Did voters reject parks tax because of John Cranley?

Mayor was the face of parks campaign

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley starred in television campaign ads and pleaded in debates for residents to pass Issue 22, a permanent tax to support the city’s parks.

The day after that plan failed at the polls, however, some wonder if those very efforts from Cranley helped to seal the issue’s failed fate. If it had passed, the parks tax would have funded new projects and maintenance for the city’s parks with a tax that would have cost the owner of a $100,000 Cincinnati home $35 per year. 

From the start, the parks campaign agreed Cranley would be the face of the issue, said Jared Kamrass, who managed the campaign.

“The mayor felt, and we agreed, that it was important that we had demonstration of real leadership,” Kamrass said Wednesday of the Cranley-centered campaign.

Cranley couldn't immediately be reached for comment. 

He believes some opponents rallied against the parks issue simply because the mayor supported it.

He may be right, said Caleb Faux, the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s executive director.

A variety of factors – from voters who don’t want their taxes raised to others who were troubled how the parks funding would work – contributed to the issue’s failure, he said. But Cranley, a Democrat, was probably one of those factors.

“There were some folks that were opposed to it simply on the basis of John,” Faux said. He pointed out that the mayor has another two years to recover from the failure before he’s up for election again.

Still, the issue – and, arguably, the mayor -- divided the city’s Democrats, at least for now. Some supported the mayor and others sided with Democratic members of council who opposed the tax.

Attacks during the campaign were often pointed directly at Cranley. A press release from the “Save Our Parks” Issue 22 opposition group, for example, dubbed the levy as the “Cranley Tax.” Opponents used the term regularly throughout the campaign. A Twitter account called “Stop the Cranley Tax” garnered nearly 140 followers over the course of the campaign.  And, even council members who opposed the tax took to social media not only to share their discontent over the parks proposal but to make digs at the mayor.

"Someone told Cranley they were voting against Issue 22 tonight. His response, “I’ll remember that.” #FullOfThreats,” wrote Councilman Chris Seelbach in an Oct. 29 Tweet. Seelbach couldn’t immediately be reached for comment for this story but his posts on social media also often referred to the parks issue as “Cranley’s tax.”

Cranley’s close involvement with the issue made him an easy target, said Vice Mayor David Mann, who supported Issue 22 and the mayor during the campaign. Since Cranley was the face of the campaign, Mann said opponents played up what he described as a “bogus” narrative that the tax was a power grab by the mayor.

“Maybe (the campaign) made it too much about him,” Mann conceded Wednesday.

Were the attacks against Cranley unfair?

Doesn’t matter. The mayor walked away bruised from his loss, said Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou.

“It hurts the mayor; there’s no question,” Triantafilou said of the parks issue failure. “The mayor made this his personal effort. He put himself in commercials. To have it be rejected so soundly is certainly a vote that can be viewed as anti-John Cranley.”


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