How Many Politicians Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb to Solar Power?

With so many people on the ballot for Cincinnati City Council, will it be hard for interest groups to settle on just nine candidates? Off-year elections are typically dull affairs, sometimes drawin

With so many people on the ballot for Cincinnati City Council, will it be hard for interest groups to settle on just nine candidates?

Off-year elections are typically dull affairs, sometimes drawing few candidates and a woeful minority of voters. But that's hardly the case with Cincinnati city elections this year. Voters will choose from a crowded field, with 26 people seeking one of nine seats on city council and four candidates running for mayor. (See Candidates A La Carte)

There's nothing like a riot to stir political participation.

But high volume doesn't necessarily equal opportunity when it comes to picking political favorites. The Sierra Club, for example, studied the offerings and came away with just three candidates to its liking.

With 3,800 members, the Miami Group of the Sierra Club is one of Greater Cincinnati's largest and most respected environmental organizations. The local chapter's political committee sent questionnaires to candidates and, after reviewing the answers, conducted endorsement interviews with some of them.

Only three candidates for council — Jane Anderson and David Crowley, backed by the Democratic Party, and Dawn Denno, running on the Charter Committee ticket — came away with endorsements from the club.

Perhaps even more surprising than the small number of candidates receiving Sierra's endorsement is the fact that none of them are among the seven incumbent council members on the ballot.

"We kind of made a statement," says Standish Fortin, chair of the organization's political committee. "We didn't do it consciously, but we endorsed no incumbents. There's been a lack of leadership on some issues and in general."

The political committee acknowledges that the reason given for some of its endorsements would seem to have little direct correlation to purely environmental issues.

Anderson, for example, supports developing a light rail system for mass transit, but the Sierra Club endorsed her primarily because of her support for campaign finance reform, Fortin says. Anderson co-authored the proposed city charter amendment that would establish voluntary spending limits and partial public funding of city council campaigns.

"Unfortunately we cannot have a direct correlation documented, proven, between campaign finance reform and some of the concerns Sierra Club addresses," Fortin says. "However, we do believe it is crucial for the long-term future of democracy. We run into things like environmental justice, where the masses are not being given a fair voice."

So, too, with Denno. The Sierra Club's endorsement notes her proposal that the city adopt sustainability indicators, including environmental reports, to determine the city's state of health and to measure progress in strengthening the economy and quality of life.

But Denno won the endorsement primarily because of her role in a field seemingly unrelated to ecological matters. She designs accountability systems for the Ohio Department of Education.

"Dawn Denno has been active in her career with schools, and that's another area we've been looking at," Fortin says.

Crowley, at least, has direct experience in a relatively new environmental field, the reclamation of brownfields, or former industrial sites. Ohio voters last year approved the spending of $600 million for brownfields cleanup.

As a member of the Advisory Committee of the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati, Crowley has been a strong advocate for the brownfields redevelopment program and worked to ensure it would be part of the port authority's program.

The Sierra Club's political committee interviewed six candidates but endorsed only half of them. Fortin declines to identify the also-rans.

"I do not have permission to disclose that," he says.

In another municipal race, for mayor of Cincinnati, the Sierra Club held its nose and passed over all four candidates: incumbent Charlie Luken, a Democrat; Courtis Fuller, backed by the Charter Committee; and independents Michael Riley and Bill Brodberger. The club made no endorsement for mayor because none of the four meshed with its program, according to Fortin.

"We did not see a viable candidate based upon our issues," he said.

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