Mayoral debate: Candidates take aim at one another ahead of primary

Mayoral debate: Here's what the candidates said
Posted at 1:15 AM, Apr 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-11 10:00:31-04

CINCINNATI -- From public transportation to crime and neighborhood revitalization, Cincinnati's mayoral candidates were eager to tout their leadership records and take jabs at each other during a Monday evening debate.

The face-off marked the third debate among candidates Cincinnati Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, former University of Cincinnati board chair Rob Richardson and Mayor John Cranley ahead of a May 2 primary vote.

Hosted by WCPO, Radio One and the Cincinnati chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the event was held at the Cincinnati Art Museum and moderated by WCPO anchor Tanya O'Rourke. Candidates spent 90 minutes responding to a series of wide-ranging questions posed by WCPO digital reporter Paula Christian, Electronic Media Professor Hagit Limor and WDBZ talk show host Lincoln Ware.

Here are some of the highlights:

The jabs among candidates began early.

In response to the debate's first question about lackluster voter turnout in mayoral races, Richardson used his time to criticize Cranley for the city's firing of former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell.

"The mayor put a lot of pressure on the former police chief and blamed every single problem that was going on, on chief Blackwell, and then he embarrassed him publicly," said Richardson, a former University of Cincinnati trustee. "That's not what leaders do. Leaders find solutions. They work together."

"I will never play politics with Cincinnati's safety," Cranley responded, adding that he fully supported Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black's decision to fire Blackwell following reports of emotional abuse of city workers. "We've added 100 cops. In fact, the (Fraternal Order of Police) are supporting my campaign because they know I won't put politics over safety."

As the debate turned to public transportation, the candidates dug in deeper.

When asked whether they would support an expansion of the streetcar into Uptown and how they would pay for it, the candidates had this to say:

Simpson: "Our transit system isn't working, and we can do better. We should connect Uptown, Reading Road and crosstown routes, but guess what -- that's not going to happen overnight. We need big vision if we want to be a big city. And I'm the leader that's going to take us there."

GALLERY: Tanya O'Rourke moderates Cincinnati mayoral debate

Richardson: "Our priority is not going to be just the streetcar. It's first going to be updating our bus system. ... That's something that both incumbents have failed to do. We have 75,000 jobs inaccessible to people all across the city. That's something that's been accepted by the incumbents because they have no policy. They have no vision."

Cranley: "If you noticed, they didn't answer the question as to how they would pay for it. Let me be clear: I oppose the extension of the streetcar because I have other priorities, which are safety, jobs, inclusion, neighborhoods."

When asked when neighborhood investment efforts -- like those that have revitalized Over-the-Rhine -- might show up Cincinnati's mostly black neighborhoods, Cranley said that work is already under way.

He touted the new Mercy Health headquarters in Bond Hill and redevelopment efforts under way in Walnut Hills and Avondale as examples of projects he's championed and supported.

"Other neighborhoods deserve their turn, which we have been trying to give them over the last three years," said Cranley.

Under her plan, Simpson said she would create a new fund that would be used for neighborhood redevelopment. Projects taken up under the fund would by led by nonprofit community-based development corporations.

"It would be neighborhood-focused projects from the start," said Simpson. "The challenge we have now is that the developer decides what neighborhood they go to, but if we start with the neighborhood, we can use the capital to entice developers to come in," she said. "We had something like it…, but it was cut by the Mayor when got into office."

Richardson said he would avoid allowing nonprofit developers similar to Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) to lead neighborhood revitalization projects like it has in Over-the-Rhine.

"3CDC pretty much has complete rule over all of Over-the-Rhine, where it's hard for anyone else to be included," he said. "I don't think that's a good model…. What that does is push people out of the neighborhood. That model is going to be replicated if these incumbents are elected. I will change it."

Watch the full debate in the video player below: