Born to a mentally ill mother and drug-addicted father, Yvette Simpson was raised by her grandmother in Lincoln Heights until the age of 16. Then, when her grandmother had to move into senior living; and the teenager spent the last two years of her schooling at Princeton High School bouncing around, living with friends and other families.
All of her young life, she was surrounded by poverty, crime and violence.
"I saw people who were really good people, who were really hurt people, who ended up doing very violent things,'' Simpson told WVXU.
But it was her grandmother's love and a series of mentors who inspired her to break out of that life.
"All I could ever think of was, 'If I can only get to be 18,' I'll be OK,'' Simpson said.
She had decided at the age of eight that what she wanted to do was be a lawyer – a poor girl from a family where the idea of a college education was well beyond anyone's reach.
But her hard work in high school paid off in a full-ride scholarship to Miami University. She earned degrees in political science and communications. She went on to earn a law degree at the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in business administration from Xavier University.
In 2007, she returned to Miami University – this time as the administrator of the university's pre-law counseling program.
Four years later, she launched her political career, running for city council and finishing seventh. She ran for re-election two years later and finished fourth in the balloting.
Simpson could have run for another four-year term this year, but decided instead to run for mayor. If she doesn't survive the primary – the top finishers will face each other in the fall – she can't come back and run for re-election to her council seat.
Simpson on the issues:
Throughout the campaign, Simpson and Cranley have been going back and forth on the issue of how to deal with the crime and violence on the streets of Cincinnati.
Both say there must be a "hard" and a "soft" approach to the issue. The "hard" involves more police on the streets and more resources for them to do their jobs. The "soft" approach focuses on getting at the root causes of crime – the poverty and hopelessness that pervades so many Cincinnati neighborhoods.
"The mayor's assertion that I don't support police and fire is not true,'' Simpson told WVXU.
Cranley bases such a claim on a TV ad that cites her 2014 vote against the city budget.
Simpson said she voted against that budget because it did not give enough money to neighborhoods and did not set aside enough money for city pensions.
"We have to have a fully staffed police force, regardless,'' Simpson said.
Simpson said the police department has been deeply involved in the work she has been doing on violence prevention programs "from day one."
"Right now, we have more officers than we have ever had and we still have an increase in shootings and homicides,'' Simpson said. "That's because law enforcement alone doesn’t work. We have to be preventative."
Simpson said she is using a model developed by the Centers for Disease Control "that says that violence isn't an isolated incident, that people who become violent because they have experienced violence. They were exposed to it; they weren't treated and they repeat the behavior."
She has been part of a group building pilot programs to try to break the cycle of violence in Cincinnati neighborhoods.
"Even if you have a police officer on every corner, a shooting will happen between those two corners,'' Simpson said. "We need both. Police on the streets and prevention measures. I'm a both kind of person."
"If we had put in place violence prevention strategies two years ago, we'd have a reduced number of people committing violent acts today,'' she said.
As far as investing in low-income neighborhoods, Simpson supports Plan Cincinnati, the city's official document guiding future development in the city.
"I support the 'Ready, Set, Go' approach,'' Simpson said. "First make neighborhoods ready for development by making them safe and clean. Then 'Set.' Neighborhoods that are safe and clean, but haven't had investment in decades. And then 'Go.' That's when we work with developers on projects, making sure the neighborhoods stay safe and clean."
Simpson is very frank about her support for expanding the streetcar and other modes of public transportation.
"Rail is a big picture vision,'' Simpson said. "It was never a thing where we were going to do a 3.6 mile loop and then stop."
It was always part of a multi-modal strategy and we have to keep our eye on it even though it is going to be a long-term thing,'' Simpson said.
"We've got to make our bus system work well, but we've also got to plan ahead for what rail looks like in our region," she said.
Reading Road is a "major corridor" for light rail extension in the future, Simpson said. So, too, is regional light rail, all the way from the airport to Mason.
"We've got to make sure we are ready to expand once we have the resources,'' Simpson said.