Raising Change

Much has been made recently about how much money the City Council & Mayoral candidates have raised for their respective campaigns.

In fact, much is made during EVERY election cycle about how much money candidates have raised.  And, in some ways, for good reason.  We have all been taught, from the earliest of ages, to base our perceptions, plans, and policies on the amount (or lack thereof) of cold, hard cash that we have in hand.  Campaigns, like everything in our Country, cost money – and money, in and of itself, is not a bad thing – nor is raising a large sum of money for a campaign.  However, equating efficiency & effectiveness to the bottom line on a balance sheet, or judging someone’s campaign prowess on the numbers immediately following a dollar sign, is misguided, at best.

The media loves to announce & analyze how much money politicians have raised for their campaigns.  In fact, I have seen more news in the Enquirer about campaign financing in the City Council race than I have on where Council candidates stand on the issues.  True, I HAVE seen issues get some press time, even if those issues are only parking and the streetcar.  What I would love to see, as a voting citizen, is more news on other issues facing our City – like the debilitating lack of affordable housing in our City core that is the number one contributor to homelessness, desperation, and poverty – and where each of the candidates stand on pressing issues like the aforementioned.

A question begs to be asked:  For whom are data dealing with campaign financing printed?  From late in my high school career until the present day, I have always felt that these numbers were aimed at piquing the interest of a very specific demographic – namely, those concerned with their candidate’s ability to raise money.  Your guess is as good as mine as to who these folks are, but I have long held the belief that they are not representative of the average citizen who is just trying to make ends meet.

Take, for example, my friend Jeremy at Lower Price Hill Community School.  Jeremy, age 25, just received some good news, he passed his GED (it should be noted that he scored a 678 – a truly remarkable score for the GED).  When I asked him what was next, he simply stated, “find a better job.”  When pushed to consider college, Jeremy stated, quite matter-of-factly, “I cannot afford to go to college.”  When it was suggested that Jeremy could get grants or loans, my young friend repeated, “I cannot afford to go to college.”

Jeremy, fresh off the heals of nailing the GED, has already resigned himself to staying put in his socioeconomic class because upward mobility strikes him as something impossible and, therefore, not worth his time.  Every time I have a conversation like this, I hurt inside.  And I feel as if I have these conversations far too often with my friends.  I am a firm believer in Hope, but who am I to tell someone who has been told he/she isn’t worth anything his/her whole life that he/she should just keep on trying?  Nevertheless, I carry on and I DO keep telling my hopeless friends to keep fighting for the life that they want to achieve.

Jeremy, it should be noted, is but one example of a large population of those living in Cincinnati.

20% of those living in the City of Cincinnati live in poverty – and one in every four children reside below the Federal poverty line.

According to page 36 of PLAN Cincinnati, the neighborhoods of Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, Paddock Hills, Lower Price Hill, Sedamsville, Riverside, East Price Hill, South Fairmount, North Fairmount, Corryville, Clifton Heights, Avondale, Bond Hill, and others have a population that has a poverty rate over 30% (in at least half of those areas the rate is over 40%).

There are only THREE neighborhoods in the City that have a poverty rate that is below 10%.

The very same City-sponsored study claims that the “average daily enrollment for [Cincinnati Public Schools] was 32,525 students, or 63% of all students in the city. . .and 69.8% were economically disadvantaged” (PLAN, pg. 37).

Without belaboring the point, what I would like to see is our media outlets (local AND national) report on how candidates (local, State, AND Federal) feel about these humbling statistics.  After all, the audience for whom campaign financing stats are printed are but a minority within our City’s limits – and those who make up our broad base of citizenry never hear what THEY want to hear – i.e., how will our Council candidates help provide more jobs for us?, or how will our Council candidates create a community that supports education for ALL of Cincinnati’s citizens?, or which of these Council candidates actually understands the issues facing those bearing the burden of poverty, and what will he/she do to help alleviate some of that strain?

People have told me (for years) that many of those with whom I have worked my entire life (the poor & destitute) are apathetic and never vote.  Those who tell me this often assume this fact is a direct result of the “laziness” and “complacency” in poverty-stricken communities.  I am here to tell you that this assumption is false on every single level.

The reason that many of our low-income brothers & sisters do not vote is because they have never seen one single elected official defend them, draft policy on their behalf, or truly understand what their daily struggles are like.  Take my friend Earl for example.  Earl cooked at the Drop Inn Center for twenty-plus years until he got ill and retired.  Earl, even though he worked his whole life, still lives in poverty – and he has lived in poverty under George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  Who holds the seat in DC means very little to Earl’s life.  Now, to those making enough to be considered “middle class” or higher, then yes, who the President is matters – at least economically speaking.

The message I send to my low-income brothers and sisters is THIS:  Who your local elected leaders are will have a demonstrable effect on your daily life.  This is a message I have been sending since I first began rehabbing buildings for affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine over twelve years ago.  And it is a true message.  While ALL voting matters, to those who find themselves in near impossible situations in our City – and I am talking about a large portion of our citizens – local elections matter more than federal because local leaders will make decisions that impact their lives right here, right now.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Or, to put it another way – did the rat race of campaign financing come first, or did the media’s number lust arise on the scene sometime earlier?  Are my fellow candidates and I victims of Dr. Frankenstein’s master plan to divert our attention away from what really matters; resigned to simply focusing on balance sheets?  Have we become the proverbial “Monster” roaming around from town to town looking for the next dollar while thousands of our citizens live in poverty?  Has the pressure from the media forced all of us to compete over financing AND the issues, as opposed to what truly matters?

I don’t think so.  I DO think that the media puts this pressure on us, but I do NOT think that the vast majority of candidates with whom I am running buy into all of this.  Do the readers?  Again, I do not think that the majority of them do.  I think the readers would rather see what the Council candidates believe and plan to do once elected.  There is plenty of issues-based reporting for the Mayoral race (albeit mostly focused on, once again, streetcars & parking), but us Council candidates only get mentioned in the same breath when it comes to financing.

I am pleased to run with this amazing group of folks seeking a seat on City Council this year.  However, I am also somewhat taken aback at the hours spent on talking about money in this, and every, political race.  I, for one, have left Frankenstein’s Castle, and feel free to roam the woods in search of new friends.

If I do anything in this race aside from win, it will be to force the hands of the headline makers to discuss issues that impact our entire City – and not just those issues that are forced upon us to divert our attention away from what really matters. . . . .the people.

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