Saturday, October 31, 2009

SWNIDish Voter Guide for November 2009

All politics is local, especially in an odd-numbered year. As a service to our readers desperate for Seldom-Wrong guidance for Tuesday's election, we hereby instruct on how to vote SWNIDishly.

As always, we offer instruction on how to vote if one's ballot is identical to SWNID's. Those who face different choices will have to infer guidance. We regret that we can't know quite everything.

For purposes of suspense, we will begin with the lowly but important Cincinnati Public School Board, move to Cincinnati City Council, then address the Cincinnati mayoral race before concluding with this year's portentous ballot initiatives.

Cincinnati Public School Board
The seven-member school board this year elects four of its members. As usual, the choice is between denizens of the education establishment and advocates of data-driven change. School board elections tend to be name-recognition exercises, so it's vital that voters who aim for more than the status quo avoid returning incumbents whose records belie claims to innovation.

This year's election includes three incumbents: Melanie Bates, Catherine Ingram and Eileen Cooper Reed. We endorse none of these.

Bates has lurked around Cincinnati politics and Cincinnati schools for years, managing a couple of wins in local elections. Her record has always suggested someone who hears the sizzle but can't locate the steak. The ability to see past buzzwords is vital in education. Bates doesn't. Don't vote Bates.

Catherine Ingram is a long-time board member distinguished by a severe inability to act purposefully. Recent revelations that she owes back taxes are not surprising, given the chaotic persona she presents to the public. Ingram has displayed no consistent educational philosophy, no special contribution to CPS policy-making, and no progress in mastering the details of her job. Don't vote Ingram.

Eileen Cooper Reed demonstrates considerably more savvy and moxie than her incumbent counterparts, having ascended to board president in short order. What she also demonstrates is a commitment to old-school thinking about schools. As former local director of the Children's Defense Fund, she has acted just as one would expect with such a background. Though a more competent member than the other incumbents, we have little confidence in her educational philosophy. So it's a no to Reed as well.

We urge instead a strong vote for three newcomers who are committed to thoughtful innovation and fiscal responsibility. All are committed to the notion that schools are institutions consisting not just of teachers and students but also of parents. They are:

  • Mary Welsh Schlueter: a mom, businessperson, and thoughtful student of public school education. With a strong background educationally and experientially, she'll raise the standard of discussion on the board.
  • Christopher Ray "Chris" McDowell: a veteran, lawyer, dad and school volunteer. McDowell's experience and commitments portend strong potential as a team member to spur continued innovation.
  • John Banner: lawyer and fiscal-responsibility hawk. Banner also brings an A+ resume to the board.
So why only three endorsements? We don't see a fourth who stands out. Given the lack of muscle behind McDowell's and Banner's candidacies (Banner has o web site that we can locate; McDowell is endorsed by the Republicans, which doesn't portend positively in a CPS board election), and given the likelihood that incumbents will be returned to the board, the better electoral strategy is not to empower a mediocre candidate with the fourth vote. There's a very marginally better chance that one of these candidates will be elected if SWNIDish voters do not dilute their votes by doing eenie-meenie-minie-moe for the fourth, who just might get past the post ahead of a better choice.

Cincinnati City Council
Council had seemed a happier place for a few months after the previous election. But for the last year, Mayor Mallory's reliance on a five-member majority has ended the brief period of rationality amidst a fifteen-year cycle of rancor. We therefore recommend strongly against votes for any members of Mallory's current majority, with one exception.

Incumbents who have the dreaded SWNIDish un-endorsement are Greg Harris, Laketa Cole and Roxanne Qualls. All stand on the wrong side of nearly every issue. Harris represents the cynical politics of City Hall: appointed to fill out the unfinished term of term-limited John Cranley, he was anointed by local Ds to fill the seat to gain name recognition as an "incumbent" who has never before been elected. Qualls' perennial popularity remains one of the great mysteries of local politics. A poor public speaker and advocate of nothing in particular except business as usual, she seems to coast along with a persona as the nice white lady on council. Cole, by contrast, has been a move and shaker, consistently moving and shaking in directions that don't improve the city. All are part of the mayor's majority; all get the Curse of SWNID.

Newcomers getting the un-endorsement are Laurie Quinlivan, Wendell Young, Bernadette Watson, and Anita Brockman. Quinlivan promises to be Mallory's lap dog. Young is a perennial Democrat also-ran also pledged to do the mayor's bidding uncritically. Watson is a longtime behind-the-scenes politician who doubtless owes a bundle of favors to the Democrat establishment. Brockman is one of those fanciful candidates who illustrate the limits of democracy: when anyone can run, anyone sometimes will.

Repeat-offender Charlie Winburn, inexplicably beloved by the Hamilton County Republican establishment, also gets our un-endorsement. The peripatetic, chattery, self-promoting Winburn has discredited both political conservatism with his showboating politics and the Christian gospel with his personality-driven church. If Cincinnati is to be a civilized place, Winburn needs to be as far from power as possible.

So whom do we endorse? The nod goes to the following eclectic mix:
  • Chris Monzel, a principled Republican incumbent who understands deeply that to be attractive, Cincinnati needs safety and low taxes.
  • Leslie Ghiz, for whom we hold our nose as a not-overtly-religious version of Winburn but who manages to speak up for a few things that make sense.
  • Cecil Thomas, a loyal member of the mayor's majority who continues to strike us as a decent, thoughtful guy.
  • Kevin Flynn, whose personal story (paralyzed in an accident, rehabilitated at Drake Hospital, now chairman of Drake's board) and open-minded nonpartisanship urge that he be given a try.
  • Amy Murray, an opponent of bad stuff like streetcars.
  • LaMarque Ward, a guy who grew up in poverty, grew out of despair with mentoring by some fine gentlemen, and now stands poised to speak truth and hope to the portion of the city that needs it most, notably promoting virtue as the solution to social problems.
  • Chris Bortz, a well-connected incumbent who hasn't marched in step with the mayor's majority but speaks a language understood by people who energize economic development.
  • Jeff Berding, who earned an un-endorsement from the Hamilton County Democrats for opposing the mayor, a badge of honor if ever there was one.
That's eight. We again recommend reserving the ninth vote for no one, not just anyone. If just five of these folks are elected, the world will be a better place.

Cincinnati Mayor
To the dismay of many but the surprise of none, we endorse incumbent mayor Mark Mallory, and not just because he's a good neighbor.

First, we insist that we disapprove of Mallory's unseemly reliance on a five-member council majority with the deliberate exclusion of the other four members. That's nasty politics that is unlikely to temper bad decision-making.

We also decry his enthusiasm for the streetcar. Maybe in the seven fat years one can spend a fifth of a billion dollars to move people a couple of miles, but not in times like these. Save the experiment for later, Mr. Mayor.

We note, however, that Cincinnati is a palpably better place than when Mallory took office. Crime statistics show obvious improvement, though a city like Cincinnati may never be a haven of peace and goodwill. Economically the city seems to be no worse than many Midwestern metropolises and is no longer the pariah it became after the riots earlier in the decade. Mallory has shown significant ability to restore confidence that the city can be governed by doing it with reasonable effectiveness.

We also note that Mallory can move with the majority if the majority moves. His main experience is as a legislator who builds coalitions. He can work just about any agenda set by the political realities of the moment.

Most importantly, however, the alternative is simply awful. Brad Westrup is a veteran, a physician, and by all reports a good citizen. But he's as bad a politician as we've seen, just about ever. An inarticulate, fidgety public speaker bathed in more flop sweat than Al Gore, he projects no discernible leadership from the podium. Still more awful are his positions. A Republican, he is nevertheless enthusiastic about casino gambling in Cincinnati. Allegedly a fiscal conservative, he says he'd use unreliable casino revenue to support operating expenses, not to provide for capital improvements, thereby perpetuating the city's budget problems. Worst of all, he's pledged not to cut police officers to balance the budget unless he gets the FOP's approval. Ceding fiscal control to a public employees' union, even if it is the one beloved by Republicans seeking local office, is as irresponsible a move as we can imagine.

We want Mallory's political skills at work with a new council majority, not Westrup's haplessness at the mercy of nine un-led egos.

Ballot Initiatives
Briefly, here's how to vote on the burgeoning list of referenda.

  • Issue 1--Bonds to Fund Veteran Compensation: No. We dearly appreciate the work of our Armed Forces, but this is a political gimmick. The common defense is a federal matter, and the state budget doesn't need an additional burden of providing additional benefits.
  • Issue 2--State Livestock Board: Yes. The alternative seems to be standards set by vegan activists. Protect the economic viability of agriculture in Ohio.
  • Issue 3--Casinos. A thousand times No! Gambling is a tax on the inability to do math. It encourages the notion that wealth is had by luck, not productive work and thrift. It brings no economic benefit, as reflected by its exclusion in GDP calculations. Sadly, this will pass, but all will come to rue the day.
  • Issues 4 through 7: Local Levies for Public Health, MRDD, Union Terminal and the Public Library. Yes for all. These are pillars of the local community supported by fair and relatively cheap taxes.
  • Issue 8: Require a Referendum for a Water District. No. Rightly done a water district can improve prospects for local development. And it's dumb to clutter the charter with all these required referenda. See next Issue.
  • Issue 9: Require a Referendum for Rail. No. We oppose the streetcar initiative for economic reasons. But this is a stupid way to deal with it. Vote for a sensible city council instead, and if this council votes wrong, vote in another in two years that will stop the mess.
  • Issue 52: Cincinnati Public Schools levy. Yes. This is not an increase, y'all, but a renewal. CPS has enormous flaws but compares favorably to other urban districts. Don't vote no out of anger for the lack of vouchers or other nonpublic alternatives. Vote yes to allow the thing to function at least as well as it does at present until a better alternative is politically viable.
For more local election fun, check out the League of Women Voters and the Cincinnati Enquirer.


Anonymous said...

Issue 2 - amend the constitution? By no means a PETA nut - but this is no way to plan for "the exception" and first strike a greenie takeover of agriculture. Regardless - love the analysis.

who do you like for Mayor of Atlanta?

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

The Atlanta mayoral election may be the first sign that post-racial politics can occasionally exist in our Republic. Otherwise, we have no opinion. Being Seldom Wrong is not the same as being omniscient.