CINCINNATI -- As Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn into office Sunday, it was clear their minds already were focused on the first item of business: Stopping work on the long-planned streetcar project.
Cranley and City Council members took their oaths in a Sunday morning ceremony at City Hall, as required by the city’s charter.
Officials reassembled three hours later at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to repeat the oaths, allowing supporters who attended church services earlier in the day to observe the pomp and circumstance.
During a speech at the Freedom Center, Cranley said he wants to make Cincinnati more business friendly. That, in turn, will reduce the jobless rate and help lessen poverty in the city, he added.
To accomplish those goals, the new mayor said, city officials must “focus less on building objects for a few and focus more on building opportunity for all.”
The comments were aimed squarely at the $133 million streetcar project, now being constructed in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
Cranley campaigned on canceling the project, and a new council majority appears ready to back his request.
City Council’s newly formed streetcar committee will meet at noon Monday to discuss “suspending” the project pending an independent audit. The full City Council will meet at 4 p.m. Monday, likely to vote on postponement.
The act would delay any further work or spending on the project until the audit is completed, Cranley said.
At the same time as festivities were underway at the Freedom Center, more than 500 people attended a pro-streetcar rally in Over-the-Rhine. One of its leaders was ex-Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who Cranley defeated in November’s mayoral election.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a streetcar supporter who was reelected but is now part of a council minority that backs the project, also mentioned it during his inaugural remarks.
“Today is a clear shift at City Hall. Elections have consequences and I accept that,” Seelbach said, even as he pledged to keep pushing progressive causes.
Seelbach added city officials must do more than focus on providing basic city services or “Cincinnati will be known as a place where big ideas come to die.”
After the ceremony, Cranley spoke more about the streetcar project to WCPO.
Referring to the pro-streetcar group’s motto of “We believe in Cincinnati,” the mayor said, “I love the fact that these folks love the city. I believe in Cincinnati, and I believe in Cincinnati with or without a streetcar.
“The success of Cincinnati isn’t limited to a streetcar,” Cranley added. “We need to have a bigger imagination and tackle bigger issues like reducing child poverty, attracting the middle class and growing the economy.”
Streetcar supporters have criticized Cranley for saying Cincinnati is more politically united than ever before. But the mayor defended his comments.
“Look at Bond Hill, look at Mount Washington, look at Price Hill, Mount Lookout, Hyde Park,” Cranley said. “In all the council races I was in, those neighborhoods didn’t agree on who should be mayor. This year, all of those neighborhoods were united together – not only in electing me but in electing a majority of council.
“In particular, the black and white community is more united than it has been in quite a long time and that’s something to be proud of,” he added.