Four years ago, Jim Tarbell, the former Cincinnati city council member and vice mayor, took on Republican Chris Monzel for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.
His name was on the ballot as the endorsed Democratic Party candidate.
And he lost, taking 44 percent of the vote to Monzel’s 56 percent.
Well, Tarbell’s back.
And, this time, his name won’t be on the ballot.
Tarbell filed paperwork with the Hamilton County Board of Elections last Monday to run as a write-in candidate.
This time, he won’t be the official Democratic candidate.
That would be Sean Patrick Feeney, a first-time candidate from North College Hill, whom, a couple of weeks ago, Democratic Party leaders were trying to talk into dropping out of the race to be replaced by a better known name. Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke’s first choice was former Cincinnati mayor and congressman Charlie Luken, but he wasn’t interested and is running for probate court judge.
And Feeney, who won a two-candidate primary in May, refused to budge; and the deadline for replacing candidates passed.
There is probably no harder feat to accomplish in politics than to win a write-in campaign against an entrenched incumbent whose name is on the ballot.
But Tarbell is convinced he has an issue he can run on – the decision earlier this month by Republican commissioners Monzel and Greg Hartmann to place a five year, quarter-cent sales tax hike on the ballot that would raise $170 million for the restoration of Union Terminal.
The “icon tax” originally proposed would have included Music Hall; and supporters of fixing both iconic buildings were enraged by the decision to leave Music Hall out in the cold.
So was Tarbell. And now he intends to lead the charge against Monzel by convincing those who were upset by that decision to take the time to write in his name on the November ballot.
“The filing speaks for itself,’’ Tarbell told WVXU last week. “Now, you have an option and we can have a more forceful conversation on the funding of the icons.”
Of course, Sean Patrick Feeney believes he is perfectly capable of leading that conversation. And he doesn't believe Tarbelll will get far in a write-in campaign.
"He's already tried the same race against the same opponent with his name on the ballot; and he didn't do so well,'' Feeney said. "There's no reason to believe he will be any more successful without his name on the ballot."
Burke went out of his way last week to tell WVXU that the Democratic Party had nothing to do with Tarbell’s write-in candidacy; and that Feeney was their candidate.
But there is no question Tarbell has a following in Cincinnati.
Tarbell, the former owner of Arnold’s restaurant and the Ludlow Garage, has been on the scene for decades; and is one of the city’s more colorful figures. When he left council in 2007, Mayor Mark Mallory issued a proclamation naming him “Mr. Cincinnati” and a giant-sized mural of Tarbell, dressed as Peanut Jim Shelton, the late peanut vendor at Crosley Field, takes up the entire wall of a building at Vine Street and Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine.
None of that, though, matters when you are taking on the daunting task of convincing voters to cast ballots for someone who is not on the ballot. Then, again, Tarbell has a lot of friends in Cincinnati.
Tarbell has been busy tweeting out messages to his Twitter followers, who numbered 2,526 as of Friday.
“When it comes to saving our icons, the public deserves the right to vote on more than half a loaf,’’ Tarbell said in one of is tweets.
Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou said the write-in campaign is a futile effort.
“Jim couldn’t win this race when his name was on the ballot,’’ Triantafilou said. “A write-in campaign is just not going to be successful.”
Monzel, for his part, defends his vote and said a county commission campaign is about more than one issue.
“The county has been involved with Union Terminal since 1988,’’ Monzel said. “County taxpayers have spent $70 million on Union Terminal since then. There has been no county involvement with Music Hall in the past.
“Both Greg and I want (Music Hall) to be renovated, but we had no financial relationship with Music Hall,’’ Monzel said.
There is more to county government than that one issue, Monzel said.
“We have to deal with MSD issues, the 911 communications system, the running of everyday county government,’’ Monzel said.
For now, however, the issue that drew Tarbell into the race is the flap over the “icon tax” and he will play it for all that it is worth.
“Are you ready to exercise your writing hand when you vote?,’’ Tarbell tweeted to his followers last week.
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.