PX: 5 unanswered questions about politics of stalled Children’s deal – Cincinnati.com

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A new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in May found that the number of children and teens admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self-harm have more than doubled during the last decade. The lead author on the study, Dr. Gregory Plemmons, is an associate professor at The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
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Politics Extra’s head started spinning on Wednesday.

And it hasn’t stopped. 

So many questions remain as we try to unravel what’s going on with the stalled Cincinnati Children’s Hospital expansion deal and whether it had anything to do with some Cincinnati City Council members skipping work this past week.

PX boiled it down to five questions: 

1. Why couldn’t city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Yvette Simpson make it to even one meeting?

Simpson missed meetings all week because her long-time boyfriend and life partner has been in the hospital since undergoing emergency surgery on July 27, her campaign said. Her absence, among others, kept council from voting on a $500 million Children’s hospital expansion.

“Ms. Simpson’s decision to abstain from the council meeting due to a family emergency was warranted and necessary,” said Amanda Ford, Simpson’s campaign manager. The campaign said there is some hope her life partner could get out of the hospital this weekend, but did not disclose further details.

Mayor John Cranley was sympathetic, but questioned why Simpson couldn’t at least be at City Hall for Wednesday afternoon’s meetings to vote on the Children’s deal. He didn’t mention Simpson by name, but pointed out that other politicians have made a point to show up for key votes while facing serious medical issues. (Here’s looking at you, John McCain.)

Cranley’s comments weren’t harsh, but still made his allies and foes privately question why he felt the need to say anything at a time when he’s trying to soften his image. Still others privately questioned whether Simpson intentionally missed the meeting as a stall tactic on the Children’s deal.

Ford called it “insensitive and misleading to assume Ms. Simpson purposefully missed” meetings. “It is unfair to compare her situation with anyone else because Ms. Simpson has a record of consistently showing up,” Ford added.

2. And is Simpson dodging the Children’s deal vote?

She’s not publicly saying where she stands on the deal right now, and Simpson’s campaign did not answer PX’s direct question about this in a five-paragraph response Friday.

Simpson has met with Children’s and Avondale community leaders several times and “has stressed public engagement and working together to find common ground,” Ford said.

The public certainly would like to know where Simpson stands on a deal of such magnitude. As a mayoral candidate, this is an opportunity for her to show leadership in the face of a controversial decision

3. What’s up with Councilman Wendell Young?

Well, we’ve found him. He met with Enquirer reporter Sharon Coolidge late Friday afternoon, breaking his silence about why he skipped Council meetings all week. He had been driving back and forth to Indianapolis for a personal matter, Young said.

Why couldn’t he have just told us all that earlier this week?

When you’re an elected official, the public has a right to know why you’re not present on its behalf. And it has a right to expect you will take even extraordinary steps to conduct the public’s business, especially on an issue like the Children’s expansion’s impact on Avondale, about which you profess to care deeply.

Instead, we were left reading the tea leaves.

It’s also odd that Young would flout his public duties during an election year, and yet still show up around town all week. He was at a National Night Out event in Evanston on Tuesday, at a jazz club in Walnut Hills on Wednesday night and then at a chamber event in Downtown on Thursday morning.

Everywhere but Council chambers.

RELATED: Where in the world is Wendell Young?

Young has said he’s against the Children’s deal. We know, too, he’s close to some community leaders who’ve led the charge in pushing back on the hospital, including former Mayor Dwight Tillery, who runs the Center for Closing the Health Gap.

Young’s unexplained absences raise questions about his commitment to the citizenry, ones he may well have to answer during the campaign.

4. So what’s really holding up the Children’s Hospital deal?

That remains unclear. PX and Enquirer reporters talked to several leaders and insiders this week and never got a specific answer. But the consensus is some Avondale leaders and supporters have hurt feelings and bruised egos about the hospital’s offer to invest $11.5 million in the neighborhood. That’s separate from the half-billion hospital expansion itself.

The $11.5 million seems like a good-faith offer from Children’s, right? That’s in addition to Children’s already funding a school-based health clinic and partnering on a homeowner program in the neighborhood.

But community leaders originally asked Children’s to invest an eye-popping $100 million over 10 years. PX obtained a 2015 document presented by Avondale leaders to Children’s detailing where the $100 million would go. It lists 20 projects and programs, including $2.5 million for Tillery’s Health Gap organization.

The question is whether the holdup is over the generosity of Children’s offer to neighborhood groups or the larger question of gentrification.

5. Could this impact the mayor’s race?

That might depend on how Simpson votes on the deal. If she opposes it, Cranley could say she was against one of the biggest development deals in the city’s history. He might say she rejected new jobs and turned down one of the nation’s top medical centers from helping more children.

Also, Cranley could use Simpson’s absence against her, saying the public expects the mayor to show up even during difficult times personally.

Conversely, Simpson could use Cranley’s comments about her missing Wednesday’s meeting against him. Could she say he was being insensitive about her situation? By saying anything, Cranley opened himself to the possibility of it being used against him.

Politics Extra is a column looking inside Greater Cincinnati and Ohio politics. Follow Enquirer political columnist Jason Williams on Twitter @jwilliamscincy and send email to jwilliams@enquirer.com.

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