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Commentary: So, When Does The Stampede For Todd Portune's Seat Begin?

todd portune
Hayden Schiff
Flickr Creative Commons
Todd Portune, center, with fellow Democrat Denise Driehaus and then-County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, in 2017.

Two weeks ago, Hamilton County commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, held a press conference to announce that his cancer was spreading and that he would not be running for re-election in 2020.

You might imagine that even in the cut-throat world of politics there would be at least a few days for somber reflection and respect for all the man has been through and done before a stampede of politicians from both sides of the aisle start elbowing each other out of the way to be the first in line to replace him.

And you would be correct.

There was no stampede.

Not yet, anyway.

There was one Democrat who apparently broke land speed records to get herself to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Smith Road in Norwood only minutes after Portune had spoken the words "not running for re-election."

That was former state representative Alicia Reece, who was term-limited out of the Ohio House last mouth and has been fueling speculations that she might run for something, and soon.

Well, she became the first Democrat to go to the board of elections and pick up a petition packet to run in the March 17 primary for Portune's county commission seat.

A tad too anxious, you say? Petitions for the May primary candidates aren't due at the board of elections until Dec. 18, which, on our calendar, is 85 days away. And candidates for the county commission only need the valid signatures of 50 registered Hamilton County voters to qualify.

Math is not my best subject, but my little laptop calculator tells me that amounts to gathering .58 valid signatures per day.

Doesn't seem like a daunting task to me.

Reece, like Portune, also a former Cincinnati council member, has gone rumbling into the race for Portune's seat like an M1-Abrams tank, but she is unlikely to be alone in the March primary.

eric kearney
Credit Courtesy of the African American Chamber of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
Eric Kearney

Former state senator Eric Kearney, the CEO of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce, was among those standing at Portune's side on Sept. 11 when he announced he would not be a candidate.

Kearney and Portune are good friends and political allies; it's likely that if Portune were able to choose his replacement, it would be Kearney.

Kearny, though, won't talk about it.

"I'm not commenting,'' Kearney told WVXU. "Todd and I are very good friends and I am respecting his wishes. I am saying nothing."

Hmmm… non-responsive responses from politicians always set off my radar.

Two other Democrats are being talked about.

State Rep. Brigid Kelly, who won County Commissioner Denise Driehaus' former Ohio House seat, is often mentioned, but she is not likely to be a candidate for county commissioner. She'll be running for a third term in the Ohio House.

Former UC board president Rob Richardson is also mentioned, but he has lost badly in both political contests he has been in so far – a Democratic primary for mayor and a race for Ohio treasurer.

A third loss in a county commission race – especially if he gave up the seat to a Republican – would probably be enough to stick a fork in Richardson's political ambitions. He'd be done.

Democrat Party leaders are waiting to see if Portune will resign early. He has said it is a possibility, given his battle with cancer, but hopes to finish out his term.

If he doesn't, the party could choose a replacement who would likely be on the ballot next fall.

The Democratic Party leadership's worst nightmare is what happened in 2018 when they endorsed Mt. Healthy Mayor James Wolf for county commissioner.

He had a party endorsement and some money. He also had a primary opponent, former Forest Park Mayor Stephanie Summerow Dumas. Dumas won the primary and then, inexplicably, defeated long-time incumbent Republican Chris Monzel to give the Democrats three-of-three on the county commission.

Both Democrats and Republicans alike tell WVXU they think Dumas has been a disaster as a county commissioner.

The Democrats don't want to be asleep at the wheel and have something like this happen again.

Driehaus is up for re-election this year, and the Hamilton County Republican Party is still trying to find someone to run against her.

Republican Andy Black, an Indian Hill businessman who has served on Mariemont council in the past, is already running for Portune's seat and has a six-figure campaign fund.

andy black
Credit Courtesy of Andy Black

The GOP recruited Black before Portune said he would not run for re-election. Now, there are those in the party who are having buyer's remorse and are hoping for a candidate with more name recognition.

When Black first began running several months ago, the GOP couldn't say enough good things about him. More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Super Andy!

That was then. This is now. Tuesday morning, from Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou:

"At the moment, we are backing Andy Black; he's our candidate,'' Triantafilou said.

Black, he said, "would be a great candidate. I can't say for sure what will happen."

As for Black, he recently made it very clear to WVXU that he has no intention of getting out of the way for anybody. He's in it to stay.

Well, it's not exactly a stampede yet. But I can hear sound of pounding hooves in the distance.

politically speaking 2
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Politically Speaking" here. 

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.