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Crowd forming (slowly) for Cincinnati council race


Slowly but surely, the 2013 race for Cincinnati City Council – the first in which council members will be elected for four years terms – is taking shape.

Not that there is any hurry. The filing deadline for council candidates is not until August.

But the city’s three political parties – and the candidates themselves – can’t wait that long to get campaigns up and running.

A Cincinnati City Council election is a non-partisan election – meaning that no party designations appear on the ballot next to candidates’ names.

But all three parties – Democratic, Republican and the Charter Committee – endorse slates of candidates and do what they can with the resources they have  to get the word out to their backers who they should vote for.

And they would like to do that long before the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day – which is on April 1 this year.

Here’s where things stand at the moment:

Seven of the nine incumbents are up for re-election:  Republican Charlie Winburn, independent Christopher Smitherman, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Wendell Young, Laure Quinlivan and Yvette Simpson. Simpson also had a Charter Committee endorsement when she was elected to her first term in 2011.

Two incumbents are not:  Roxanne Qualls, who is a declared candidate in this year’s mayoral election; you can’t run for both council and mayor. Then there is Democrat Cecil Thomas, who is term-limited out this year. There is much speculation that Thomas would leave council early and try to have his wife, Pam Thomas – who came pretty close in the election for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts last fall, losing to Republican Tracy Winkler – appointed to his seat. If that happened, Pam Thomas would certainly run to keep the seat in the fall election.

There are three officially declared candidates – two Democrats and one Republican.

The Republican, Amy Murray, kicked off her campaign Wednesday night with an event at Price Hill Chili, the epicenter of Cincinnati politics.

If that’s a familiar name, it should be. She was a member of city council in 2011, appointed to a council seat when Republican Chris Monzel left City Hall to become a Hamilton County commissioner.

Murray, who is from Hyde Park, lost the seat in the Nov. 2011 election, but there was never much doubt that Murray – who ran and lost in 2009 – would be back for another bite at the apple.

Two Democrats have declared and are off and running.

Greg Landsman was first out of the box.

Landmsan heads The Strive Partnership, an organization aimed at improving academic achievement among kids in urban areas.

He has a long resume – he was field director for former Ohio governor Ted Strickland’s 1998 campaign for Congress; and has also worked for  the present House majority leader, Nancy Pelosi. Strickland was on hand in Cincinnati recently when Landsman formally kicked off his campaign at Southern Baptist Church in Avondale.

Back in 1995, he managed Democrat David Pepper’s mayoral campaign, which pepper lost to Mark Mallory.

Michelle Dillingham is also an announced Democratic candidate. She held a campaign kick-off recently with Qualls and Sherri Crowley, the widow of the late council member David Crowley. Dillingham had worked as a council aide to Crowley; and now she works for a regional labor-management fund that works to deal with issues like wages, working conditions and job creation.

There appears to be a third Democrat preparing to run for council.

Last Monday night, when local Democrats held an Obama inauguration celebration party at Cincy’s on Sixth downtown, Kevin Johnson – who was once a council aide to former council member Laketa Cole – showed up with several people wearing “Kevin Johnson for Cincinnati City Council.”

If you’ve gone to the trouble of printing up T-shirts, there’s a good chance you are going to run for council.

 Perhaps the most intriguing of the non-announced candidates is hardly a new face – Democrat David Mann, who served on Cincinnati City Council from 1974 to 1991, was mayor from 1983 to 1985 and again in 1991; and who served one term in Congress.

Mann is 73 now, but he sounds like he is raring to go, but has yet to announced his candidacy.

His one term in Congress came about in an odd way.

In August 1992, Charlie Luken, who had been elected to the 1st Congressional District in 1990 over Republican Ken Blackwell, suddenly decided to withdraw as a candidate for Congress.

A special Democratic primary to replace Luken on the ballot was called; and after a six-week campaign, Mann defeated the late William Bowen, then a state senator.

The Republicans were stuck with a candidate they knew had little chance against Luken, Steve Grote; and Grote went on t be clobbered by Mann in the same election where Bill Clinton was elected president.

Then-county commissioner Steve Chabot ran against Mann in 1994 in a hard-fought race; and ended up taking the 1st Congressional District seat from Mann in an election where Newt Gingrich led the GOP to its first take-over of the House in more than 40 years.

Two years later, Mann ran for a judgeship and lost; and has been out of politics – jokingly calling himself a “recovering politician” ever since.

Now he has the bug again; and it is a near certainty that he will run.

His name hasn’t been on the ballot for 17 years, but with an electorate in the city that tends to be older, he will be remembered and will be a formidable challenger for one a council seat.

As we said before, it is highly likely that this field of candidates will grow considerably – attracted in part by the fact these are now four year jobs instead of two years. Two years ago, there were 22 candidates on the ballot for nine council spots.

One thing is certain – Cincinnati City Council elections always draw a crowd.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.