As wise as they were, even the 1920s reformers who gave Cincinnati its former head of government probably never dreamed that an election like the 2021 city council election would take place.
A race with dozens of candidates, many of whom are completely unknown, for nine seats. And of those dozen, only one ran and won the last local council election four years ago.
It will be the largest field since I started covering Cincinnati politics 39 years ago – the largest of that period was 2005 when 31 candidates entered and qualified for the vote.
No fewer than 43 candidates petitioned the Hamilton County Electoral Committee by 4:00 p.m. Thursday. We already know that 32 have enough signatures and will be on the ballot. Another seven have submitted petitions that are still being examined by the board members. And four more are checked by the electoral board itself.
But what makes this election unique in the years since Cincinnati adopted a charter and elected a nine-member council at large is not the number of candidates, but the number of new faces who could take their seats in the council chambers in December .
We are examining the possibility of a full occupation of all nine council seats. And an election in which five – a majority – are guaranteed to be newcomers to the council.
It is really remarkable.
And that kind of change is being made by a minority of city voters, probably near 25-30%. And the same 25-30% will also elect a new mayor, either court clerk Aftab Pureval or councilor veteran David Mann.
We can sit around all day discussing whether voters are interested in this year’s city elections. My calendar says it’s still August. The election is on November 2nd.
There has never been and never will be a city election in this city where people have spent the summer getting angry about the local council election.
Even this year when there is a lot of trouble that could be done.
We have a very strange situation here with three council members – Democrats PG Sittenfeld and Tamaya Dennard and Republican Jeff Pastor – facing bribery charges in 2020; Dennard is in jail and the other two are awaiting trial.
The three accused councilors were replaced by two Republicans – Steve Goodin and Liz Keating – and the Democrat Jan-Michele Lemon Kearny. A third Republican appointment – Betsy Sundermann – replaced Amy Murray, who left the council in 2020 to join the Trump administration.
Of the four appointments, Kearney has the best chance of being elected alone. She is a Democrat in a Democratic city with supporters in Cincinnati’s Black Community. The three Republicans have climbed a much higher hill in a city so overwhelmingly democratic that Donald Trump only got one in four city votes last year. Not to say they can’t; They are just saying that they have to work twice as hard to be successful.
Four other council members are on fixed-term contracts this year – independent Chris Smitherman (who will run for district commissioner next year) and Democrats Chris Seelbach, Mann (the mayoral candidate) and Wendell Young, who are being prosecuted. Gang of Five “scandal.
This makes Democrat Greg Landsman the only current council member to stand and win in the last council elections.
There are no party names on the Cincinnati City Council ballot, and never have been in the council era.
But of course all three political parties – Democrats, Republicans, and the Charter Committee – are making a list of supported candidates, many of whom are first-time candidates for the council (or something else) and will struggle to break out of the crowd, and make an impression on voters.
Some don’t have to worry too much about notoriety – two charter candidates, Jim Tarbell and Kevin Flynn, are former council members who have already run and won. Both are still well known to most voters.
Others, like Democrats Michelle Dillingham and Jaime Castle, may not have been included on the list of supported Democratic candidates, but they both have potential. Dillingham has already fought strong campaigns for the council twice, losing ninth and last place on the council with just a handful of votes. Castle ran a formidable campaign as an outsider candidate in the 2nd Congressional District last year; She won Hamilton County against Republican incumbent Brad Wenstrup.
A lackluster mayoral election campaign does not help arouse interest in the council race. Man has yet to discharge Pureval because of his lack of town hall experience or the rookie mistakes of his campaign for Congress 2018 when he should have been able to defeat Republican incumbent Steve Chabot.
Man can be excused, however, as his wife, Betsy, a popular figure in Cincinnati politics, is struggling with a serious illness.
Pureval apparently learned its lesson in the 2018 congressional election – the lesson is that sometimes in politics, the less you talk the better. Less talking means fewer opportunities to put your foot in your mouth.
Do Cincinnati voters care if their city government is free from corruption – which has clearly not been the case in recent years?
My answer is yes, they probably do.
They just don’t know what to do about it when there is a small army of candidates who have to get their way on the ballot.
Jared Kamrass, director of Democratic Campaign Advisory, Rivertown Strategies, gave me another good reason why voter enthusiasm might be low.
“From the election of Trump to the election of Biden and everything that has happened since then, voters can just be in the mood to take a break from politics. They have had enough now. You could say that in Cincinnati.”
We have to see if voters wake up and see. It won’t take place in August; I can assure you of that. Not even in September. Please visit me again in October. If they take care of it, it will likely be mid-October.
Regardless of the turnout, however, the Cincinnati City Council will be a very different beast when the swearing-in ceremonies take place on December 1st.