Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley says he's proud of the way the city responded to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Cranley's State of the City address is being released as online videos this week.
"2020 was one of the most challenging, difficult, tragic years that I've lived through, and I know almost all of you as well have suffered in very many ways," Cranley began the address.
Cranley recalled the decision to furlough about 1,700 city employees last spring.
"We were also worried that revenues would drop much faster than the savings. And therefore, not only would we not be able to bring those folks back, but we might have to make permanent layoffs or other furloughs going forward," Cranley told WVXU. "So it was really one of those scary, scary moments where you're just looking into the abyss and you're not sure how far it's going to go down before you hit bottom."
But revenue exceeded expectations, allowing all furloughed workers to return. And council approved a budget last summer that included no layoffs or furloughs despite a massive deficit.
This is the last year of Cranley's eight-year term. He says he's focused on addressing last year's increase in homicides, vaccine distribution and reducing racism through economic empowerment.
Cranley says the pandemic contributed to last year's record-high 90 homicides.
"A lot of the undercover work, a lot of the task force that we use to break up repeat violent offenders, gang units, that kind of stuff, were put on hiatus because of fear of COVID, meaning to the officers as well as to information sources in a community. And that had a huge consequence."
The city had record low gun violence in 2018 and 2019, and Cranley says they'll rely on proven methods to replicate those reductions. New efforts include the Gun Crimes Task Force, which meets every day.
Lt. David Scofield is the task force supervisor. He says in one of the State of the City videos that the team gets a briefing every morning.
"Let's say, for instance, we had a shooting in the West End the night before," Schofield said. "We'll generally try to go to that area to try to get in front of and combat any potential retaliatory violence that may occur, and try to quell the issues that might be going on in the community that might lead to gun violence."
Schofield says over the last four months, the Gun Crimes Task Force has seized 260 illegal guns.
Last year the city saw unprecedented protests in the months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Cranley says the city has made significant progress in police-community relations, and his focus is on building up and expanding the Black middle class.
"When I got elected, about 2% of city contracts went to African American-owned businesses," Cranley said. "Now it's routinely 11%, a fivefold increase. We can still do more."
Cranley says he's working on a new economic empowerment program with the African American Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League and the Minority Business Accelerator. He hopes to announce those plans in the next couple of weeks.
Watch the first two videos in the State of the City series below: