In the midst of an eventful presidential election season, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is hoping to grab a few hours of local attention on Tuesday evening with his annual State of the City speech.
Cranley will speak at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley at 6 p.m., which allows the expected crowd of 500 mostly business and political leaders time to get home to watch the first vice presidential debate at 9 p.m.
The State of the City speech is usually part policy and part promise – a chance for a mayor to tout accomplishments and reveal what’s on the horizon.
But this year the speech takes on extra importance because it is a preview to the 2017 mayoral election. While it won’t be an outright campaign speech, Cranley will surely hammer on the promises he has made to voters, and what he’s delivered on.
“I’ve always said good governance is good politics,” Cranley said. “Adding jobs, reducing crime, expanding opportunity … those are the things I said I would do when I ran … and those are things I intend to take to the voters to merit another term.”
Cranley already has one opponent: Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who announced in August that she would run for mayor. And he may face others.
While both Simpson and Cranley are Democrats, each represent different factions of the local party. There is a deep divide between the pro-Cranley wing and those who would prefer a more progressive mayor.
“What I would be attune to would be his message to the politicos who he may have rubbed the wrong way, who might still come around to him,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven. “What’s his message to the folks who kind of view him as perhaps a little too imperial in office? Does he make an effort to reach them and show effort to grow in this office, past those concerns?”
Cranley has been aggressively fundraising since early 2015, and is on pace to raise $1 million by the end of this year, said his campaign manager Jay Kincaid.
“John has had a pretty successful first three years in office and we will continue in his campaign to talk about that,” Kincaid said.
The State of the City speech will focus on these key topics: neighborhood revitalization, improving safety and reducing gun violence, and a city renaissance that includes everyone – including the impoverished and minorities.
While the city has enjoyed a rebirth, it has also suffered from a child poverty rate that is nearly double the national rate. At the speech, Cranley will reveal a 5 percent drop in child poverty here, according to just released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Tackling poverty has always been a goal for Cranley, who launched a “Hands Up Initiative” in 2014 for job training and job readiness.
During his speech, he will show a video with testimonials from graduates of this program who now have good jobs.
Cranley is also expected to introduce a citywide heroin overdose database that updates where emergencies are happening so leaders can find drug dealers and help addicts.
“I think underlying everything he says in the speech, and what he does next year, he has to differentiate himself and say, ‘I am fighting for you,’” Niven said. “In the examples that he chooses, you’ll be able to see that piece by piece.”
In his speech last fall, Cranley promised that 2016 would be the year of the neighborhood. A second video at the speech will highlight the new projects coming to the suburbs.
In May, Cranley called for $35 million to be invested in a series of neighborhood projects such as College Hill Station, Westwood Square, and the Wasson Way mixed-use trail project.
As a nod to these outlying areas, Cranley moved his State of the City speech out of the usual Downtown venues (last year it was at Great American Ballpark) and into a renovated 1941 theater in Oakley this year.
“One of his first key campaign messages was neighborhoods,” said Sean Comer, director of government relations at Xavier University. “What a better way to wrap up your promise than in a neighborhood and give a State of the City address right in the heart of one of those walkable areas that you harped on.”
Whatever the message, Cranley might have a hard time delivering it this year.
The 2016 presidential election and the highly competitive Hamilton County Commission race are in the forefront of voters’ minds. So it might be difficult to sway their attention to a mayoral race a year away.
“It is a fundamental challenge just to get any space on the political radar screen against everything else that is out there right now,” Niven said.