Democratic County Recorder Coates Challenged By Former GOP Judge Nadel
Down-ticket races such as county recorder often get lost in the shuffle – especially in a presidential election year.
But the contest for Hamilton County recorder between two-term Democratic incumbent Wayne Coates and Republican Norbert A. Nadel, who was forced to end a nearly 40 year career as a judge in 2014 because of Ohio's age limit law, is drawing more attention than most.
It pits a Democrat who vaulted into office eight years ago, defeating an incumbent Republican, in the middle of the Obama surge, against a well-known veteran who has made a reputation for presiding over high profile court cases.
But, first, what does a county recorder do?
The principle part of the job is recording deeds, plants, mortgages, powers of attorney and the proceedings of annexation and municipal incorporation. The recorder is the county's chief record-keeper.
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 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, such as disability compensation and pensions, home loans and vocational services.
The recorder serves a four-year term and currently has a salary of $78,594.
A real estate agent by profession, Coates has long experience in local politics. He served a term in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2001 through 2002. He is also a former council member in the city of Forest Park; and served as that city's mayor.
In 2008, Coates, who had been serving as administrative bailiff for Municipal Court Judge Ted N. Berry, ran for recorder and, in a year when Democratic turnout was inflated by Barack Obama's campaign, defeated GOP incumbent Rebecca Prem Groppe by a scant 2,613 votes out of about 372,000 cast. Four years later, he was re-elected by a 12,000 vote margin over Republican Wayne Lippert.
On the issues:
Coates went into office in 2009 in the middle of a severe national recession; and his office got caught up in the budget cutting done by the Republican majority on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.
He said he now has a budget of about $1.1 million and 21 employees. His predecessor, Coates said, had twice the budget and twice the employees.
"This recorder's office used to take up two floors in this building,'' Coates said of the county administration building. "Now we have one."
But, he said, "we have learned to do more with less."
Modernizing the business of keeping real estate records has been his goal all along, Coates said.
"We're digitizing all our plats so the people who use them the most, the engineers and surveyors can view them from their own offices and print them out,'' Coates said. "They don't have to make a trip down here."
So far, Coates said, he's put over 19 million documents online.
"We've had to reduce our budget and reduce our workforce over the years, but, despite the cutbacks, we are still getting the job done in a timely manner,'' Coates said.
"I have a very dedicated staff and I am proud of the work that they do,'' Coates said.
And, he said, when real estate lawyers, engineers, builders, surveyors and other members of the public walk into his office, Coates said. "they deal with a real human being. We take pride in our good customer service."
Coates said he has always been "a full-time recorder. I am here on the job every day. I haven't sold any real estate myself in eight years, but that's not my job now,'' Coates said. "My job is serving the public."
Norbert A. Nadel:
In 1974, Nadel was appointed to the Hamilton County Municipal Court. In 1980, he became a domestic relations judge. Two years later, 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.
On the issues:
The 77-year-old judge ended his 40-year judicial career in the fall of 2014 with one of the most high profile cases he ever presided over – the felony trial of suspended juvenile court judge Tracie Hunter. It resulted in her conviction on one felony count – a conviction she is still fighting in U.S. District Court.
Earlier this year, Cincinnati council member Charlie Winburn – a Republican who is facing Cincinnati's term limits law in 2017 – jumped into the recorder's race. Nadel – who was, in retirement, hearing cases as a visiting judge – suddenly jumped into the race as well, creating what turned out to be a bloody mess of a primary fight.
Nadel implied that Winburn could be caught up – and even a target – in the on-going investigations of spending practices at the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). Winburn vehemently denied Nadel's charge.
Meanwhile, Winburn was making accusations that there were certain cases over Nadel's career as a judge where he went easy on a man accused of domestic violence and accused him of expunging the record of a pedophile.
Nadel repeatedly called Winburn's charges "nonsense."
And, in the end, Nadel's long record of pulling in the votes of suburban Republican votes paid off and he defeated Winburn in the primary with 59 percent of the vote.
As mean as the primary was, the general election campaign has been mild in comparison. There have been no attack ads by either side.
"No, this is a positive campaign,'' Nadel said. "I am talking about what I plan to do, not about my opponent."
Nadel has a campaign ad running on local TV in which he says he will be the "taxpayers' watchdog."
As recorder, Nadel says in the ad, he will "fight property tax increases" and work "to make the stadium deal more fair to homeowners."
The problem is that neither of those things – the stadium leases and potential property tax increases – are within the official purview of the county recorder, an essentially administrative office.
"I know there's nothing I can do about it personally,'' Nadel said. "But my plan is to use that office as a platform so that when people are faced with a tax levy, or when I see waste in government, I am going to talk about it. People are going to hear from me about it.
"It's not a part of my official duties, but it will be part of my duty as an elected official,'' Nadel said.