Looking Back: Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Pam Thomas reflect on time at City Hall

Trio discusses what may lie ahead

CINCINNATI -- It’s not exactly the best way to start the holiday season: Leaving public office after losing in the November elections.

But that’s what the upcoming weekend holds for Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas. All three will depart City Hall Dec. 1.

Qualls, who currently is vice mayor, was defeated in the mayoral race by John Cranley.

Quinlivan and Thomas, who are members of Cincinnati City Council, also didn’t fare well.

Quinlivan finished in 10th place out of 21 candidates seeking a spot on the next City Council. Only the top nine vote-getters are elected in the at-large race.

Thomas finished in 13th place. She was appointed in April to fill the unexpired term of her husband, Cecil Thomas, who was facing term limits.

Despite the setbacks, each of the women is taking a philosophical attitude toward what lies ahead.

Roxanne Qualls

For Qualls, 60, it will be the first time in six years that she won’t be involved in guiding municipal legislation and helping set city policy.

“What I’ll miss is actually getting things done and making a difference in the community,” Qualls said. “I won’t miss the hours and hours spent in committee meetings.”

A Realtor, Qualls lives downtown with her husband, John Gunnison-Wiseman.

Qualls previously served on City Council from 1991-1999. During the last six years of her tenure, she served as mayor when the position went to the top vote-getter among council members and mostly was ceremonial.

After a break from politics, during which she studied at Harvard University and taught at Northern Kentucky University, she returned to City Council in 2007.

Before entering politics in the 1990s, Qualls was director of Ohio Citizen Action’s Cincinnati office, executive director of Women Helping Women, and the director of the Northern Kentucky Rape Crisis Center.

Public service still fascinates Qualls, and she is mulling what her next move will be.

“I’m meeting with a lot of folks,” she said. “That’s why I am having many lunches, something I haven’t done in years. I’m meeting with people who have changed careers and getting their advice.”

Asked if she would consider a return to City Hall in the future, Qualls replied, “I’m not going to say never, but right now it’s not my focus.”

Local pundits have wondered if Democrat Qualls might challenge Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, in 2014.

"People would have to talk to me about that for a long time before I’d consider it,” she said, laughing.

Looking back on her time in office, Qualls added, “It was a wonderful opportunity to serve the city of Cincinnati and improve people’s lives and communities. Or at least I hope I did.”

Laure Quinlivan

This November’s election loss is especially ironic for Quinlivan, 54.

Last year, she successfully campaigned to change Cincinnati’s charter so council members would begin serving four-year terms, instead of two years as had been the norm since 1927. The change was needed, she said, so members could focus on legislating instead of campaigning and raising money.

Despite her own loss, Quinlivan remains glad the longer terms are in effect.

“I led the campaign to change to four-year terms last year so council could be more productive and address big systemic problems, like the budget deficit,” she said.  “The four-year term also saves taxpayer money.

“It is a little funny, I suppose,” Quinlivan added, noting she wouldn’t benefit from the change.

Quinlivan served two terms on City Council, first getting elected in 2009. Prior to politics, she was best known as the head of WCPO’s I-Team investigative unit.

Looking back on her time on council, Quinlivan is most proud of her work to create Community Entertainment Districts. Designed to help revitalize neighborhoods, the zoning change allows non-profit groups to attract new restaurant owners to a specified area by offering liquor licenses for free, instead of paying $25,000 each.

Pleasant Ridge, the Incline District in Price Hill, Northside and Over-the-Rhine have received the new designation.

“The legislation has created more than 500 new jobs and helped dozens of new restaurants open in the city,” Quinlivan said.

Also, she pushed to create Mobile Food Vending zones, so food trucks could set up business in specific areas.

Quinlivan blames her election loss primarily on the meager 26 percent voter turnout.

“I think people who were happy with the direction the city was headed just didn’t show up (at the polls),” she said. “A lot of unhappy, angry people who didn’t like what was going on were motivated and turned out.”

Quinlivan, who lives in Mount Lookout with her husband and two children, owns LQ Consulting. She doesn’t rule out a return to politics.

“I think I might run for council again one day,” she said. “Who knows what the future holds?”

Pam Thomas

Thomas, 60, served a mere eight months on City Council as an appointee. But the brief experience made an impression, she said.

“My time on council was quick, but it was a rewarding experience,” she said. “My desire was

to serve the community and I never thought I would get an opportunity like this one.”

During her tenure, Thomas broke with her husband’s previous council stance and opposed the city’s $133 million streetcar project. Also, she tried to block the Commons at Alaska project in Avondale.

The planned project involves building 99 units of housing for people with mental, emotional and physical disabilities on Alaska Avenue. Some homeowners in the area, however, said they weren’t properly informed about it before approval.

“I came on City Council to be the voice of the voiceless and pull back the veil on the lack of transparency,” Thomas said.

She was particularly irritated by the distribution of what she called “unauthorized” campaign literature by the Hamilton County Young Democrats. Although the local Democratic Party endorsed her, Thomas’ name was left off of a sample ballot in favor of independent Mike Moroski – a candidate who supported the streetcar project.

Campaign workers for Qualls and City Councilman Chris Seelbach handed out the sample ballots outside polls on Election Day, despite assurances to the party they would stop, Thomas said. The action led to a heated confrontation between her and Seelbach.

“I was hurt by the way some of my colleagues treated the endorsed Democrats in the race,” Thomas said. “I thought that was completely deceitful.”

Thomas lives in North Avondale with her husband, Cecil, who is a retired police officer. She is a former Hamilton County Common Pleas bailiff and an ex-ombudsman with Cincinnati Public Schools.

Thomas ran unsuccessfully for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in 2012. She received 47.9 percent of the vote, while Republican Tracy Winkler got 52.1 percent.

“I do not have any plans on running for public office in the future,” Thomas said. “Campaigns are mentally and physically draining experiences.”

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