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SPOTLIGHT: Your 2021 voter guide to Cincinnati's races for mayor, City Council, school board and more ahead of Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 2. >>
Politics
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.

Pureval's Duck Making "Aftab" A Household Name

Politically Speaking

Alright, admit it – you've seen the TV ads with the earnest looking young man talking seriously about what he would do if he were elected to be Hamilton County's clerk of courts.

You've seen the duck puppet pop up in the middle of those ads from time to time to squawk "Aftab!" Sort of like the duck in the Aflac commercials.

And, admit it, those commercials have stuck in your head, like an ear worm of a song you can't help but hum to yourself all day. Aftab! Aftab! Aftab!

It is Aftab Pureval's way of injecting a little humor in a race that is usually dull as dishwater; and to make his "foreign-sounding" name familiar and natural-sounding to voters who may be used to voting for people named "Bob" and "Jim" and "Nancy," but certainly not "Aftab."

There's something a bit crazy and more than a little sad about the fact that, in 21st century America, a candidate for public office has to worry about his name sounding too "foreign."

But that was a concern for the 34-year-old O'Bryonville resident, when he was mulling over the possibility of running for office in Hamilton County this year, his fellow Democrats say.

His name is a source of pride for Pureval. It was given to him by a father from India and a mother who was a Tibetan refugee who fled the Chinese communists.

His parents came to this country and decided to settle in, of all places, Beavercreek, Ohio.

And, yes, in case you are wondering, he was born in Ohio. Which makes him eligible to run for president once he reaches the age of 35.

He became student body president at The Ohio State University (often a door that, once opened, can lead to a career in politics), earned a law degree at the University of Cincinnati, worked for a time with a high-powered law firm in Washington, D.C. , where he did pro bono work representing battered women; and returned to Cincinnati to serve a special assistant U.S. attorney.

These days, he is working for Procter & Gamble as the attorney for a billion-dollar brand.

And, on the side, he co-owns a bar and grille in Pendleton.

Honestly, how many people do you know with a resume like that at the age of 34?

Probably not many.

And now he is trying to add another title to that resume – Hamilton County Clerk of Courts.

Pureval is taking on incumbent Republican Tracy Winkler, who was appointed to the job five years ago

No easy task. Winkler is a potent name in Hamilton County politics, particularly among the throngs of Republican voters in the West Side suburbs.

Tracy Winkler is part of a passel of Winklers who are serving or have served in elective office – her husband Ralph "Ted" Winkler is the county probate judge; her father-in-law, Ralph Winkler, is retired after serving decades as a judge; her brother-in-law, Robert Winkler, is a common pleas court judge; and her later mother-in-law, Cheryl Winkler, was a Green Township trustee and a state representative.

Winklers just have a habit of getting elected in this county.

Pureval plans to break that habit.

"This office is critical to the administration of justice in Hamilton County,'' Pureval told WVXU. "This is an office with 222 employees and  $20 million budget.

"Our courts are special,'' Pureval said. "This is something I have learned from being a lawyer. Our courts are the one place where what you look like or where you come from doesn't matter. They are there to do justice. And the clerk plays an important role in keeping the records of those courts."

No one, even among the most ardent local Democrats, gave Pureval much of a chance in the clerk of courts race when he began his campaign over a year ago. But, when in talking to Democrats about him, each and every one has told us that they consider him to be very intelligent and very capable."

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Credit Provided
Aftab Pureval

"He is a very impressive young man,'' said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke. "Everyone he meets says so."

And, Burke said, he has been able to bring together elements of the party that don't always get along with each other.

"He held his first event about a year ago at an art gallery downtown,'' Burke said. "John Cranley showed up. Chris Seelbach showed up. So did Mark Mallory and Roxanne Qualls. Anybody who can bring all of those people together is doing something right."

Winkler did not return several phone messages left by WVXU asking to talk about her re-election campaign. You can find her campaign website here.

Pureval was just plugging away, raising money and campaigning everywhere when a big, fat juicy campaign issue fell in his lap.

The newspaper City Beat acquired e-mails Winkler's then-chief deputy bailiff, Donald Robinson Jr., sent to employees of the clerk's office telling them to contact the agency's human resources  director if they were willing to distribute campaign yard signs, wear Winkler T-shirts and march in a parade with other Winkler supporters.

"There are plenty of events this weekend to get out and support our Keep Tracy Winkler Clerk of Courts campaign,'' Robinson wrote in one of the e-mails City Beat acquired. "As always, post your pictures to all social media."

Winkler reprimanded Robinson for the e-mails, which were sent through personal e-mail accounts but during work hours. And she transferred him to a new job, safety and security manager/director, at the same salary he made as chief deputy bailiff for municipal court.

This gave Pureval all the ammunition he needed.

"It's been an open secret that she has turned her office into her campaign staff,'' he said. "There were employees who felt threatened by this e-mail. This kind of machine party politics has absolutely no place in the clerk of courts office. Or anywhere in county government."

Pureval said if he is elected, no employee of the office will be allowed to contribute to his campaign fund and no employee will be allowed to do political work for him during office hours."

He says he has big plans for the office.

"I'll use the office to continue to push for a full-time housing court,'' Pureval said. "Both (Hamilton County prosecutor) Joe Deters and (Cincinnati Mayor) John Cranley say we should have it. Right now, we have a part-time housing docket.

You can read more about his ideas on his campaign website.

The Democrat is out-spending Winkler by about five-to-one. He's raised and spent about $350,000 on the campaign – mainly on the "Aftab duck" commercials.

"We're running a full-time campaign, 12 hours a day,'' Pureval said.

Winkler, he said, "is nowhere to be found. The fact is that, just because of your last name, you do not have a birthright to a job. Resting on your laurels and expecting your name to carry you through is a mistake."

Pureval may be a first-time candidate, but he doesn't lack for confidence. He will tell you flat out, "I'm going to win this race."

He points to Winkler's election in 2012. Winkler's opponent, Democrat Pam Thomas, had only a small fraction of the resources Pureval has, and Winkler ended up winning with just 52 percent of the vote.

His campaign fund, his hard work, and the issues, he says, can make up the difference.

If he doesn't win, there is no question that the local Democratic Party has found a capable candidate for future races.

And, next time, he may not need the squawking duck.