Democrat Wins Upset to Become First African-American Woman On Hamilton County Commission; Few Surprises in Other County Races

Stephanie Summerow Dumas has toppled incumbent Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel

click to enlarge Stephanie Summerow Dumas with Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune
Stephanie Summerow Dumas with Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune

Democrat Stephanie Summerow Dumas has beaten incumbent Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel for a seat on the board that determines the county's $241 million budget and oversees its various departments.

She's the first African American woman to serve in the role. Dumas' slim upset win with 51 percent of the vote means that Democrats control all three seats on commission.

That's a huge turnaround from just a few years ago, and yet another sign that Hamilton County — once a Republican stronghold — is becoming more and more friendly to Democrats. Prior to 2016, when Democrat Denise Driehaus won her seat, Republicans had controlled the commission.

Dumas, a social worker by trade, served as mayor of Forest Park from 1999 to 2005 and as and Lincoln Heights village administrator from 2011 to 2015. She won an earlier surprise victory during the Democratic Party primary this spring, besting party favorite James Wolf for the nomination. She did so with scant campaign funds and little name recognition, a feat she has repeated in the general election.

Monzel, a former Cincinnati City Council member who has been on the county commission since 2011, raised almost $400,000 for the race against Dumas, who raised $12,000.

Meanwhile, other election results in Hamilton County were less surprising.

Incumbent Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a Democrat, held onto his seat with 65 percent of the vote against Republican Nancy Aichholz. Rhodes has served in this role since 1990. He is nominally a Democrat, though he’s about the most conservative member of his party in the county. Aichholz, a Republican, is the president and CEO of Aviatra Accelerators, a startup accelerator focused on woman-owned businesses. Rhodes touted his nearly three decades of experience in his role as auditor, and his efforts to save taxpayers money, including a recent $14 million rebate to county municipalities the auditor’s office didn’t use when it reappraised properties. But he’s also caught flak for clerical errors that caused Cincinnati to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in erroneous property tax payments. Aichholz, meanwhile, said the auditor’s office is outdated and needs fresh, tech-savvy leadership.

Voters approved more money for Hamilton County's efforts to help children under Issue 9. The ballot initiative will create a property tax levy to help fund Hamilton County Job and Family Services’ child welfare and foster care services. Currently, homeowners pay about $54 on every $100,000 their home is worth for JFS, bringing in about $39 million each year. That’s about half the agency’s $80 million budget. With Issue 9 passed, Hamilton County homeowners will pay another roughly $70 per $100,000 of valuation to boost JFS’ annual budget by another $38 million so the agency can address increased demand for child and foster care services — up about 40 percent since 2015 — created in part by the opioid addiction epidemic. Exacerbating JFS’ financial situation, cuts to the state’s local government fund has left the agency with less state funding since. Without the levy, county officials said JFS would run out of money in three years. A wide array of social service and faith organizations backed the levy. Anti-tax group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes and Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Monzel opposed the measure, which received 60 percent of the vote. 

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