John Cranley, Speed Racer!

Nov 16, 2013

Light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second.

Cincinnati’s mayor-elect, John Cranley, has been pushing that speed limit in the 12 days since he won a landslide victory in a low-turnout election.

He has put together a seven-member majority of the new nine-member council to convince the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati to back off issuing $85 million in bonds for the long-term lease of Cincinnati’s parking meters and five city garages – a deal that would have put that money into the city’s coffers as an upfront payment.

And, on Wednesday, he convened a hasty press conference to announce that he had talked to City Manager Milton Dohoney and that they had mutually agreed that Dohoney – current mayor Mark Mallory’s right-hand man – would leave his job on Dec. 1, the day the new mayor and council are sworn into office.

And he has been pushing forward on his plan to kill the $133 streetcar construction, even though the jack-hammering and track-laying continue in the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine. And the new mayor is starting to get some serious push-back from streetcar supporters.

“And he’s doing all of this without any statutory power whatsoever,’’ said Gene Beaupre of Xavier University, a long-time observer of the Cincinnati political scene. “It’s pretty amazing.”

The official results of the Nov. 5 election haven’t even been certified yet (don’t fret, Cranley fans, certification isn’t going to change the result of a 16 percentage point win), and Cranley has been playing the role of Road Runner to the opposition’s Wile E. Coyote from the moment his opponent, Roxanne Qualls, conceded the contest on election night.

The office of president of the United States obviously has considerably more power and weight to it that does the office of mayor of the city of Cincinnati.

But a newly-elected president has between 10 and 11 weeks from the November election to the January 20th inauguration to put together the makings of a new cabinet and administration.

The new mayor of the city of Cincinnati has 26 days to prepare before he has to stand up in council chambers and take the oath of office.

Lots to do. Places to be. People to see. Decisions to be made.

Cranley is letting no moss grow under his feet.

Cranley ran a mayoral campaign on essentially two issues – the streetcar and the parking. It was a very simple message – Streetcar, bad. She’s for it. I’m against it. Same for the parking lease agreement – parking lease bad. She’s for it. I’m against it.

Nice, neat little messages - easy to fit into a 30-second TV spot.

Qualls had a more difficult task – she had to defend those initiatives; and that is very hard to do in 30 seconds.

Given the fact that only 28.84 percent of the city’s approximately 203,000 voters bothered to show up for the Nov. 5 election, Cranley came away with something of a mandate with his 58 percent showing – and with a newly-elected city council which appears to have a majority ready, willing and able to go along with his agenda, at least for the time being.

“What you have now is a city council that has not coalesced around anything except the agenda that John Cranley promoted,’’ Beaupre said.

And, as Beaupre pointed out, they have every reason to go along with him at this point. One of the powers of the new mayor is to choose a vice mayor and council committee chairs; and the new council doesn’t want to get on the new mayor’s bad side. Cranley said Wednesday night those plums will be passed out before the new council is sworn in on Dec. 1.

That may explain, in part, why seven of the nine members of the new council were willing to sign the letter to the Port Authority asking that the parking lease agreement be spiked. And the Port Authority is made up of sober-minded, practical people who didn’t feel like they could win an argument with a new mayor who has seven of nine council members behind him.

Dohoney’s dismissal is easier to understand.

Mallory chose Dohoney in 2006; and he has steadfastly pursued Mallory’s agenda – especially when it comes to issues like the parking lease and the streetcar.

Somewhat disingenuously, Cranley suggested during the campaign that, if he were elected, Dohoney was free to apply for the job of city manager.

Well, that idea lasted all of eight days. The two met; and clearly Dohoney was given two options – resign or be fired.

Dohoney chose to resign; and take his one year of severance pay.              

And now Cranley is free to go out and find someone who will carry out his agenda. Once Cranley was elected, Dohoney was a goner.

Cranley plans, too, to scuttle the $133 million streetcar project. That may prove to be a bit more difficult, although he appears to have a council majority willing to go along with him.

The digging for the track goes on daily downtown and in Over-the-Rhine. The city has spent about $25 million on the project so far.

Right after the election, Cranley spoke to Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, about the possibility of the federal government re-allocating the $44.9 million it has committed to the streetcar to other Cincinnati projects.

Thursday, though, Mallory came out waving a letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation saying that if the city abandons the streetcar, the federal money must be returned – including about $2.4 million that has already been spent.

Ruh-roh, as Astro, the Jetsons’ faithful pup, would say.

And there are hundreds of Cincinnatians who packed a pro-streetcar meeting at the Mercantile Library Thursday night, demanding the project go forward. Many of those people are talking about circulating petitions for a referendum on the streetcar; and business people who bought property and opened businesses along the streetcar route could end up going to court if the city ends the project.

So far, though, this new mayor who isn’t mayor yet has gotten his way.

But, as any experienced politician can tell you, that doesn’t last forever.