Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley promised a lot of action in his first State of the City address Thursday night - less gun violence, a greater emphasis on basic services to the neighborhoods and a reduction in the number of Cincinnati residents living in poverty, among other things.
And, Cranley promised, a city that is even more fun to live in than it is now. He went so far as to say he is appointing an unpaid, volunteer “Commissioner of Fun” for the city.
Before a crowd of about 700 in the Music Hall ballroom, Cranley in his 33-minute speech said progress has been made on all fronts since he took office last December, but laid out an ambitious agenda to tackle what he calls unfinished business.
About 29 percent of Cincinnatians were living below the federal poverty rate between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Cranley said he plans to tackle the problem with what he calls “The Hand Up Intiative.”
“Too many Cincinnatians still live below the poverty line,’’ Cranley told the crowd.
“During the next four years, our goal is to transition 4,000 Cincinnatians from living in poverty to living in a household with at least one full-time provider,’’ Cranley said. “If successful, that will represent a five percent reduction in the poverty rate.”
The Hand Up Initiative, he said, will provide short-term employment “that will put real money in people’s pockets while giving them the skills needed to help them find full-time employment.”
The mayor said he would present his anti-poverty plan to Cincinnati City Council for approval in the next few weeks.
Council members were seated up front in the ballroom, as was Cranley’s hand-picked city manager, Harry Black, who took office Sept. 8.
There are places in Cincinnati where the city has made too few efforts in recent years to improve the quality of life – the city’s 52 neighborhoods.
“Our city’s renaissance will only be complete when it includes a neighborhood renaissance,’’ Cranley said.
Public safety is the most important priority for the neighborhoods, the mayor said.
From 2009 to 2013 – which was the second term of the former mayor, Mark Mallory – the city reduced its police force by nearly 150 officers, or 13 percent of the total force. Homicides increased by 50 percent in 2013 over the year before, he said.
The homicide rate in Cincinnati got off to a “horrible start” this year. But he said he worked with city council to get the money for extra police overtime to target crime “hot spots.”
And, he said, he successfully pushed for funding for two new police recruit classes, while reviving the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV, which he said had been allowed to “wither on the vine.”
“Our work is paying off – so far this year, shootings are down by 17 percent citywide from the same period last year,’’ Cranley said. “With hard work and great effort, we will reduce the violence.”
The road pavement condition in Cincinnati neighborhoods has declined for five straight years and is “now worse than it has been in a generation.”
“Simply put, we haven’t been budgeting enough to keep our roads in good condition,’’ Cranley said.
As to the city’s chronic problem of struggling to fill budget shortfalls each year, Cranley said he has asked the new city manager to prepare a report to present short-term and long term solutions to the city’s budget problems.
It is likely that Black will use the 10-year plan he helped develop as Baltimore’s finance director to deal with that city’s long-term budget problems.
Cranley got a laugh from the audience when he said that “we need more fun in Cincinnati.”
“Fun transcends politics,’’ Cranley said. “Fun makes one smile or giggle. Fun is good for the heart and for the soul. Fun is somehow related to love. Fun is – well, fun is fun.”
So, Cranley said, he was creating the unpaid office of “Commissioner of Fun” – a role to be filled by businessman Frank Wood, the creator of the annual WEBN fireworks at Riverfest. Wood’s job, Cranley said, will be to come up with “at least one fun idea for the coming year, and possibly more.”
“The Commissioner of Fun will not interfere with the fun we already have; he will not require an office at city hall; he will not draw a salary,’’ Cranley said. “He will do it just for the fun of it.”