Cincinnati voters sent conflicting messages at the polls Nov. 3, reelecting Mayor Mark Mallory by a wide margin but rejecting a moderate Democratic incumbent on City Council and replacing him with a conservative Republican who dismantles Mallory’s five-member voting bloc.
Mallory won with 36,444 votes, or 54 percent of ballots cast. That compares to 30,901 votes (46 percent) for first-time candidate Dr. Brad Wenstrup, the Republican challenger.
A confident Mallory barely campaigned this election cycle. On Election Night, he described Wenstrup as “a caring, committed person” but added that Wenstrup’s lack of political experience hampered his chances.
A council candidate Mallory campaigned for didn’t fare so well.
City Councilman Greg Harris, a Democrat who was appointed to his seat in January to replace John Cranley, was defeated in his election bid. Harris placed 10th in balloting for the nine-member City Council, missing the final spot by about 3,400 votes.
The off-year election, with no state or national candidates to energize the city’s Democratic base, was partially his undoing, Harris said.
“It didn’t work out for me,” Harris said. “Obviously, it was a really conservative turnout this year. It’s a Democratic city and a union city, but it’s never been as organized as it should be.”
Asked if he planned to seek public office again, Harris replied he probably wouldn’t but was unsure.
“When you get appointed, serve for a year and still lose, that’s not a good sign,” Harris said. “It was a privilege to be appointed, but it was a tough year, being the fifth vote on so many difficult issues like budget cuts.”
Replacing Harris on City Council is the Rev. Charlie Winburn, an ultra-conservative, pro-business Republican.
Winburn was a longtime council fixture in the 1990s who left in late 2000 due to term limits. He’s the pastor at The Encampment, a College Hill church where he performs exorcisms and conducts prophecy schools. He’s also employed by Citizens for Community Values on a commission basis and frequently receives contributions from the business community, including billionaire financier Carl Lindner Jr.
Winburn finished in seventh place with 27,542 votes.
Council’s new composition might mean that it will be more prone to defying Mallory’s agenda and could lead to gridlock if the mayor wields his veto power.
For example, Issue 9 — which would have made it harder to build a streetcar system, a project Mallory supports — was handily defeated Nov. 3 (see more on the issues results here). But many of the top finishers in the council race oppose the project.
Because Democrat David Crowley couldn’t run again due to term limits, it was known that at least one newcomer would be elected. In reality, there were two.
The other is Democrat Laure Quinlivan, who used to work as an investigative reporter for WCPO-TV (Channel 9). She placed eighth with 27,333 votes.
Quinlivan campaigned as an ardent streetcar supporter. No doubt her name recognition with TV viewers — as well as help from high-profile Democrats like Mallory and Hamilton County commissioners David Pepper and Todd Portune — pushed her to victory.
Although the local Democratic Party unendorsed controversial incumbent Jeff Berding in September, that action — and Berding’s frequent TV commercials in response — appears to have helped him. He placed the highest he ever has in balloting, finishing fourth with 29,086 votes. That compares to a sixth place finish in 2005 and an eighth place finish in 2007.
Berding was buoyed by contributions from the business community, including his employer, the Cincinnati Bengals. Additionally, his TV ads made it appear that Berding was responsible for avoiding police layoffs when, in fact, it was tactics used by the mayor’s majority that resulted in concessions from the police union, making layoffs unnecessary.
As expected, the top vote-getter was the popular Charterite incumbent Roxanne Qualls, who served as mayor for six years in the ’90s. Just like the last council election in 2007, Qualls placed first, this time with 41,290 votes.
Placing second, surprisingly, was Democratic incumbent Cecil Thomas with 33,790 votes. His strong finish is at odds with the overall results that show conservative council members faring well, because Thomas is a part of Mallory’s centrist voting bloc.
By comparison, Democratic incumbent Laketa Cole — another member of Mallory’s team — barely made it back onto council. She finished ninth, with 27,332 votes. In the past, Cole ranked near the top.
This summer, however, she was involved in a police traffic stop when her boyfriend’s motorcycle was pulled over for a minor infraction. Cole called the city manager during the incident, leading critics to allege she was seeking favorable treatment.
The rankings seem to indicate that voters made their decisions based more on personalities rather than policy differences.
Other winners included Charterite incumbent Chris Bortz in third place, Republican incumbent Leslie Ghiz in fifth and Republican incumbent Chris Monzel in sixth. Those three members — along with Berding and Winburn — form a majority that probably will be aligned against the mayor on many issues.
By far the ugliest moments in this year’s campaigning occurred on Election Day, when some volunteers were caught distributing flyers outside Integrity Hall in Bond Hill. The literature accused Mallory and Qualls of being gay and of Mallory’s majority pushing funding for “gay art,” whatever that is.
No one took credit for the flyers, but it occurred at the same facility where Winburn held his victory celebration Tuesday night.
Also on Tuesday, Mary Kuhl — one of the leaders of the conservative Westwood Concern — tweeted, “GH needs help. westside is NOT a fan. Hope he is looking for another means of support w/ all that child support alimony?”
The classless post referred to Harris, who is divorced.
In total, five of the nine Democrats and two of the five Republicans running for council didn’t make the cut.
Tuesday’s voting results won’t be official until the Hamilton County Board of Elections certifies the ballots, which likely will occur sometime next week.
Whether the results truly reflect the mood of voters is anyone’s guess. Under Cincinnati’s at-large council race, even the highest finisher received less that 10 percent of the vote.
The conservative majority received far less: Bortz, Berding, Ghiz, Monzel and Winburn all received less than 7 percent. Such diluted voting is far from a mandate for change.
Many observers thought the last City Council, with a slim 5-4 voting split in the mayor’s favor, was one of the most contentious on record. Now, with a one-vote difference leaning against the mayor, city residents should hold on tight — it’s gonna be a bumpy two years.
[Photo: Laure Quinlivan (left) and campaign manager Mary Beth Poulimenos check early returns after the polls close on Nov. 3. Photo by Sean Hughes.]
Get unofficial HAMILTON COUNTY ELECTION RESULTS here and unofficial OHIO ISSUE RESULTS here.