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Cranley, council sworn in; streetcar battle looms

Sunday was a day of celebration and promises of cooperation, as the new mayor, Democrat John Cranley, and nine city council members were sworn into office in dual ceremonies at City Hall and the National Underground Freedom Center.

Monday, the celebrating will be over and the spirit of cooperation that hung over Sunday’s event will be put to the test; as the new council confronts its most contentious issue – Cranley’s desire to stop the $133 million streetcar project.

The streetcar did not come up directly, either in Cranley’s 10-minute inaugural address or the shorter speeches made at the Freedom Center by the nine council members – three of whom are newly elected.

Cranley skated close to the streetcar issue when he said he would “focus less on building objects for the few and focus on building opportunity for all the people of the city of Cincinnati,’’ the 39-year-old former council member said at the Freedom Center.

“Cincinnatians can do miraculous things when they put their mind to it,’’ Cranley said, mentioning a long list of accomplishments from the creation of charter government in the 1920s to the building of The Banks and the revitalization of Washington Park in recent years.

And, he promised, there will be more, with a focus on neighborhood development – from the creation of the Wasson Way bike path, a new Westwood town square, “a safe Avondale,’’ a re-vitalized Evanston, a new grocery story in Clifton, “and on and on and on.”

“People have been writing off cities for decades; they say we can’t build a city of hope and opportunity,’’ Cranley said. “But I know that we can.”

Cranley said he wants to end a “cycle of poverty” that has resulted in Cincinnati having one of the highest rates of childhood poverty in the nation; and create a city “where there is at least one bread-winner in every family.”

“The quality of your life should not depend on your zip code,’’ Cranley said.

There were two swearing-in ceremonies – one at 11 a.m. in city council chambers required by the city charter and a second at 2 p.m. at the Freedom Center, which drew hundreds to the second floor atrium.

Six incumbent council members were sworn into office, this time for four year terms – Democrats Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach, and Yvette Simpson; independent, Christopher Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn.

Three new council members were sworn in Sunday as well – athough one of them, Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, served on council from 1974 through 1991 and had two stints in the mayor’s office.

Mann and the other two new council members, Republican Amy Murray and Charterite Kevin Flynn, said they believe they are joining a legislative body that can work through its disagreements.

“The process we will operate under is one of openness, transparency,’’ said Flynn, who will chair council’s rules committee. “We’re not always going to agree, but we are always going to have respect for each other. And I think this is all you can ask of the council.”

Murray said she believes this newly sworn-in council “while we will not always agree on everything, we can disagree without being disagreeable.”

That belief could be put to the test Monday, when a streetcar committee, created by Cranley and chaired by Mann, will meet and consider legislation to halt construction of the streetcar for at least 30 days while a cost-benefit analysis is done. It will be followed by a 4 p.m. special session of council.

There are at least five votes on council in favor of pausing construction – Murray, Smitherman, Winburn, Flynn and Mann. But Cranley would need a sixth vote to pass it as an emergency ordinance. Otherwise it would not take effect for 30 days.

That could give the hundreds of pro-streetcar people who rallied around Washington Park Sunday while the swearing-in ceremony was going on to mount a petition campaign to put a streetcar referendum on the Nov. 2014 ballot.

It would also mean construction would continue.

But if a five-member majority of council were to pass ordinance halting construction that included an appropriation of money related to the streetcar, it could prevent a referendum because appropriation ordinances are not subject to a vote by the public.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.