Yvette Simpson wins mayoral primary

After Simpson's surprise first-place primary finish, she and incumbent John Cranley will face off in November.

click to enlarge Councilwoman Yvette Simpson speaks to supporters after winning Cincinnati's May 2 mayoral primary. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson speaks to supporters after winning Cincinnati's May 2 mayoral primary.

Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson grabbed the most votes in the city’s mayoral primary, placing her ahead of runner-up Mayor John Cranley and knocking attorney and former University of Cincinnati board chair Rob Richardson Jr. out of the race.

The race between the three Democrats saw only 11 percent turnout. Simpson received 45 percent of the vote to Cranley’s 35 percent and Richardson’s 20 percent. She easily carried both day-of and early votes. While the low turnout race means little in terms of predicting November’s outcome, it’s a potential game-changer in a campaign in which Simpson has struggled to keep up with fundraising and ad spending and which has already grown very competitive.

“Thank you to Rob Richardson for running a great race,” Simpson said to supporters during a jubilant party at Walnut Hills mainstay The Greenwich, which is across the street from her campaign headquarters. “He called to congratulate me and I called him back to say, ‘If you’d had a little more time, you might’ve given me a run for my money. I’m hoping to have his support, because with his support, we might actually make this thing happen.”

Simpson also had subtle pushback for general election opponent Cranley. The mayor has run a TV ad slamming Simpson for her support of the streetcar, contrasting it to her vote against a pay increase when bringing aboard Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac after city administration fired former chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Cranley says Simpson’s vote shows she doesn’t support public safety,but does support the multi-million dollar transit project. Simpson has called that assertion dishonest.

“I want to say to John Cranley — congratulations for getting out of the primary,” she said. “I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a respectful, honest race. I think it’s important for us to set the standard right now. Let’s do this thing the right way. Let’s make our case to the citizens on the issues.”

Simpson took nearly every precinct in Cincinnati's central neighborhoods of Over-the-Rhine, West End, downtown, Avondale, Mount Auburn, Walnut Hills, Corryville and Clifton — some by slim margins, others more decisively. Cranley took many outer neighborhoods on the east and west side, many by wide margins. Richardson captured four precincts outright, each by just a few votes over Simpson.

click to enlarge Electoral map for the May 2 Cincinnati mayoral primary. Green represents precincts Councilwoman Yvette Simpson won. Blue represents precincts Mayor John Cranley won. Teal represents precincts won by Rob Richardson Jr. - Hamilton County BOE
Hamilton County BOE
Electoral map for the May 2 Cincinnati mayoral primary. Green represents precincts Councilwoman Yvette Simpson won. Blue represents precincts Mayor John Cranley won. Teal represents precincts won by Rob Richardson Jr.

Simpson’s outright win in the primary contest comes as something of a surprise. She was, as she told her supporters at the Greenwich, “outraised and outspent” by her two opponents. In the primary, Cranley spent about $90 per vote, while Simpson spent less than $2.50. Cranley has raised a record-setting $1.2 million for the race, and Richardson eclipsed both other candidates in the first three months of the year, raising $264,000 to Simpson’s $86,000. About 70 percent of Richardson’s money came from out of town union chapters and donors, however, and wasn’t necessarily indicative of local support for his campaign.

Despite the deficit in campaign cash, the atmosphere at Simpson’s primary watch event became more and more festive as the night wore on, with partial results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections consistently showing her ahead by as much as 10 points.

“We’re going to win,” one campaign volunteer was exclaiming as early as 9:30 p.m., as about half of precincts had reported. Simpson was more measured.

But a little after 10 p.m., it was clear Simpson had won. But even as fellow council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young took the stage to congratulate her, she was still cautious.

“When you grow up the way I do, you need to see the evidence,” Simpson told the crowded room. After she was shown a laptop with results from the BOE, Simpson took a moment to give tearful hugs to supporters and staff before giving a brief speech thanking her team and highlighting the challenges ahead for the campaign.

Despite the win, Simpson is still facing off against incumbent Cranley, who has a distinct financial advantage and a four-year record as mayor to run on. Simpson acknowledged the challenge, but also expressed hope.

She recounted a dream she had recently involving Marian Spencer, the city’s first female black City Council member and former Cincinnati vice mayor. After the civil rights icon wrangled with Cranley over the mayor’s park levy proposal last year, Spencer has endorsed Simpson in the race.

“She should have been mayor,” Simpson said of Spencer, who is nearing her 98th birthday. “I told her she has to stick around to swear me in.”

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