© 2021 Cincinnati Public Radio
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Analysis: Who's Still Standing In Cincinnati's Mayoral Race


Aftab Pureval, Cecil Thomas, David Mann.

Those are your top tier candidates in the May 4 Cincinnati mayoral primary. Not necessarily in that order.

And only two of them can survive the primary.

If the turnout is as low as it has been in previous mayoral primaries, there's no telling what might happen.

Nine potential candidates filed petitions with the Hamilton County Board of Elections by Feb. 18 to run in the primary, but the ranks are thinning out.

Cincinnati Council Member Wendell Young has already been eliminated; he failed to meet the threshold of 500 valid signatures of Cincinnati voters. And he failed by a long shot – he was short 151 signatures, according to the board of elections.

Mt. Auburn businessman Adam Koehler also failed to get the necessary number of valid signatures. The BOE says his petitions fell 44 short after turning in 823. 

Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said that another potential candidate, Kelli Prather, was told Tuesday afternoon that she is 56 signatures short of the 500 she needs.

Without Prather, the field of mayoral candidates does not include a woman.

With the field pared down a bit, there is a clear demarcation line between the top tier candidates and the long shots.

The top two finishers in the primary would go on to face each other in the November election for a four-year term as mayor.

Cecil Thomas

Credit Sarah Ramsey / WVXU

Young fumbling the ball on the first play of the game was probably the best news that Thomas could have possibly had.

Thomas, a state senator, is a former councilman and Cincinnati police officer. Young is term-limited off council this year, and is also a former Cincinnati cop.

Both are Black; both have a substantial following in Cincinnati's African American community. Black people make up a powerful force in this heavily Democratic city. Not every Black person, of course, would have voted for a Black candidate, but splitting the vote between two well-known African American candidates would not have been good for the chances of either one.

Thomas doesn't have that to worry about anymore. The 68-year-old Democrat has been in the Ohio Senate and out of City Hall since being elected in Ohio's 9th Senate District in 2014. Being in Columbus in recent years is probably a good place to be, given the low repute of City Council right now, after a year in which three council members – including P.G. Sittenfeld, who was the leading candidate for mayor – were indicted on federal corruption charges.

Thomas has none of that stink on him. But he has enough experience at City Hall to make a case for himself. He certainly knows the city.

Aftab Pureval

aftab pureval

Pureval is the interesting one.

He's never had anything to do with City Hall; he can run as the complete outsider, which is not a bad thing to be this year.

Pureval is the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, and was the Democrats' candidate for Ohio's 1st Congressional District in 2018. He was a sensation, bursting on the scene as a political rock star, but the star power faded as he and his campaign made some poor choices and walked into multiple bear traps laid by the campaign of Republican incumbent Steve Chabot.

In the end, he was overwhelmed by the power of the Republican vote in Warren County.

He's a smart guy; presumably he learned from the mistakes of his congressional campaign.

Perhaps Pureval would be smart to adopt the campaign strategy of former mayor Mark Mallory, who won the office in 2005 as a City Hall outsider.

Mallory's political career, up to then, consisted of stints in the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. He also had the advantage of having one of the best-known political names in Cincinnati, thanks to his father, the late William Mallory, a former Democratic Ohio Majority Leader.

He was running for mayor at a time when there was great public dissatisfaction with the gridlock on City Council. "Chaos" was how it was described by most – including Mallory.

Mallory ran as a new set of eyes and ears, someone who could clean up the mess. He ran second in the 2005 primary to fellow Democrat David Pepper, but in the head-to-head contest in the fall, Mallory was elected mayor over Pepper. And he stayed there for two four-year terms.

It’s worked once; it could work again.

David Mann

Credit Jay Hanselman / WVXU

The only incumbent council member left in the race is Democrat David Mann. He is 81 years old. We should all have his energy and passion if we are lucky enough to reach that age.

Mann has stayed well above the fray in the in the scandals that rocked City Hall last year; and can run as The Grown Up In The Room, and as a candidate with decades of experience, a keen understanding of and respect for the council-manager form of government, and someone who knows how a clean, efficient city government should run.

Pureval and Thomas are considered the early front-runners, but it is entirely possible that Mann could do an end-run on both of them.

The Underdogs

There is a second tier of candidates, much less well-known than the top three. But all are very serious about their campaigns and will work their butts off to break through.

They are:

  • Herman Najoli, a native of Kenya, finished third in a three-candidate race for Hamilton County commissioner in November. He is an adjunct professor at Indiana Wesleyan University,  
  • Gavi Begtrup, a physicist and entrepreneur who is making his first run for elective office.
  • Raffel Prophett, a retired Cincinnati Fire Department district chief and a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.

A low turnout election is expected – although it might be pumped up somewhat because of mail-in absentee balloting.
And in a low turnout election, anything is possible.

Hold on to your seats, folks.

politically speaking 2
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Politically Speaking" here.