David Pepper thinks he knows how to fix Cincinnati City Hall

I don’t know if David Pepper, who will be giving up his six-year term as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party later this month, will run for Mayor of Cincinnati in 2021.

I know he’s thinking about it because he told me it is him. But he’s nowhere near ready to commit to one race.

But I know what he’ll say if he were mayor, given the sorry state of affairs in Cincinnati City Hall, with three members – two Democrats and one Republican – charged with crimes this year. And I tend to take him seriously on the matter – he was on the council from 2001 to 2005 when he ran for mayor and lost to his Democratic compatriot Mark Mallory.

His solution to the “culture of corruption” in the town hall is actually quite simple; it would require next to nothing of new laws or massive reforms.

It would only require council members to meet the requirements of the city charter, which was passed in 1925 and has served the city well for generations.

“If I am mayor and I get a whiff of you as a councilor disrupting development projects, you will be publicly called and downgraded by every presidency you have,” Pepper told WVXU.

“Not sounding like old grandpa, but having a councilor involved in negotiations with developers before a development plan goes to the town planning commission for review? No, that’s not right,” Pepper said. “People haven’t worked like this in this city for almost a century.”

And boy are these three councilors being accused of meddling?

Democrat Tamaya Dennard, arrested and indicted in February, pleaded guilty to a bribery case accused of taking money from a developer. Republican Jeff Pastor, arrested and charged in early November, is charged with lining his pockets with bribes from another developer – an indictment he denies.

Then, in late November, came the case of Democrat PG Sittenfeld – at the time the leading candidate to replace the temporary John Cranley in the 2021 mayoral election. He was charged with bribery for illegally taking money on a leadership PAC he was promoting had created his campaign by the same developer involved in the Pastor case.

Sittenfeld announced his innocence in video tweets. But in all likelihood, his mayoral ambitions are over, even if he is ultimately found not guilty. He has been voluntarily suspended from the council and the probate judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler will appoint his temporary replacement.

Currently – with Sittenfeld’s status unclear – four Democrats are running for Mayor of Cincinnati: Councilor David Mann, former Councilor and Senator Cecil Thomas, community activist Kelli Prather, and retired firefighter Raffel Prophett.

Pepper, who is leaving as chairman of the state party after a series of statewide elections in which the Ohio Democrats have largely been beaten up by the GOP, is considering running for mayor.

“There is something to watch out for,” said Pepper. “It’s a job I ran for before and I thought I had some good ideas back then. And now we have this unique situation, this serious problem that hangs like a cloud over City Hall.”

Regardless of whether he is running for mayor or not, he hopes the council can revert to its old form and restore citizens’ confidence, which is clearly waning.

“I think we all see the need for something that lifts us up,” said Pepper.

When he was on the council, Pepper said, the town charter was “the North Star” – a document that made it clear that it was the councilors’ job to set policy and vote on development projects after being fully scrutinized by the town’s managers and the city administration.

“The only thing city law doesn’t do is create a path for the council to become a bunch of mini-mayors,” Pepper said.

“Maybe before all of this people saw the people of us on the council as a bunch of good two-shoes,” said Pepper. “Maybe it was us.” But it worked. We took city law seriously. That has to happen again. “

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