Voters Overwhelmingly Reject Cincinnati Parks Levy
A controversial one mill levy for city parks that would have become a permanent part of Cincinnati’s city charter appeared headed for a resounding defeat Tuesday night.
In Tuesday night's unofficial vote count, the “no” vote on Issue 22 was 59 percent, with only 41 percent voting “yes.”
The pro-Issue 22 “victory party” at Jefferson Social at The Banks broke up early Tuesday night, with Mayor John Cranley, the architect of the plan, leaving before 11 p.m. and essentially conceding the race.
“We never wanted to raise taxes without permission from the voters,’’ Cranley told WVXU. “Obviously, we wish they had said yes. We are going to hear the voters and listen to what they said and not raise taxes.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of downtown, opponents of the tax levy were celebrating full-bore.
Lawyer Donald Mooney, one of the organizers of the opposition, said opponents are "suprised really" and called it a "classic David versus Goliath situation."
"What we did have was a lot of community energy, a lot of enthusiasm for our parks and concerns about plans that people were worried about,'' Mooney said. "This gives us all an opportunity to figure out collectively as a community what we want to do with our parks. We want to preserve and protect them, as well as improve them."
Opponents – who organized a committee called Save Our Parks – had little money to spend but they managed to make the issue about Cranley, claiming in public forums that is was a power play by the mayor and more about pleasing his corporate backers and helping his 2017 re-election campaign.
There would have been no Issue 22 had it not been for Mayor Cranley and his allies launching a successful petition initiative campaign this summer.
This ballot issue was Cranley’s baby – from start to finish; and he became part of the controversy over it, with opponents claiming that he was just trying to create a giant “slush fund” that would boost his re-election chances in 2017.
Early on, Cranley was the visible spokesman for the effort in TV ads; and he, his wife and young son were prominently featured in a mail piece that went to Cincinnati voters.
But, as Cranley’s role became more controversial, the TV ads switched to a new spokesman – former TV anchor Clyde Gray, who launched his own public relations firm last year.
The ultimate irony in the argument that raged on for weeks over Issue 22 is that both sides agreed on a basic premise – that the city of Cincinnati has a very good park system, but one that needs more money for maintenance.
Opponents of Issue 22 – organized under the banner of Save Our Parks – argued that there are better ways to achieve that goal than to place a permanent one mill tax levy in the city’s charter. It was a levy, they said, that would create for Mayor John Cranley a pot of money to distribute around the city for projects that would benefit his campaign contributors.
Citizens for Cincinnati Parks, the pro-Issue 22 committee, raised nearly $650,000 through Oct. 14, compared to only $3,154 for the opponents’ committee, Save Our Parks.
The largest single donation to the pro-Issue 22 effort was $100,000, which came from the Uptown Consortium, a development agency focused on the area around the University of Cincinnati and the Uptown hospitals.
Major corporate donors chipped in as well, including Duke Energy ($50,000), Western & Southern Life Insurance ($50,000), Cincinnati Bell ($25,000), American Financial ($50,000) and The Kroger Co. ($50,000).
The largest contribution to Save Our Parks was $1,000 from the Audubon Society.