Mayor Mark Mallory, quickly coming to the close of his eight years as Cincinnati mayor, used a combination of serious talk, comedic one-liners, videos and slide shows Tuesday night to make the case that he has helped turned a struggling city around.
Before a crowd of about 200 invited guests on a set dressed like a living room at Over-the-Rhine’s Ensemble Theatre, Mallory talked for an hour and five minutes about the legacy he leaves when he vacates the mayor’s office Dec. 1.
“Well, a lot of people think I want my legacy to be the streetcar, that is not the case,’’ said Mallory, a Democrat elected in 2005 and re-elected four years later. “You may think I want my legacy to be The Banks or the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine or the progress we made in communities around the city.
“That is not what I want,’’ Mallory said, striding back and forth across the stage. “I simply want my legacy to be that I said I was going to change the direction of the city of Cincinnati and we did that.”
When he took office eight years ago, the Democratic mayor said, “the city was stuck in neutral.”
“Our city’s progress had stalled,’’ Mallory said. “While the rest of the region was moving forward, Cincinnati was being left behind. We were straining to keep up with business growth and job opportunity across the river. We were losing cultural events and losing business.
Cincinnati, Mallory said, “had been making the national news for all the wrong reasons.”
Mallory pointed to The Banks development as a success story.
Two days after he became mayor, he said, the developer Hamilton County had chosen to do The Banks project pulled out. Then-county commissioner Phil Heimlich asked him to stand with him at a press conference announcing the deal had fallen through.
“Lots of people told me, ‘to let the project go,’’’ Mallory said. “Let it die of its own weight and let the county take the blame for the failure. I said, no, that is not leadership.”
In the end, a third developer, Carter-Dawson, was brought in and the project was finally underway.
Mallory said the first phase of The Banks is complete “and it is hot,” with 300 apartments, 80,000 square feet of retail, 12 restaurants and a police station. The second phase, with 300 more apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail, will break ground by the end of the year, Mallory said.
The mayor used humor to win over what was already a friendly crowd, showing a video of him appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel show after uncorking an incredibly wild ceremonial first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day game in 2007.
Mallory said little about one of the most controversial projects he has initiated – the $133 million streetcar project that will loop from the riverfront to Findlay Market.
Instead, he showed a video featuring John Schneider, the principal person who pushed for the streetcar, and businessman Otto Budig Jr., extolling Mallory’s commitment to the project.
Roxanne Qualls, Mallory’s vice mayor and his endorsed candidate to replace him, sat in the front row. Qualls’ opponent, former councilman John Cranley, was not at the speech.
Mallory touched on a variety of subjects in his multi-media presentation, including:
- Crime, which he said has been going down in recent years. He cited the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) program, which has seen homicides fall by 41 percent and shootings by 22 percent since it began in 2007.
- The city budget: Mallory said the city’s workforce has been reduced by 11 percent since he took office; and said that the city managed to balance its budget without laying off firefighters or police officers. He said the city has seen its reserves increase from $39 million in 2005 to $50 million in 2013.
- Neighborhood investment: Mallory rattled off a list of housing projects that have been built during his term in office in Avondale, Clifton Heights, Northside, Price Hill, Madisonville and Evanston – 1,127 housing units in all.
In wrapping up his remarks, Mallory said the legacy of the past eight years “is the change in attitude.”
“And so, the legacy is not mine, it is yours, Cincinnati,’’ Mallory said. “You are the ones who have changed.”
The city has “returned to our heritage – a can-do city,’’ Mallory said. “Making national headlines, making international headlines, now for the right reason. You, Cincinnati, created the buzz.”