City Council rejects Cranley's first nomination for new transit board

CINCINNATI -- City Council rejected Wednesday Mayor John Cranley's first appointment to the new transit authority board of trustees, Rayshon Mack.

After more than a half-hour debate, the council voted 6-3 not to confirm Mack's appointment to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's governing body. The city of Cincinnati is allotted seven appointments to the 13-member board. The other six appointments come from the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, three of which represent neighboring counties, Butler, Clermont and Warren -- one appointee from each.

After remarks from Cranley encouraging the council to approve his appointment, rookie Council member Greg Landsman was the first to express hesitation at Mack's appointment.

Landsman told the council he's a "no" vote, "in the spirit of collaboration and healing.

"We need leaders who lift people up and solve problems... I suspect most if not all of them don't have Twitter that disparage black leaders, our friends in labor and who volunteer at City Hall."

Mack is a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital/Tri-Health who has made a reputation as being outspoken in the city's political circles. He's also a daily bus rider.

He acknowledged that he sometimes gets heated in debates on the social media site.

"We all get a little over-passionate on Twitter," he told the council during Wednesday's meeting. "I've seen many elected officials...do and say the exact same things.

"At the end of the day, I take full responsibility for everything that I say, but what troubles me more is that no one on this council has come to me and asked me anything about Metro," he said. "I would think those would be the substance of the matter."

Cranley and Mack's other supporters on council said this was an example of politics getting in the way of bus riders' best interests.

"I worry about imposing an ideological test on this vote," Cranley said. "We have to build bridges to those who don't think like us to move on issues like this."

One of the issues Mack has been particularly outspoken about on social media: the streetcar.

A screen shot of Rayshon Mack tweeting about recent weather-related mechanical issues with the streetcar. (Courtesy of Twitter, click or tap to see tweet).

"I didn't know opposing the streetcar was a disqualifier," Cranley said, saying the streetcar wasn't a part of his discussions with Mack leading up to the appointment.

"It just wasn't relevant to this appointment," he said.

Despite some board members trying to divorce SORTA's relationship with the streetcar late last year, the transit authority voted to maintain its oversight of streetcar operations on the city's behalf, per its original agreement with City Hall.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman praised Mack's nomination because he believed he would bring a new voice to the board.

"I don't want a 'yes' person. I want someone who is willing to challenge what comes before them."

Cranley later chimed in agreement: "Having someone who hasn't been drinking the Kool Aid on the streetcar might be beneficial," he said.

But Mack's presence on Twitter was too much to handle for the majority of City Council.

Council member David Mann read a tweet from Mack dated Jan. 15, which read, "We can also show folks like (Council members) Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld that just because you claim to have a moral heart and your tongue isn't as loose as Trump's, the economic policy that impacts the black community is just as racist as Trump's words."

No tweets under Mack's handle prior to Jan. 17 were retrievable from Twitter as of this writing, but Mack referred to Seelbach as a "racist White Liberal" in a tweet after the council member criticized his colleague Jeff Pastor for missing a budget committee meeting in order to attend a recent speech by President Donald Trump in Blue Ash. The criticism prompted a short, online spat between the two council members, with others chiming in.

The comments toward Seelbach were more than Mann could tolerate.

"In the spirit of Mr. Landsman, I cannot support you. You're disqualified. It's obvious," he said.

For Council member Wendell Young -- also a 'no' vote -- the issue came down to how Mack's nomination was dividing council.

"I'm getting the impression that this is the only bus rider we could find," Young said, responding to Cranley's advocating Mack's daily bus ridership as criteria for his appointment. "There are a lot of people who ride Metro... I suspect that there are other people who could be nominated who don’t bring with them the history or baggage that Mr. Mack brings with him."

After the appointment failed to earn council's confirmation, Cranley looked into the crowd at Mack and said, "I'm sorry."

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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