CHEVIOT, Ohio -- For many people in Greater Cincinnati, the Labor Day fireworks mark the unofficial beginning of fall, even though the season technically doesn’t start for another three weeks.
And for political junkies, an event held just a few days later marks the true beginning of the campaign season, when incumbents and challengers for public office kick their efforts into high gear and make a long, last push to win over voters.
The event, of course, is the venerable Harvest Home Parade.
For the past 154 years, the procession of people, vehicles and floats has winded its way through Cheviot as throngs of people line the sidewalks, cheering them on.
For most of that time, the parade has been a focal point for politicians eager for exposure.
This year’s parade was held Thursday evening. Hundreds of entries slowly made their way along Harrison Avenue, in an event lasting more than two hours under bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80s.
As families lined the route, sitting in lawn chairs and eating hot dogs and other snacks, a bevy of police units, Kiwanis, Shriners, school marching bands, pets, antique cars, clowns and others provided free entertainment.
Most of the onlookers seemed to appreciate that the political class took part in the event.
“It’s good they’re here because sometimes I don’t know the face to match the name,” said Valerie Steinhaus. “I like to look and actually see who is shaking hands and who is just in a car, riding. That tells you something about them.”
A Price Hill resident, Steinhaus first came to the parade when she was in the marching band at Walnut Hills High School. Now a mother of two children, she attended Thursday to see them march.
“Even though it’s in Cheviot, there are a lot of different neighborhoods and a lot of different schools in the parade,” she said. “I have two kids in it and some of the other parades don’t have all the police and Shriners in them, so that’s what I like.”
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel agreed with Steinhaus’ assessment. Monzel, a Republican who formerly served on Cincinnati City Council, has marched in the parade every since the late 1990s.
“It’s a huge tradition,” Monzel said. “A ton of people from the West Side come out, they’re putting up chairs the night before. It’s a great way to connect with the citizens and be able to say ‘hi’ and thank them for the support, as well as listen to the issues they might have -- which they do bring up, let me tell you.”
Asked if he thought his presence won him any votes, Monzel said that’s not the point.
“To me, this is part of doing that type of constituent service,” he said. “It doesn’t matter either way. It’s just a nice way to get out there and talk to folks.”
But Mary Freeman, a Colerain Township resident who has attended the parade for more than 20 years, said participation can have an effect at the ballot box for undecided voters.
“I think it may sway some votes,” Freeman said. “It’s good to see your options.”
Cheviot resident Adam Richman mostly came to the event because his two children enjoy it.
“The kids like to see all the different police and the color guards,” he said. “I like visiting with all the people from the neighborhood.”
Although he wasn’t sure if it swayed any votes, Richman thinks it isn’t bad to have politicians interspersed among the baton twirlers, musicians and bicyclists.
“It’s a good idea for them to get out there and meet the people,” he said. “That never hurts.”
One of those politicians, Cincinnati City Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, was trying a different tactic this year.
“I have waked in this parade before but I’ve decided it’s much more effective, if you are a politician, to just walk up and down and talk to people,” she said, while watching from the sidelines. “If you’re in the parade, you don’t really get to talk. It’s very limited, very quick.”
Although the public might view Harvest Home as the campaign season kickoff, politicians do not.
“For most of us, we’ve been working since January,” Quinlivan said. “It feels like it’s almost the end (of the campaign season), to me.”
Bill Toothman, a Cheviot resident who watched silently from an adjacent parking lot, said it was his third time at the parade. He only moved to the area in 2006.
“I love it. It’s a fun event,” he said.
Still, Toothman was more skeptical about all the campaigning.
“I don’t have a use for any politician, especially in Washington,” Toothman said. “I guess some of the local ones are OK, but these guys in Washington are something else.”