Cranley, Simpson Spar Over Transportation, Development

Sep 12, 2017

Cincinnati's mayoral candidates, incumbent John Cranley and challenger Yvette Simpson, spent an hour in a roomful of business leaders Tuesday taking rather low-keyed swipes at each other.

Their differences were over such issues as regional transportation, the streetcar, the Children's Hospital Medical Center expansion and development issues.

It was a forum sponsored by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and the Cincinnati Business Courier at Smale Riverfront Park's Anderson Pavilion.

And, while the candidates broke no new ground in their running dispute, they made their differences clear on a number of issues.

One of the most glaring differences between the two Democrats is on the Cincinnati streetcar and the financially ailing Metro system run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA).

SORTA is facing a possible $31.3 million operating deficit next year.

Cranley supports a proposal to fund the Metro bus system with a half cent increase in the county sales tax. Now, the system is funded through the city of Cincinnati's earnings tax. That funding source would be eliminated if voters passed a sales tax hike.

Simpson said the sales tax hike Cranley supports "only gives us the status quo."

"It does not increase the frequency or the routes for our transit system,'' Simpson said. "So we've got to look at a different level of maybe additional resources so that we can have a better bus system, not the one that we have now."

Cranley accused Simpson of avoiding taking a position on how to fund the Metro system.

"I don't believe she answered the question as to what tax or how you are going to pay for it,'' Cranley said. "The fact is, increasing public transportation is a huge priority for this region. And you have to have a real plan."

And, of course, the subject of Cincinnati's streetcar came up.

Cranley has opposed it from the start, but says that now that it is here, it could be integrated into the regional transit system. But he adamantly opposes expanding the streetcar.

Simpson, on the other hand, leaves the door open to expanding the streetcar route beyond Over-the-Rhine and Downtown; and she, too, sees it as a part of an overall transit system for the region.

Cranley said talking about the expansion of the streetcar makes no sense, given the problems of the bus system.

"I believe that the lack of bus service, the frequency of it throughout the region, is so significant that that should be the priority before we talk about expanding the streetcar,'' Cranley said.

Simpson said Cranley's view of the streetcar has been short-sighted.

"Instead of spending lots and lots of time railing against the most significant transit infrastructure project, we could have been talking about how we integrate the streetcar into a bus system."

On another subject, Cranley was highly critical of Simpson and her fellow council member, Wendell Young, for filing a last-minute motion in August to force Children's Hospital Medical Center to contribute an additional $14 million to the neighborhood of Avondale because of a $550 million expansion project that has many Avondale residents upset.

The hospital had already committed $11 million to the neighborhood.

Council rejected the Simpson-Young motion on a 5-4 vote.

Cranley asked Simpson why, earlier this week, she voted to support a $300 private development to create new student housing near the University of Cincinnati but opposed an expansion by the non-profit hospital.

Simpson said she supported the Trinitas development because it took an empty building and turned it into something useful housing for students.

"The Children's Hospital situation is a very different situation,'' Simpson said. "It was an opportunity to get it right in the Avondale corridor and we will have to get it right,'' Simpson said.