Evaluation: Cincinnati’s 2021 Council Race has the potential to remodel Metropolis Corridor

It may be hard to believe, but by Wednesday, 75 people had gone to the Hamilton County’s electoral board and taken petitions for this year’s Cincinnati City Council.

75 people with petitions for one of only nine seats on the city council. Incredible.

Far more than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been into Cincinnati politics since 1983.

That doesn’t mean you will see 75 names on the ballot in the November election. Many of these people – mostly people you probably never heard of unless they are related to you or live on your street – will never petition these people. Many will struggle to get the signatures of 500 Cincinnati registered voters that they would need to qualify for the vote.

But you might see 35 or a number a little north of it – which would still be a huge box trying to end the top 9 election.

Why do you ask?

Because there is so much potential for fundamental change in the Council this year. Every place is available.

Of the nine current incumbents, only one – Democrat Greg Landsman – will run for a second term after being elected to the council four years ago.

Four more are temporary; and most of them say they are running for mayor this year. Temporary Democrats include Democrats David Mann, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach, all of whom are planning to run for mayor in the May primary, as well as independent Christopher Smitherman, who may still join the mayor scrum.

Four people now serving on the Council have been appointed and have never voted for the Council.

There’s Republican Betsy Sundermann, who was appointed in March 2020 when Amy Murray left the council to work for the Trump administration.

And due to the extraordinary spectacle of 2020 when three sitting councilors were arrested on federal corruption charges, three more council members were appointed last year – Democrat Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney and Republicans Steve Goodin and Liz Keating.

The registration deadline for council candidates running without party stipulations on the ballot is August 19th. However, the campaigns have already started. Savvy candidates have already raised some money, put together campaign organizations, and will soon or have already started campaigning websites.

And by March or April at the latest, the three political parties in Cincinnati – Democratic, Republican and the Charter Committee – will begin approving lists of candidates

So who, you might ask, are the top candidates at the beginning? Kevin Flynn was a no-nonsense councilor who decided not to run for re-election in 2017. He’s back now and is clearly at the top of the list in this year’s election. This also applies to Democrat Michelle Dillingham, a longtime community activist who came very close in two previous local elections. She has a large following; and this can be your year.

Matt Woods, president of the Charter Committee, told WVXU that Jim Tarbell, the former councilor and vice mayor, has told Charter that he will run this year. Tarbell has almost universal notoriety among Cincinnati voters after decades in the Cincinnati political scene.

Who else is in the top row?

  • democrat Jaime Castle of Mount Washington, who works as a substitute teacher, impressed many people in her party when she took on the unenviable assignment of running against Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup in the sprawling 2nd Congressional District. She lost, but she won the eastern Hamilton County portion of the district and received 54% of the vote. She made a lot of friends in this campaign and will be well organized.
  • Bill FrostBorn in Britain, he came to Cincinnati as an engineer in 1988 and became a US citizen in 1995. As a past president of the Pleasant Ridge Community Council, he has served as a leader on the Charter Committee for the past several years. He will likely top the list of approved candidates for the charter.
  • Cam Hardy of Mount Airy, who was a tireless crusader for better bus links and public transportation, has been one of the city’s best-known activists in recent years and has certainly developed a following who would love to give their nine council votes to agree with him.
  • Brian Garry, a progressive Democrat who ran for office multiple times and has failed, is a tireless lawyer for the homeless in Cincinnati. If he increases his base beyond progressive Democrats, he might only have one chance this time.
  • Dale Mallory, a former Democratic official and member of the Mallory political dynasty, could be a force to be reckoned with in name identification alone. If it runs, it would have significant support from black voters.
  • Jeff Cramerding, a Democrat who has run many local campaigns for Democrats and Charterites, is well known and well connected. He will likely raise a lot of money to become a serious candidate.
  • Meeka OwensThe North Avondale Democrat has been tacitly campaigning for the council for many months. She has worked on many local democratic campaigns and is very popular and respected. It will almost certainly receive Democratic Party approval.
  • Derek BaumanThe former Mason police officer, who lives in the Rhine, ran in 2017 and took 14th place out of 23 candidates. He was a well-known community activist and may have expanded his base since then.

Other candidates will appear as candidates in the coming months. And we’ll look out for them.

However, two things are evident in the 2021 city council elections: there is tremendous potential for change in the town hall, more than it has been in decades, and voters will not be short of options.

For many Cincinnati voters, it will be difficult to reduce that field to nine.

Read more “Politically speaking” here.

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