Presidential politics defined 2016.
To pretend otherwise is pointless. Blue collar and white collar workers, the young and old, rich and poor joined in a battle of ideologies. Couches here in Oberlin and around the country became command centers as factions warred over candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and third-party candidates such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
And with Oberlin voters siding with Clinton by a factor of nine to one, the city found its values clashing with much of the rest of the nation’s.
Each year, the News-Tribune looks back through our pages at the stories that chronicled our collective experience. This trip around the sun, the rise of Trump to the presidency is unquestionably the most profound development of 2016.
Oberlin saw its fair share of other important decisions and changes that set the stage for years to come.
Here is a recap of the biggest stories of the year.
Photo by Ali Shaker | VOA — Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 presidential race. TRUMP TURNS THE TABLES Nov. 10 edition: Few political analysts picked Donald Trump from the crowded Republican primary pack to get the party’s nomination, with most favoring Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush. But each of those candidates quickly fell by the wayside, and when the Republican National Convention came to Cleveland in July, Trump remained standing. Journeying to the convention at Quicken Loans Arena, reporter Evan Goodenow found a deeply divided cross-section of Americans: flag-burning demonstrators, Communist Party demonstrators, fist-fights, apocalyptic prophets, signs bearing swastikas, conservative student marchers, voting rights activists, and T-shirt vendors hawking anti-Clinton merchandise. Trump yard signs in Lorain County seemed to vastly outnumber those for Clinton, multiplying after an Oct. 7 stop by running mate Mike Pence at Your Deli in Amherst and several stops by Trump in Cleveland. As the fall wore on, Ohio slid from solidly blue to purple to deeply red. Trump’s campaign office in Lorain seemed to be doing much better business than the Clinton campaign office in Oberlin. On Election Day, it was clear the state would go to Trump but entirely unexpected that all other swing states — Florida, North Carolina Pennsylvania, Wisonsin, and Michigan — would follow suit. Also surprising was the split in traditionally-Democrat-supporting Lorain County, where unofficial results showed Trump taking a slight lead. When all ballots were certified in late November, Clinton held the lead by about 400 votes. Trump won an overwhelming number of Electoral College seats. While he won in all the right places, Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million, the largest lead of any candidate in United States history who ultimately was denied the White House. Since the election, the political divide has been especially evident. On Nov. 9, the American flags at several Oberlin schools were turned upside-down by persons unknown; conservatives rushed online to point fingers at Oberlin College students. Late in the month, constitutional scholar Theodore Shaw, speaking at the college, labeled Trump an “existential threat” to democracy. Student protesters marched in solidarity with students who could potentially be deported under Trump’s immigration policy. Then the college issued a statement that it would not cooperate with deportation efforts unless compelled by a “court order, subpoena, warrant, or other lawfully authorized directive.”
File photos — New Oberlin city manager Robert Hillard, former electric director Steve Dupee, police chief Juan Torres, and Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov. LEADERSHIP CHANGES • Nov. 24 edition: After a year-long search of candidates from across the nation, Robert Hillard was chosen to fill Oberlin’s top executive role. He replaces Eric Norenberg, who departed at the tail end of 2015 for a job in Delaware. Norenberg had been pressured to resign in a letter from several city council members who did not have the 5-2 majority necessary to oust him. Oberlin finance director Sal Talarico pulled double duty during the job search and had been among the finalists for the job this summer. In a surprise move, council closed the book on those three finalists and reopened its search, which resulted in Hillard’s hire. Talarico went looking for a city manager job elsewhere. But council, fearful of losing his experience, extended him a contract to stay on as finance director. • Oct. 20 edition: For 15 years, Steve Dupee was the go-to guy for Oberlin’s energy policy. As city electric director, he oversaw the accumulation of $2.6 million in profits from pollution offsets known as Renewable Energy Credits. He served on the AMP Ohio board and helped develop Oberlin’s Climate Action Plan. Dupee left Dec. 5 to become Wellington’s new village manager. His knowledge of utilities — important to Wellington as it updates aging infrastructure — and the level of respect he holds throughout Ohio in the utility field were key elements in the decision to hire Dupee, said village mayor Hans Schneider. The new post is a bit of a family affair. Bob Dupee, Steve’s father, held the Wellington village manager job until retirement in 2006. “Wellington is my hometown. I attended Wellington schools and raised a family here,” Steve Dupee said. “It’s certainly a community that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s an honor and a privilege for council to have shown this kind of confidence in me.” He was head-hunted by the village council, which had not rallied behind any of the 28 original applicants for the job. • Dec. 15 edition: A serious family illness has prompted Oberlin police chief Juan Torres to resign. “I’ve been having a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what was the right thing to do. I sought a lot of advice from family and my mom and my dad about what to do,” he said. “This was a very, very difficult decision for me to make.” Hired just last August to succeed retiring chief Thomas Miller, Torres said he would step aside April 6. But he actually bowed out Friday, well ahead of schedule, returning to his home in Virginia where his wife and adult son live. During his short time here, the chief has worked to build relationships with residents, taking time to talk and listen in an effort to build bridges between police and populace. • Sept. 8 edition: Marvin Krislov announced he will step down as president of Oberlin College come June 30. “I’m very grateful to the people of Oberlin, whether they’re associated with the college or not,” he said. “It’s a wonderful college and a wonderful community and I will always have part of my heart with it.” During his 10-year tenure, Krislov helped raise $317 million through the Oberlin Illuminate campaign, far surpassing its goal. Earlier this year, he presided over the opening of the Hotel at Oberlin, part of the $38 million Gateway hotel and conference center project. It’s been hailed as a major environmental and economic achievement, though college and city officials did clash over fire code violations that first prevented the hotel’s opening and ultimately led to a lawsuit. Krislov can also claim ownership of projects ranging from construction of a new power plant to construction of the Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex to an upcoming $15 million addition to Phillips Gymnasium. An attorney, Krislov has been described as able to cut to the heart of issues while championing ethics and diversity.
Photo by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune — Tish O’Dell of the Ohio Rights Network is seen here at an August community forum. Her group, which is part of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, is seeking a state initiative on the November 2017 ballot allowing communities to reject projects such as the NEXUS pipeline. NEXUS PIPELINE MOVES FORWARD Dec. 8 edition: Opponents of the NEXUS pipeline continue to rail against the 255-mile project — but the effectiveness of their protests is hard to gauge. A vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected early in 2017 to approve or reject construction. In late November, FERC released a report claiming Spectra Energy’s plans to build the pipeline are safe and environmentally sound. That idea flies in the face of local protesters against fracking. The pipeline is expected to carry fracked natural gas from the shale fields of eastern Ohio to Canada, passing through Oberlin and surrounding townships on its way. Drawings show it passing within 95 feet of Reserve Avenue homes, roughly 1,100 feet from the Lorain County Metro Parks Splash Zone, nearly 1,800 feet from the Oberlin fire station, 4,200 feet from the Lorain County JVS, and 2,000 feet from Welcome Nursing Home. That proximity has also raised fears of explosions. One person was killed in a pipeline blast this past October in Alabama. In November, a pipeline exploded in Missouri with no injuries. The November FERC study refuted explosion concerns for populated areas such as Reserve Avenue, saying serious pipeline incidents are down 37 percent since 2009. New pipelines come with stricter safety standards than in the past. “The likelihood of an incident is very low at any given location regardless of population density,” the study said. Activist John Elder of Oberlin responded: “Landowners who are horrified by the prospect of a 36-inch, high-pressure pipeline being constructed through their front yards or whose health or livelihood may be endangered by Nexus will disagree about what constitutes ‘significant’ impact,” he said. Spectra has touted the project as generating millions of dollars in tax income for government entities in its path, including the Firelands and Oberlin school systems and Lorain County JVS. It seems likely that the NEXUS pipeline will be green-lit. FERC has approved about 99 percent of such projects in the past decade.
Photo by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune — Nancy Boutilier, advisor for Oberlin High School’s Queers and Allies Club, said the contention that transgender students want to prey on heterosexual students in bathrooms and locker rooms is a “fabricated fear.” SOCIAL ISSUES WITH LOCAL IMPACT • May 19 edition: “I’m not happy,” we overhead one woman ominously tell a crisis counselor as we visited the Nord Center in Lorain. Our mission there was to talk about why suicides have skyrocketed to a record high in the past decade. Social workers took about 16,000 calls last year to the mental health center’s 24-hour hotline, talking to those who feel they may hurt themselves or others. Last year saw 39 people tragically take their own lives here in Lorain County, where the average has been 38 in each of the last five years, according to the coroner’s office. The loss of well-paying jobs, the national opioid epidemic, and easy access to guns have all contributed to a shocking rise in suicides, coroner Stephen Evans said. Kathleen Kern, Lorain County Board of Mental Health assistant director, has worked with about 100 suicidal people, primarily young people, since becoming a psychologist in 1999. She said many believe they are a burden on others. Their feelings of hopelessness and isolation can turn into reckless behavior. Suicides are up 46 percent across America since 1999 and Ohio mirrors the ghastly trend. A study by the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation found the state’s rate jumped by 27 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nearly 20,000 Ohioans have taken their own lives since 2000 — that’s almost triple the number of homicides. • June 23 edition: Transgender students’ civil rights were the subject of an emotional public this summer. The U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a directive in late May saying students with fluid gender identities should be able to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice — or offer the option to certain students to use private facilities. Nancy Boutilier, Oberlin Schools athletic director from 2006 to 2009, said transgender people have been forced to live in the shadows for decades due to harassment and stigma over their sexuality. She said they are far more likely to be assaulted in a bathroom than straight people because of their sexuality. “Transgender people are the ones who are more vulnerable in our culture,” she said. “This is about making the world safer for transgender people and it does not put anybody else at new risk.” While Oberlin was largely accepting of the federal directive, neighboring school systems struggled. For the example, the Amherst school board, on the advice of its lawyers, opted not to put any specific transgender policy in writing. “We have and we will continue to work with our students discreetly and respectfully like we always have,” board president Rex Engle said. In a couple of tense public meetings, Amherst residents vented frustrations over the issue, some supporting transgender people and others saying the directive was “reckless” and “dangerous.” They worried the directive would be abused by students, though there have been no such cases over the years while transgender students were allowed to use Amherst facilities of their choice. Several states, including Ohio, have sued President Barack Obama’s administration over the directive. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called it “heavy-handed federal bureaucratic action guaranteeing prolonged controversy and litigation.” The U.S. Supreme Court announced in October that it would take up the transgender bathroom issue based on a Virginia case involving a 17-year-old student who was born female but identifies as male. He was denied the right to use the boys’ restroom at his high school. In the meantime, an 11-year-old transgender student from Ohio won a case earlier this month to be allowed to continue using the girls’ bathroom in the Highland Local School District near Akron. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied the school district’s appeal.
Photo by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune — School board president Ken Stanley said consolidation must improve education. “(It’s) not how many rooms are we going to have to squeeze into, but what are we going do to make this a better district,” he said. SCHOOLS NEED DIRECTION June 16 edition: For the second year in a row, Oberlin educators said they would ask voters for a new public school — and then thought better of it. Under pressure from residents, the board of education backed off its plan in June to pursue a $35.5 million building for prekindergarten through grade 12. The idea didn’t make it to the ballot. The Oberlin Schools have raised and rejected ideas for new construction for the better part of a decade. They’ve included everything from building a smaller elementary to combining all grade levels on one centralized campus. Talks turned this fall to closing at least one building in an attempt to control costs as schools age and need more and more repair work. Already, the board has sunk tens of thousands of dollars into boiler, gym, electric, and asphalt repairs at its buildings. Roofs and windows are in bad shape. It would cost between $15 million and $43 million to renovate Eastwood, Prospect, and Langston schools to the state’s standards. Meanwhile, shuttering one of the district’s four buildings could save an estimated $340,000 per year.
Photo by Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune — Seen here from East College Street, the Gateway Center remains under construction but its hotel reopened in 2016. OBERLIN’S HOTEL REOPENS May 19 edition: The face of downtown changed significantly in May with the grand reopening of the Oberlin Inn, rechristened as The Hotel at Oberlin. The 40-room inn, opened in 1955, is being replaced with a modernized 70-room footprint expanded to 105,000 square feet with a conference center. It’s all part of Oberlin College’s $38 million Gateway Center project, still underway. Construction is set to be completed in February and landscaping will be done in the spring. Opening didn’t come without growing pains. It was delayed by a drawn-out fight between the college and city over fire code violations. City officials said angled parking spaces outside the hotel would hamper access by fire trucks, which would endanger lives. They refused to issue a permit for sidewalk construction outside the hotel and an occupancy permit, seeking a 40-foot fire lane with no parking along East College in front of the hotel and conference center. A compromise led to an April settlement. It permits 14 angled spaces on East College while allowing the fire department’s 48-foot aerial ladder truck and its 100-foot ladder to get within 30 feet of the building.