Portune Endorses Former State Rep. Pillich in Primary Race for His Seat on Hamilton County Commission

The endorsement in the Democratic Party primary for the commission race still leaves unanswered the question of who will replace Portune when he retires at the end of the year

Nov 22, 2019 at 12:43 pm
click to enlarge Hamilton County Commission member Todd Portune and Connie Pillich at a news conference announcing Portune's endorsement - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Hamilton County Commission member Todd Portune and Connie Pillich at a news conference announcing Portune's endorsement

Retiring at the end of the year as he faces a battle with cancer, Hamilton County Commission member Todd Portune at a news conference Nov. 21 endorsed former State Rep. Connie Pillich in her Democratic Party primary bid to replace him.

“Connie Pillich best epitomizes what I have brought to the commission,” Portune said. “From growing our local economy to ensuring our region has a robust and multi-modal transit system or decreasing infant mortality rates, Connie’s ready to continue this incredibly important fight. She’s served in the Air Force, as a public defender, and as a state representative. Now, she’s ready to serve as Hamilton County’s next county commissioner.”

The nod gives a boost to Pillich's campaign, which she announced Nov. 19.

The Air Force veteran has about $540,000 from a 2018 gubernatorial primary bid that election laws allow her to use in the commission race, as well as a track record of winning election three times in the county's 28th State House District — a very competitive district. 

But her primary opponent, fellow former State Rep. Alicia Reece, is also formidable. Reece, who announced her run last month, is well-established among the county's Democratic Party. She grabbed an endorsement from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who spoke glowingly of their time together on Cincinnati City Council and Reece's work in the State House. Reece has also recently received endorsements from Greater Cincinnati NAACP Vice President Joe Mallory and influential faith leaders Rev. Damon Lynch III and Pastor KZ Smith.

A big edge in the March 17 primary would likely go to whichever of the candidates gets the nod to fill Portune's seat temporarily when he steps down — if either of them do. The Hamilton County Democratic Party has the ultimate say in that decision and could choose someone else. Portune's input will very likely carry big weight, however. 

It is unclear whether Portune's endorsement means Pillich will get the nod for the temporary role ahead of the election.

The winner of the Reece/Pillich matchup will go on to face Republican Andy Black, a former Mariemont City Council member.  

One of the key issues candidates will battle over after the primaries will likely be a .25 percent sales tax the commission approved last month. That tax replaced the so-called "icon tax" passed in 2014 to renovate Union Terminal and as such didn't raise the county's sales tax rate. The county's administration said the tax was needed to close a $20 million deficit in this year's budget — a gap that looks to grow over the coming years as costs rise and state contributions via its local government fund continue to lag.

Republicans, led by Black, tried to mount a ballot initiative to repeal that tax, but fell short of the number of signatures needed to do so. 

During a news conference announcing Cranley's endorsement of Reece, she hedged on full-throated support for the sales tax, saying she would need to see the county's budget documents to determine whether the tax was necessary. Pillich, meanwhile, has said she considers the tax a done deal and wants to make sure the money is spent efficiently and effectively. 

It's not the only race for a commission seat in 2020 — Democrat Denise Driehaus is also up for reelection to a second term. So far, Republicans haven't named a challenger for Driehaus' seat, but any candidates have until Dec. 18 to file for the primary.

Should both Driehaus and the nominated Democrat win election in November, Democrats would continue their sweep of the three member board. And, for the first time in history, it would be occupied entirely by women. That last outcome could happen even if Driehaus loses, as the Hamilton County Republican Party has hinted that it is recruiting a female candidate to run against her.