The election of a county recorder is not unimportant – it is – but elections for Hamilton County Recorder are generally sleepy affairs, with the candidates involved largely ignoring each other as they try to build name recognition.
Not this year. At least not on the Republican side.
The contest for the GOP is between two well-known Republicans, one looking to return to elected office, the other looking to stay in public office.
They are former Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert A. Nadel, who was prevented from running for re-election in 2014 because of Ohio’s age limit on judicial candidates; and Cincinnati city council member Charlie Winburn, who will, next year, be term-limited out of running for city council for the second time in his political career.
So far, Winburn and Nadel have spent at least as much time firing personal attacks at each other as they have talking about the recorder’s office itself.
The two Republicans rarely mention the two-term incumbent Democratic recorder, Wayne Coates, who is presumably sitting back watching the fireworks show and preparing a general election campaign in the fall against one of the two Republicans.
It is has been anything but a normal recorder’s race.
Nadel implies in interviews and on his campaign Facebook page that Winburn could be caught up –and even be a target - in the on-going investigations (including one by the FBI) of spending practices at the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).
It is charge Winburn vehemently denies.
“Let whatever investigation happens happen,’’ Winburn said. “”I know I didn’t do anything illegal or improper.”
Meanwhile, Winburn and his campaign operation have made accusations that there were certain cases where Nadel, in his long career as a judge, went easy on a man accused of domestic violence and “expunged the record of a pedophile.”
Nadel calls Winburn’s charges “nonsense;” and insists that if he were soft on crime, a strict law-and-order Republican like former sheriff and prosecutor Simon L. Leis Jr. wouldn’t be chairing his campaign.
“Ask Si Leis if I am tough on crime,’’ Nadel said.
One thing needs to be noted about the ballot Republicans are seeing now for early voting and will see on March 15 at polling places.
The GOP ballot contains a third name for county recorder – former Anderson Township trustee Russ Jackson. Jackson withdrew from the race after the ballots were printed.
So, according to Hamilton County Elections Director Sherry Poland, any ballot cast for Jackson will not be counted. The board, Poland said, is posting signs in every polling location saying votes for Jackson won’t count and inserting a flyer in each absentee ballot mailed out saying the same thing.
Nadel tells everyone who will listen that Jackson has endorsed him; and he told WVXU that he is afraid that if people waste votes on Jackson, it could hurt him more than Winburn.
All of this makes for interesting campaign patter, but what does it have to do with what the county recorder does?
A county recorder’s duties in Ohio:
According to the Ohio Recorders Association, the principal job is to make “a compete, accurate and permanent record of every document pertaining to the conveyance and encumbrance of land within the county.
The land records are maintained, archived and made constantly available to the public. The recorder also collects fees for documents filed in the recorder’s office and pays the money into the county’s general fund.
The recorder’s office is also where military veterans can officially record their discharge papers – called DD Form 214 – which are required for all veterans to participate in programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as disability compensation and pensions, home loans and vocational services.
Norbert A. Nadel
Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati; juris doctorate from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.
Experience: In 1974, Nadel was appointed to the Hamilton County Municipal Court. In 1980, he became a domestic relations judge. Two years later, Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes appointed him to a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judgeship. He was re-elected every six years until 2014, when he was prohibited from running again by Ohio’s age limit law for judicial candidates.
Campaign Facebook page: Nadel ForRecorder
Nadel’s long career on the bench was marked by many high profile cases.
But perhaps the two that grabbed the most headlines were separated by 25 years – a rare Sunday morning hearing on a motion in the case of then-Reds manager Pete Rose and the 2014 criminal trial of suspended Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter, which resulted in her conviction on one felony count.
Rose’s lawyers went to court in 1989 for a temporary restraining order to stop Major League Baseball from investigating charges that Rose bet on baseball.
Since Rose’s hearing before then-baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti was to take place on a Monday, Nadel called for a Sunday morning hearing which drew national media attention. Nadel granted Rose’s motion.
To Nadel, those high profile cases were “just part of the job. A job I really loved.”
Why, after 40 years on the bench, would he want to return to elective office as recorder?
“I want to be involved,’’ Nadel said. “I don’t like the age limits. I wish I could still be a judge. But I can’t. And I see this as a way to continue to serve the taxpayers.”
Nadel told WVXU he can be a good steward of the public’s money.
“I’m generous when it comes to giving to charities, but not with the taxpayers’ money,’’ Nadel said. “You are not going to see me going into the county commissioners every year begging for a bigger budget. We will work within our means and get the job done.”
There are elected offices, particularly at the county level, where the officeholder does not necessarily have to be in the office every day – he or she hires a top administrator to run the day-to-day operations.
“That’s not going to be me,’’ Nadel said. “If I win, I’m going to be there. I’m going to come in every day.”
On Winburn’s campaign website, he has a “vision” plan for the recorder’s office, which includes creating a seven-year “business plan” for running the office more efficiently.
Nadel scoffs at that plan.
“That’s all canned stuff; that’s some ad agency creating a platform,’’ Nadel said. “I’m going to run this office efficiently and on a cost-effective basis. I can promise that. I doubt if Charlie Winburn even knows where the recorder’s office is.”
Residence: College Hill
Education: Bachelor of science in urban management and affairs, master of education in social foundations of education and associate of science in community services, all from the University of Cincinnati.
Experience: Served on Cincinnati City Council from 1993 to 2001. Returned to council in 2013 and is currently chairman of council’s Budget and Finance Committee. In between, from 2001 to 2006, he served as a member of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, appointed by former Gov. Bob Taft. Since 1986, he has been executive pastor at Renew Community Church Inc.
Campaign web site: www.winburnforcountyrecorder.com
Winburn rankles at a posting on Nadel’s campaign Facebook page where Nadel calls himself “A Real Republican.”
“That’s aimed at me,’’ said Winburn. “There are those who don’t want me to win. They could care less about inclusion.”
Winburn said he is proud of the fact that, if he wins the primary and in the fall, he would be the first African-American to be elected to a non-judicial, countywide office.
And Winburn believes Nadel is making a veiled reference to the fact that Winburn was once a Democrat.
So, too, was Ronald Reagan – now an icon of the GOP.
From 1980 to 1982, he worked as a special assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Thomas Luken.
In the 1980s, while Richard Celeste was governor, Winburn served in a number of positions when in that Democratic administration, including bureau chief of residential services for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and deputy director of personnel for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.
It was not until he ran for city council in 1993 that he became a Republican.
“I don’t think that there is anyone who can question that I have been a good Republican for all of these years,’’ Winburn said.
Winburn took a somewhat circuitous route to get to the point where he filed petitions on Dec. 16 to run for county recorder.
Last year, Winburn considered a run for the 8th Ohio Senate District, which is an open seat this year before incumbent Republican William Seitz of Green Township is term-limited out. But that would have required Winburn to move into the western Hamilton County district. In 2014, he ran unsuccessfully for the 9th Ohio Senate seat, losing to Democrat Cecil Thomas.
Then, in November, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suddenly announced he would not run for re-election in 2016. Winburn dropped broad hints that he might run for commissioner, as did fellow council member Christopher Smitherman, an independent.
In the end, the party appointed Colerain Township Trustee Dennis Deters to Hartmann’s seat and Winburn switched gears to run for county recorder.
Nadel, Winburn said, is not prepared for the job.
“He doesn’t even have a vision statement for this office, a mission statement. Nothing to explain to people what he wants to do.”
Winburn’s is on his website, with the reference to a seven-year-business plan and improving “customer service by working more closely with lawyers, real estate firms, title companies, and paralegals.”