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Four-year terms come to Cincinnnati in 2013


In 2013, the Cincinnati mayor’s race is likely to suck most of the air out of the room, as it has since the city adopted direct election of the mayor in 2001.

But it is not the only important race in Cincinnati next year.

There is this little thing called a city council election; and it will be vastly different this year than any other since the city charter was created in the 1920s.

As of now, Cincinnati voters will be electing nine council members for four-year terms, instead of the two-year terms we have had since 1927.

That is thanks to Issue 4, an idea hatched by Democratic council member Laure Quinlivan that was approved by Cincinnati voters in the Nov. 6 election with 51.4 percent of the vote.

Not a landslide, by any means, but enough to put four-year council terms in the city charter.
Some things will not change – council members will still be limited to eight years on council – instead of four two-year terms, it will be two four-year terms.

There are, however, a number of exceptions to that rule. The five council members who were first elected in 2011 will be allowed to run for two more four year terms; and be able to spend 10 years on council, if they are lucky enough to be elected to two more terms.

They are Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, and Wendell Young; independent Christopher Smitherman, and Yvette Simpson, who was elected in 2011 with endorsements from the Democratic Party and the Charter Committee.

Two won’t be on the council ballot at all – Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is a candidate for mayor; and Democrat Cecil Thomas, who is term-limited out and may end up as a mayoral candidate.

That leaves only two incumbent council members for whom 2013 will be their last bite at the apple – Quinlivan, the creator of the new system; and Republican Charlie Winburn. Both of them are now serving their second two-year terms.

Historically, council races have attracted quite a crowd – anywhere from 18 to 27 candidates in council races over the past 30 years, all running in a field race for one of the top nine positions.

Two years ago, there were 22 candidates on the ballot for the nine council seats.

Will there be more or less candidates in this new four-year term format?

Quinlivan thinks it  is likely to encourage more people to run.

“It might encourage more people to run, because, if you win, you get four years to do the work of the city,’’ Quinlivan said. “Under the old system, a lot of people looked at it and said, ‘Oh, I have to do this every other year,’ and they would end up saying ‘no, I don’t want to do that.’’’

Another thing that will not change is the fact that the Cincinnati City Council election is a non-partisan race – there are no party designations listed next to candidates’ names on the ballot.

That does not mean, however, that Cincinnati’s three political parties – the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and the Charter Committee – sit on the sidelines and twiddle their thumbs.

All three parties will endorse slates of candidates; and do what they can to help them raise money and put their names on sample ballots.

The parties are only in the very beginning stages of putting together council slates.  What they know for certain, at this point, is that their incumbents – with the exception of Thomas and Qualls – are running for reelection.

They have plenty of time to sort it out. The parties generally like to have their slates of council candidates done by early spring, so the candidates have plenty of time to raise money and get their names out before the voting public.

The actual filing deadline for council candidates is not until August 2013.

There are two Democratic challengers already organized and ready to go – Greg Landsman, who heads The Strive Partnership, a non-profit organization that  works to improve academic achievement in the region’s urban core; and Michelle Dillingham, a community activist who once worked for a Democratic council member, the late David Crowley.

On the Republican side, former council member Amy Murray is almost certain to run, local Republicans say.
Murray ran in 2009 and finished 12th. Then, in Jan. 2011, she was appointed to council when Chris Monzel  left to become a Hamilton County commissioner. But she lost the seat in the November 2011 election. This fall, Murray argued against the four-year terms. GOP leaders think that with two open council seats, Murray has a decent shot at winning.

More candidates will start pouring out of the woodwork once the calendar turns to 2013. Many of them will be seeking party endorsements; others will be independents – mostly with little money and little name recognition.

It is a short list now. But with the prospect of at least four years of job security dangling before them,  it is a list that will probably grow and grow.