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WVXU has been covering the stories of politics and corruption at Cincinnati's City Hall since early 2020. We have now launched an initiative to more closely examine Cincinnati politics and the individuals who have shaped it, along with the current allegations of corruption. We'll also explore proposals for change, and seek feedback from local leaders and community members on what can be done to restore trust in City Hall.Trust in Local Government, WVXU's Public Integrity Project will analyze our council-manager form of government and the charter amendments designed to reinforce ethical standards at City Hall; take a historical look at corruption in Cincinnati government; talk with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor and continue with an ongoing series of features, interviews and candidate profiles.

Pureval, Mann Survive Mayoral Primary; Will Face Off In November

aftab pureval david mann
Courtesy of the candidates

In an election with just 15.6% turnout, Cincinnati voters have chosen from a field of six mayoral candidates the two who are complete polar opposites – Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval and Council Member David Mann.

With 99.47% of Cincinnati's 190 precincts reporting, Pureval held a lead of about 3,200 votes over Mann. Mann had appeared to lock up the second spot with nearly 4,200 more votes than State Sen. Cecil Thomas.

The rest of the field – Gavi Begtrup, Raffel Prophett and Herman Najoli – finished a distant fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

The mayor's race to come this fall will be a contest of contrasts – Pureval, the energetic 38-year-old who burst on the scene as a rock star candidate for clerk of courts and carried that charisma over into a losing campaign for Congress in 2018; versus Mann, an 81-year-old veteran of six decades in politics, a man who has been there and done that in nearly every aspect of city government.

"You know, the city of Cincinnati is a tremendously complicated enterprise," Mann tells WVXU. "It's got over 6,000 employees, it spends $1.5 billion a year, we have 17 departments that provide an important range of services to our citizens. And I've been in the ring. And I think that's important in terms of knowing just how to operate and direct and lead as mayor. So I've got a tremendous advantage. And I can be a very effective mayor from day one."

At a time when City Hall has been rocked by scandal, with four council members charged with crimes since early 2020, the choice facing Cincinnati voters this fall will be one between a City Hall veteran in Mann, whose career has never been tinged with impropriety or corruption, and Pureval, who can, if he chooses, to run on the platform that only a City Hall outsider like himself can clean up the mess.

"This campaign is about the future of Cincinnati," Pureval says. "And our future is bright, it's bold, it's diverse. And I think it's time for new leaders to come into City Hall to help us recover from COVID, to grow our city, and make sure that it's successful for all of our residents here - for our diverse communities here - and to retain and recruit young talent to come here and to stay here."

Here's how the Cincinnati mayoral primary, which has been around since 2001, works: The candidates run in a field race, without party designations on the ballot. The top two vote-getters in the May 4 primary will face each other in the November election for a four-year term as mayor. 

Five of the six who ran Tuesday are Democrats. Najoli is an Independent.

In Cincinnati political circles, this mayor's race looked much different last fall. Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was considered a lock for the 2021 mayoral race to replace Mayor John Cranley, who is term-limited out this year. That all changed Nov. 19.

Before that day – when Sittenfeld was arrested and charged by the FBI with taking $40,000 in campaign dollars in exchange for council votes, which he denies – only three others had thrown their proverbial hats in the ring, and only one of them – Mann - had significant name recognition.

Sittenfeld officially took himself out of the mayor's race for good when he wrote on Facebook Feb. 18 that "due to the current situation, I've decided not to run for mayor after all."

That's when Pureval, Thomas and the others entered the fray.

Pureval's advantage was that he had plenty of money to spend in the primary.

The clerk of courts raised more campaign cash since Jan. 1 than all five other mayoral candidates combined. His $230,961 was about $3,000 more than Begtrup ($98,502), Mann ($55,895), Prophett ($44,624), Thomas ($27,565) and Independent Najoli, who raised only $1,350.

It has not been uncommon for mayoral candidates to raise and spend more than $1 million in the primary and general election.

Four years ago, Mayor John Cranley raised more than $2.3 million to defeat Yvette Simpson. It was a record for spending.

This year, though, it may be difficult to break that record.

Two years ago, voters approved a charter amendment which ended the practice of multiple or bundled donations from LLCs controlled by the same person or business. Before the law changed, candidates could receive $1,100 maximum donations from multiple LLCs, even though the money was coming from the same person or business.

Now that the field of mayoral candidates has been narrowed down to two, it will no longer be a bargain-basement election. Expect the maximum PAC contributions to begin flowing to both candidates.

-Jolene Almendarez contributed to this report. 

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