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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Democrats have a deal for their mayor candidates


So the Hamilton County Democratic Party has two candidates for mayor – John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls – and party leaders have vowed not to play favorites.

So why, in the campaign finance reports filed this week, did Qualls get $9,000 from the party and Cranley got $2,500?

Because, if you are a candidate for mayor or Cincinnati city council, the Democratic Party has a deal for you!

Here’s how it works:

If you, Mr. or Ms. Candidate, you can convince your contributors – especially the ones who “max out” with the individual contribution limit of $1,100 – to make a donation to the Hamilton County Democratic Party, at least part of that money will come back to you in the form of a campaign contribution.

That’s why Qualls’ campaign has gotten checks from the party so far of $3,500, $1,500 and $4,000. Cranley’s campaign has gotten one check in the mail for $2,500.

Under the city’s campaign contribution limit law, a political party can give a candidate up to $10,500 per election cycle – in this case, $10,500 for the mayoral primary, and another $10,500 for the general election, when the two top vote-getters face off in the November election.

Cranley’s campaign has apparently not been playing the game.

“We have not made a point of doing that with our contributors,’’ Cranley campaign manager Jay Kincaid said of the Democratic party offer of more money for contributions to the party. “The party says to every candidate, ‘we really don’t have a lot of money to give you, but if you help us raise money, we’ll give you more. '"

Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke said the deal has been in place for years. So far, Burke said, it has benefited some city council candidates too – most notably incumbent P.G. Sittenfeld and first-time candidate Greg Landsman.

It’s not as if this $6,500 discrepancy between the two Democratic mayoral candidates is a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Cranley has raised $472,453 so far. Qualls lags somewhat behind with $346,342. Cranley’s campaign says it is on track to raise $1 million for the mayor’s race. The Qualls campaign is shooting for at least $750,000.

If they come close to their goals, it is probably going to be the most expensive mayor’s race since Cincinnati began direct election of the mayor in 2001. The current record was set in 2005, when Mark Mallory beat David Pepper, spending about $380,000 to Pepper’s $1.2 million – proving, once again, that in Cincinnati politics, money does not always buy happiness.

This Qualls-Cranley tussle has been a headache for the party from the beginning, with the party regulars split between two experienced candidates who have appeared on the ballot many times for decades now.

That’s why the party has no intention of endorsing one over the other in the Sept. 10 primary. Although they do have their little incentive plan going on campaign contributions.

And, yes, there will be a primary. Libertarian Jim Berns threw some confusion into the race Wednesday when he delivered a hand-written note  to the board of elections saying he wanted to withdraw as a candidate.

Then, the next day, Berns announced he wants to run again.

The city’s election laws have no provision for the withdrawal of candidates, so it is a matter of state law, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Monday, the board of elections will have to decide whether Berns’ scrawled note constituted an actual withdrawal from the race under state law.

Even if they decide it does, there is no sign that perennial candidate Queen Noble, who finished dead last in the city council election two years ago, plans to drop out.

So, with more than two candidates for mayor, there must be a primary.

But, as Berns told WVXU Thursday, “any fool knows that Qualls and Cranley are going to win the primary.”

A primary is good news, actually, for Qualls and Cranley.

If they are the top vote-getters, they can go back to their contributors – even those who gave the maximum individual contribution of $1,100 – and ask for more money, because the general election is a new election cycle.

And the Democratic Party will keep doling out money to the candidates if they can convince them to write a check to the party as well.

“I would expect we would max out with both candidates before it is all said and done,’’ Burke said.

What a sweet deal.