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Aftab Pureval wins easily in the race to become Cincinnati's next mayor

aftab pureval
Leigh Taylor

Aftab Pureval started his political career six short years ago as the ultimate outsider and, on Tuesday, he achieved real political power – the office of mayor of Cincinnati.

The 39-year-old Democrat's rapid rise to political power in the Queen City culminated in a decisive victory Tuesday over a longtime pillar of Cincinnati City Hall, David Mann, whose five decades in Cincinnati politics has likely come to an end. With 100% of the city's 250 precincts reporting, Pureval defeated Mann with 33,124 votes – or 66% – to 17,207 for his opponent.

At 24%, it was the lowest turnout election in Cincinnati in decades.

In a victory speech to supporters, with his wife by his side and his mother and brother in the room, Pureval said Cincinnati "made history tonight."

"We spent the last year talking about our bold progressive vision for moving Cincinnati forward, our comprehensive plans for public safety, affordable housing, the environment and economic recovery with racial equity at the center of the frame, and the voters of Cincinnati resoundingly supported that vision," Pureval said.

The contest between 82-year-old Mann, who has been a fixture in Cincinnati politics since the 1970s as a council member, mayor (before the mayor had enhanced authority) and a term in the U.S. House; and the 39-year-old Pureval, who burst on the scene in 2016 as the wunderkind of Cincinnati politics, running a spirited but unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2018 was not in question all night.

Mann, at a gathering of his supporters in a Clifton beer pub, told WVXU that he is "very proud of what we were able to do. I have a great team of people that worked very, very hard. I worked hard. I'm looking forward to a full night's sleep.

"But, you know, I think we were able to explain to the voters what we thought the election was about," Mann said. "And now in our system, they have decided, and soon we'll learn."

Pureval has had his name on the ballot four times in the past five years. The son of immigrants from India and Tibet, he is the fourth person to be elected under the direct election of the mayor system, which began in 2001. He lives in Clifton with his wife, Whitney, a doctor, and their one-year-old son.

He grew up in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek and went to Ohio State University, where he was student body president – the launching pad for more than a few careers in Ohio politics. Pureval earned his law degree and worked for Procter & Gamble before running for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in 2016, coming out of nowhere to defeat Republican incumbent Tracy Winkler, breaking a decades-long GOP hold on the clerk's office.

This year's mayoral contest was made necessary by the fact that Democrat John Cranley - now a candidate for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination – was term-limited out after serving the maximum two four-year terms. It would be hard to find two more disparate candidates to go head-to-head, especially from within the same political party.

Six weeks ago, in a debate at the Cintas Center sponsored by Xavier University, WVXU and the Enquirer, Mann began firing accusations at Pureval – and followed them up in the days to come with targeted mail pieces and TV ads that were mostly attacks. It was a sign to most Cincinnati political observers that the Mann campaign knew it was in trouble and was playing catch-up in the final weeks of a long campaign. At the debate, Mann suggested that Pureval doesn't have the experience to handle a job as big as being mayor of a city government with 6,000 employees. As clerk of courts, Pureval heads a department with a $13 million budget that is "not terribly important,'' Mann said. "So sometimes it seems to me like the clerk over here is saying, 'Look, I've flown a kite and now it is time for me to take the controls of a 747,' except we are all passengers."

Pureval shot back with a response that flicked a scab on the Mann campaign – the fact that Mann, a lifelong Democrat, is the candidate of many Republicans in the business community and many Republican voters – even though Republican voters are a distinct minority in Cincinnati. "I know that your Republican supporters have convinced you that, in order to make the race competitive, you have to tear me down," Pureval said. "But that's what people are tired of."

There was no Republican candidate in the May mayoral primary. Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, told WVXU before the primary he was telling Cincinnati Republicans they should vote for Mann, even though he has a long record as a traditional liberal Democratic candidate.

Tuesday night, Mann sent a congratulatory tweet to Pureval on his win.

"Congratulations to Aftab on his well-deserved victory," he wrote. "I have spoken with him and wish him nothing but the best, and it has been the honor of my lifetime to serve this community as a councilman, mayor, and member of congress throughout my career. Thank you, Cincinnati!"

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