My first question: What got you here? Why city council?
I felt like I was there with him as his eighth grade English teacher handed him the copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X and he devoured it in a matter of days. With passion in his eyes, he told me what it was like for him as a kid in a white suburb of Atlanta as he became aware of how privileged he really was. He talked about influences like Pearl Jam, and Cypress Hill, Spike Lee, and Boys in the Hood. He made his mother watch that movie with him, eventually insisting, "Mom, we HAVE to do something. People are LIVING LIKE THIS!"
"I was raised on a borderline of two different realities - city, diverse and exciting, and rural - (long pause) also exciting in a different way. The point is, I learned how to talk to all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds."
The other formative experience Mike talked (with fire) about was Choices Cafe. Choices (now closed) was a non profit cafe at 15th and Elm that was open for 5 years with the mission of 'bridging the gap between the affluent and the impoverished through education and service.'
Ultimately, through his experience at Choices, hundreds and hundreds of high school and college students ended up forming relationships with homeless and impoverished residents of the inner city. Powerful.
"What interests me in politics is the challenge. You're challenged to learn, study problems, listen to people, and figure out how to help. At the end of the day, you have the ability to make decisions that help people - thousands of people you may never even meet."
Mike, you're obviously an outsider to the Cincinnati political scene. Is that an advantage, or a disadvantage when competing against the career politicians here?
Look, I've worked on presidential campaigns, and am familiar with politics, but you're right - I AM an outsider. I've never been some politician's right hand man. I don't owe anyone and I don't plan to be in Washington, or Columbus. I want to be here in Cincinnati. My family is here, my parents just moved here. I don't need to be an insider to know how to help Cincinnati. Our campaign is focused on real people.
So, let's assume you've been elected, and it's the end of your first term in office. Will you run again? ("Oh yeah!") Will you become a career politician?
You know, I love the idea of serving the people here. I WILL run for reelection, but the highest I think I would want to go would be Mayor. I don't want to go to Washington. There's too much to do here.
Mike, one of the criticisms I've heard about you is that you don't know the system at City Hall. In order to operate effectively, you have to know how to negotiate and who to talk to. How do you plan to overcome that?
Good question. First off, it's not like I'm coming at this from left field. I have been endorsed by four city council members. I know who to call, and I know how to get things done. It isn't that hard to learn - especially if you're willing to roll up your sleeves and ask questions. Sometimes it's good to ask questions, it forces you to learn about new people and new things.
Let's switch to the subject of finance. First off: Is it important to you that the City have a structurally balanced budget? Is there a time (think fiscal emergency, or one-time big investment) when it might be ok to run a deficit temporarily?
I think it is absolutely important for the City to have a structurally balanced budget each year. I DO think that there may be extraordinary times where the City might need to use savings or one-time revenue sources, carryover funds, etc. in order to meet a need. There is no reason we should have been in deficit for over ten years. Finances are important, and we owe it to our citizens to stay balanced.
How would you fix the City's budget without damaging neighborhoods?
It's about smart cuts and it's also about smart investments. Let's look at safety: Everybody wants to see crime reduced, so there's lots of talk about 'don't cut police.' Well I love our police. They do an unbelievable job. They're a "reactive" tool though. If you only have reactive tools like this, then you'll never have enough. You have to have a balance of PROACTIVE crime prevention tools like community centers, parks, pools, health services etc. along with REACTIVE tools like police and fire. The city departments are GUTTED. There isn't much left to cut.
I would reverse the property tax abatement from 2001, it was a terrible idea. It cost the city 79.3 million dollars and that was money that should have gone to the neighborhoods. It was a tax break for mostly downtown property owners.
I'd keep the income tax at 2.1% but we really should try to lower it. Right now we get 70% of our revenue from income tax and 30% from property tax. That is backwards and hurts the city. Ideally, we would cut the income tax and get our property tax more in line with competing cities. The big dependence on income tax causes us to have huge swings in revenues with the economy.
You've proposed tax incentives to keep our big employers here. We don't have any money laying around - where do you propose we come up with extra cash to give P&G, Kroger, etc.?
Here are 2 ideas to start with:
Social Impact Bonds. We have the chance to be the 2nd or 3rd city in the nation to do this. The basic concept is that we give big companies the chance to invest in bonds. Those proceeds from those bonds are then used to build up social service programs that the city can no longer afford - BUT that make a huge impact in lowering crime. The bonds are structured so that if the target (let's say recidivism) goes down 10%, the investor breaks even. If it goes down more, then they actually MAKE MONEY. It's a smart way to incentivize private business to help make a difference.
Sell the City's stake in the Norfolk Southern rail line. We're the only municipality in the country that owns part of a railroad. I've seen estimates of $300 to $500 million that the city could expect to receive if it sold its ownership stake. If anyone has a compelling reason the city should continue to own part of a railroad, I'm certainly open to listen, but I would strongly recommend we evaluate if there's a better use of the money we have tied up in this.
Speaking of selling city-owned assets, what about the parking privatization plan?
The parking plan was a great idea as it was. I would love to see the proceeds go exclusively to new projects and development instead of plugging a budget shortfall, but it is what it is. We need to fix the budget structurally so we take care of the future, but at the same time, we have a big bill to pay. If I personally get a large tax refund, or a windfall, I like to save it or invest it. In reality though, if I owe money on a credit card or loan because I made a stupid decision, I think it's smarter to suck it up and pay off that debt so I can move ahead with a clean slate and a lesson learned. The city should do the same.
Look at Fountain Square parking - that's privately run and people love it. It's clean, well-lit, and well run. The city has no business running a parking business. They have proven that they cannot do a good job. If a private company is willing and able to do a better job, then the citizens should benefit. They deserve the benefit of receiving the money that the parking system is actually worth, instead of letting government continue to do a poor job of it. I don't always think private business is always the answer, but in this case, they have proven they can do it better and without tying up the city's assets.
COAST was a leading opponent of the parking deal - along with plenty more. What are your thoughts there?
COAST is an example of a self aggrandizing group that sacrifices the betterment of our citizens. They are great at doing things like unethically and illegally collecting signatures, filing taxpayer lawsuits that don't help the taxpayers (in fact, they end up COSTING the taxpayers more money). I don't want to talk about COAST because I don't have anything nice to say.
I'm going to challenge you on this. Let's talk about COAST. Why are you so fired up about them? If nothing else, they've been consistent in their positions over the years. In fact, depending on the issue, there are citizens and respected business leaders that (from time to time) have actually come down on the same side of an issue with COAST). Despite my own feelings on the matter, just because a group is consistently on the other side of an issue from you doesn't make them bad. You're getting fired up though, I can tell. Why?
How do I say this politely? Ok, I'll start by saying something positive. It's the only thing I have. They do serve as a gut check all the time, in the same way my buddy Josh Spring serves as a gut check. A lot of people don't like Josh, but he serves as a consistent gut check. COAST does that.
Now that I've said that, I'm not entirely convinced that Chris Finney (COAST founder) has the city's best interest in mind. To your point, SOME of the individuals working on their issues seem (maybe) to believe what they're saying. That was hard to say because I don't entirely believe it.
Most of the things they say are just completely irrational. The hateful things they do make me sick. From terrible things they've said of gay marriage. Nasty pictures of Chris Seelbach, of my friend Jens Sutmoller. I personally feel that the principal parties of COAST, more often than not, are out for themselves.
Why do people side with them? I think people side with them like people side with ANY small group that's really loud. It's easy to get behind something that sounds exciting, you get fired up. The source of my distaste for COAST is the manipulation of real human beings. They use the anger and passion of the citizens against the very same citizens. I get really really angry about COAST dispensing faulty information to the very people they claim to represent.
When I'm elected, one thing I'll do is to introduce legislation that says if you sue the city on behalf of the taxpayers, then any payout you receive is contingent on how much, if any, money you save for them. In the case of many of the "taxpayer lawsuits" that COAST and Chris Finney have brought, this legislation would have meant they would not have gotten a penny - because their actions don't actually save the taxpayers money. They end up costing us MORE money.
If you go by the positions that COAST has taken over the years, you'd come to the conclusion that COAST hates education, that COAST hates poor people. I want COAST to come out and just admit that they hate the poor, if they do. At least then we could have an honest, open debate. At least then I could say that "you know, I don't agree and I think you're wrong, but I respect you."
I don't like talking about COAST because I get angry. I'm a nice guy and don't like to get angry. Can we talk about something else?
No problem... Education. You're all about education. What does Cincinnati need to do to fix our education system?
One great place to start: the preschool promise initiative. Talk about a unifying issue. Everyone acknowledges and supports the effort to get more kids access to quality preschool. It makes a difference.
Great plans like this help us bridge the strife of the Streetcar, budgets, parking issues, etc.
I like things that bring people together, because that's what I do!
I'm not sure a guy like Mike Moroski should be subjected to the meat grinder that is Cincinnati politics, but boy is he an energizing presence. I'll be waiting with baited breath to see where he ends up - whether on council, or doing something with his shiny-new post graduate degree from Notre Dame. Rock on, Mike!