On Wednesday night, October the 11th, just before sunset, I responded to a knock on the door. Upon opening it, I was confronted by two campaign volunteers — an often unwelcome if not unexpected sight — rather than the neighbor I had been expecting to arrive any minute.
But these weren't just any two campaign volunteers: these were two of Yvette Simpson's eager and friendly canvassers. And they naturally asked who I was planning to vote for in the present/upcoming mayoral race (early voting opened in Ohio on Wednesday morning at the stroke of midnight, in point of fact). I have been privately if not publicly outspoken about who I was NOT planning to vote for in this particular race, and so I deliberated for a moment as to how I would choose to answer this question in such a context.
And I tried to apply a non-confrontational approach.
...By offering that I personally wished there were a third candidate in the race. (There had been a third candidate, of course, and he was eliminated during the primaries, so this was just an attempt on my part to politely decline to answer the question.)
These two women took this as a sign of encouragement, I believe, and pressed me to be more forthcoming, hoping as it were to persuade the undecided voter I appeared to be to vote for their candidate. Part of me was impressed. And another part of me considered this to be an opportunity to exercise my own powers of persuasion. Not to persuade these two volunteers to abandon Yvette's campaign, or anything, but to inspire within her ranks a very real awareness that Yvette's victory is by no means assured. So I told them a story about why I don't believe Yvette is a good candidate either for City Council or for Mayor of Cincinnati. And it goes something like this:
In 2014, residents of the Avondale and North Avondale neighborhoods came together to stage a campaign against the Commons of Alaska development project slated for Alaska Avenue in Cincinnati. And as part of that campaign, many of us went down to City Hall to testify before members of City Council. At that stage of the project, which had been underway largely in secret since 2012, the developers were waiting for approvals from the City of Cincinnati, the State of Ohio, and from the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) that would trigger the release of federal funds from HUD. Without federal funding, the project would necessarily halt. HUD guidelines (at the time) governing the award of such funds dictate that local authorities (at the city and at the state level) should evaluate for themselves which housing projects meet HUD's criteria for funding, and provide the agency with their recommendations. Provided that there is unanimous support, and sufficient community buy-in, projects usually get funded without additional evaluation or oversight of that decision by the federal agency.
So when we went to testify at City Hall, members of City Council were in a position to determine the outcome. If they voted in favor of the project, it was that much more likely it would move forward; but if they voted against the project, it would surely fail. And this was our chance, as citizens, to influence their decision.
Our testimony focused on the criteria recommended by HUD for evaluating the rightness or wrongness of site selection. Speaker after speaker addressed one or another of these points, presenting a compelling case against this project on the basis of HUD's site selection criteria using sound, objective reasoning, rather than emotion. To counter our arguments, representatives of the developer (National Church Residences, better known as NCR) and the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition presented testimony that shamelessly pulled heartstrings, reminding us all of the plight of homeless citizens in general and the scale of our current housing crisis, without in any way addressing whether this development site or this neighborhood was the right location for any kind of large-scale permanent supportive housing project.
Following our testimony, Yvette Simpson spoke of her own personal struggles with housing in Avondale. She spoke of her mother having voluntarily wandered the streets of Avondale, actively refusing to take shelter in the housing provided to Yvette's young family, and aggressively pursuing a lifestyle of substance abuse and prostitution. A truly tragic circumstance, and very moving. But also irrelevant to the project under consideration. Yvette cited this tragic backstory as reason for a decision she had already made in favor of the project, something she decided long before our testimony on this day, and without any regard for best practices within the field of subsidized housing or federal grant making. Nevermind the complexities of providing rehabilitative services to indigent, addicted, traumatized, or previously incarcerated individuals, where one size (or one solution) does not fit all.
In other words, Yvette Simpson makes decisions based on what is best for Yvette Simpson, and she refuses to consider the will of the people in her decision-making process — unless or until the will of the people reflects her own. To my mind, this is the thinking of a tyrant or an absolute monarch, not a democratically elected representative.
Just as I was finishing explaining all of this to Yvette's two campaign volunteers, Yvette Simpson herself started climbing the steps to my front door. And these two women invited me to repeat myself to the very candidate I had spent the last minutes criticizing as lacking the basic character or judgment I believe to be necessary to qualify for a position in public office.
If I thought I had been uncomfortable before, I was even more uncomfortable now.
But I fought back any negative impulses I felt in that moment, tempting as they were, and did my best to articulate my concerns a second time to the very person whose candidacy I choose to reject as a consequence of these concerns. I'm not sure I was as articulate as I could or should have been... given the gravity of my determination... that she is demonstrably unqualified for public office... But I did try, and I did so without allowing the nature of my rhetoric to devolve into hostility of any kind, neither open nor implied.
Yvette is genuinely affable and charming. She is a skilled wordsmith, with demonstrable skills of persuasion and a legal career to her credit. There is very little not to like about Yvette Simpson! And if I allowed myself to vote for Mayor or for City Council with the same nonchalance as voting for student council candidates, or for high school prom king and queen, I would absolutely vote for Yvette! But I can't, in good conscience, treat this election as a simple popularity contest.
This is about good governance, not the cult of personality. And I do not believe that Yvette Simpson exercises good judgment on behalf of our city, nor does she possess the character traits necessary to lead our city.
On the night of Friday October the 13th, I attended a private reception for John Cranley at the home of one of my neighbors in North Avondale. And I retold the story of this encounter I had with Yvette as many as three times in conversation with various attendees of that reception, including John himself. And I was thinking the whole time of how I found myself in this situation, shaking hands with the mayor who opposed the streetcar, and contemplating the prospect of his re-election as the best possible outcome for our city.
There have, over the years, been a variety of times that Mayor John Cranley exercised the power of his office to make controversial decisions worthy of criticism, objection, and debate among the population, of which the streetcar remains a hot-button issue. I, for one, did not vote to elect John Cranley the first time around, precisely because of his outspoken position about the streetcar. And I continue to hope we can one day expand the streetcar's service area to include more of the city, Hamilton County, and Northern Kentucky, as much as I hope for bike lanes in every neighborhood, an overhaul of our Metro bus system, greater affordability in the housing market, preservation of historic buildings, and the prevention of blight and/or neglect in our neighborhoods — all of which represent issues where Mayor John Cranley has earned legitimate criticisms during his term in office.
But unlike Yvette, John has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to reconsider his position on a given issue. In regards to the Commons of Alaska project, in particular, he was at first in favor of the project, as were all the members of City Council at one time or another. But he chose to listen to our concerns before making a final determination, and he was willing to weigh our arguments against those in favor of the project, alongside all the federal guidelines, selection criteria, and best practices in general, before making a final determination. And he ultimately changed his position on an issue — something Yvette staunchly refuses to do, time and time again. John has also changed his position on other issues. As unpopular as it is to acknowledge, Mayor John Cranley now embraces the streetcar as an integral part of our public transportation network, and he has committed to investing in improving affordability, access, quality and efficiency throughout this network. He may still think it was right to vote against the streetcar ballot issue all those years ago, as many residents of Cincinnati still do, but he has at least come around to embracing the role that it plays in our city, today, and he recognizes the potential it represents for our future!
So I think I will take the advice Yvette Simpson tried to give me on that fateful night, this October. (Though she may regret giving me that advice.) I will put aside the many times when a politician has made a decision I strongly disagreed with, I will overcome my lingering discontent, and I will support the candidate I believe is best qualified to govern our fair city:
I will vote to re-elect Mayor John Cranley.