Commentary: Does Stephanie Dumas Have A Second Miracle In Her?

Jul 4, 2018

Before the May 8 primary, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who believed that former Forest Park Mayor Stephanie Summerow Dumas would win the Democratic primary for Hamilton County Commissioner.

Except, that is, Stephanie Summerow Dumas.

She never doubted it.

If that was a political miracle, the second act of this political drama – a general election campaign against Republican incumbent Chris Monzel – might require a miracle of Biblical proportions.

Dumas never doubted her ability to win the primary, even though she was running against James Wolf, the mayor of Mt. Healthy, who had the endorsement of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, most of the major unions, Democratic County Commissioner Denise Driehaus and a passel of other well-known Hamilton County Democrats.

As far as we can tell, Dumas' highest profile supporters were former county recorder and former Forest Park mayor Wayne Coates, her pastor, Bishop Bobby Hilton of the Word of Deliverance Church, and a whole lot of friends, most of whom have names you have never heard.

No, she never doubted it, even though Wolf had about $31,000 in his campaign fund. Dumas spent $465 – almost all of it on yard signs.

In a low turnout election on May, she smoked Wolf, with 58 percent of the vote to Wolf's 44 percent.

Not even close.

Some party leaders are still scratching their heads over her win. Dumas is not.

"I had a never give up attitude,'' said Dumas, who recently retired after 31 years as a social worker. "I just had a feeling this was my time. This was my season to do this.

"I may not be a high-profile person, but there are an awful lot of people in this community who know me because of my work over the years and being the mayor of Forest Park and Lincoln Heights," Dumas said.

"A lot of those people heard that I was not endorsed by the party and they weren't happy about that,'' Dumas said.

Many of those Dumas voters were African-American, as she is. She was running against a white male in Wolf in a political year that is taking on a look of The Year of the Woman.

All it took for Dumas to put away Wolf in the May primary was $465, a sum that, in politics, amounts to change found between the cushions of a couch.

Monzel is, in terms of fundraising, a Bigfoot.

The incumbent Republican, who had no opposition in the primary, has over $300,000 in the bank right now.

So, we asked Monzel how much money he might end up raising? $500,000.

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel
Credit Sarah Ramsey / WVXU

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel. Credit Sarah Ramsey/WVXU

At first, he seemed not to want to talk about it (candidates with big bank rolls rarely do), but he later conceded that was a possibility because of how expensive it is getting to run for office.

"We hear rates for TV ads are going to be a lot higher this year,'' Monzel told WVXU. "Maybe we might need to raise that much."

Monzel, the former Cincinnati City Council Member, has been tough to beat since he was first elected to the county commission in 2010, when he defeated the Democratic candidate, former Cincinnati vice mayor Jim Tarbell, with 56 percent of the vote.

Four years ago, a political unknown named Sean Patrick Feeney emerged from a primary of likewise unknown Democrats and faced Monzel in his bid for re-election. Tarbell jumped into the race too as a write-in candidate. Monzel won re-election easily, with 57 percent of the vote.

Dumas is going to need a whole lot of help and considerably more than $465 if she is going to pull off this kind of major upset.

Former state representative Connie Pillich, recently elected co-chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party with Springfield Township Trustee Gwen McFarlin, told WVXU she was as surprised as anybody else in the party when Dumas upset the party's endorsed candidate.

"But the voters have endorsed Stephanie,'' Pillich said. "She did a really good ground game."

The party will do everything it can to turn out Democratic voters this fall for Dumas and the rest of the Democratic slate. McFarlin is putting together a coordinated campaign for the Democratic candidates, while Pillich is focused on raising money.

"A primary is vastly different than a general election,'' Pillich said. "Every candidate has to do it for his or her self."

Even in what many believe is going to be a good Democratic year in Ohio and nationally, Dumas starts out the general election campaign as the most under of underdogs.

She doesn't seem to care.

Dumas says she hopes to raise enough money to air at least one TV ad.

She said she will have a special appeal to women of the Me Too movement "because I'm a survivor of domestic violence."

"I don't care if he spends money on ads attacking me or whatever,'' Dumas said. "I am just going to be out there reaching voters one at a time. I do believe in miracles."  

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU