The top 9 stories to keep your eye on in 2017

The top 9 stories to keep your eye on in 2017
Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-28 06:00:11-05

Congratulations. If you're reading this, you survived 2016, which is more than a lot of people can say.

It's been a wild year, so we're saying goodbye to 2016 like that friend-of-a-relative nobody really knows who stays too late after Christmas dinner.

Anyway, everybody's hoping 2017 is a little more low-key, with fewer surprises in store.

To that end, here are the top nine news stories we think will shape a big part of your arguments next year:

1) Donald Trump's presidency

Oh, you thought the election was the end of it? That's cute.

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned as an outsider who would shake things up, and so far, he's making good on that promise.

He said he'll "massively" lower taxes and loosen business regulations to allow better competition with foreign companies. But there are fears some of his ideas to boost economic growth (steeper tariffs on imports, renegotiating or ending NAFTA) would start a trade war and kill jobs here at home.

Trump greets the audience at a rally. Photo by Getty Images

Trump also has pledged to swiftly repeal Obamacare, the signature accomplishment of the outgoing president's eight years in office, and replace it with "something terrific" -- though it's likely to be an ugly, uphill battle.

Some of his Cabinet picks face opposition in the Senate (from Republicans and Democrats alike).

He's already ruffled feathers with China by taking a phone call from Taiwan's leader. He's looking to have a closer relationship with Moscow, accused by America's intelligence community of meddling in the very presidential race that got him elected.

So, yeah: He's shaking things up. But, that's exactly why his supporters elected him.

2) Reds' rebuilding turns a corner?

Despite the club’s underwhelming 68-94 record in 2016, Reds manager Bryan Price said he sees "the light at the end of the tunnel" and anticipates improvement next season. Price has been overseeing a rebuilding effort the last two seasons. General Manager Dick Williams thinks the heavy lifting of the rebuild is over and that 2017 will be better than 2016.

Reds manager Bryan Price. Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The focus in the offseason will be primarily on rebuilding the bullpen, which was the club's major weakness last season. Homer Bailey hopes to be back after two elbow surgeries in eight months. He was planning to start his normal offseason throwing program in mid-December. The emergence of Dan Straily and Brandon Finnegan, and the strong return of Anthony DeSclafani, give the Reds three starters to line up behind him.

Price says he plans to use Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias in multiple-inning roles -- as he did last year. In fact, he’d like others to join them. So who’s in the running? Price mentioned Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis, Jackson Stephens and Tyler Mahle for the bullpen.

Spring training starts Feb. 24, 2017.

3) Ray Tensing's retrial

Can Ray Tensing get a fair trial in Hamilton County? Are there enough people here to make an impartial jury? Those questions will be at the forefront going on two years after Tensing shot motorist Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in the city's Mount Auburn neighborhood.

The first trial for the former University of Cincinnati police officer ended in a hung jury mid-November, prompting Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan to declare a mistrial. Prosecutor Joe Deters made a compelling case for a murder conviction against the former University of Cincinnati police officer -- thanks to the body camera video showing Tensing shooting Sam DuBose sitting in his car during a traffic stop. The frame-by-frame presentation by a forensic video expert -- dissected to the millisecond -- seemed to make a lie out of Tensing's defense that he had been dragged by DuBose and had reason to fear that he was in danger of being run over by DuBose's car.

But humans messed things up. Jury fears and biases, prosecutor's mistakes and misjudgments, even a judge's error and indecision let Deters' hope for a murder conviction -- no, his expectation -- slip away.

READ MORE: Our coverage of Tensing trial

Deters decided for a do-over, initially indicating he might seek to move the trial elsewhere; it was a drastic, unprecedented step that stunned legal experts. But Deters seemed to be conceding what many people already suspected before Tensing's first trial: You can't find 12 jurors in Hamilton County who haven't been exposed to the deluge of media coverage, who don't have pro-police or anti-black biases -- and who will judge the case only on the evidence presented in court.

The prosecutor said issues of race, DuBose's criminal background and lifestyle (he had 13 kids by at least seven women) "absolutely crept into the jury room" even though Shanahan banned testimony about DuBose's criminal and health records. After saying he interviewed half of the jurors, Deters said some were sympathetic to Tensing, who teared up on the witness stand, and were considering punishment, which they shouldn't have done.

"There's no question that issues were being discussed in there that should not have been discussed," Deters said.


But at a hearing Dec. 12, a change of venue was off the table -- at least for now. Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz, who took over the case after Shanahan disqualified herself (she was almost full-term in her pregnancy when Deters decided to retry), said the case would stay in Hamilton County.

So what might change? For one thing, Deters said he'll do a better job emphasizing a burden of proof falls on Tensing: Because he said he intentionally shot DuBose to "stop the threat," the defense team has to prove their client was in danger of death or serious bodily harm or he would not be legally justified in using lethal force.

"That's an argument I think we need to stress more," Deters said. "Once they argue justification, it's not our burden anymore. It's theirs. And they've got to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a weighing test. It's scales of justice, and if they don't outweigh even a little bit, they fail."

There's also a gag order in the case, meaning you won't hear from Deters or defense attorney Stew Mathews outside what happens in court.

The new trial is set to begin May 25, 2017, with another court hearing set for Jan. 23.

4) More state abortion restrictions

Emboldened by Trump's victory and his pledge to appoint a rock-ribbed, "pro-life" conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court, you can expect lawmakers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to pass more and more restrictions on abortion.

These laws will certainly be challenged (probably before the ink's dry on their signing), and they'll wind their way through the federal courts in the coming years.

Trump appears to believe Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision on abortion, is ripe for overturning, telling "60 Minutes" the issue would go back to the states.

But, he added: "That has a long, long way to go." Five of eight current Supreme Court justices support abortion rights, so appointing a single "pro-life" justice wouldn't tip the scales. It could, however, open the possibility that ever-expanding restrictions at the state level are upheld.

5) Big opening on City Council (oh, and a mayoral election, too)

Cincinnati's mayoral race, with incumbent John Cranley facing a challenge from Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, will get the most attention in 2017. Although they're both Democrats, Cranley and Simpson take a different approach at City Hall: Cranley's more hard-charging, while Simpson has a lighter touch.

You can expect to see the differences in their personalities play out on the campaign trail. Their appeal is worlds apart, too: Cranley won the election appealing to Cincinnatians who perhaps felt left behind as the city's urban core underwent its renaissance; Simpson's most loyal supporters are urban progressives.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley faces a challenge from Councilwoman Yvette Simpson in 2017. Both are Democrats.

Cranley's aiming to hold onto the office, and you can expect him to use his bully pulpit to talk about balancing the city's budget, fixing the pension system, repaving streets and hiring more cops and firefighters. If she makes it past the primary, a Simpson win would be historic: She'd be the first woman to hold the office under the city's "stronger mayor" system adopted nearly 20 years ago.

However, the makeup of City Council could really be the biggest shift in 2017. Three seats are in play: Simpson's running for mayor, Charlie Winburn is term-limited and Kevin Flynn decided he wouldn't run again. In some tight spots, the more conservative Winburn and Flynn have been in Cranley's corner, giving him needed votes to get his agenda through Council. (Come to think of it, has Cranley suffered any major legislative losses besides the streetcar?)

If he's re-elected mayor, those Council seats going to more progressive candidates could threaten Cranley's ability to run the table (though his critics would argue such a shift might force him to be a bit more collaborative and compromising). The named candidates so far (Michelle Dillingham, community organizer Ozie Davis, former council aides Tamaya Dennard and possibly Sedrick Denson) lean toward the progressive end of the political spectrum, at least as far as city politics are concerned.

Still, there's a lot of time for for the Council field to firm up, with the filing deadline not until Aug. 24, 2017.

6) Momentum to reduce child poverty

The United Way of Greater Cincinnati will redirect millions of dollars that it raises to nonprofit organizations that are helping low-income families with children -- specifically those that are collaborating with others to get results. That shift is a major boost to the Child Poverty Collaborative, an initiative to lift 10,000 children out of poverty within five years and help 5,000 unemployed or underemployed adults get jobs.


While not limited to the city of Cincinnati, child poverty is unquestionably a major issue in our region's urban center. Compared to cities the same size or larger, Cincinnati's poverty rate ranks sixth in the nation. When smaller cities are added to the mix, Cincinnati's childhood poverty rate ranks 10th, according to the Collaborative's analysis of U.S. Census data.

BELOW THE LINE: In-depth coverage of child poverty

Cincinnati has more than 33,000 children who live in families with household incomes at or below the federal poverty level, defined as just $19,073 per year for a family of three that includes one adult and two children under the age of 18. Most of those kids -- more than 20,000 of them -- live in households that earn half of the federal poverty level or less. That equates to a household income less than $10,000 per year for a family made up of one adult and two children.

Cranley gets credit for creating the Collaborative, and the United Way runs it. The shift in funding was one of five commitments Collaborative leaders made at a late October summit held Downtown. The Collaborative also will lead a "One to One" program, partnering families living in poverty with a life coach who can work with them to help them reach their goals. In the first three months of 2017, local businesses have pledged to create a roundtable of human resources executives to come up with ways to provide "improvement employment opportunities and support for entry-level employees and beyond," Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center CEO Michael Fisher said. The goal is to figure out what policies are working at local companies and what could be improved.

A smaller group is working to create a "social laboratory" that will address strategies for systemic change in specific neighborhoods. Dr. Victor Garcia, a trauma surgeon at Children's, said he helped organize the group after seeing children die for all sorts of reasons; but across the board, he said, a disproportionate number of them were children of color.

"Nobody's reaching out and trying to understand somebody else's walk in life and why they're going through what they're going through," group member Matthew Nichols said. "We can easily put that Band-Aid on there and say that everything is going to heal. But until we understand the core of that person, you'll never understand how to fix that issue."

7) The g******ed streetcar

This is a story that's just not going away, not even nearly a decade after City Council took its first vote on the project.

To expand, or not to expand? The triteness of that phrasing aside, it'll be a central question in local politics in 2017. Simpson favors expansion to Uptown; Cranley's approach is more wait-and-see how successful the first phase really is.

But, the number of factors that will determine whether or not the streetcar becomes and remains a viable transportation resource for the city center can be at best complicated and at worst mind-boggling, as previously reported. For example, there's not a one-to-one correlation between how many people ride the streetcar and how much revenue the streetcar generates, nor should fare revenue be considered the primary source of streetcar funding.

RELATED: Complete coverage of Cincinnati's streetcar

There also have been issues with the reliability of the streetcar's headways, or how long it takes a streetcar to show up at a particular stop after the last train left. On a weekday, A long wait is a big turnoff for potential riders. City and transit officials put (at least part of) the blame on a Downtown traffic signal system that gives priority to east-west traffic, while the streetcar primarily runs north and south. Many say Downtown is long overdue for a traffic study (there hasn't been one in the Central Business District since the mid-1990s), but the study would cost about $300,000.


So, should the city re-time its traffic lights to give the streetcar priority? Or give streetcar drivers the ability to hold a light green as they approach? Or maybe have more trains running overall (typically three of five are in service)? Those seemingly mundane issues could be major points of contention, given Cincinnati's divisive political theater.

8) Can FC Cincinnati keep packing 'em in?

FC Cincinnati's inaugural season was nothing short of stunning. How else could a soccer club in its infancy generate so much buzz it caught the attention of Major League Soccer?

But was it all just first-year hype? FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding and head coach John Harkes think not. They see pent-up demand for professional soccer in Cincinnati, and a loyal following that packed Nippert with record-breaking crowds seems to prove they're right.

Record-setting crowds for FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium have gotten the attention of Major League Soccer officials. Photo by Phil Didion | WCPO contributor

FC Cincinnati lost a star when league MVP Sean Okoli decided to return to MLS, where he began his career. But a large chunk of the club's roster will be the same in 2017: More than half of the 26 players committed to return, including fan favorite and USL Goalkeeper of the Year Mitch Hildebrandt. Berding said player continuity is critical to building the team's on-field chemistry; and, just as importantly, it gives fans a team they can grow to know and love.

The clubs also embarked on an ambitious effort to be part of MLS's expansion plans. Commissioner Don Garber pointed out FC Cincinnati is ahead of some clubs in that it already is planning a youth academy, and he said during his visit on Nov. 29 that the ownership group is "impressive." A $150 million expansion fee shouldn’t be a problem for Carl Linder’s group, but Garber has publicly questioned whether Nippert Stadium can be a long-term solution -- and finding a location in the urban core for a soccer stadium could be a challenge.

9) Ohio races

Expect the field of candidates to firm up next year for the 2018 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. Attorney General Mike DeWine has already said he's running, and other Republicans might include Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Secretary of State John Husted. The Democrats, looking for a comeback after a humiliating 2014 defeat, are still working on what's essentially a political farm system. Bottom line: It's not clear yet what candidate they might put up, but they'll surely be more well-vetted than party embarrassment Ed FitzGerald. Names floating around include U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, former state Rep. Connie Pillich, former Attorney General Richard Cordray, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni. (There's also been speculation that Cranley's conservative positions as mayor are to set him up for a gubernatorial run, but his spokeswoman says he's focused on his local race.)

Democrat Sherrod Brown is expected to seek re-election to his U.S. Senate seat; although Republican Donald Trump won Ohio in the 2016 presidential race, don't think that spells doom for Brown, whose trade and economic positions were always more blue-collar populist than Hillary Clinton's. He'll face a challenge from Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who lost to Brown in 2012, or U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, expected to put his name in the GOP primary as well.

---'s John Fay, Pat LaFleur, Lucy May, Greg Noble, Laurel Pfahler and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.