officials have been emboldened to cling to the status quo as they are confident that they cannot lose.
Outright Betrayal of Public Trust
What transpired in 2020 was the painful truth that there is a culture of outright betrayal of public trust amongst Cincinnati politicians. And this is not a strictly partisan problem because those arrested were from both parties. With these arrests, our city council led the country in corruption cases. Betrayal of trust also manifests in another way. When a politician is elected for one office then within months betrays that trust and jumps ship to run for another office. It is a sad situation.
Unscrupulous Backroom Deals
It has come to light that some of our politicians use their offices for self-enrichment and self-advancement. Residents have been stunned to discover that their new era elected officials still operate in a world of hidden favors worse than those of the Boss Cox era. Some of the deals happen when elected officials agree to take bribes from developers. Others happen when they swap seats in the event of a term limitation. I call this a ‘Barter Exchange’ of public office. Other deals happen when regional party leadership agrees to block ballot challenges to incumbents as was done in 2008.
Brazen Dynastic Entitlement
A top-down attitude exists when the political class looks down upon any new entrants into the public sphere of campaigning for elected office. It has become an ingrained norm that certain names are the only ones entitled to be broadcast and reported on extensively. When there is an opening, the same few names are bandied about as the only viable candidates to run for it. And these individuals brazenly jump up for every open seat because of a frenzy that is stirred up regarding their candidacy.
Lack of Long-Term Vision
City leaders have failed at generating a long-term vision of clarity. Every proclamation has become a reaction to something happening elsewhere. There is a bankruptcy of ideas and an uncreative embrace of the obsolete. This is evidenced in the erroneous decision-making and paralysis that has created gridlock in local city/county government. Elected officials are continually maneuvering for position instead of settling down to do the job that they have been entrusted with by the public.
We now live in a city where clout is regarded higher than civic good. Those who are exploring elected office for the joy of serving fellow citizens are dismissed as the power players with outsized egos greedily chomp at the opportunity to score a higher price yet again. Our city is delving into the ocean of machine politics as the perennial runners, some who already hold office, view themselves as the only ones deserving.