News: Same Old, Same Old

All incumbents re-elected to city council

Natalie Hager

Roxanne Qualls checks on early results at the Board of Election.

Election Day Slide Show - Click Here

Maybe the cliche is true: Cincinnatians don't like change.

The big surprise in the Nov. 6 election results for Cincinnati City Council is that there were no big surprises. Voters returned each and every one of the nine incumbents to office.

As a result, political junkies had to content themselves with a few small surprises. They included the lackluster performance of former Councilman Charlie Winburn, a once-popular Republican who spent heavily on TV commercials that focused on crime. Winburn didn't quite make a comeback to City Hall, finishing 10th and just missing a seat by about 1,400 votes.

Conventional wisdom — and some polls — had predicted Winburn would be among the top five vote-getters, possibly setting himself up for a mayoral campaign in 2009.

Heimlich redux
Another small surprise was the return of incumbent Councilman Jeff Berding to city council. A Democrat, the controversial Berding finished in eighth place despite facing opposition from across the political spectrum due to what critics call his abrasive style of politics.

Complaints about Berding ranged from his ties to Republican campaign contributors and his proposal last winter to cut $3 million from the city's health department to his tendency to cut deals outside public meetings and his frequent clashes with some Democrats on council.

Noting that Berding was among the top campaign fundraisers, raising about $286,000 but only placed eighth, a veteran campaign worker at the Hamilton County Board of Elections compared him to an ex-councilman who also was a polarizing figure. The worker quipped, "He's the Phil Heimlich of this council. He has a high opinion of himself and has to raise a lot of money just to barely stay on."

Perhaps the biggest of the small surprises was the strong finish of incumbent Councilman Cecil Thomas, a Democrat who placed fourth. Some early polls had pegged Thomas as vulnerable and as the member most likely to lose his seat.

"I feel real good," said Thomas, a retired police officer, as he savored his victory.

Thomas said his humble style and refusal to do any negative campaigning were responsible for his high ranking.

"While all the other members of council were throwing negatives out there, I wanted to focus on the positive. The voters felt the same way," he said. "When you put positive things out there, you get positive things back. Hopefully, the other members will learn a lesson from this."

The top vote-getters in order were Democrat John Cranley, finishing just 15 votes ahead of Charterite Roxanne Qualls in final unofficial results; Democrat David Crowley; Thomas; Charterite Chris Bortz; Republican Leslie Ghiz; Democrat Laketa Cole; Berding; and Republican Chris Monzel.

Former council members seeking a return to office filled the next few spots: Winburn in 10th place, Democrat Minette Cooper in 11th and Republican Sam Malone in 12th.

Cincinnati School Board Member Melanie Bates, a Charterite, finished in 13th place, followed by Republicans Pat Fischer (14) and John Eby (15) and Democrats Greg Harris (16) and Wendell Young (17).

'Very predictable'
With the incumbents keeping their seats, the spotlight now turns to what some of their next political moves will be.

Cranley and Crowley are facing term limits and, if they stay true to council tradition, likely will give up their seats to appointees some time late in 2009. There is speculation that Bortz, who mulled seeking the Republican endorsement for the current council race, could challenge Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, when Portune's current term is over; and pundits already are placing odds on Qualls, a former mayor, challenging current Mayor Mark Mallory for his office in two years.

For now, though, what's old is new again at City Hall.

Cole believes the election results send a message about the current council's effectiveness.

"The voters have been pleased with how we've been doing," she said. "There's a lot less bickering than with past city councils. We may not always get along, but it's how we agree to disagree. We all want to move Cincinnati forward. We just sometimes have different ideas about how to do it.

"I've been around City Hall as a staff member and a council member through four city managers, and it's a lot better these days."

Qualls, however, downplayed any deeper meanings over the fact that all incumbents won reelection and shut out any challengers.

"I don't think it really says anything," she said. "In a field race with so many candidates, incumbency means a lot. It's a very predictable outcome."

Still, Qualls predicted the next council term would be smoother than the current one, which was marked by a bitter budget fight and in-fighting over issues.

"It will be better," she said. "What happens is council members learn. They will be more astute about how things work and about how to put together coalitions to actually get things passed. There were a lot of people who were new to council last time."

Crowley had a somewhat bleaker take on the results.

"It means for the most part that all of the people on council will do the same things they did last week," he said. "I don't expect a whole lot of change in their philosophies on the floor of council. Maybe how some people finished in the balloting will make them rethink how aggressive they want to be." ©

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