It's been no secret for months that Cincinnati City Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld is eyeing the city's 2021 mayoral election — and today he made it official.
Sittenfeld kicked off his campaign in Evanston today surrounded by Democratic elected officials and labor leaders. His entry marks the second in what could be a hotly contested mayoral race. Sittenfeld's fellow Democrat Cincinnati City Councilmember and former mayor David Mann announced in May that he is running.
There could be more contenders. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, a conservative-leaning independent, was strongly considering a bid, but he announced he was calling off his campaign to be with his family following the death of his wife last year. But he could resume running in the future. And other candidates will likely emerge.
Both Sittenfeld and Mann have launched their bids during a uniquely challenging time for Cincinnati and for the country. Late last month, council, the mayor and city manager had to wrestle with an unprecedented $73 million budget deficit — a hole filled with loans, temporary employee furloughs, deep cuts to departments and one-time federal aid. At the same time, Cincinnati, like other cities across the country, has seen increasing protests around racial disparities in policing, the way in which police departments operate and are funded and deeper economic inequities that have riven Cincinnati and other cities.
Sittenfeld acknowledged those challenges today and outlined four major focus areas for addressing the city's high poverty rate and racial and economic disparities. Those include focusing on affordable housing, reducing economic disparities in the city's low-income communities, reducing gun violence and setting policies that provide better jobs at better wages.
"For far longer than any of us would like to admit, we have been a city that has worked for some, but not for all," Sittenfeld said in his remarks today. "We’ve been good at building five hundred thousand-dollar condos, and not-so-good at building affordable housing. We’ve had a booming economy alongside a heartbreakingly high child poverty rate. We’ve landed impressive jobs deals, but not done enough for minority entrepreneurship. We’ve revitalized some neighborhoods, but still allowed zip code to dictate life expectancy.
"As our city navigates the uncertainty of a pandemic; as we work to get our economy churning again; and as we acknowledge how far we have to go in our quest for racial justice, it’s understandable to feel daunted by the task ahead of us. But Cincinnati is a historic city — and we can make history again."
Sittenfeld was the youngest person ever elected to council when he won his first term at age 27 in 2011. He received the highest number of votes in the 2017 council elections but is term limited in 2021. As of last month, he had more than $660,000 raised for his campaign.
And he has serious support from his party. Newly-minted councilmember Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney introduced Sittenfeld today, as did former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory. They join a raft of Democrats who are endorsing him, including Councilmembers Chris Seelbach, Wendell Young and Greg Landsman, Hamilton County Commissioner Victoria Parks, Ohio State Sen. Cecil Thomas, Ohio State Rep. Sedric Denson, CPS Board President Carolyn Jones and Board Members Pam Bowers and Mike Moroski and others.
Sittenfeld has also garnered support from labor leaders including Laborers Local 265 President Justin Phillips, IBEW Local 212 President Rick Fischer, Cincinnati AFL-CIO President Bill Froehle, ATU Local 627 President Troy Miller, Cincinnati Nurses President Michelle Thoman, AFSCME Local 250 President Maurice Brown, SEIU Local 1 Lead Cincinnati Organizer Omar Jiminez and CODE Board Members Jeff Molden & Jill Byrd.
But he could also face serious headwinds, mostly around controversy over his role in a text message chain among some councilmembers during the ouster of one-time Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black in 2018. Sittenfeld and four other Democratic councilmembers coordinated their response to Black's ouster via text — a violation of Ohio's open meetings laws. A resultant lawsuit by conservative activists dominated headlines last year and saw the release of those text messages, including some speaking ill of councilmembers' colleagues.
Sittenfeld's only official opponent at this point, Mann, has the strength of two terms as mayor and a stint as a U.S. congressman on his side, plus his active and high-profile current council tenure. But he, too, could be hobbled by recent political events. Last month, he drew anger from liberal activists and some in his own party for attempting to adjourn a budget hearing during which protesters were demanding that the city defund the Cincinnati Police Department. Two high-ranking members of his staff resigned following that incident.
2021's municipal elections will be pivotal. In addition to the mayoral race, a slate of candidates will also be contending for six open Cincinnati City Council seats. Should no other challenger emerge in the mayoral race, both Sittenfeld and Mann will skip a scheduled May primary and face off in the November election.