Hamilton County’s Commissioner Todd Portune announced Thursday that he will no longer run for re-election after more than a quarter of a century in public life.
At an emotional press conference where he was surrounded by two of his children and dozen of leaders from both sides of the political aisle, Portune announced that his cancer has returned. And it has spread.
Three months of chemotherapy over the summer didn’t work, he said.
“I understand whether this is a treatment or not, the physical effects will be extremely challenging and difficult and painful,” said Portune.
The 61-year-old Portune, known for his tireless work, said he could not reach the level he expects of himself.
This is not a resignation, he stressed. However, he admitted that there is a possibility that he may not be able to end his term, which ends in late 2020. He declined to speak specifically about his cancer, just saying that he has not yet seen all of the doctors he plans to do.
Sometimes he choked when he spoke. But there were also moments of laughter at political jokes about the livelihood of the county and town and the controversial building of a music venue in The Banks.
“There is no job I have enjoyed better than having the opportunity to serve the people of Cincinnati and Hamilton Counties for nearly 27 years in a row,” said Portune. “Since my accident at home in mid-April, I have not been able to perform my duties and responsibilities as your Commissioner as you are used to, nor on the matter on which I believe the work should be done.” “
Fight for rights “before it was popular”
Some who attended the announcement at the Hamilton County offices cried when they heard the news, although many were expecting the news.
“Todd Portune has been great in this ward for decades, serving the public with unmatched dedication and enthusiasm,” said Commissioner Denise Driehaus. “He’s been my friend too since I worked for him as his legislative assistant at City Hall.” Today when his colleague on the County Commission. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside Todd, who taught me the value of integrity, thoughtful reflection, and (making decisions) based on what is right and just. “
Chris Monzel, a Republican who served on the Council and Commission with Portune, appeared for the announcement to show support.
“Even if we didn’t always agree, there is respect,” said Monzel. “I wanted to support him in a very difficult decision. I lost a brother to cancer. My heart goes out to his family for what they are up to. It’s tough.”
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, a Democratic compatriot who sometimes clashed with Hamilton County officials, said Portune fought for gay rights, disability inclusion and addiction support “before it became popular”.
“That’s the legacy his kids know and I’ll trumpet,” said Cranley.
Attorney Tom Gabelman attended the University of Cincinnati Law School with Portune, graduating a year behind him. You have worked together on many projects. Four years ago, at the Yard House on The Banks, they decided together that they “had a decade ahead” to implement projects like the US Bank Arena, the rest of the banks, and the transit system.
Then they wrote down all the projects on a napkin Gabelman still has.
When the news of retirement broke, Gabelman texted Portune referring to a poem by Robert Frost that looked past the forest on a snowy evening and ended with the words “And miles to bed” and gave him ” Miles ahead of the goal, a decade “said deliver.”
Portune replied, “We may have to deliver sooner than a decade.”
To which, Gabelman replied, “You’ve been delivering for at least two and a half decades and that has changed our city and our region.”
Portune is one of the longest-serving Democrats in the region’s history, serving first as Cincinnati City Councilor and later as Commissioner for nearly 27 years. Had he run again next year it would have been an unprecedented sixth term.
He is proud that people don’t see him as a partisan, but as a commissioner.
For much of his career, Portune’s disease has eroded his body, leaving him partially paralyzed in a wheelchair and missing his left leg above the knee.
Doctors discovered tumors on Portune’s spine in 1996 and warned him that if they continued to grow, they could cripple him.
Treatment for a blood clot in 2002 resulted in bleeding from the spinal tumors and paralyzed the former spur star from the chest down. An aide would go to the hospital with work. Portune continued to introduce movements from his hospital bed.
He got through it all and has been a member of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners since 2000. Prior to that, Portune served on Cincinnati City Council for seven years.
Despite the health problems, Portune forged a career in politics and became one of the leading democratic figures in the region.
Sometimes public meetings had to be held in the hospital where he was recovering.
The three commissioners met in an auditorium at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the spring of 2018. Portune had just had his left leg amputated above his knee because of cancer.
Then, in April, Portune fell into his home in Green Township and injured his spine again.
The fall partially paralyzed him on the right side of his body. He missed about a month’s worth of meetings. After the commissioners could not agree on whether to meet at Drake Hospital, where Portune was recovering, Portune managed to go to the commissioner’s meeting at the end of May.
“I am very happy to be here,” said Portune at the meeting. “I had to move heaven and earth to be with all of you today, to fulfill this aspect of my duty as a district commissioner.”
Since then, he has attended most of the meetings of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.
It’s the end of a political era for Democrats. Cincinnati and Hamilton Counties went from complete republican rule to almost complete democratic control in Portune’s day.
A career in Cincinnati and Hamilton County politics
He lost only one election, his first in 1992. He was a 34-year-old lawyer enlisted by the Democratic Party to run against Ohio Senate President Stanley Aronoff, whose name appears on the downtown theater.
Most politicians then saw Portune as a sacrificial lamb in this breed. You were right. Aronoff hit him lightly.
Within two months, Portune joined the Cincinnati City Council as an appointed replacement for David Mann, who was presided over to Congress.
It is not clear who will follow Portune. No Democrats have come up to run yet.
Indian Hill Republican Andy Black has already announced his candidacy for Portune’s seat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.
Portune resigns as serious financial decisions are made by the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. With a projected budget deficit of $ 20 million, commissioners are considering increasing sales tax. They will consider whether to continue the sales tax of 0.25 percent approved five years ago for the renovation of the Union Terminal. This tax should expire in April 2020. The staff recommended that the tax should continue.
Portune said he made the announcement “without regret”.
“Thanks to the support of everyone, especially the Lord above, I have lived and experienced a blessed life,” he said. “I have often found that I wish everyone could experience what I have experienced. (My life) has been a rich and blessed life of service to others.”
For much of his speech, Portune read from a statement. It was out of character but said he did it to make him “blubberly” or talk too long which made him laugh.
Portune is known for its passionate and sometimes lengthy speeches.
But in the end, he added his own heartfelt words as he looked at the dozen of people who turned out to be supportive of him.
“I love you all,” he said. “That was a great ride. There is still a little time left for the ride.”