Efforts to build a modest streetcar line in Cincinnati are currently under assault by an odd alliance of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending or Taxes (COAST) — a vocal right-wing group affiliated with the so-called “Tax Day Tea Party” protests last month — and the local chapter of the NAACP, whose president, Chris Smitherman, is a political rival of mayor Mark Mallory. A coalition of these and similar groups are in the process of collecting petition signatures for a ballot initiative that would amend the city’s charter so that no public funds can be spent on rail transit within the city without holding a referendum.
There are reports in the blogosphere that members of this coalition are collecting signatures by verbally misrepresenting the nature of the petition, and harvesting hundreds of signatures in bars and nursing homes where people are either too drunk or too confused to know what they are signing. While I strongly encourage the city to pursue every means to challenge the legality of this petition, we have to assume that this initiative will end up on the ballot in November. It is crucial that it be defeated.
While such exercises in direct democracy sound good in theory, more often than not they devolve into mob rule as well-funded special interest groups are able to bypass elected representatives by whipping an ill-informed populace into a frenzy over any manufactured controversy. (See: Proposition 8 or any number of other ballot measures in California.) While other cities are aggressively pursuing federal stimulus funds to build and enhance their public transit, this charter amendment will make it impossible for Cincinnati to act quickly to secure federal funding, and the city’s efforts to rebuild its transit infrastructure — already sorely behind the times — will be set back even further. Although this particular campaign is driven in response to the proposed streetcar, it will also impact the city’s efforts to build a regional light rail system and serve as a destination for intercity passenger trains. A metropolitan area cannot compete in a global economy when its transportation infrastructure is being held hostage by an angry mob of teabag-waving troglodytes.
Cincinnatians for Progress is a political action committee recently formed to fight this odious charter amendment, and mayor Mark Mallory is the group’s chairman. I encourage you to check out their new website and show them some love. Sign up for email updates, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, volunteer your time, and/or send them some money.