A Pep Talk For Cincinnati Council Candidates From A Veteran

Oct 22, 2017

Ask just about anybody who knows John Eby of Westwood – Republican, Democrat or Charterite – and they will tell you the same thing:

John would have been a fine Cincinnati city council member.

But he never got that chance; and doesn't seem inclined to try again.

Eby, a director of engineering services at KZF Design, is most passionate about making his neighborhood, the largest in the city, an even better place for all residents to live and work and raise their families.

Twice, he ran for city council – in 2005 and 2007, as a Republican candidate. He had a respectable finish both times, but not really close to winning a seat on council.

It was back in the days when he was running that he was going through a political transformation, as well. He says he changed from being a "centrist Republican" to a "centrist Democrat," because he did not like the hard right turn he saw in the Republican Party.

"I look at myself as more of a John F. Kennedy Democrat than a Ted Kennedy Democrat,'' Eby told WVXU.

And while he is no longer a candidate for city council or any other office, he has a lot of empathy for what the 17 non-incumbent candidates for Cincinnati City Council are going through right now.

His advice to them is simple: Hang in there. It's hard work, but the finish line is in sight.

John Eby
Credit Provided

Eby knows that all of the candidates – particularly those who have not been candidates before - were drawn to  politics for different reasons.

He traces his passion for public service back to his days as a school boy at St. Williams School in Price Hills. His mother was the school secretary.

"In the sixth grade I had this crusty old nun for a teacher; she must have had eyes in the back of her head, because every time I would do something I shouldn't have, she would holler out, 'Mr. Eby, come with me!,'" he said.

In his case, that didn't mean a trip to the principal's office; it meant a trip to see his mother, the school secretary.

His mom and the nun worked out a punishment for him. They gave him a stick with a nail in the end of it, along with a burlap sack, and sent him out after school to pick up paper and stuff strewn around the school grounds.

But, Eby said, that nun also used to push him into getting involved in all kinds of school and neighborhood activities. He says it awakened a passion in him for getting involved and making a difference in his community.

"There are a lot of people running now who have that same passion,'' Eby said.

Last week, on his Facebook page, Eby wrote a message directed at the non-incumbent candidates – Democratic, Republican, Charterites and independents.

It read like this:

City Council races are in the home stretch.

If this is your first City Council race all I can say is, "hang in there." Stick to your plan and execute. Don't worry about your critics (there will be many and most are cowards hiding behind social media). Don't worry about what endorsement you didn't get. Don't fret over money - it is what it is. Get over the idea that everyone is going to love you and your ideas. Don't get discouraged and finish strong. Run through the finish line. You can do this.

Few people know how hard it is to run in a field race. Not many people are brave enough to stick their heads over the castle walls and have people shoot arrows at them. They don't know about the personal sacrifices you make as a candidate. They don't know what it's like for you to spend so much time away from your family. They can't comprehend the amount of effort it takes to organize and run a campaign. They'll never know what it's like to visit every neighborhood in the city and wear out shoe leather while knocking on doors but you will. Win or lose, you'll look back on this time fondly. You've made a difference just being in the race. Good luck new-comers. I'll be pulling for you.

It might just be the message that many of them need to persevere for the next two weeks.

There are 23 candidates for nine seats on council; six of them are incumbents. The incumbents are presumed to have an advantage, but it doesn't guarantee automatic re-election.

That means there are three open seats – those of Yvette Simpson, who chose to run for mayor; Republican Charlie Winburn, who is term-limited out; and Charterite Kevin Flynn, who could have run but chose not to.

That means there will be at least three new city council members elected on Nov. 7. Maybe more.

This is the second election since voters approved a charter amendment for four-year terms for council members, with all of them being elected at once.

That means that if all six incumbents are re-elected Nov. 7, there could be six open seats in the next council election in 2021 – at least in theory. Chances are some of those council members about to term-limited out might resign early and have replacements taking their places.

Eby is among those who believe the 2012 charter amendment put on the ballot by council and approved by voters should have had staggered four-year terms – possibly with four elected in one year and five two years later.

Under the system as it is, Eby said, "there are going to be some good people who might want to run again but can't sit around and wait for four years."

Eby said a mixed system might be the way to go – with five or six council members elected from districts and four or five elected at-large.

It's a conversation that community leaders from all corners of the city should have, Eby said.

"A change like that is not going to come from city council; it would have to be citizen-led,'' Eby said. "You just have to find the right coalition of people to do it."

In the meantime, Eby said, those non-incumbent candidates who fail on Nov. 7 will have to decide if they can wait another four years to run again.

"I'm just glad there are people out there willing to make the sacrifice it takes to run,'' Eby said.