Cincinnati Streetcar Foes Attempt to Revoke Urbanist Blogger’s Right to Vote

The voting rights of a single Cincinnati resident took center stage this week in the never-ending drama over the city’s under-construction streetcar.

Cincinnati blogger Randy Simes was forced to defend his right to vote this week in the face of conspiracy allegations by a Tea Party-affiliated anti-streetcar group. Image: ##http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/blog/2013/10/in-a-case-reeking-of-politics.html?s=image_gallery##Business Journals##

Members of the Tea Party-affiliated Ohio Voter Integrity Project filed a complaint with the local Board of Elections challenging the right of city resident Randy Simes to vote in Cincinnati while he is in South Korea on business. Simes is the owner of Urban Cincy, a pro-streetcar blog and member of the Streetsblog Network.

On Monday, good sense prevailed, and the Board of Elections made a 3-1 determination that yes, Simes does have the right to vote absentee in Cincinnati. Simes called the whole ordeal “a big fishing expedition” that was “politically motivated.”

Simes told Streetsblog that he was living in Chicago before he relocated to Korea, but he wanted to reestablish his residency in Cincinnati, his hometown, before beginning the two-year position. He plans to return to the city when he completes the assignment and live with a friend, whose address is where he is registered.

“This is legal for expats to do,” Simes told Streetsblog. “You just need to show some tangible connection to the place where you’re registering and an intent to return there upon completion of your assignment, both of which I have.”

Following the ruling, Simes told WCPO Cincinnati: “The facts spoke for themselves and the Hamilton County Board of Elections acknowledged that in their bipartisan ruling.”

Complainant Mary Seigel of the Ohio Voter Integrity Project was represented in the hearing by the lawyer who also represents the anti-streetcar group COAST. She claimed Simes should have been registered in Chicago, citing social media remarks made by Simes in the preceding months.

Members of COAST alleged on the group’s blog that Simes’ right to vote in Cincinnati is part of a conspiracy to benefit the financial interests of his employer, Parsons Brinkerhoff, a contractor on the streetcar project. It should be noted that Parsons Brinkerhoff employs some 30,000 worldwide and Simes has never worked on the Cincinnati Streetcar project. Also, the contract for the streetcar has already been awarded and can’t be affected by the results of this election cycle. But COAST’s theory seems to be that by voting for Democratic mayoral candidate and streetcar proponent Roxanne Qualls in the primary, Simes helped rig an electoral outcome that favors his employer. (Simes is a Qualls supporter, but other than casting his single vote, his only connection to the candidate is that he made a $50 donation to her campaign.)

“This Qualls supporter [Simes] was willing to risk a felony conviction and prison term to cast his vote for her and for his employer trying to buy yet another election,” COAST’s blog said.

If all of this sounds crazy, keep in mind that this week the city began laying streetcar tracks. At this point, halting construction of the project would actually cost the city more than completing it, but that hasn’t stopped Qualls’ chief rival, fellow Democrat John Cranley, from campaigning on that idea.

  • david vartanoff

    Maybe Cincinnati can only build the initial segment and then abandon it to join the never finished subway.

  • Anonymous

    Angie: This is Bill from Cincinnati. Excellent piece! Thanks for focusing on Cincinnati here in the run-up to our local election.

    – – – – –
    THE EASTERN CORRIDOR
    In addition to the streetcar construction, there are many big transportation/infrastructure issues on the table here, as you know. One of them is the Eastern Corridor project in Hamilton County (Cincinnati and close-in suburbs) and Clermont County (eastern suburbs).

    For some background on the perspective of the Madisonville community where I live (located in the City of Cincinnati, just off Exits 9 and 10 of the 71 freeway) as ODOT prepares to make more definitive plans here, here the comments to send to ODOT last night as part of their public-input process: http://goo.gl/DDcEpd.

    If this interests you, please contact me through Facebook, and perhaps we can talk. To summarize, this situation now is a classic case of communities (Madisonville and two nearby Cincinnati east-suburban communities: Mariemont and Newtown) pushing back against a massive plan for high-speed roads through their communities. You’ve written many excellent pieces about these kinds of issues from around the USA. If you care to “wade in” to the Eastern Corridor issue, now might be a good time to do it.

  • Sure. Let’s connect. If you hunt around on this blog you can find my contact info. I don’t want to post it cause spammers.

  • That would only happen if the streetcar (like the subway) was killed for purely political reasons.

  • Alan

    I have a lot of family from the area, and I remember we rarely went down to Cincinatti proper except to go to the Museum (maybe one day it will be a trian station again?!) and Izzy’s Deli. It’s been a couple of decades possibly since then but I’ve heard there is some great new development happening in neighborhoods like Over the Rhine. Definitely hope for success for the streetcar project and the future of the city.

  • UppityBlackWoman

    Most people still hate the streetcar. Just like most people didn’t want the Casino. But what “people” want versus what rich white business owners want means the people will get the shaft every time.

  • How exactly have people got “the shaft” from the Casino? It’s bringing more visitors to Downtown Cincinnati, and bringing more tax revenue to the city and state.

    Just like the streetcar will draw more residents, businesses, and visitors into Downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine. That will result in more tax revenue that can be spent in all 52 neighborhoods of the city.

    Also, now that the casino is open, you don’t see people proposing we take a wrecking ball to it. Likewise, the streetcar is now under construction and it is time for the opponents to move on.

  • UppityBlackWoman

    First, let me explain something. More people voted against the Casino than for it. The business interests who wanted the casino just had enough money to keep getting it put back on the ballot wearing everyone else down. But even in the previous year before the measure passed, more people voted against the casino than the entire number of people who voted in the election where it passed. The people who didn’t want the casino and who voted against it over decades, got the shaft.

    Every time rich white folks deem something is “For the Greater Good” we have to swallow it hook line and sinker. That’s why we’re stuck with two awful looking stadiums and a zillion practice fields taking up valuable and badly purposed riverfront property. It’s why The Banks project, even complete, is a shadow of what it should have been and still a farce. It’s why we got a worse than useless Convention Center expansion while tearing down a lot of the skywalk system that connected to it. It’s why we have a Casino when the majority voted against it. And it’s why we’re stuck with a streetcar that no one who actually lives where it’s going to affect their lives, actually wants. Talk about getting the shaft.

    All that being said the notion of “attracting people to business” downtown, “building a better downtown”, “increase traffic to the downtown corridor” has been a byword in Cincinnati for a long time regarding what ever the latest sink some money into a boondoggle that pushes out the poor and makes room for the rich – and oppresses any people of color by targeting them all as criminals to be dealt with instead of dealing with the real criminal elements and not leaving them to prey on poor communities and communities of color.

    The gentrification – the white-ification of Downtown Cincinnati is nothing to be proud of. Pushing people out of an area they’ve made home for decades and that the city ignored except to demonize while it was majority black – but it’s perfectly willing to put in the work of new storefronts, improved housing, streets, police when white folks want to be “urban pioneers” – is so hideously racist and unfair that it boggles the mind.

    Again, talk about getting the shaft.

    But hey, some folks have a place to go gamble and soon they’ll have a streetcar to get them there. Just remember – no one got the shaft to make it all happen.

    yeah right. And I’ve got a stadium to sell you.

  • If you have been paying any attention to downtown Cincinnati and OTR over the past five years, you know that these efforts are working. They’re working so well that private developers are going to be adding over 1,400 new apartments to the urban core over the next few years.

    And The Banks is not “complete”. Not even close. Phase 1A is complete. The overall development is about 1/4 complete.

    Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say in response to your post, since it’s completely unrelated to the topic that we’re supposed to be commenting on. Which is Tea Party voter suppression tactics.

  • It’s still a train station– hoping more trains go in and out, though.

  • UppityBlackWoman

    I know the efforts to push out poor and black people are working. That’s what I just said. It’s not addressing any of their issues, but getting them the hell out of the way has worked just fine.

  • If OTR redevelopment is only for white people, then why are the African American Chamber and Hispanic Chamber co-hosting an event called “The Streetcar: Ways to build wealth and business on the route”?

    https://www.facebook.com/HispanicChamberCincinnatiUSA/posts/10151927917734687

  • UppityBlackWoman

    Please explain to me what the African American and/or Hispanic Chamber have to do with the needs of every day people, particularly the poor and those who have been pushed out already? You’re kind of making my point. Business over people – never let it be said that everyone who is my color is my kind.

  • Anonymous

    The population of OTR has been in decline for 50+ years. Since before it was a black neighborhood. It’s preposterous to say that development is “pushing poor and black people out” when all you need to do is look up the census data to see that black people have been leaving OTR in droves since the 70s.

    If you want to solve the city’s problems it won’t be by ensuring the neglect and still more demolition of the city’s patrimony. That belongs to everyone – certainly not just the people paying rent – and represents a kind of physical and social capital that you can’t put a price on. The value to the city and the future of the city is immense.

    To put it in a nutshell, i’ve shown friends around the city and the reaction is usually some version of “holy sh*t, this is like if you took all of the awesome parts of San Francisco, Montreal and Pittsburgh, put them all together . . . and then let it fall apart because no gave a damn.”

    If you want to solve the city’s problem it will be with a minimum wage that’s a living wage. It will be with a real education system. It will be through home-ownership programs. It will be through regional planning efforts and revenue sharing that don’t allow the abandonment of neighborhoods to reach the size and scope of what we’ve seen in the past.

  • Anonymous

    So your solution is… what exactly? Keep the whole neighborhood downtrodden and falling apart to make sure the poor people inhabiting it now will be able to stay there at a cheap cost? That’s what you call progress, keeping living standards down because they were historically low and you want to preserve “traditions”?

    No way. Everyone benefits from efforts to redevelop inner city neighborhoods. The mixing of classes and races helps everyone, keeping the poor in one part of the city and the rich in the suburbs helps no one.

    I understand that redevelopment increases land and property values and may push some people out. That’s why you need regulations to insure new developments maintain a certain stock of low-cost apartments. But it doesn’t justify derailing any and all improvement projects because they increase the desirability and quality of life of the neighborhood.

  • UppityBlackWoman

    My solution is – don’t be racist and classist. Don’t act like poor white people and black people don’t deserve the same level of protection and service in a city that they pay taxes in just as rich people do.

    Ya’ll kill me with this “everyone benefits” crap. The original question to me was “who got the shaft in all this?” My answer is that a lot of people got the shaft, before and during this ongoing gentrification effort.

    The backhanded insult of “this neighborhood isn’t worth our attention until rich white people find it fashionable” is enough all by itself. It’s not about preserving “traditions”. It’s about hypocrisy and just plain pushing people out when they no longer serve your political purpose.

    Just like the fight with the Anna Louise Inn which hasn’t bothered anyone for 100 years. Suddenly Western Southern wants their land and historic building – out they go. It’s hideously wrong, but hey, it’s only a few people who aren’t rich, who cares about them?

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry to say but your position makes no sense.

    If services aren’t provided to the poor, then that’s bad, classist and racist (I agree).

    But if money is spent to provide services on the poor, like, you know, a streetcar… then those services make the neighborhood more attractive and attract a new kind of resident, richer and whiter. And that’s bad! Because… well, it seems that the desire for monocultural and monoracial neighborhoods isn’t reserved just for rich suburban white folks. Strange that geographical racial and class-based segregation is sometimes as desired by those on the bottom as by those on the top.

    It isn’t because a neighborhood is gentrifying that investments flow in… It’s because investments flow in that it is gentrifying! And those investments make the place more desirable for residents and businesses, bringing in a different kind of people. Of course rundown tenements and abandoned housing are going to be bought by developers to redevelop into more expensive places if the place is more desirable.

    The only way to keep the neighborhood just as poor and just as minority is to either block any proposed investment in the place (which you are trying to do here) to keep it just as rundown as ever and thus repulse any developer and middle class people interested in it for its location, or put strict limits to ban any development in it no matter how much investment you put it, which would be insane.

    I think the compromise is to make the investments, let the developers come, but impose restrictions on projects that they include low-cost housing units to make sure that the people who live there now can choose to continue living there and won’t be pushed out by the dearth in affordable housing.

  • Joe R.

    That’s all good and well if the housing is truly affordable, as in 25% or less of your after tax income. In NYC I’ve seen so-called affordable housing units which are anything but. I’m talking about rents coupled with income guidelines which require people to pay close to half their after tax income for rent. There are good reasons the traditional guideline for rent has always been 25% of your post-tax income or less. You just don’t have enough to get by if its much higher than that.

  • UppityBlackWoman

    Yes, because the poor were clamoring for a streetcar to take them to Reds games, Bengals games, the casino and a Main Street pub crawl. Talk about an argument making no sense.

    As far as your compromise of low income and low-cost housing units – that ship has sailed. Most of the long-time residents have already been pushed out.

    What you fail to realize is that there was no need for it “to stay as run down as ever” even when poor people lived there. That was a choice the city made, not the people. It was a choice made by racism, stereotypes and just plain callousness when it comes to dealing with crime and other issues that plague poor neighborhoods.

    You just don’t get it. But honestly, I’m tired of arguing with blindly racist people who don’t give a damn, but will argue the rich and white is right position regardless of who it hurts.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t get it because there’s nothing TO get. If the city had put a lot of money and effort into bringing the neighborhood up, it would have just started to gentrify even earlier.

    A streetcar will get people to the downtown jobs and services, and bring more people to the neighborhood, increasing job opportunities.

    I don’t know if you get a self-righteous kick out of calling people racist and not listening to what they say, because otherwise I find it hard to understand why you keep doing it all the time.

  • Nathanael

    Currently there’s six trains a week, three east and three west. Yeah, it could use a lot more trains….

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