CINCINNATI -- With just 20 days left until the election, Cincinnati mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley faced each other Tuesday night in their last major debate of the race.
Both candidates returned to themes they've repeatedly hit in recent weeks, but stepped up direct criticism of each other.
Qualls emphasized her two decades of experience in city government, stating it gives here the judgment and temperament to forge deals and get things done.
"This election is about the type of city we want Cincinnati to be in the future. It is a choice about continuing the progress we celebrate, or pulling back because we're afraid and have doubts," Qualls said. "We are building a 21st Century city that can compete nationally and globally."
Cranley stressed that he has spent time in both the public and private sectors, and would refocus City Hall on providing basic services instead of paying for expensive projects like the streetcar system that he said are unnecessary.
"My opponent mentions her judgment. In the ‘90s, she was the lead spokesman for the stadium deal. She added $100 million in costs by moving the stadium to the west. She built a $50 million riverfront transit center that's never been used," Cranley said. "I think we need a new investment advisor in the city, and we need someone who has the experience to know the difference between good ideas and bad ideas."
During the debate, each candidate was asked to give a one-sentence job description for the mayor.
"We need someone who's going to take the city to the future and grow jobs and people," Cranley said. "The fact is we have room to grow. We had a much larger population 50 years ago … my strategy is making it easier for businesses to do business in the city, not raising property taxes."
Qualls said luring new residents – particularly young professionals – should be a key part of the next mayor's agenda.
"We know that we must critically attack being an attractive city, so that we actually have people moving to Cincinnati," she said. "We have to invest in those things that anticipate the needs and the wants of the next generation of people that's coming to be the workers in our community and help our city grow."
Qualls currently is vice mayor. A Realtor, she lives downtown. Cranley is an ex-city councilman and an attorney who lives in Mount Lookout.
Cincinnati's mayoral race is non-partisan. Cranley and Qualls are both Democrats.
During their tenures on City Council, both Cranley and Qualls have chaired the group's finance committee. Both have led the process to approve structurally unbalanced budgets, which rely on one-time sources of cash.
Asked why voters should believe either of them would be able to pass a structurally balanced budget in the future, Cranley said, "The fact is we have to balance our budget by being smart. You don't take an asset like parking meters and garages and sell them off to paper over a deficit.
"When we don't have all the money in the world, we've got to say ‘no' to the bad ideas and stay focused on priorities like police and fire," he added.
Qualls said exploring shared service deals with other jurisdictions is one method to make the city function better, along with conducting operational audits of every city department to see where fat can be trimmed.
"We should have a commission that looks thoroughly at the potential for cost savings, as well as reductions in overhead, that would come from shared services," she said.
"We know there are efficiencies, we know there are better ways to deliver services and that needs to be done," Qualls added.
Tuesday's hour-long debate was moderated by Kathrine Nero and held at 9 On Your Side's studios in Mount Adams.
The event was co-sponsored with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnatus Association, and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area.
Panelists for the event were 9 On Your Side reporters Tom McKee and Kevin Osborne, and Andrea Laudat Blackmon from The Cincinnati Herald.