After a contentious Democratic primary where Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil failed to gain his own party’s endorsement, his fellow Democratic challenger Charmaine McGuffey now faces Bruce Hoffbauer to be the highest-ranking lawperson in the county.
Both candidates have emphasized their law enforcement experience and their desire to engage with the community, but questions about qualifications mar both campaigns.
McGuffey served in the sheriff's office for 33 years, rising to the rank of major and serving as the commander of Jail and Court Services for Hamilton County. She is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the office. She left the department in 2017.
"I can feel the momentum coming off of that 70 percent win in the primary," McGuffey said. "It really made a strong statement about my campaign, about what people want in their criminal justice professionals going into the general election, and I can literally feel the momentum pulling the campaign along."
The Department's First Openly Gay Candidate
She is also the first LGBT candidate for Hamilton County Sheriff, and has become one of the most notable LGBT figures in Cincinnati politics since the April primary.
"My role is to be an example of what you can accomplish as an LGBT person because there's a lot of discrimination out there," McGuffey said. "There were lots of times that I struggled to keep my sexual orientation to myself because I knew that if it got out it would hurt my career.
"It feels great to be an LGBTQ candidate, but I know it's a huge responsibility so I can prove to people that being LGBTQ shouldn't hold anyone back."
Hoffbauer's Family Ties
Hoffbauer has served in the Cincinnati Police Department for 34 years, and recently retired as a lieutenant and relief commander of District 3 in Western Hills. Working in the sheriff's office has been a dream of Hoffbauer's, as his father served as a deputy sheriff for 52 years.
"As time went on, I always had a feeling for the sheriff's office," Hoffbauer said. "Timing is almost everything, and as I found myself in the twilight of my career with Cincinnati (Police Department), I looked at the sheriff's office and thought, 'You know, that place educated me, put food in my stomach, clothing on my back, gave my dad a career for 52 years.' I felt like I wanted to go back there."
McGuffey has criticized Hoffbauer for his lack of experience in the sheriff's office, noting his outsider status and the problems that could cause moving into the role.
"He has really no experience in managing anything in the sheriff's office, nor any years of service," McGuffey said. "He touts this police agency experience he has as the end all, be all, but the sheriff's office has the Jail and Court Services which I have managed, and he has no experience managing budgets. He is a mid-level manager as a lieutenant and has no experience in the sectors that I have been in charge of."
Candidates' Controversial Pasts
Hoffbauer has been critical of several of McGuffey's incidents throughout her career in the sheriff's department, most notably her demotion in 2017. An internal investigation found that McGuffey had created a hostile work environment for her subordinates, and she was demoted to a civilian position. She left the sheriff's office after the demotion, claiming that officers complained of her leadership due to her gender and sexuality. She has filed a discrimination suit against the department in federal court. The case is still pending.
"McGuffey left on not too great circumstances, she was cited for 31 counts of creating a hostile work environment, all of which were sustained," Hoffbauer said. "Is that the kind of person you want to lead the department with that kind of past?"
Hoffbauer's career hasn't been free of controversy either, however. He was involved in the 1990 police shooting death of Walter Brown in Corryville. Then-Hamilton County Prosecutor Arthur Ney ruled that Hoffbauer and a fellow officer did not break the law, but City Manager Gerald Newfarmer stated that Hoffbauer did use excessive force. The incident has come into the spotlight again given the recent protests around the country against police brutality and racial injustice, including in Cincinnati.
On 'Defunding' The Police
Many of those protesters have called to "defund the police," or shift funds away from law enforcement and toward other community interests. Both McGuffey and Hoffbauer do not support the idea of defunding the police, but McGuffey believes that social workers should have a larger role in law enforcement, bringing specialized help to cases where there is no immediate threat to an officer's life and an armed officer may not be required.
"A majority of the runs we respond to are social ills - addiction, mental health crises, people struggling with day-to-day stuff," McGuffey said. "If we can direct people to the right place to get help rather than incarcerate them, that's what we want to do."
Hoffbauer disagrees, noting the necessity of armed officers during any interaction with the public.
"When you talk about social services ... I'm definitely behind that because we need that in the jail system," Hoffbauer said. "But when you take away armed officers in social worker situations, you create a recipe for disaster."
He proposes putting in place a similar system that works in the Cincinnati Police Department of sending out social workers alongside armed officers to deal with non-violent situations like mental health crises.
Similarly, McGuffey supports de-militarization of the sheriff's office to an extent, noting the unneeded military surplus vehicles and equipment where taxpayer dollars go to waste.
"I don't want to buy more tanks or more bullets. I want to invest in the human factor; that's how I count the strength of our department," McGuffey said.
Again, Hoffbauer disagrees, noting the necessity of military surplus equipment for certain high-risk situations.
"You need to have firepower that is equal to or greater than the firepower that you are facing," he said. "We cannot go in there looking like we're going into armed battle, but you have to have that equipment available for when something truly bad and horrible happens."
Charmaine McGuffey and Bruce Hoffbauer will face off in the Nov. 3 general election. Eligible Ohio voters can register to vote by Oct. 5 for the Nov. 3 general election. Voters can also request an absentee ballot from the Hamilton County Board of Elections website.