The Last Word On Cincinnati's Mayoral And Council Elections

Nov 5, 2017

Some final, very random, thoughts on Tuesday's election:

Mega-bucks mayoral race: Does it really take something in the neighborhood of $3 million to get re-elected mayor, in little old Cincinnati, the 65th largest city in the United States?

In an election where probably only about one of every three registered voters will bother to cast a ballot?

Well, apparently it does, if you are Mayor John Cranley.

Campaign finance reports that covered the period through Oct. 18 showed that Cranley had raised $2.3 million for his campaign; and the fundraising continues. It will likely approach, if not exceed, $3 million by the time it is all said and done.

His opponent, council member Yvette Simpson, who passed up an opportunity for almost certain re-election to council to run for mayor, had raised $576,408 through Oct. 18.

We've only been doing direct election of the mayor in Cincinnati since 2001, so the sample size is relatively small. But will the massive pile of money Cranley's campaign has gathered be a record for a mayoral race?

You'd better believe it, buster.

The old record was set by David Pepper, now the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, when he spent $1.2 million in 2005.

If you don't recall a "Mayor Pepper," it is because there hasn't been one. Pepper lost to fellow Democrat Mark Mallory, who spent far less money but got a bigger bang for the buck.

The moral of the story: Money is a good thing to have, but money alone does not always buy happiness on Election Day.

GOP: Vote for three, or five, if you like: Officially, the Hamilton County Republican Party has only three endorsed candidates for Cincinnati's nine-member city council.

But the GOP leadership wouldn't mind a bit if the party faithful cast votes for two other candidates without party endorsements – incumbent Christopher Smitherman and first-time candidate Tamie Sullivan.

It is a tacit acknowledgement that the Republican Party is no longer a major force in this heavily Democratic city, where Hillary Clinton won 75 percent of the vote last year, compared to 21 percent for Donald Trump.

It's such a Democratic city that the Hamilton County Republican Party didn't even bother to field a candidate for mayor in the May primary; there were only three Democrats on the ballot. And only about 11 percent of the electorate turned out.

Now, on the mail pieces and the sample ballot cards that will be passed out to voters Tuesday outside polling places in GOP precincts in the city, there will be only three names – incumbent Amy Murray and newcomers Seth Maney and Jeff Pastor.

But Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, told WVXU that officially, the party line is "vote for three and stop."

"But it's perfectly fine if Republicans want to vote for Christopher Smitherman or Tamie Sullivan,'' Triantafilou said. "A lot of people in our party like Smitherman; and I'd say the same for Tamie Sullivan.''

Smitherman has often been aligned with traditional Republican values, Triantafilou said.

"He's been a fiscal conservative, a fiscal watchdog; and he's tough on crime,'' Triantafilou said. "A lot of Republicans like that."

Smitherman probably would have been endorsed had he sought the party's backing, according to Triantafilou.

Sullivan wasn't going to get an endorsement from the county party's executive committee for one reason and one reason only – writing an op-ed column in the Enquirer last fall saying she couldn't support Trump and was voting for Hillary Clinton.

Despite that, she has support among many "mainstream Republicans,'' especially in places like Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. We've driven around those neighborhoods and seen a fair number of front yards with yard signs for both Murray and Sullivan.

Triantafilou said the official line is still vote for three – Murray, Maney and Pastor. But he said word is spreading in GOP circles that is OK to vote for Smitherman and Sullivan.

"We don't have a strategy for getting that message out,'' Triantafilou said. "It's been word of mouth, on social media and in public appearances where people ask me about it. And I tell them it's OK to go with those five. But no more."

Big bucks in council race: So, Cincinnati voters will elect nine council members Tuesday, right? Right.

Out of a field of 23 candidates, including six incumbents. And that means 14 of them will have to lose.

It may be just coincidence (in fact, we know it is just coincidence) that there only nine of the 23 candidates who have put together six-figure campaign funds.

According to the pre-general campaign finance reports, incumbent Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld is at the top of the heap, having raised $501,785.

You can round out the top three with Republican incumbent Amy Murray ($333,339) and Democrat Greg Landsman ($263,810), who ran four years ago but fell just short of being elected.

The remaining six are Democratic incumbent David Mann ($185,859), Democratic incumbent Chris Seelbach ($150,060), challenger Derek Bauman ($122,841), who has a Charter Committee endorsement; independent incumbent Christopher Smitherman ($116,416), Republican newcomer Jeff Pastor ($115,033) and former Sittenfeld council aide Tamaya Dennard ($107,216), who has endorsements from the Democratic Party and Charter.

It would be extremely foolish to suggest that because these nine have the most money, they will be the nine elected to council. That's highly unlikely. There are plenty of other well-known candidates who have less than six-figure campaign funds who could break into the top nine – especially since there are three open seats this year.

We usually shy away from predictions (see presidential election, 2016 for an idea of what predictions are worth), but we feel pretty comfortable in saying one thing – that Sittenfeld, a council member who can draw support from both the Cranley and Simpson voters – will be the top vote-getter in the council race, as he was four years ago.

Does that set him up for a run for mayor in four years? It depends on who is elected mayor. But, nonetheless, Sittenfeld clearly has a future in politics beyond council if he chooses to pursue it.