Morning News: Pureval for Congress?; Renacci to drop gov bid, jump into Senate race

Aftab Pureval's star has risen rapidly over the past year. But is he ready to take on U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot in a heavily conservative district?

click to enlarge Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval - Provided
Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval

Hello Cincy. Let’s do this news thing really quick, shall we?

Cincinnati City Council yesterday voted to raise the property tax levy the city uses to pay down debt so it can generate money for major capital projects like the Western Hills Viaduct and a new fire training station. That levy differs from the one that pours property taxes into city’s operating budget, which is capped at $29 million a year and which council decided earlier this week not to increase.

Yesterday’s vote was 7-2 for the hike, as previewed in Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting. Republican council members Amy Murray and Jeff Pastor voted against the tax increase. There was some saber-rattling among council members on social media about the increase, as you might expect. Pastor, for instance, erroneously claimed on Twitter that the hike would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an additional $412 a year (it’s actually $31 a year).

The vote itself was surprisingly quick and devoid of debate, however. In fact, yesterday’s council meeting lasted all of about 10 minutes. If you blinked, you missed it. Cranley signed the legislation yesterday, making it official. Last month, Cranley announced at a news conference near the Western Hills Viaduct that he had a plan to get the $33 million needed from the city for the bridge’s replacement. Cranley said that plan — waiting for some deb obligations the city owes to roll off so it can issue bonds — wouldn’t cause taxes to increase.

• The head of a longtime local political family has died. Former Cincinnati mayor, congressman and city council member Thomas Luken passed away at 92 yesterday afternoon. A fixture in Cincinnati politics, Luken was also involved in civil rights advocacy and was a federal prosecutor for the Kennedy administration. Luken’s son, Charlie Luken, has also served as a council member and mayor, and one of the elder Luken’s mentees, John Cranley, holds that seat today.

• There are, famously, 52 neighborhoods in Cincinnati. The New York Times just highlighted 52 places in the world you have to visit. Coincidence? Certainly. 100 percent. A good segue into telling you that Cincinnati is number eight on that list? Debatable, but I’ve already typed it so here we are. Cincy, by the way, is one of only two U.S. cities to break the top 10 on the Times’ list. New Orleans is the other.

• A middle school teacher at Mason Public Schools told a 13-year-old black student that his classmates were going to “form an angry mob and lynch you” if the student didn’t get back on task. The student’s mother complained to the district’s superintendent about the comments, which she says are racially insensitive. The school has issued an apology for the teacher’s statements but hasn’t detailed whether she will be disciplined.

• Hamilton County will sue the makers and distributors of drugs that have led to the region’s opiate addiction crisis. County commissioners voted unanimously on a resolution yesterday that will allow county prosecutors and administrators to hire a special counsel that will pursue suits against the as-yet-unnamed companies. That counsel, Paul T. Ferrell, is working on contingency, meaning his fees come out of money recovered in court. The city of Cincinnati and a number of other governmental entities in Ohio have taken similar actions.

• If you’re the local Democratic Party and you’re looking for a fresh face who also has name recognition to run against U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot for his 1st District congressional seat, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval is probably going to be near the top of your list. And Pureval is considering just such a run, heading to Washington last week to meet with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Other big names like popular Cincinnati city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune have taken a hard pass at taking on Chabot in a heavily Republican district that covers Cincinnati’s West Side and, thanks to gerrymandering over the years, its conservative northern suburbs in Warren County. High profile State Rep. Alicia Reece is reportedly also considering running against Chabot. Reece and/or Pureval would likely have a primary challenger in Rabbi Robert Barr, a first-time candidate who nonetheless has already raised $230,000 for his campaign.

The chatter that Pureval will run against Chabot reaffirms his status as rising star in the local Democratic Party following his surprise victory over former Clerk of Courts Tracy Winkler in 2016. Pureval has buttressed momentum from that win, generating political good will by streamlining the clerk’s office to the tune of more than $800,000 last year.

It will be a tall order for whoever ends up being the Democrats’ nominee. Chabot has 12 terms under his belt in Congress. Democrats have only toppled him once, when Steve Driehaus beat him in 2008. Two years later, thanks in part to the aforementioned redistricting, Chabot trounced Driehaus and took the seat back. In 2016, he beat Democrat challenger Michele Young by roughly 18 points.

• Ohio State Sen. Jim Renacci will drop out of the Republican gubernatorial primary and announce his bid to take on U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown today. The GOP has been scrambling to find a replacement to take on Brown after Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel dropped out of the party’s primary due to his wife’s health. Renacci says political advisors for President Donald Trump encouraged him to make the switch. Renacci’s running mate was Cincinnati City Council member Amy Murray. With Renacci out, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and current Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor remain in the race.

• Finally, check out this exchange between Republican Ohio Secretary of State (and DeWine’s gubernatorial running mate) Jon Husted and Army veteran Joe Helle outside yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearings about Ohio’s voter purging practices. Helle, who is the Democratic mayor of northern Ohio’s Oak Harbor, spoke outside the hearings about his experience coming back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2011 and being told he couldn’t vote because he hadn’t voted in the past two years. That practice of clearing the voter registration rolls of inactive voters keeps voter fraud down, Husted and other Republicans claim. It’s one of the most aggressive policies in the country, and opponents say it disenfranchises thousands of voters, including active military personnel. Helle was flown in to give a speech outside the courthouse by a progressive group representing one of the plaintiffs in the case before SCOTUS. But he says his exchange with Husted was purely in the moment.

You can watch the conversation, which lasts just a couple minutes, here. Husted says the process to re-register to vote is simple and can be done online. Helle explains that’s not so easy when you’re running missions in rural Afghanistan.

“All you have to do is use your right to vote,” Husted tells Helle.

“From a mountainside, sir?” Helle replies.

Husted closes the conversation by telling Helle he wasn’t wrongfully purged from voting registration rolls and walking away. Helle replies by simply saying the word “shame.”

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