CINCINNATI — The fall election season was officially kicked off Monday with the annual Labor Day Picnic that drew thousands of union workers and their families to Coney Island.
Candidates for Cincinnati City Council and dozens of other races shook greeted potential voters, shook their hands and urged them to get out and vote.
Most notable were the top candidates for the office of Cincinnati mayor. Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls and former councilmember John Cranley are running with Jim Berns and Queen Noble in a primary election on Sept. 10.
The two candidates with the most votes advance to the November general election.
Potential voters seemed very clear on what they think are the top priorities for the person who replaces Mark Mallory as mayor for the next four years.
"Get the budget together and end the streetcar," said Reco Owens of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Robert Chapman of Bond Hill focused on safety issues. "I guess security in the streets," he said. "There's a lot of violence going on."
The biggest issue for Westwood's David Kennedy is jobs and what needs to be done to move Cincinnati forward.
Qualls stood at the entrance to the Coney Island picnic area and told anyone who would listen she believes there are three main issues.
"Jobs, jobs and jobs," she said over and over. "They're telling that we need to continue to bring companies into the City of Cincinnati to create jobs."
The vice-mayor said that includes startups, innovative high-tech companies plus entry level jobs and jobs for citizens returning from prison.
She said she also supports investing in neighborhoods and in a partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools for pre-school education so all kids are ready to learn and can be productive citizens in the future.
Two other areas that Qualls backs are the streetcar project and the plan to lease the city's parking system. The parking plan is expected to generate $95 million up front and $3 million a year for 30 years. Much of that is slated for economic development.
Cranley circulated visited various picnic areas where different union members gathered with their families and gave them his view of the city's top problems.
"I think it's how you move the city forward when you've got a budget crisis, a pension crisis and a city that clearly has its priorities out of whack putting money into a streetcar, privatizing our parking meters and giving away that cash cow for the city," he said.
Solutions, according to Cranley, is changing the manner in which things are being done at city hall.
"What I want to do is put the priorities on jobs, basic services like police and fire on the streets, reducing the violence. These are the priorities that move the city forward," he said. "Right now, the current leadership is focusing on issues that are going to bankrupt us."
The pension system is under-funded by approximately $760 million. A proposal on the November ballot would freeze the current system and created a deferred compensation program.
Qualls said she believes that's the wrong approach.
"What we do know is we solve the problem with current employees and future employees going forward," she said. "We did that in 2010. The unfunded liability has a solution and it doesn't require radical, radical proposals like the ballot initiative."
Cranley's talking point is that the people currently leading the city have failed to address the pension problem.
"It's a huge time bomb for the city," he said. "I'm not going to let Cincinnati become Detroit, but under the current leadership that's where they're heading."
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