I thought I had seen it all in almost a half century of covering politics, but I can't say I've ever seen anything quite like what is going on in the campaign to defeat Issue 3, the Cincinnati charter amendment that would require the city to put $50 million a year into an Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Two top political consulting firms, one Democratic and one Republican, working together on an obviously well-funded campaign to scuttle passage of the amendment in what is likely to be another low turnout municipal election on May 4.
Jared Kamrass, of the Democratic firm Rivertown Strategies, and Cody Rizzuto, of the Republican firm Hometown Strategies, are more likely to be found on opposite sides of candidate races, but, in the case of Issue 3, they are working with each other on campaign strategy and messaging.
Now, there's something you will never see in Washington, D.C.
"Cody and I have been working together on messaging for this campaign and it makes perfect sense for us to work together,'' Kamrass said. "We've got such a broad spectrum of support for defeating this charter amendment. It comes from Democrats, Republicans, Charterites, Independents. It crosses all the boundaries."
Rizzuto said he and Kamrass have faced off against each other in candidate races in the past but have a lot of mutual respect for each other.
"Jared and I have always gotten along well, even though we're often on the opposite sides of races,'' Rizzuto said. "It is a little refreshing to work across the aisle with the other side, even though it doesn't happen very often."
The fact is the May 4 election – which also features a six-candidate field of mayoral hopefuls – is likely to be a very low turnout affair.
Cincinnati has been holding mayoral primaries every four years since 2001, with the top two finishers facing off in the November election.
Since 2001, turnout in the mayoral primaries has ranged from 12% to 18%.
And even this year, when there are plenty of difficult issues that will face the new mayor, Cincinnati voters seem to be rolling over and going back to sleep at the mere mention of the mayor's race.
The first very slick, professionally done mail piece sent last week to thousands of Cincinnati voters in targeted precincts laid out the "No on 3" argument in simple terms. Issue 3, the mail piece said, will lead to "longer 9-1-1 response times" because of cuts to fire and EMT services, "fewer trash pickups," with only twice a month pickup and the elimination of recycling, and "closed pools and rec centers," because of a report from the city administration saying that 12-15 swimming pools and nine recreation centers would be closed.
Of course, proponents of the ballot issue say that does not have to happen if the city taps into new revenue sources for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Cincinnati voters will see more of these lit pieces pop into their snail-mail boxes between now and Election Day, along with plenty of targeted digital ads, Kamrass and Rizzuto said.
We don't know yet how much is going to be spent, but with a campaign funded in large part by labor unions and the business communities, it is going to be a lot. We'll know when the pre-primary campaign finance reports are filed on April 22.
But the lit pieces and other advertising "will cover the gamut of city voters,'' Rizzuto said.
Think of it this way: Cincinnati is an overwhelmingly Democratic city. It's not even close. Joe Biden won 78% of the vote in the city last fall.
What that means is that only 20% to 25% of the city's voters are Republican.
Republican voters really have no candidate running for mayor who is going to make them rush out and vote. Five of the six candidates are Democrats. The sixth is an Independent.
But, as Rizzuto points out, those Republican voters who might be swayed by an argument that the city's public safety forces could be cut may be persuaded to get out and vote.
"And Democrats could be persuaded to vote 'no' because of cuts to social services,'' Rizzuto said. "And cutting back trash pickup – well, everybody hates that."
"We've got something for everybody."
Next week Howard Wilkinson takes a look at the pro-Issue 3 campaign.