Ryan Messer, President of the Over-the-Rhine community council, recently wrote of the need for a party that represents “urban interests.” Such a party, he says, would be fiscally responsible but socially progressive. Messer, who recently married his partner in Washington Park and lives in the highly gentrified area south of Liberty Street, laments the fact that neither the Republican or Democratic party matches the interests of the “urbanists” in the city. Without a shred of irony, Messer describes the process that the basin has undergone over the last decade or so:
In the past, the urban core of a city was predominately [sic] poor and Democratic, but that’s changing as people nationally and locally are moving back to the inner city, driving up property values. Those who are willing to pay a half million dollars or more for a condo tend to lean fiscally right yet embrace such socially progressive issues as urban renewal, transit and same sex marriage. For which party should they vote? The answer, it seems, is neither.
He paints the transformation of Over-the-Rhine and the surrounding area as being of a natural origin, and that the new richer residents are moving in as a result of–not a constituent part of–that process. This description is tone-deaf to actual forces at play in more ways than one. His narrative is completely self-serving, Messer is a property owner and he has flaunted his class interests in the past. During the debate around the streetcar, Messer, a leader in the “Believe in Cincinnati” movement, made issue of the fact that his family’s financial interests were tied to the continuation of the project. He went so far as to threaten a lawsuit in order to “protect” his family’s investments along the proposed route. And in this latest opinion piece he ties Obama winning re-election in 2012 to his and his husband’s ability to file taxes jointly in 2014 (seeming to make the cause of gay marriage out to be over an economic relation, but that’s another discussion).
These show two great disconnects with reality. First, Messer ignores the fact that the majority of the non-voting electorate are the people he identifies as the traditional population of the urban core–“poor and Democratic.” Blacks make up about a 45% of Cincinnati’s population, and about 70% in OTR. This population has faced obstacles to actually being able to vote that harken back to the Jim Crow Era. Black men, disproportionately targeted by the racist and corrupt criminal justice system, the “New Jim Crow,” face high levels of disenfranchisement based on criminal histories, along with a slew of other setbacks coming out of prison that affect their ability to find housing, education and employment.
Even so, in the last presidential election Historic Black turnouts were a key indicator early on of an Obama victory. However, in the area of OTR north of Liberty, which still has largely black streets and is relatively untouched by the gentrification in the neighborhood’s southern half, voter turnout in the last presidential election was lower than black turnout overall (about 40% of registered voters in the precinct turning out, with 66% black turnout nationwide). But Messer’s focus is a different population, a wealthier, more conservative group, which have not been historically apathetic or disenfranchised in the political system in America. On the contrary, this group is representative of policy makers, now and historically.