The 2016 election left for dead Hamilton County’s reputation as a bellwether county in Presidential elections. When Hillary Clinton comfortably won Hamilton County, only to be clobbered in Ohio and lose in the electoral college, heads shook amongst local politicos. Had demographics finally crushed the county as a reliable GOP bastion? The victories of Denise Driehaus and Aftab Pureval in county races over reliable GOP names like Deters and Winkler confirmed the trend.
One place to look for confirmation of these trends is the 2017 race for Cincinnati mayor and City Council. It’s been decades since the GOP controlled Cincinnati City Hall. There are only three Republicans on the current council. The real contest in 2017 will be whether so called “progressives” can find and ride the same blue wave in a lower turnout city election.
But a major roadblock for a progressive renaissance could be crowded fields in the mayor and council races. Two candidates for mayor, councilmember Yvette Simpson and former UC Board Chair Rob Richardson, are vying for progressive votes. They will battle each other, Mayor Cranley and possibly Charlie Winburn in the May primary for two slots in November’s “finals.”
More complicated is the wide-open race for nine council seats, all elected at large. With four-year terms, wannabe politicians can no longer wait. Four years is lifetime in politics.
Maybe that explains the long list of mentionables accumulating for this year’s council campaign. There are reports of about 30 potential candidates, compared to the 21 who ran in 2013. They include six well-known incumbents. It’s rare that more than one incumbent is shown the door by voters. This group has been building war chests and name recognition focused on 2017.
That leaves a potentially huge field of challengers vying for no more than three or four council seats. Among them are former Councilmember Laure Quinlivan.
Other potential candidates include the 11th, 12th and 15th place finishers from 2013: Greg Landsman, Michelle Dillingham and Sam Malone. Landsman is fresh off the Preschool Promise campaign that won voter support last November. Dillingham began raising money last year and was the first to file her petitions to qualify for the November 2017 ballot. Malone, a Republican, is a political buddy of term-limited Councilmember Winburn. Malone briefly served on council in the past, but has been caught up in a bit of scandal as a former consultant channeled cash from the Metropolitan Sewer District. These repeat candidates may have a leg up with name recognition in 2017.
Then there is a riverboat load of first-time candidates elbowing for attention, including Tamaya Dennard, Derek Bauman, Tamara Sullivan, Ozie Davis and Kelli Prather.
Then there are former elected officials who may be thinking they can replicate Dave Mann’s 2013 political comeback, like term-limited former state representatives Alicia Reece and Dale Mallory, and former Councilman Jim “Mr. Cincinnati” Tarbell.
Voters can pick as many as nine candidates for Council. In 2013, Amy Murray grabbed the final ninth seat with only the support of only about 39 percent of voters. The more candidates in the mix, the fewer votes needed to land that ninth seat.
Whether progressives can win the mayor’s race and build a working majority on council this year will depend on whether voters who supported Democrats in 2016 will show up again in November, and whether they can make sense of a crowded field of council candidates elbowing for their attention.