Nice Try, Oregon (Ohio)

When I worked at the Toledo Blade more than 30 years ago, I had to go to Oregon, Ohio — a T-town suburb — once or twice.  Frankly, I don’t remember much about the place.

Some people in that town, though, had a good idea after Ohio State’s victory over Alabama set up an Ohio State-Oregon national championship game.  They collected signatures of residents who wanted to show support for the Buckeyes by changing the town’s name for the day of the game, and their idea garnered a fair amount of national attention — more national attention, in fact, than Oregon, Ohio has received since, well, ever.  At first the Mayor evidently nixed the idea, but then he came around.  Unfortunately, the new name that somebody came up with was “Oregon, Ohio:  Buckeyes on the Bay, City of Duck Hunters.”

Uh, what?  If you wanted to come up with a better example of a city name selected by some kind of mealy-mouthed committee compromise political process, you’d be hard-pressed to top that supremely lame effort.  A prudent rule of thumb is that any city name that requires a colon and a comma per se sucks.  It’s supposed to be the name of a town, not the name of a law review article.

I applaud the initiative of those Ohio State fans who came up with the idea.  As for the politicians who got involved and came up with the new “name”?  Never mind.

How Are Those Ohio Casinos Doing?

Earlier this month, the Hollywood Casino opened on the outskirts of Columbus.  About 25,000 gamblers showed up for the opening day festivities.

In 2009, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the construction of four casinos — one each in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  When the constitutional amendment was considered in 2009, state officials estimated that the 33 percent tax on gross casino revenues from the four casinos, plus approved video lottery terminals, would produce $470 million annually in tax revenue.  The promise of that kind of tax contribution, plus the jobs the casinos would create, caused Ohio voters to end their long-standing opposition to casino gambling in the state.

The Columbus casino is the third to open, following casinos in Cleveland and Toledo.  It’s early yet, but the trend lines in Cleveland and Toledo aren’t knocking anyone’s socks off.  For both of those casinos, June was the first full month of operation — and also was the high point for revenue, which has declined every month since June.  In Cleveland, revenue has declined from $26.1 million in June to $21.1 million in September; in Toledo, revenue has dropped from $20.4 million in June to $15.9 million in September.  The casino operators and experts say that the novelty of a new casino wears off and it takes a while for standard gambling patterns to get settled, and that the Ohio casinos might not follow the patterns seen in other locations.  The casinos also are tweaking their operations as they learn their markets; in Cleveland, for example, the Horseshoe Casino is now formally welcoming bus tours and providing some slots credits to entice bus visitors.

A few months won’t tell the tale, of course, but you have to wonder if we’ve reached the casino saturation point in this country, and there just isn’t that large of a market for more casino gambling.

Redistricted Rivals

The 2010 Census cost Ohio two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.  That loss of seats made drawing the new congressional map a challenge — and also produced one of the more intriguing primary elections that Ohio will see this year.

The primary pits two long-time Democratic Representatives, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, against each other in a new district that runs from Cleveland west along Lake Erie to Toledo.  Kucinich and Kaptur have been friends and colleagues with very similar voting records — but with their continued presence in Congress at stake, the gloves have come off.  Kucinich has criticized Kaptur for voting to fund the war in Iraq when he says that money should have been spent in Cleveland.  Kaptur, whose longevity has produced a senior position on the House Appropriations Committee, argues that she is better able to attract federal money to help the redrawn district.

The two long-time politicians, as well as a newcomer who argues that both Kucinich and Kaptur should be thrown out, are on the ballot on March 6.  The question is:  how will voters choose between two experienced, big government Democrats whose voting records are virtually indistinguishable?  And, given Kucinich’s well-publicized dental problems, has he locked up the important Democratic dentist vote?

Paying For The Toledo Tear-Down

Toledo, Ohio is on track to demolish a record number of abandoned houses this year.  By the time 2011 is done, Toledo city officials expect to have torn down more than 400 blighted residential structures.

What I find interesting is not that Toledo is having a problem with abandoned houses — Toledo, like many Midwestern cities, has been hard hit by our ongoing economic woes and home foreclosures — but that the demolition effort is being funded in significant part by the federal government.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is contributing more than $1 million toward the total cost.  Although the story linked above doesn’t identify the specific source of the federal funds, a look at the HUD website suggests that the funds are part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program that began in 2008.  In 2010, Congress and President Obama allocated an additional $1 billion for that program, which makes grants to states and local governments to support, among other things, demolition activities.

I’m sympathetic to the problems that struggling cities like Toledo are confronting, but I think it is ludicrous that the federal government — using borrowed money, of course — is making grants to cities to deal with neighborhood issues like abandoned housing.  We simply don’t have the money, at the federal level, to become involved in every local issue that needs attention.  If Toledo concludes that abandoned houses are eyesores or crime magnets that need to be destroyed, Toledo should figure out how to prioritize and pay for that activity itself.

The Buckeyes Dodge A Rocket

Ohio State stayed undefeated today, beating a game Toledo Rockets squad 27-22.  By winning, the Buckeyes kept alive a 90-year-old streak against other Ohio teams — and woe betide the OSU head coach who sees that streak end on his watch — but they also gave their coaches lots to talk about in getting the team ready for the first road game of the year, next week against Miami.

Offensively, the big concern is the offensive line.  Ohio State never got much of a push against the Rockets front four, and that does not bode well for upcoming games against teams like Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.  Quarterback Joe Bauserman had an up-and-down game, and running back Rod Smith made the crucial blunder of putting the ball on the ground when the Buckeyes were on the verge of running out the clock and putting the game away.  Fortunately for Smith, the Ohio State defense kept Toledo out of the end zone — but the fact that Smith has now fumbled twice in clutch situations is going to affect how many carries he gets going forward.  There were some flashes of promise on offense, but for the most part the Buckeyes looked like a team that is still getting used to new players at the skill positions.

Defensively, the concerns are tackling and depth.  Fortunately, stud defensive lineman John Simon battled back from cramps that took him out of the game and returned to make some key plays as the game entered crunch time in the fourth quarter.  The defense rose up and stopped Toledo when it counted, but they also missed tackles that let Toledo turn short-yardage plays into big gainers.  The back-ups got some playing time and played respectably, but my sense is that the team lacks real quality depth in several positions on the defensive side of the ball.

On special teams, a blocked punt on what looked like a blown blocking assignment and a Buckeyes’ punt return for a touchdown about canceled each other out.  The significant issue is whether Drew Basil will develop into a reliable field goal kicker.  He missed another attempt today, and if I were coaching his accuracy in the two games to date would not give me lots of confidence to send him in for big kick with the game on the line.

The bottom line is that many of us expected Toledo to be more of a test, and they were.  Give the Rockets credit — they weren’t intimidated, they played hard, and they took advantage of the OSU mistakes.  I think this is a win that will look a lot better at the end of the season than it does right now.