At the moment, there are only two announced candidates for Cincinnati mayor in 2013, both Democrats – Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and former city council member John Cranley.
And they happen to be two of the most popular politicians of Cincinnati voters in the past two decades.
The only time the two of them were on the ballot together in a Cincinnati City Council race was in 2007.
Qualls – who served as mayor in the 1990s when the mayor was the top vote-getter in the council elections - was making a come-back to council that year after being away for eight years. The Charter Committee appointed her to a council seat that year when council member Jim Tarbell resigned.
Cranley was running for a fourth two-year term on council – two years after finishing first in the council race. By that time, though, Cincinnati had gone to a system of directly electing its mayor, and finishing first didn’t put you in the mayor’s chair.
The pair of them ran one-two in that council election. Qualls had 33,775 votes. Cranley had 33,772.
Three votes separated them.
It doesn’t get much closer than that.
Both have proven to be prodigious fund-raisers. Both have run for Congress in the past and given Republican congressman Steve Chabot a run for his money. Both are seasoned campaigners, war horses on the campaign trail.
A head-to-head battle next fall would be a doozy.
But it is not that simple.
More candidates are likely to get into the race by the June filing deadline for mayoral candidates. And if even one more candidate jumps in, there will be a primary election in September, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the November election.
In a city that is 45 percent African-American, according to the 2010 Census, it is hard to imagine that an African-American candidate will not enter the fray.
The most likely would be council member Cecil Thomas, a Democrat who can’t run for re-election to council in 2013 because of the city’s term limits law. Another possibility, some Democrats say, is council member Wendell Young, who would have to give up his council seat to run for mayor. Mayoral candidates file in June; council candidates file in August.
And, yes, there may be a Republican candidate. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann is mulling over the possibility; and Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou is encouraging a run by Hartmann. And, if not Hartmann, some other Republican who has yet to emerge.
The fact that Cincinnati is an overwhelmingly Democratic city does not deter Triantafilou.
“If Los Angeles and New York can elect Republican mayors, there’s no reason why Cincinnati can’t, with the right candidate,’’ Triantafilou said.
But Cranley and Qualls are the big names now; the ones who got out of the box early and who have been raising money and organizing for this race for months now. Everyone else will be playing catch-up.
Both have high-profile supporters. Cranley’s honorary campaign chair is former mayor and congressman Charlie Luken, a dominant figure in Cincinnati politics for nearly three decades. Qualls has the support of the current mayor, Mark Mallory, who was elected in 2005 and 2009. And Qualls’ campaign will be run by Jens Sutmoller, who managed Mallory’s 2009 campaign.
The battle lines between the two are already being drawn.
Cranley has been a vocal critic of the streetcar project, saying it is the wrong time for a city that is struggling to maintain basic services to be launching such an ambitious project. Qualls is an ardent supporter, saying the city need a “21st century transportation system” and that the streetcar could spur the kind of development that will lead to long-term financial stability for a city that has struggled to close large budget deficits for over a decade.
Cranley will be critical of the fiscal management of the city – Qualls, after all, is chair of council’s Budget and Finance Committee. Qualls will remind voters that the deficits began in the beginning of the last decade – when Cranley chaired the finance committee.
And they will both have plenty of money to get their messages out.
There may be more candidates to come, but the mayoral election starts now.