It took a public corruption of major proportions to bring Cincinnati's Charter Committee out of its decades-long slumber.
But Charter is back in a big way, harkening back to its roots as the force which, in the 1920s, drove the corrupt political bosses out of power and helped establish "good government" in Cincinnati, in the council-manager form of government.
This year, for the first time in decades, Charter has endorsed a full slate of nine candidates for Cincinnati City Council. Charter is vowing to remove the stain of City Hall corruption, which, last year, saw three council members – two Democrats and one Republican – charged with federal crimes.
A tall order for an organization where members often cringe at being called a "political party."
Cringe all you like, but if you endorse slates of candidates in a municipal election, you fit the definition of a political party. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc.
It is a mix of people of different ages and backgrounds, and includes people who are Democrats, Republicans, long-time Charterites and independents. It doesn't matter to Charter what party a candidate is affiliated with outside city politics, as long as they believe in the principles of "good government" embodied in the council-manager form of government.
After all, no party designations appear on the city council ballot. It's up to the three political parties to get the word out on who they are backing.
It is a diverse and interesting group of candidates.
The Charter slate includes two very well-known former Charter council members, two Republicans who are serving on council now as appointees, a former Democratic county commissioner, and several neighborhood activists. There are three African Americans, three women, and the slate ranges in age from 31 to 78.
Here's the Charter line-up:
Age 78, Over-the-Rhine
You can be assured of this: There will be no other council candidate of any party in 2021 who has a four-story painting of himself adorning an Over-the-Rhine building. The painting of Tarbell, known to many as "Mr. Cincinnati," doffs his top hat to people entering Over-the-Rhine at Vine Street and Central Parkway. A figure on the Cincinnati music, restaurant and political scene since the late 1960s, Tarbell served as a Charter council member and vice mayor from 1998 to 2007. He has run for Hamilton County commissioner twice, losing both times.
Age 60, Mt. Airy
Flynn, a lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, was elected to council in 2013 and cast the deciding vote to go forward with the streetcar project. As a council member, he was a strict constructionist when it came to the guidelines of council-manager form of government. In 2017, though, he decided not to run for re-election. This year, he is running as an independent, but with the Charter endorsement.
Age 34, Westwood
A first-time candidate, Frondorf is active in Westwood neighborhood groups and volunteers at St. Catharine School.
Age 58, Pleasant Ridge
A first-time candidate who is an engineer at GE Aviation and a former president of the Pleasant Ridge Community Council.
Age 51, Clifton
Goodin is a Republican who was appointed to replace Jeffrey Pastor after Pastor was suspended in the wake of his arrest on federal corruption charges. Goodin is a partner at the Graydon Law Firm and a veteran of both the U.S. Army Reserves and the Peace Corps.
Age 31, Downtown
Hardy, a passionate advocate of public transportation, is president of the Better Bus Coalition. He is also a legal assistant at Frost Brown and Todd.
Galen G. Gordon
Age 44, West End
A first-time candidate, Gordon is active with the West End Community Council. He is sales manager at the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel.
Age 63, College Hill
A Democrat, Parks stepped in early last year to fill out the Hamilton County Commission term of the late Todd Portune. She was Portune's former chief of staff and his hand-picked successor. She did not run for a full term as county commissioner.
Age 37, Hyde Park
The Republican was appointed to council last year by the probate court judge after the suspension of Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, who faces federal corruption charges. Keating's grandfather, the late William J. Keating, was a former council member, along with serving in Congress and as the Enquirer's publisher. Liz Keating is the marketing director for the Jim Stengel Company.
We're still waiting for the Democratic and Republican council slates to be chosen.
The Cincinnati Democratic Committee told its candidates not to accept the endorsement of Charter or any other party if they hoped to win a Democratic Party endorsement. The Hamilton County Republican Party – which knows its candidates face an uphill battle in an overwhelmingly Democratic city – takes a completely different attitude. The GOP welcomes endorsements of its candidates by Charter.
Putting out a full slate of nine candidates for nine council seats is a bold move for the Charter Committee, which has existed mostly in the shadows of Cincinnati politics in recent years.
But a re-vitalized Charter sees an opportunity in a year when public mistrust of City Hall is running high. A "good government" party may be just what the voters are looking for.
Charter has become relevant again.