If you’re a local political junkie and you were worried that the next 18 months were going to be boring or something, well, put your anxiety to bed. Cincinnati’s 2017 mayoral election just officially got interesting.
At a brief event today at the Carl Solway Gallery in the West End, Democrat Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson announced she will be challenging Mayor John Cranley in the party's May 7, 2017 open mayoral primary.
“I love this city,” Simpson said. “I was born here, raised here, educated here. I have served this city. Our city deserves a visionary leader who will serve its citizens with an open door, an open heart and an open ear, one who will work collaboratively with Council, our administration, employees and our stakeholders.”
Simpson laid out a positive, non-adversarial message during her remarks and in a short video, mostly stressing her abilities to work collaboratively and revisiting priorities she has championed on Council, including fighting childhood poverty, increasing support for community development and small business, and boosting affordable housing and public transit.
“Those in need cannot wait,” Simpson said. “The time is now.”
Simpson did not mention Cranley during her address, even though the 38-year-old attorney has been among the most consistent members of Council to question the mayor on his uses of power, his priorities when it comes to funding for human services and community development, and other hot-button issues that have pitted Council Democrats against him.
Following Simpson’s announcement, Cranley called a news conference outside the United Way building in Mount Auburn to talk about the election.
“Since taking office in 2013, I’ve woken up everyday thinking, ‘What can I do to make this a better place to live for all Cincinnatians?,'" Cranley wrote in a statement, touting his work increasing police staffing, investment in neighborhoods and minority contracting. “This approach of putting the needs of everyday people ahead of insiders and politicians has led to a sea change in the way our city works that has benefited all of us. We cannot afford to go back to the old way of doing things.”
Cranley critics, including Simpson, have hit him hard for budget moves he’s made that have cut human services funding to organizations that seek to address poverty and community development money meant for neighborhood-level organizations that seek to revitalize low-income areas of the city.
That tension, as well as a high-profile fight between Cranley and supporters of issues like the city’s coming streetcar, historic preservation and other issues, has created a rift between the mayor and progressive, urbanist Democrats, with whom Simpson is more aligned.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Simpson said of her candidacy, alluding to months worth of speculation she would run. “In the last week it became very clear for a variety of reasons.”
Assuredly among those reasons: the City Hall tussle over a pay raise for city employees represented by unions. Cranley has proposed giving bigger raises than the city bargained for outside its normal collective bargaining process. Simpson has put forward her own alternative, which involves unions and the city going back to the bargaining table and city administration and council members amending the current city budget. Critics say her plan isn’t substantively different from Cranley’s. Simpson and her supporters, however, say the moves would preserve the collective bargaining process while still extending raises to city employees. That battle looks to continue, with Council set to vote on the issue next month.
Simpsons’ brief reference to continuing contention at City Hall was the only nod to her opponent. When asked to address her differences with the mayor more directly, Simpson said she would rather talk about her ideas.
The newly minted candidate was joined by a broad group of progressive-leaning activists, elected officials and community leaders, including City Councilmen Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young, transit advocate Derek Bauman, Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation head Ozie Davis III, University of Cincinnati racial justice activist Alexander Shelton and others. Leaders from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, activists for historic preservation and other progressives were also in attendance. Notably absent: Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Vice Mayor David Mann, Council’s two other Democrats.
Simpson spent some time laying out her challenging background, saying it makes her “uniquely equipped” to wrangle with the city’s problems.
“I’ve lived in two very different Cincinnatis,” she said. “I’ve seen the seven hills of Cincinnati, and the valleys beneath that we don’t talk about very much. I can represent the whole of Cincinnati."
The West End resident, who grew up in public housing in Avondale, said she knows about the city’s pervasive childhood poverty problem first hand.
“Our children's story is not unlike my story,” she said. “From the moment I entered this world, the deck was stacked against me. Born to a mentally-ill mother and a drug addicted father, I was raised by my grandmother. Entering the world that way, I could have easily become a statistic. That didn’t happen.”
Following the announcement, Simpson began a day-long tour through the city to discuss her candidacy and policy ideas at public appearances in Northside, Bond Hill, Hyde Park and Over-the-Rhine. She will end the day at MOTR Pub on Main Street in OTR with a campaign rally from 5-9 p.m.