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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.

Winburn poised to run for Ohio Senate


When Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley unveiled his city budget plan in mid-May, his hand-picked chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, Republican Charlie Winburn, vowed that the budget would be passed by June 4.

No waiting around until the last minute, Winburn said – which, in this case, would have been June 30.

And he did. Council passed that budget Wednesday, although they still have to deal with the issue of a water rate increase.

There may have been a practical reason why Winburn was in such a hurry to wrap up the city budget – and that reason is that he is planning a campaign to run for the open 9th Ohio Senate District.

Winburn, who is usually rather talkative with the media, didn’t return a call from WVXU on the subject.

But Republicans sources tell WVXU that Winburn will run – and, with the new four-year terms for council members, he can do so from safety, just in case he loses to former Cincinnati council member Cecil Thomas, who won a six-candidate Democratic primary on May 6.

Winburn has sent handwritten notes to supporters. One of them had the following message: “I am most appreciative of your commitment to my Ohio Senate campaign. I will be announcing in three weeks. Thanks a million!”

Here’s how the Winburn scenario is likely to play out:

Technically, the Hamilton County Republican Party already has a candidate for the seat now held by Democrat Eric Kearney, who is term-limited out.

She is Jacqueline Mikita, a party activist who lives downtown. Her name was on the May 6 Republican primary ballot.

But Mikita, who is not known to voters, is a “place-holder” candidate; she agreed beforehand to step aside should the GOP find a candidate with better name recognition and the ability to raise large amounts of money.

The candidate GOP leaders had in mind was Winburn.

Now, we are told, within the next two or three weeks, the Hamilton County Party’s executive committee will meet and ask Mikita to withdraw, which she will do.

The executive committee will then appoint Winburn in her place; and he will formally launch his campaign.

Then, the fun will begin.

This is a state senate district that takes in much of the central city of Cincinnati, along with places like Norwood, Mt. Healthy, Silverton, Lincoln Heights and others.

It is pretty heavily Democratic. It takes in most of the city’s neighborhoods where the majority of voters are African-American – Bond Hill, Avondale, Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Mount Auburn, among others.

Although it has changed some over the decades because of reapportionment, it is a state senate seat that has been held by an African-American for decades, going back to the 1960s and the late William F. Bowen.

And, when Winburn enters the race, it will again be a contest between two African-American candidates.

A few months ago, when Winburn was publicly mulling over a possible bid for the Ohio Senate, he said he would try to raise $500,000 for the campaign.

That’s an extraordinary, unheard-of amount of money for a state senate race in this neck of the woods. But Winburn is well-connected to the GOP money machine; and, if anyone could pull it off, it would be him.

Thomas, on the other hand, ran for city council four times and was elected spending only a fraction of the kind of money Winburn spends on campaigns.. He ran his campaigns on a shoe-string budget.

But Thomas is well-connected and well-known in the community, especially the African-American community, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. It comes not only from his nearly eight years on city council, but his 27 years as a Cincinnati police officer and, later, as executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.

He’s been a street campaigner, a grassroots guy, with little TV advertising and lots of door-knocking and showing up at community events. In 2011, the last time the two of them were on the city council ballot together, Thomas out-polled Winburn by a small margin – 325 votes.

But last year, Winburn ran second in the council field race, behind Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld. He has built his career in city politics with cross-over appeal – getting votes from more conservative white voters on the west side of town and a substantial amount of African-American voters who ordinarily vote for Democrats.

Thomas says he is not worried about the prospect of facing Winburn.

“He may try to buy the vote, but he is a Republican in a heavily Democratic district,’’ Thomas said. “I’ve never been afraid of good fight. So bring it on.”

Thomas will have support from the county Democratic Party; and the Hamilton County GOP machine will do everything it can to get Winburn elected. It would be a feather in the local GOP organization’s cap because, while the Republicans have a large majority in Ohio Senate, there are no African-Americans Republicans serving in that body.

Thomas versus Winburn. It will definitely be a heavyweight bout.