West Side PAC Will Try To Flex Its Muscles in Cincinnati Election

Sep 3, 2017

If you live on Cincinnati's East Side, you might wonder why some of your fellow Cincinnatians on the West Side feel they need their own political action committee to influence this year's mayoral and city council races.

But they do feel the need; and what they have is POWR PAC (Partnership of Westside Residents), which has come back after an eight-year absence and is still headed by Pete Witte, the Price Hill community activist and small business owner.

POWR PAC has endorsed a slate of nine council candidates, along with incumbent mayor John Cranley, and plans to reach every West Side voter at least twice and possibly three times between now and the November election – mainly with mail pieces and some social media advertising.

"Price Hill and Westwood alone make up  a big piece of the city's electorate,'' Witte told WVXU. "We think we can make a difference."

So why do they feel they need a West Side PAC to do this?

It's hardly surprising that many voters in the city's West Side neighborhoods look across the great divide of the Mill Creek Valley and wonder if Cincinnati City Hall realizes they exist.

They see a city government going ga-ga over the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and The Banks, the major development investments in East Side neighborhoods like Walnut Hills, Madisonville, Oakley and Pleasant Ridge and wonder when it is their turn.

And they look at the streetcar that glides through Over-the-Rhine to the Riverfront and, of course, never touches their neighborhoods in any way. Frankly, there probably aren't that many West Side residents who have ridden the streetcar.

Yes, there are positive things that have been happening on the West Side in recent years – the development of East Price Hill and its Incline District, new commercial development and an ongoing town square development in Westwood, the city's largest neighborhood. And there are a few other examples.

But, still, they feel neglected.

Back in its original incarnation, POWR PAC tended toward more Republican, more conservative candidates – although not exclusively. The litmus test, Witte said, has always been that the candidates be in tune with the West Side neighborhoods on their core issues – trying to stem rising crime, the lack of investment in West Side business districts, the deterioration of the housing stock and the problems of urban blight.

"Look, we couldn't put together a full slate of Republicans because there are only three candidates endorsed by the Republican Party,'' said Witte, who is a Republican and a one-time council candidate himself.

"What we have is a slate that reflects the changing demographics of the West Side and the political reality that this is a Democratic city. And the county is becoming more Democratic for that matter."

Cranley was a given. He doesn't live there now but he grew up there; and as a mayor who opposed the streetcar and has put public safety as the top priority of city government, he is a good fit for POWR PAC.

Witte even appeared in a non-speaking role in a Cranley ad during the primary, playing the part of a small business owner – which he is.

Five of the nine endorsed council candidates are Democrats: incumbents David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, who ran and came in 11th four years ago; and two newcomers, both African-Americans, Ozie Davis and Tamaya Dennard.

One other incumbent was endorsed – independent Christopher Smitherman. POWR PAC is high on Smitherman, who has been endorsed by the Green Party too.  

"There were church festivals on the West Side where people where people were telling him they wished he was running for mayor,'' Witte said.

POWR PAC has endorsed two of the three Republican candidates – incumbent Amy Murray and Seth Maney, a commercial real estate broker from Clifton.

The only one of the nine candidates the West Side PAC has endorsed who actually lives on the West Side is first-time candidate Henry Frondorf, who lives in Westwood and is the creator of the Neighborhood Games, an Olympic-style event designed to bring city neighborhoods together.

And Frondorf is endorsed by the Charter Committee. There was a time when Charterites were anathema to the political establishment on the West Side.

Five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one independent. Three African-American candidates. This is not your father's POWR PAC.

"It's just reflective of the how the West Side has evolved,'' Witte said. Today, there are large neighborhoods on the West Side that are nearly 50-50 in terms of racial make-up, he said.

Witte said POWR PAC hopes to spend somewhere between $35,000 to $50,000 on its campaign.

"What I want to see is what I saw the last time, when people were walking into the polling places in West Side neighborhoods, carrying the mail piece that listed all the POWR PAC candidates," Witte said.

It's going to be a challenge, Witte said, because many of the long-time Republican voters of the West Side, in places like West Price Hill and Covedale, seem to be turned off by city politics.

"Those are critical voters and they seem to be apathetic, disgruntled,'' he said. "Some are very angry. They think their neighborhoods have been ignored."

Witte said he knows the West Side is out-numbered by the East Side neighborhoods in terms of the number of voters. But he believes that if POWR PAC can help maximize the turnout, they could have an impact.

And he says that with the board of elections moved from downtown to Norwood, the in-person early voting won't be as big a factor.

"This is going to be a 'show up at the polls' election,'' Witte said.

In 2005, the last council election where POWR PAC was active, five of its nine endorsed council candidates were elected.

It's a safe bet that they would be satisfied with a similar result in 2017.