Cincinnati's mayoral race beginning to take shape

Nov 17, 2012

The Hamilton County Board of Elections isn’t finished counting the votes from the Nov. 6 election; but it was only a matter of time before the 2013 race for Cincinnati mayor began.

John Cranley, the former Democratic city councilman and two-time congressional candidate, settled that hash this week when he announced he will be a candidate for mayor, issuing a press release and holding a flurry of media interviews.

Clearly, the 38-year-old Cranley, who has been out of office for nearly four years now, saw the value of being the first horse out of the gate.

He is not, though, alone in his ambition to follow Mark Mallory into the mayor’s office at Cincinnati City Hall.

There will be more, and sooner rather than later, even though the filing deadline for mayoral candidates is about seven months away.

Mallory can’t run again – that term limits thing – and is looking for greener pastures. A job in the second Obama administration? A run for statewide office in 2014? Time will tell.

In the meantime, there will be a mad scramble by politicians to get their hands on the job he has now, which, since Cincinnati went to direct election of the mayor in 2001, holds more clout than ever.

Under the direct mayoral election system, candidates file for mayor. If more than two do so, there is a primary election in September; and the top two finishers in that primary face each other head-to-head for mayor in the November general election.

And, if you are city council member with time still left on your eight-year term limit clock, there is none of this filing for mayor in June and then filing as a council candidate in August.

You are either all in or all out.

A big risk for any sitting council member to take.

But Cranley, who left city council in Jan. 2009 to devote his time to a development company involved in the revival of East Price Hill’s Incline District, doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s a free agent now.

But the chances of avoiding a primary election for mayor are slim to none; and slim has left town.
Here are some other either likely or possible candidates:

- Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who was mayor back in the 1990s when the office had little clout, is almost certain to join the fray; she would probably like a taste of what it is like to be a mayor with some authority. And, if Mallory were to leave office early, as vice mayor, she is in line to be mayor and could run as an incumbent.

- There is much talk of Democratic council member Cecil Thomas running for mayor. Term limits mean Thomas can’t run for re-election to council, so if he wants to continue his political career, mayor would be the logical choice. He probably couldn’t raise the kind of money a Cranley or Qualls could (both are champion fundraisers) but he has been re-elected to council easily on little money and considerable support in the African-American community.

- P.G. Sittenfeld, the freshman council member, is said to be mulling a run for mayor; and has recently issued a detailed memo on the city’s budget situation, which could become a campaign manifesto.

- And then there is the wild card in the deck – Hamilton County Commission president Greg Hartmann, a Republican who was re-elected commissioner on Nov. 6 without a Democratic opponent. And he is sitting on a campaign fund of about $250,000 that he didn’t have to spend in 2012.

A Republican mayor of Cincinnati? Now there’s a novel idea. We haven’t had one of those in more than 40 years.

There are those in the Hamilton County Republican Party who are ready to write off the heavily Democratic city and concentrate on the suburban and county offices where they do so well.

Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou is not one of them. He is actively touting a Hartmann candidacy, although Hartmann has yet to make up his mind on running.

That’s OK. He has months to decide; and is sitting on buckets of money in case he does run.

The great hope of Triantafilou and the GOP is that a bunch of Democrats jump into the mayoral primary (“the more the merrier,’’ he told WVXU) and that the Democratic vote splits, allowing a Greg Hartmann (or some other Republican) to finish in the top two in the primary.

Then, the GOP would roll the dice and hope for the best in the November election.

It may be a forlorn hope in a heavily Democratic city. But, then again, four years ago, a little-known and under-funded Brad Wenstrup – who was the only Republican willing to take on Mallory – ended up with 45 percent of the vote. It made Wenstrup a legitimate candidate; and the experience helped lead to his election Nov. 6 as the new congressman from the 2nd Congressional District.

Qualls and Cranley have both had great success in the city; both have been top vote-getters in city council campaigns.

There are no party designations on the ballot in a mayor race (or a city council race), but that certainly does not mean the political parties can’t or won’t get involved.

A fall match-up between Cranley and Qualls would force Cincinnati Democrats to choose sides, even though the party would be unlikely to endorse in such a race.

If Hartmann gets in and prevails in the primary, the battle lines would be clearly drawn.

Hold on to your hats – this could well be the most interesting mayoral election Cincinnati has ever seen.