News: The People's Choice

Lots to decide in this 'off year' election

Sep 3, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Sean Hughes

Rev. Charlie Winburn

Odd-numbered years bring what are often called "off-year" elections, with no federal offices on the ballot. But ironically it's these elections that have the most direct effect on our daily lives — deciding who runs the city, who runs the public schools and how much we'll pay in taxes for various public programs.

The Nov. 6 ballot is crowded. The race for nine seats on Cincinnati City Council features 26 candidates. The Cincinnati School Board has three open seats and an emergency tax hike on the ballot. Hamilton County Municipal Court will see 10 judges elected, and several other tax plans — including a controversial sales tax for a new jail — are up to voters.

In Kentucky, controversial Gov. Ernie Fletcher faces a stiff challenge from Steve Beshear.

Packed council field
The council race is complicated (see "See How They Run," issue of Aug. 15). By the time Nov. 6 arrives, all nine incumbents will be running. That's because former Mayor Roxanne Qualls replaces Councilman Jim Tarbell next week.

Barred from running again because of term limits, Tarbell is stepping down to make room for Qualls, who will finish the final months of his term while campaigning for election.

Qualls, a Democrat last time she served on council, is running this time on the Charter Committee ticket. So are Councilman Christopher Bortz and newcomers Joan Kaup and Melanie Bates, a current member of the Cincinnati School Board.

After announcing his resignation, Tarbell tried but failed to get on the ballot for a seat on the school board. He didn't get enough valid signatures on candidacy petitions — a reflection not of his popularity but of his last-minute rush to make the deadline.

The field of council candidates includes the Rev. Charlie Winburn, a former Republican council member who fared poorly in the 2005 mayoral election. Former Councilman Sam Malone, a Republican who wasn't re-elected in 2005 after being arrested for whipping his 14-year-old son with a belt, is trying to make a comeback. A judge acquitted Malone, saying the punishment didn't constitute child abuse.

Also seeking a return to office is former Councilwoman Minette Cooper, a Democrat who had to sit out the 2005 race due to term limits.

Besides Bates and Kaup, the roster of candidates who have never been on city council is considerable: Pat Fischer, a Republican attorney in his first race, has raised more money so far this year than anyone else running. Greg Harris, a Democrat, is beloved by progressives for twice taking on U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) for a seat in Congress and finishing a respectable second. Justin Jeffre, a former member of the Pop group 98 Degrees, was a flop as a mayoral candidate in 2005 but has spent the past two years working his ass off in independent media projects; he's backed by the Southwest Ohio Green Party. Brian Garry, a longtime grassroots activist against police violence, war and gentrification of Over-the-Rhine, won an endorsement from the Democratic Party for his second run for council.

Voters will pick nine council members who serve two-year terms, earning about $60,000 a year. Mayor Mark Mallory, elected in 2005, doesn't face re-election until 2009.

All this and taxes too
Nearly as heated as the race for council is the question of whether to raise the sales tax to build a new county jail. Bizarre alliances stand opposed on the issue.

The Democrats who control the board of county commissioners, Todd Portune and David Pepper, passed a tax hike after voters rejected a similar one last year. They're working with Sheriff Simon Leis, a Republican conservative of the Neanderthal wing, to keep the tax in place and build the jail.

Working to repeal the tax is a coalition of progressives and conservatives. Opposition to the tax — for completely incompatible ideological reasons — are the NAACP, Cincinnati Progressive Action and the Green Party on one hand and Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes and County Commissioner Pat DeWine, a Republican, on the other. Odd as the assemblage is, it succeeded in putting a repeal initiative on the ballot.

Two other county-wide tax levies will face voters. Renewal of the 1.29-mill senior services levy would raise $21.9 million a year for five years and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $26.51 a year in property taxes. The levy pays for meals, in-home care, transportation to medical appointments and other services for the elderly.

The 2.99-mill mental health levy would generate $38.9 million a year for mental health programs and services for alcohol and drug addiction. The levy is a renewal, plus an increase of 0.25 mills. The cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be $43.86 a year.

Residents of the Cincinnati Public School District face a proposed tax hike of 9.95 mills that would raise $65 million a year for five years for operating expenses (see "School District Eyes Tax Levy," issue of Aug. 15). The property tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $294 a year.

The school board race includes only one incumbent, John Williams. Board members John Gilligan — the former governor of Ohio — and Florence Newell aren't seeking re-election. Challengers include Michael Flannery, a former comedian and reporter for WCPO (Channel 9) — no relation to this reporter. Also running are former Hamilton County Recorder Eve Bolton and Chris Nelms, who heads a baseball program for inner-city kids. ©