Sky's the limit for money in Cincinnati mayor's race

Feb 2, 2013

The Cincinnati mayor’s race is this year, 2013, right?

Last year was the year of a monumental presidential campaign, a U.S. Senate race, and a whole raft of county races, all of which sucked up millions of campaign dollars from willing donors like a fully-functional Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner.

Yet, in the later stages of 2012, how much money did the two active candidates for Cincinnati mayor – Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and former city council member John Cranley – rake in for their 2013 contest?

A total of $329,251 between them, according to year-end campaign finance reports filed this week.
Between the two of them, they had $305,065 in the bank as of Dec. 31 - $170,877 for Cranley, $134,188 for Qualls.

Pretty hefty sums for a primary election that was more than nine months away and a general election that was still 11 months out.

There are others likely to be in the race – forcing a September primary, with the top two finishers facing each other in November – and if some of them get in the race before the June filing deadline, there could be even more big bucks flowing. Hamilton County commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, is still apparently hemming and hawing about whether or not to get in. If he does, he is no slouch at raising money.

If one or more new candidates enter the race, forcing a September primary election, both Cranley and Qualls could go back to their many donors who have contributed $1,100 - the maximum individual contribution per election under Cincinnati election law - and ask them for another $1,100 for the general election campaign, assuming they end up as the two top vote-getters and face each other in the November election.

The conclusion?

This is going to be one expensive mayor’s race.

Could there be $1 million spent on the mayor’s office this year? Or even more?

The answer is most certainly, yes.

“That wouldn’t surprise me a bit,’’ said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke. This is going to be a very expensive race. Both of these candidates are very good at raising money.”

And both are Democrats, running for mayor in a heavily Democratic city.

If no credible Republican candidate, such as Hartmann, enters the race, the business community leaders who tend to give to Republicans are going to have to choose sides in a race between two Democrats.

Some say that Cranley, who is positioning himself as the more conservative of the two, may have an advantage there.

These days, Bob Castellini – president and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds, who built a successful business empire in the produce business – is considered one of the bellwethers of local campaign finance. Where Castellini – who generally gives to Republicans but helps out Democrats on the local levels whom he can work with – others follow.

The campaign finance reports filed this week showed that Castellini and his family are playing this mayor’s race straight down the middle.

Bob Castellini gave checks for $600 each to Qualls and Cranley.

His son, Phil, the chief operating officer of the Reds, gave checks of $1,100 to Qualls and Cranley.
Bob’s wife, Susan, gave checks of $1,100 each to both Qualls and Cranley.

And Patricia Headley, Bob Castellini’s daughter, did the same – a check for $1,100 to both Qualls and Cranley.

An indication that the Castellini family has no real dog in this fight; and could live with either one in the mayor’s office come December 1, 2013.

Where the rest of the Republican money in this town will land if there is no Hartmann or reasonable facsimile thereof in the contest is yet to be seen.

But it will go somewhere.

And Cranley and Qualls will be scratching and clawing for every bit of it.

With these two candidates having over $300,000 in the bank by the end of 2012, there is no telling how much more they can raise between now and November.

But one thing is certain – it will be one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, Cincinnati mayor's race so far.