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Counter Points is written by WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson. In it, he shares insights on political news on the local, state and national level that impacts the 2020 election. Counter Points is delivered once a week on Wednesdays and will cease publication soon after the November election is decided.

Fanon Rucker Set To Take On Joe Deters For Hamilton County Prosecutor In November

Tana Weingartner
Fanon Rucker made the announcement he was joining the race for Hamilton County prosecutor in October 2019.

With nearly 69% of the vote, Democratic candidate Fanon Rucker defeated his Democratic challenger Tuesday, setting up a high-profile fight against Hamilton County's Republican Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters in November.

It is a battle for one of the last corners of county government still in the control of the GOP in an increasingly Democratic county.

Former federal prosecutor Gabe Davis announced his candidacy last June and former Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker joined the race last October.

Retired Judge Rucker is a trustee for the Murray & Agnes Seasongood Good Government Foundation. The Seasongood Foundation provides annual support to WVXU’s local government reporting.

The primary battle between Davis - an up-and-coming politician who is the son of a Cincinnati police officer - and a much better known candidate in Rucker, who ran against Deters 16 years ago, is one the most unusual races in recent Hamilton County history.

Republican county prosecutor Mike Allen was preparing to run for re-election in the summer of 2004 when a scandal broke over his affair with a young woman who worked as an attorney in his office.

The pressure built on Allen to the point where he had to withdraw from the race. It was well after the primary and well after the deadline for replacing Allen on the ballot. Then-state treasurer Deters was dealing with the impact of  a financial scandal involving some of his political allies. He resigned as state treasurer and returned to Hamilton County, where he filed to run as a write-in candidate for prosecutor, an office he had held before.

Rucker was running as a write-in candidate as well - one of the rare times when neither political party had a candidate's name on the ballot. Rucker was little known at the time, but he ended up with 43% of the write-in vote.

It was an impressive finish and the African American lawyer was appointed by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to a municipal court seat in 2007. He left the bench last fall to challenge Davis in the prosecutor's primary, and he won the Hamilton County Democratic Party's endorsement.

Alex Triantafilous, a Deters ally and chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party, has said re-electing Deters is the county party's top priority this year, far ahead of winning the county for Trump, something Trump failed to do four years ago.

Asked by WVXU what the Hamilton County GOP's top three priorities are in 2020, Triantafilous had a quick answer.

"Joe, Joe and Joe,'' the county party chair said.

Throughout Rucker's career his platform has included a policy of recommending own recognizance bonds for non-violent offenders; creating a conviction integrity unit; creating or supporting a re-entry court for people returning to society; and recruiting and retaining quality attorneys while actively seeking "to employ attorneys and other staff that reflect the diversity of our community."

If elected, Rucker says his office would not seek the death penalty. He cites the cost of conducting such cases and incarcerating people on death row, along with the number of people who've been exonerated or found to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

During a March interview, Rucker and former federal prosecutor Davis told Cincinnati Edition that the prosecutor's office needs to diversify its staff to better reflect the county, and that the prosecutor should work full time to address the demands of the job.

"How can it be justified for the prosecutor - who is over the common pleas court and juvenile court and has prosecutor in this division - to be part time?" Rucker asks. "When so many components are necessary to work together that the community is being best served with a part-time prosecutor. It can't happen."

Davis says a fresh perspective could help diversify the office and bring new strategies to the decision-making process.

If Rucker wins, he would be the first African American elected as county prosecutor.

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