Thomas overcomes money disadvantage to crush Winburn in state senate race

Nov 4, 2014

Cecil Thomas
Credit Sarah Ramsey

Despite being outspent by at least four-to-one, former Cincinnati council member Cecil Thomas held the 9th Ohio Senate District for the Democrats, rolling over Republican Charlie Winburn in an easy win.

With 100 percent of the unofficial vote counted, the 61-year-Democrat took 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Winburn.

Winburn spent over $300,000 since July trying to win the seat and become the only African-American Republican in the Ohio Senate Republican Caucus.

But the 9th Senate District, which includes most of Cincinnati’s central city neighborhoods and suburbs such as Norwood and Wyoming, proved to be a thoroughly Democratic district.

Thomas is a former Cincinnati police officer and executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission who was elected to city council four times before resigning last year with the intention of running for the state senate.

It was a wide open seat – incumbent Democrat Eric Kearney could not run for re-election because of Ohio’s term limits law.

Thomas ran a low budget campaign, spending about $75,000 since July, with most of his money coming from labor unions.

Winburn, who is chairman of council’s powerful Budget and Finance Committee, did not formally enter the race until August, well after the Hamilton County Republican Party had put a placeholder candidate on the May primary ballot.

But he spent months putting together and raising money before becoming an official candidate. In August, before the deadline for political parties to replace candidates, the placeholder candidate – party activist Jackie Mikita – voluntarily stepped aside and the Hamilton County GOP put Winburn her place.

That changed the dynamics of the race radically. It meant that hundreds of thousands of dollars would be spent by Winburn and the Ohio Senate GOP caucus to win yet another another seat in a Senate where they already held 23 of 33 seats.

But what the Senate Republicans did not have was an African-American Republican senator; and it was considered a feather in the cap of the local party if they could get Winburn elected.

The last time Thomas and Winburn were on a Cincinnati City Council ballot together, Thomas outpolled Winburn by a small margin.

It is a heavily Democratic district, with an African-American majority. Two years ago, 74 percent of the voters in the 9th Ohio Senate District cast ballots for President Obama.

Thomas was elected to city council four terms. He left early in 2013, and his wife, Pamula, was appointed to his seat. She lost in the fall election.

Thomas won a six-candidate Democratic primary for the 9th District nomination in May, edging out State Rep. Dale Mallory by 556 votes.

Winburn will remain on council. His current term expires late in 2017.  In some of his ads and literature, he gave the impression that Democratic Mayor John Cranley, who appointed him to the committee chairmanship, was backing him.

But Cranley called a press conference last week saying he was backing Thomas and the entire Democratic ticket.