A few thoughts on an election where seven out of 10 didn't vote

Nov 9, 2013

Some final thought on the 2013 election, before we move on to the 2014 election (which, of course, is already well underway).

Apathy wins by landslide:  On Dec. 1, John Cranley will be sworn in as Cincinnati’s 69th mayor, along with nine city council members – three of whom are newly-elected.

Cranley, a 39-year-old former council member, won with what would have to be considered a mandate for his agenda, the centerpiece of which is ending the $133 million streetcar project – which is obviously well underway, as anyone who has driven the streets of downtown or Over-the-Rhine lately can readily confirm.

It is a mandate in the sense that he won over fellow Democrat Roxanne Qualls by 16 percentage points – 58 percent to 42 percent in the unofficial vote count.

On the other hand, Cranley ran far behind “apathy.” Only 28.84 percent of the city’s 202,195 registered voters bothered to cast ballots in an election where the city chose the mayor and city council who will lead Cincinnati for the next four years.

That means Cranley was elected by 16 percent of the city’s registered voters.

The vast majority didn’t care enough get involved.

It was one of the worst turnouts in the history of Cincinnati politics. The only thing that compares was the 28.97 percent who turned out in the 2007 election.

For some readers, 1975 might seem a long time ago. It probably doesn’t seem so long ago for David Mann, who returned to city council Tuesday after an absence of 22 years.

That was the first year Mann was elected to council; and the turnout in 1975 was 65.5 percent. Two years later, the turnout was 69.7 percent.

It has been dropping steadily ever since in odd-numbered years, with the occasional bump when a hot statewide issue is on the ballot.

Have voters become so apathetic, so disillusioned with politics and politicians, that voting just doesn’t matter to them?

Hard to come to any other conclusion.

Four year terms: Two years ago, Democratic council member Laure Quinlivan came up with an idea – how about instead of electing Cincinnati City Council members to two-year terms, forcing them to be raising money and constantly running for re-election we have four-year terms for city council? That way, they might be able to spend more time actually thinking about and acting on the issues that confront the city?

The voters liked the idea; and passed a Charter amendment to that effect in 2011.

Quinlivan, of course, was up for re-election this year. And she lost. In the unofficial vote, she placed 10th, finishing 900 votes behind Republican Amy Murray, who won the ninth and final seat on council.

Still, she had a pretty good theory four years ago. We’ll see now how it works in practice. Even though Quinlivan won’t be there to test it herself.

Good night for Charter:  The Charter Committee of Cincinnati, the group which 88 years ago, ran the corrupt political bosses out of town and replaced them with a nine-member council and a city manager form of government, was once a powerful force in Cincinnati politics.

But there influence had waned in recent years, until they seemed to some more like an unnecessary appendage to the Cincinnati political scene.

But Charter had a really good night Tuesday.

Four of their six endorsed candidates were elected to the nine-member council.

Granted, three of them were endorsed by the major parties and are closely identified with either the Democratic or Republican party. David Mann and incumbent Yvette Simpson are Democrats who also had Charter Committee endorsements; and Amy Murray is a Republican who lost her appointed seat on council in 2011 and won it back this year. Murray, too, had a Charter Committee endorsement.

The fourth was Kevin Flynn, running for council for the third time as a Charterite. No other party endorsed him.  This time he broke through finishing eighth in the 21-candidate field.

Two of their endorsed candidates – Greg Landsman, who was also endorsed by the Democrats; and Vanessa White, who had only the Charter endorsement, came up short, running 11th and 14th respectively.

They may have to share their council members, but there is no question – the Charter Committee is once again a major presence on Cincinnati City Council.