Rob Richardson Back In The Saddle With Statewide Race

Oct 1, 2017

Over the years, we have seen hundreds upon hundreds of candidates for political office who get their names on the ballot for offices big and small, and end up getting walloped on election day.

And, very often, those candidates are never heard from again. Maybe out of embarrassment at their poor showing. Maybe because they find that campaigning is too hard and not worth the effort. Or maybe just don't see any way to avoid being walloped again.

Rob Richardson, the labor lawyer and former chairman of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, is not among them.

Yes, he's been walloped in an election.

In May, he ran in his first campaign for public office; and he aimed fairly high – a bid to become Cincinnati's next mayor.

He was running in a three-way primary, with the top two finishers going on to face each other in the Nov. 7 general election.

There was a scrawny, pathetic turnout of only 11 percent of the electorate, but Richardson finished a distant third, with nearly 20.5 percent of the vote. Council member Yvette Simpson came out on top, with 45 percent, while the incumbent, John Cranley, had a somewhat embarrassing 34 percent.

Richardson was at a disadvantage from the start. He was not well known; and he did not have a platform of incumbency that Simpson had on council and Cranley had as mayor.

His two opponents had a public forum to squabble with each other every Wednesday afternoon at council meetings; and the squabbling continues.

Richardson had none of that.

But Rob Richardson will not ride slowly into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again.

Rob Richardson (center) waits to speak at Corryville rally
Credit Howard Wilkinson

In June, he filed the paperwork to form an exploratory committee for Ohio treasurer; and, on Thursday of last week, he formally launched his campaign with events in Youngstown, Columbus and Cincinnati.

"I'm in this to win,'' Richardson told WVXU Thursday at a rally at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. "I've been traveling the state for the past few months. I've probably been to 15 to 20 counties so far.

"And I am finding just how big and how diverse Ohio really is,'' said Richardson.

He is running for an open seat – the Republican incumbent, Josh Mandel, is term-limited out and is running against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown for the U.S. Senate. Mandel took on Brown in 2012 and lost.

Richardson is clearly the choice of the Ohio Democratic Party to be its candidate for treasurer next year.

A reminder notice of his Cincinnati campaign appearance popped into the email inboxes of Cincinnati area reporters Thursday afternoon from the Ohio Democratic Party's communications director reminding them of the 6 p.m. rally at the Niehoff Urban Studio.

Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper, a former Cincinnati councilman and Hamilton County commissioner, said in a text message to WVXU that he does not expect Richardson will have a primary challenger.

"It looks like he will have a clear path,'' Pepper wrote. "Has already worked hard to get known around the state and from the feedback I've been getting, Democrats are very excited about his candidacy."

Hamilton County Democratic Party chair Tim Burke, who was at Richardson's Corryville rally Thursday, told WVXU that he fully expected Richardson to run for statewide office this time around.

"He's long been interested in politics, so I am not at all surprised,'' Burke said. "And I think he will make a very good candidate."

Back in January, when Richardson announced he was running for mayor, there were many in the local Democratic Party who thought he should be running for city council instead. But that's not what he wanted. Richardson said repeatedly he wanted to be mayor, because that is where he could have the most impact.

"He would have been a lay-down winner for a council seat if he had chosen that route,'' Burke said. "With three open seats on council, I don't see any way he wouldn't have picked up one of them."

But the 38-year-old Mount Auburn resident caught the eye of Pepper and other state party leaders, even as he was going down to defeat in the mayor's race.

"I know that David Pepper recruited Rob for this,'' Burke said.

Burke said Pepper asked him to write a letter to the other 87 county party chairs in Ohio, introducing them to Richardson and asking them to welcome him to their counties as a candidate for treasurer.

"I know he's gotten a good response from a number of the county chairs that he's met with,'' Burke said.

If the field on the Democratic side remains clear – and Pepper is convinced it will – it will be an enormous advantage for Richardson because of the division on the Republican side.

A primary fight for the state treasurer nomination appears to be brewing on the GOP side, with State Rep. Robert Sprague of Findlay and Clarence Mingo, the Franklin County auditor, both in the race.

Mingo, one of the state's most high-profile African-American Republicans, made news at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer when he made it clear to reporters that he had no use for the party's presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

"I've watched him mock a person with disabilities,'' Mingo told Ohio reporters. "As a veteran of the first Persian Gulf War, I have heard him dishonor those who were prisoners of war. And, as an African-American, I have heard him make remarks that have been offensive and hurtful."

Mingo said he would respect Trump as the party's nominee, but said "I just can't endorse him."

Sprague appears to be the party establishment choice – as of the end of July, he had about three times as much campaign money in the bank as Mingo.

While Mingo and Sprague fight it out, Richardson is free to raise money for the general election and boost his profile around the state.

Thursday night, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval spoke to the crowd in Corryville about his friend Richardson. Pureval pulled a major upset last year, unseating incumbent Republican incumbent Tracy Winkler.

He laid out one of the problems Richardson will face.

"It's an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless,'' said Pureval, whose father was from India and his mother a native of Tibet. "But it is harder in this state for candidates of color to win elections."

History bears that out. Democrats have an abysmal record of electing minority candidates to statewide office. Republicans aren't much better – the last was Ken Blackwell, who was elected treasurer in 1994 and secretary of state in 1998 and 2002, before losing the governor's race to Ted Strickland in 2006.

Richardson speaks very movingly of his family's journey from a great-grandfather who was a slave in the South, to his father's first cousin Vivian Malone, who became an icon in the civil rights movement in 1963 when she faced down the Alabama National Guard and Gov. George Wallace, who blocked the door of the University of Alabama.

President Kennedy ended the stand-off by putting the National Guard under federal control; and the soldiers led her and another black student in to enroll. She was the first African-American woman to study at the University of Alabama.

And he speaks of his father, Bob Richardson, who moved to Cincinnati to find work. His father, who became a well-known leader in Cincinnati's labor movement, went to UC for a time but had to drop out to support his family as a laborer.

"My father helped construct the campus building where I earned my degree in electrical engineering,'' Richardson said.

"We have come a long way,'' he told the roomful of supporters. "This campaign is not going to be easy. But we can do this, with your help."