So, last Monday, just as this year's Cincinnati mayor's race was starting to get interesting, Mayor John Cranley declared Cincinnati to be sanctuary city for immigrants.
So, too, did six of nine members of City Council when they voted Wednesday for Council Member Wendell Young's sanctuary city motion – a group including one Democrat, Yvette Simpson, who is running against the Democrat Cranley in the May 2 primary election.
And so, too, did Rob Richardson, the former University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees member who is the third Democratic mayoral candidate. He didn't have a vote on it, but he supports the concept for Cincinnati as a sanctuary city.
All because, on Friday, Jan. 27, President Trump signed an executive order suspending all Syrian refugee settlement in the U.S. indefinitely . Citizens of seven specific Muslim nations are also to be denied entry to the U.S. for the next three months.
Cranley explained his rationale at the press conference he held on Monday at City Hall, where he declared Cincinnati to be a "sanctuary city."
"If people of good will in this country do not act to aid these Muslims, many of whom are the victims of persecution in their home countries, it will be viewed the way the refusal to help Jewish refugees in World War II,'' Cranley said.
What does "sanctuary city" mean as far as Cincinnati is concerned?
Well, there is no legal definition. It is sort of a state of mind; it is a pattern of behavior and an attitude toward immigrants. It can take many forms.
Cincinnati has, in fact, been a sanctuary city since March 2015, which is when the Cincinnati Police Department adopted the policy that they wouldn't be in the business of enforcing federal immigration laws. They wouldn't stand in the way of federal agents enforcing those laws, but Cincinnati cops would not be checking people's citizenship.
And the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce has its COMPASS program, a resource program to help immigrants find work. The Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati issues ID cards to immigrants to help them gain access to public services.
This caused great jubilation in many quarters in Cincinnati, even though Cincinnati has, in effect, been a "sanctuary city" in practice for at least two years without using the name; and despite the fact that Cincinnati is but one of as many as 300 U.S. cities that have proclaimed themselves to be sanctuary cities in one way or another.
The room for Cranley's press conference was full of representatives of all the major religions, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian; people from various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and activists of various stripes who were happy to see their city stick a thumb in the new president's eye.
Also in the room was Simpson, who, with fellow Democratic council member Chris Seelbach, had been working a resolution to put the city on record as being opposed to Trump's executive order "as a dangerous and unfunded mandate that puts the hard work and relationships of local police officers at risk."
Simpson told WVXU she and Seelbach were also working on city ordinances to make the sanctuary city designation the law of the city and not just a declaration of principle.
She said she and Seelbach had a meeting with "stakeholders" in the sanctuary city concept set for 4 p.m. Monday. Then, she was surprised to learn that Cranley had scheduled a Monday morning press conference.
Cranley's press conference came two days after he authored an op-ed column in the Cincinnati Enquirer with the headline, Cincinnati will remain a welcoming city for immigrants.
"Nowhere in that column did he use the words 'sanctuary city,''' Simpson said. "And, then, two days later, he's holding a press conference at City Hall declaring it."
Simpson's implication was that candidate Cranley was trying to get out in front of Simpson (and Richardson) on what will probably prove to be popular in this heavily Democratic city.
"Regardless of how we got here, it's a good thing,'' Simpson said. "But I believe we are going to have to do more."
Richardson, who, of course, is not a council member, was the one mayoral candidate sort of left on the sidelines of the sanctuary city issue – but he did put out a written statement through his campaign.
"I am on record as supporting sanctuary city status for Cincinnati," Richardson said. "In its long history, our city has welcomed escaping slaves, undocumented workers and now immigrants. Providing sanctuary is who we are."
The day after Cranley's press conference and the day before the council vote, State Treasurer Josh Mandel – a Republican who is running against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown for the U.S. Senate – showed up at the Hamilton County Administration Building with two local Republicans, County Commissioner Chris Monzel and Council Member Charlie Winburn, who has taken out petitions to run for mayor. No one knows if Winburn intends to file them; it may just be his way of making Cranley's life miserable with the threat of peeling away whatever conservative votes there are left in the city.
Mandel, Monzel and Winburn decried the notion of Cincinnati being a sanctuary city, saying that the city doesn't get to pick and choose which federal laws it will enforce. They also said that President Trump's threat to withdraw federal funds from "sanctuary cities" could leave Cincinnati hanging high and dry.
Mandel's U.S. Senate campaign, by the way, is using Cincinnati's sanctuary city designation as a fund-raising tool. Mandel's campaign sent an email to supporters Thursday with this message: Sanctuary cities need to stop. Period. Right now, across the county, liberal extremists across the country are flouting the rule of law and making our nation less safe.
Then, he cites Cincinnati as the latest example. And asks supporters to send his campaign money "to fight back."
Winburn argued that federal funding for big, much-needed projects like the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge and repairs to the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct could be jeopardized by Cincinnati's sanctuary city declaration.
Both Hamilton County commissioner Todd Portune and Cranley said they don't believe that the city can lose any federal funding over this.
Portune, a lawyer, like Cranley, said it would be "illegal to deny federal funding to cities for not enforcing laws like that."
Chase College of Law Professor Ken Katkin, who writes and teaches constitutional law, says that cities do, in fact, have the right to pick and choose which federal laws they enforce, even though federal laws apply everywhere in the country.
If the Trump administration were to try to withhold federal funds that had already been appropriated by Congress "that would be against the law,'' Katkin said Wednesday on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition.
The city would likely sue and win, Katkin said.
If President Trump were able to convince Congress not to appropriate new funding to sanctuaries, that would be a different matter, Katkin said. That would be Trump's most effective leverage against the "sanctuary cities." But it would be up to Congress.
"Congress has the power of the purse, not the president,'' Katkin said.
At the Mandel event Tuesday, about 50 conservative Republicans were in the room; Winburn urged them all to go down to City Hall on Wednesday and speak out against the resolution – which many of them did, to no avail. Most of them didn't live in the city anyway.
Being in favor of Cincinnati as a sanctuary city is a low-risk proposition for a mayoral candidate in this heavily Democratic city – and all three of the announced candidates are Democrats.
Trump just doesn't have much of a fan club inside the city limits of Cincinnati.
Look at the November election if you don't believe that.
In the November election, 138,197 ballots were cast in the city of Cincinnati. Of them, 73 percent – 100,866 – were cast for Hillary Clinton. Trump had 21 percent – 28,797.
There are plenty of Republican voters in southwest Ohio – and plenty of Trump fans – but very few of them reside within the city limits of Cincinnati.
It will be primarily Democratic voters who decide who the top two vote-getters will be in the May 2 primary. Those two will face off in the November election for a four-year term as mayor.
Cranley – seen by many as the most conservative of the three Democratic mayoral candidates - managed to get out in front of his rivals on what is likely to be a popular issue in a heavily Democratic city.
Advantage, Cranley. At least for the time being.