Council Alumni Might Run Again
Although most of their focus is on this fall’s campaigns for Hamilton County Commissioner and Ohio’s gubernatorial and congressional races, some political observers already are salivating about a potential knockdown, drag-out fight brewing in next year’s race for Cincinnati City Council.
The local Republican and Democratic parties are quietly gauging who is interested in mounting a city council campaign, and some familiar names have surfaced.
Party insiders say former City Councilwoman Minette Cooper is mulling another run as a Democrat, while former councilmen Charlie Winburn and Sam Malone are considering jumping into the race on the GOP side. To further cement the “school reunion” feel, former Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who previously ran as a Charterite, might run again as an independent.
Cooper left city council in late 2003, after serving four terms and eight years, due to term limits. Ten months before term limits also would’ve forced him from office, Winburn left city council in February 2001 after seven years. The Republican Party helped him get an appointment to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
Winburn was the GOP’s mayoral candidate in 2005 but finished a distant third in the primary, capturing 21 percent of the vote. Party insiders say Winburn would return to council in preparation to make another run for mayor in 2009. He was spotted at city council’s meeting last week and made sure to stand exactly behind Cincinnati School Board member Melanie Bates as she held a press conference on the steps of City Hall.
Malone won his first council term in November 2003. Two years later he barely missed re-election, finishing 10th in the balloting for nine council seats, when he was facing a misdemeanor domestic violence charge for allegedly beating his 14-year-old son with a belt. Malone was later acquitted of the charge.
Smitherman served one term on council before losing a re-election bid in November 2005. He was an outspoken critic of the city’s financial practices and police violence, which raised the ire of the police union and then-County Prosecutor Mike Allen.
Part of the reason sparking interest among the ex-members is a belief in some circles that city council doesn’t adequately reflect Cincinnati’s diversity. In a city where nearly 45 percent of the population is African-American, only two of the nine city council members are black.
Whether Cincinnati voters would be willing to return so many ex-members to council remains uncertain. Last year, when four incumbents left council, two of them — David Pepper and Alicia Reece — did so of their own accord to run for mayor. Malone and Smitherman each were replaced by candidates of their own parties — Republican Leslie Ghiz and Charterite Chris Bortz — who held more moderate views.
Next year only one member, Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell, will leave due to term limits. Another member, John Cranley, could also leave if he wins his congressional race against U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood). That means it’s likely up to eight incumbents will be vying for nine seats, making any large-scale shakeup an uphill battle for challengers.
Also, rightly or wrongly, the previous council had a reputation for bickering and accomplishing little of substance. Overcoming that reputation might be the largest hurdle for council alumni.
Returning to city council after a defeat can be done. Just ask Councilman Chris Monzel. He was first appointed by the Republican Party to replace Winburn on council in February 2001 and elected in his own right the following fall, only to be defeated in a 2003 re-election bid. But Monzel returned to the group to fill Pat DeWine’s unexpired term when DeWine left for the Hamilton County Commission in January 2005, before finally winning re-election last fall.
— Kevin Osborne