Yes, the Cincinnati mayor’s race is the big-ticket item on this November’s ballot.
But there is a Cincinnati City Council race too, and there are going to be some serious choices for Cincinnati voters to make when it comes to picking nine people to set the policy for the city for the next four years.
Yes, four years. Since the late 1920s, council has had two year terms; but that changes with this election because of a charter amendment passed by voters last year.
Technically, Cincinnati City Council races are non-partisan affairs. Do not expect to walk into the polling place or fill out your absentee ballot and find party designations next to the names of the candidates for the nine council seats. They won’t be there.
And, in the case of many polling places, volunteers standing outside the polls – at least 100 feet away from the polling place, by law – passing out sample ballots for the three political parties listing their endorsed slates of candidates.
And, yes, there are three political parties. Republican. Democratic. And the Charter Committee, whose members bristle at being called a “political party.” But, as the saying goes, if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, it’s a duck.
Since direct election of the mayor began in 2001, mayoral races have tended to suck all the air out of the room, making it hard for council candidates to get the attention they deserve.
This year may be a bit different.
Heavens knows there are enough issues out there, enough for both mayoral and council candidates to chew on.
There is the ever-controversial, seemingly never-ending saga of the streetcar project, which has stirred considerable opposition in the community, particularly on somewhat more conservative west side of town.
Then there is the agreement passed by a council majority earlier this year to lease out the parking system to private companies, a move that city officials said would plug about $25 million of a projected $35 million budget shortfall. That provoked outrage that resulted in a massive petition campaign to put a referendum on the issue on the November ballot.
Then, on Thursday, city council – in a 5-4 vote – passed a patchwork budget that goes into effect July 1. It fills the budget gap; and council managed to do it without laying off police or firefighters (small consolation to the 60 other city employees who will be laid off).
Many say – even some of the council members who voted for it – that the new budget does nothing to solve the structural budget problems that have plagued the city for more than a decade. All it does, they say, is kick the can down the road for another year.
Yes, there are plenty of issues for council candidates to run on. And there are plenty of candidates to do the campaign.
Here’s the rundown so far:
• Incumbents: Democrats Wendell Young, Laure Quinlivan, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach Yvette Simpson and Pam Thomas, recently appointed to replace her husband, Cecil; are endorsed by the party. So too is Republican Charlie Winburn. And Christopher Smitherman, the NAACP president elected as an independent in 2011, is on the ballot again.
• The Democratic challengers: The Cincinnati Democratic Committee did something unprecedented and somewhat weird recently by endorsing a slate of 10 candidates for nine seats on council. All six incumbents were endorsed along with newcomers Greg Landsman, Michelle Dillingham, Shawn Butler, and former councilman and mayor David Mann. At first, it seemed the CDC might push Mann, who hasn’t been on a ballot in nearly 20 years, off the slate, but he was added after a dust-up at their endorsement meeting. Now, the trick for the Democratic Party will be to make sure their loyal voters know they can only vote for nine.
• The Republican challengers: Former council member Amy Murray is running again. She was appointed to council in 2011 when Chris Monzel became a county commissioner; and was voted out that fall. Melissa Wegman, a businesswoman who is well known on the west side of town, is a first time candidate. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the slate is former council member Sam Malone. Malone made national headlines in 2005 when he was charged with domestic violence for whipping his son with a leather belt. He was acquitted, but was given a stern lecture on parenting by the judge. He was voted out of office that year.
• The Charter Committee: Charter, which, of course, is not a political party (wink, wink, nod, nod) has yet to finalize its slate. It has one incumbent, though – Simpson, who is also running with a Democratic endorsement. And Kevin Flynn, an attorney who has run before and lost, is running again, this time making the argument for fiscal sanity and council not waiting until the last minute to come up with the city’s budget. Charter also has recruited Vanessa White, a Cincinnati school board member who decided not to run for re-election and jumped into the council race instead.
Charter, Flynn said, is interviewing other possible candidates and may issue more endorsements.
The filing deadline for candidates is not until Aug. 22; and all it takes to run is 500 valid signatures on a petitions and a $75 filing fee.
So it is highly likely that a number of lesser-known candidates without party endorsements will show up before the filing deadline. We might have as many as two dozen candidates for nine council seats.
And, even though they are great in numbers, they will still have to shout very loud to be heard over the din of a Cincinnati mayor’s race.