One of the historic fortresses of Republican support in Hamilton County — the city of Wyoming — looks more and more like a Democratic stronghold.
Wyoming, with a population of about 8,500, isn’t a large suburb, but its median family income of $103,089 far exceeds the county’s $64,683. It was such a dependably Republican quarter that 56 percent of its voters supported Bob Dole in Bill Clinton’s landslide win in 1996. Presidential candidates named Bush were 4-for-4 in Wyoming elections.
Fast forward to 2017, and Wyoming — the boyhood home of Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper — has pivoted sharply leftward. After twice voting for Barack Obama, the city gave 61 percent of its votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016. And in a more recent twist, four of the seven winners in the Nov. 7 City Council election are Democrats.
Not that Wyomingites knew they were ushering in a Democratic majority. Unlike Cincinnati, Wyoming’s City Council election is nonpartisan. Candidates don’t run as Republicans or Democrats. They run on issues.
“The city of Wyoming has always been nonpartisan, and we’ve always tried to keep it that way,” says Vice Mayor Al Delgado, a Democrat who won a second two-year term. He says he would feel “very uncomfortable” with a council tackling issues along party lines.
Still, for a traditionally Republican city to elect four people who happen to be Democrats was eventful enough for Hamilton County Democratic Party Executive Director Caleb Faux to cite as further proof of the county’s political turn.
“There’s been a demographic change in that part of the county,” he says. “In the 2016 elections, when you got to the high-income areas that were the bastion of Republican strength over the years, like Madeira, Montgomery, Indian Hill, Terrace Park and Wyoming, a lot of people shifted into the Clinton column.”
Joining Delgado in Wyoming’s new Democratic “majority” will be incumbent James O’Reilly and newcomers Thaddeus Hoffmeister and Sarah Stankorb Taylor. They, too, don’t plan to wave party flags at council meetings.
“Residents I met with during the course of the campaign repeatedly told me that they wanted to elect members who would work to make sure that Wyoming stays Wyoming,” says Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton law professor whose family moved from Washington, D.C., nine years ago.
“I believe that voters in Wyoming came out not to vote for a Democratic majority or maintain a Republican majority, but to vote for candidates who spoke to their concerns and provided a vision for moving forward,” he says.
Stankorb Taylor, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, says a controversial Council resolution in April pointed to a need for a greater connection with residents.
One month after Ohio expanded the right to carry concealed weapons into certain public buildings, the Wyoming Council resolved to adopt the measure locally. A large group of citizens complained, saying they weren’t adequately notified of the proposal. Council repealed its resolution in May.
“I felt blindsided, and many voters I talked to felt the same way,” Stankorb Taylor says. “That one issue became emblematic of a broader concern: lack of transparency and communication. Sure, the concealed carry issue came up at a committee meeting and was published in a pdf in the Council agenda linked on the city’s website. But most residents aren’t in the habit of regularly checking in there and clicking through pdfs. The city needs to adapt and change how it communicates.”
Wyoming’s public opposition to expanding gun rights perhaps serves as an indicator of where residents stand on other issues that divide liberals and conservatives — and the political parties. Democrats are happy to have more suburban voters in their camp.
“Wyoming is a great example of a Cincinnati suburb that just a few decades ago would have been Republican but is now reliably blue,” Pepper says. “Swing areas like Wyoming becoming blue is one reason Hamilton County has moved in the same direction. The Trump brand of Republican politics is only accelerating what is already a clear trend in the suburbs.”
CONTACT JAMES McNAIR at [email protected], 513-914-2736 or @jmacnews on Twitter