Former Cincinnati council member and state representative Alicia Reece became the official Demcoratic candidate for the late Todd Portune's Hamilton County commission seat Thursday.
The board of elections voted Thursday morning to certify the final results of this year's extended primary election. It resulted in Reece nearly doubling her lead in the unofficial vote count in her contest with former state representative Connie Pillich of Montgomery.
Pillich would not concede the election when the unofficial vote count was done on April 28.
Reece ended up with 47% of the vote to 43% for Pillich. The rest - almost 10% - was taken by community activist Kellie Prather.
Reece, a local political veteran, will face newcomer Andy Black, who won the Republican primary unopposed.
Reece served on Cincinnati City Council as vice mayor from 2002 to 2007 and in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018, where she was the head of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.
Black, who served on Mariemont village council and as its vice mayor in 2011 and 2012, is selling himself as a businessman first and someone who can provide an outsider's perspective at the county level.
"I'm not coming in presenting myself as a conventional politician. While I do know how government operates, and how villages like Mariemont operate, coming with a background outside of politics in itself can bring a different perspective," Black told WVXU. "My plan is to take the 'all hands on deck' approach that a business would take to help the situation the county is in."
Reece, however, relies on her experience in both local and state government to help bring funding to the county. Hamilton County faces a projected $40 to $60 million deficit this year.
"Now more than ever, you need someone that knows how the state budget works," Reece told WVXU before the final vote count. "Someone that has relationships at the state and local levels. Who understands how to ask for the right things, and ask for it in the right way. People want experience because now we've got an issue here where the decisions we make affect people's lives."
Both Black and Reece emphasized the need for the county to work with all 48 municipalities in the county outside of Cincinnati, especially as the region struggles economically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We can't move forward unless we’re one Hamilton County with all 49 municipalities, that's what makes us strong," Reece said. "Coming to the table as one Hamilton County can maximize the federal resources, the state resources that we can get. We're a lot stronger when we come united."
To help resolve the county's budget woes, Black recommends selling assets and holding back on building projects.
"We have a lot of assets that we own right now that, on our path, with our staffing, we don't necessarily need," he said. "Some buildings Downtown; investments we’ve made in projects that we may not be able to use given the way that they are forecasting the operating costs of the county going forward. If there are some assets we can shed to bring down our operating expenses, our maintenance expenses ... that's the No. 1 priority," he said.
Both Reece and Black pointed out the Paul Brown Stadium deal as a possible place to help the budget through renegotiation between the county and the Cincinnati Bengals. The county will owe the Bengals at least $5 million per year until 2024 under the current deal.
Reece and Black also commended the county's efforts in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Reece has advocated for expanding assistance to residents of the county as part of her budget plans.
"Any investment that we make should be helping people put the pieces back together. Helping small businesses not only reopen but also be able to thrive and hire people," Reece said. "Helping people be employed, especially those that were furloughed that now can’t go back to work. ... Our focus has to be on both the health safety and the economic safety of the county."
The final chapter of the county commissioner race will be at the ballot box on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3.