CINCINNATI -- If you follow local politics even just a little, the odds are you can tick off the names of some Cincinnati City Council members.
It might be P.G. Sittenfeld. Or Charlie Winburn. Or maybe even Pam Thomas.
Although the average voter probably can’t name all nine members, they can identify a good portion of them.
That’s because people already holding an elective office – the incumbents – typically have an advantage as their names are mentioned in the media when they conduct city business.
As a result, WCPO is publishing articles focusing on the non-incumbents in the race. In all, 13 challengers are in the race this year.
They are Democrats Shawn Butler, Michelle Dillingham, Greg Landsman and David Mann; Republicans Sam Malone, Amy Murray and Melissa Wegman; Charterites Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White; and independents Angela Beamon, Timothy Dornbusch, Kevin Johnson and Mike Moroski.
Questionnaires were emailed to all the candidates, although Malone and Wegman didn’t respond.
In all, Cincinnati voters have a choice of 21 candidates to choose from when they go to the polls to select the next City Council.
Because Cincinnati’s council is elected through an at-large race, all of the candidates compete against each other and the top nine vote-getters are elected.
With current Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls ineligible to run for council because she’s campaigning to become mayor, at least one new person will be added to the legislative body.
This article will focus on the Republican, Charterite and independent non-incumbents.
Beamon, 31, lives in Bond Hill. She works as a financial advisor, and is mounting her first campaign for elective office.
An independent, Beamon was inspired to run because she thinks council members should represent all Cincinnati residents, and some currently don’t.
“I believe that it is time that the city of Cincinnati have council members that are truly passionate about improving the quality of life for all who reside in this city,” she said.
Like most of the candidates seeking a City Council seat this year, Beamon opposes both the streetcar project and the long-term lease of the city’s parking meters and garages to the Port Authority.
“I am against (the streetcar) for the very reasons this city is in financial woes, because we cannot afford to complete this project to provide a true benefit to the city,” Beamon said. “We have no clear, identified means of paying the operating expenses, and it will pull from funding that is critically needed in our neighborhoods.”
Regarding the lease, she added, “This is another attempt by our current irresponsible legislators to provide a short-term solution to what is a long-term problem.”
If elected, Beamon would work to make the decision-making process at City Hall more transparent. Too much of important deliberations occur behind-the-scenes, Beamon said.
“Transparency and honest government is the key,” she said. “We must conduct more ethical business at City Hall regarding our city's financial business. We must end the cycle of electing individuals who cater to special interest groups at the expense of our citizens.”
Dornbusch, 42, lives in West Price Hill. He owns Proper Plumbing and Electrical, and has never run for office before.
An independent with ties to the tea party movement, Dornbusch became politically active to counter what he terms is an over-concentration of publicly subsidized housing in Price Hill after city officials redeveloped the West End and Over-the-Rhine.
If elected, Dornbusch wants to reduce all departmental budgets by 20 percent, eliminate some unspecified departments and get council members to pledge to return $20,000 of their $60,645 annual salaries.
City Council has limited resources, he said, and should be using them on more important items than a streetcar in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
“The majority of council has been spending the citizens’ money recklessly on unnecessary projects and increasing the taxes on our citizens,” Dornbusch said. “Once we get the city running in the black … I would look to a rail project that included all neighborhoods, not a select few.”
Making the city’s budget structurally balanced should be council’s top priority, he said.
“We need to stop the wasteful spending on programs city government should not be using taxpayer money on in the first place,” Dornbusch said. “I would like to use the savings to get control of the budget deficit, the under-funded pension program and equally send money back to city neighborhoods for police, fire and road repair.”
Flynn, 52, is a real estate attorney from Mount Airy who also teaches at the University of Cincinnati's law school.
He has been confined to a wheelchair since a serious automobile accident
in 2002, but is learning to walk again through physical therapy. His campaign billboards use photos of the effort along with the slogan, “standing up for Cincinnati.”
A Charterite, Flynn has run unsuccessfully for council twice before, finishing in 11th place in 2011 and in 13th place in 2009.
Commenting about why he’s running a third time, Flynn said, “Cincinnati has given me a great life. I owe it to Cincinnati to try to serve the city and its citizens to give back for all that Cincinnati has given me.”
Although Flynn supported the streetcar plan in 2007-08, the shifting amount of local funding and changing route have caused him to reconsider.
“As we know, the project has changed repeatedly since it was originally proposed,” he said. “I no longer support Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The economic justification no longer exists … the capital costs and projected operating costs, now estimated at $3.5 million per year, are a far cry from the estimates used in the 2007 feasibility study.”
Similarly, Flynn blasts the city’s parking lease as an example of bad policy-making.
“The process was completely backward,” he said. “Everyone knows that Cincinnati’s parking rates are below market. This was done intentionally by prior councils because… (they) wanted to drive economic development in the city by allowing businesses in the city to compete with those in the suburbs.
“If council wanted to change this policy and monetize the parking asset, it should have made the policy decision and set the parameters of the transaction for the administration to implement,” Flynn added. “Instead, council abandoned its policy making responsibility to the administration.”
The city can improve its financial outlook by cancelling unnecessary projects, combing some departments and considering group purchasing opportunities with other jurisdictions, he said.
Johnson, 35, is an Avondale native who now lives in the West End. He is co-owner of Amir Wallace Johnson Cleaning Concepts, a post-construction cleaning company.
A political newcomer, Johnson – who is running as an independent – wants to see economic development occur on a more equitable basis citywide.
“For the past few years, I have watched some areas of our city grow and prosper,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that policy is yielded in a way that benefits all residents and every neighborhood.”
In fact, Johnson has visited all 52 neighborhoods during his campaign, which has the slogan, “One Cincinnati.”
“The most important issue facing Cincinnati is the economic inequality that exists in our city,” Johnson said. “We must invest in the people that make up our city, not simply in bricks and mortar. It’s imperative that the people of Cincinnati grow along with the city.”
Like Flynn, Johnson also initially supported the streetcar but that changed after state funding was rescinded in early 2011. Because the project is under construction, council should ensure it gets the most bang for its buck.
“After Gov. Kasich pulled $52 million from the project, this current council took an ‘at all cost’ approach to getting this project done,” Johnson said.
“As a member of council, my job will be to make sure that the project moves forward responsibly, that any increase in revenue as a result of the project be earmarked for neighborhood business districts, and that there is minority and women-owned business participation on all aspects of the project,” he added.
Balancing the city’s budget means saying “no” to some projects that officials might like under other circumstances.
“First and foremost, we need to make sure that our political agenda doesn't exceed our financial means,” Johnson said. “And we must increase our population, which will, in turn, increase our tax base. I would be in favor of a process that asks department heads to recommend their own savings cuts to council.”
Murray, 49, lives in Hyde Park. A former Procter & Gamble employee, she owns a consulting firm that helps U.S. companies do business in Japan.
A Republican, Murray has run unsuccessfully for council twice before, finishing in 12th place in 2009. She was appointed to fill a council vacancy in 2011, but lost election later that year by also finishing in 12th place.
Despite the earlier setbacks, Murray thinks City Hall could benefit from her business expertise.
“I believe the current council’s policies are short-sighted, and we cannot afford to kick the can down the road,” she said. “Our city deserves more common-sense leadership, and that’s why I’m running.”
Murray opposes the streetcar project, calling it a drain on future operating budgets; and the parking lease, saying it’s a short-term fix to systemic problems.
“We need to have an independent review of all city departments to find the inefficiencies within our local government,” Murray said. “We also need to make a serious effort in the area of shared services by partnering with the county to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
“My number one priority is fixing
the deficit so that we can continue to provide basic services to our residents,” she added. “The city has increased our property taxes twice in the past two years, and there is talk of raising the earnings tax. I do not believe this is the best way to achieve fiscal stability in our city. We need to enact policies that are more business-friendly and encourage job growth.”
Murray thinks it will take new faces on council to deal with the $860 million unfunded liability in the city’s pension fund.
“The best way to begin to address this issue is to elect a new council majority,” she said. “We need councilmembers who are fiscally responsible and willing to address the tough issues. I believe that a conversation with all stakeholders is what we need to ensure we come up with the best, most secure plan for our city’s employees and their pensions.”
Moroski, 35, is a former Purcell Marian High School assistant principal who was fired by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in February. Moroski’s termination came after he expressed support for same-sex marriage.
A downtown resident, Moroski serves as an advisor to the Permaganic Ego Garden in Mount Auburn. He is running as an independent for City Council, although he is aligned with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and council’s Democratic majority on many issues.
Moroski said his work as a community organizer inspired him to seek elective office. “Over the course of the past 12 years, I have walked hand in hand with those that many in our city have forgotten, and have come to realize that I have the ability to make systemic changes that will help to create environments in which all in our city can succeed,” he said.
A staunch supporter of the streetcar project, Moroski said it would help attract jobs and residents.
“Cincinnati needs to grow itself out of its deficit, not cut it down,” he said. “Streetcars are proven economic boosters, and more Millennials want to live in cities in which they do not have to have a car.”
Cincinnati’s parking lease will make it easier to upgrade the city’s meters, which will cost $5.5 million, he said.
“The fact is that we needed a complete overhaul of our city’s 4,600 meters, and that cost is going to be assumed through the lease by Xerox, and we will still actualize a revenue stream over the course of the lease that can be used to help us grow out of our current financial strains,” Moroski said.
Also, Moroski wants the city to allocate at least 1 percent of its General Fund budget for human services, up from the current 0.4 percent.
“Many would contend that human services are not basic services, but when 50 percent of our city’s children live in poverty, I would staunchly reply that human services are very much a basic service for many in our city,” he said.
White, 50, is a Charterite who is nearing the end of her term on the Cincinnati Board of Education.
A North Avondale resident, she was vice president of community engagement and partnerships at ArtsWave. Also, White is working on a Ph.D. through the Educational Studies Doctoral Program at the University of Cincinnati.
Based on her time on the school board, White thinks more collaboration is needed between City Council and the school system.
“On council, I will join with like-minded colleagues to mobilize policies and community resources around the essential link between education, income attainment, and strong neighborhoods,” she said. “There is no other way to truly transform Cincinnati into a city of opportunity for all.”
Cincinnati’s top priority should be reducing its poverty rate, which White said hinders the city in other areas.
“Poverty is like a weak foundation that undermines every other economic development strategy the city tries to assemble,” White said.
“Still, despite alleviating poverty has not received the strategic focus from City Hall that it deserves,” she added. “As a council member, I will advocate for the creation of business-friendly policies including tax credits for employers who hire residents from economically distressed neighborhoods.”
White opposes the parking lease: “The current plan is poorly conceived, squanders the potential of the city’s valuable parking asset, and leaves our neighborhood business districts vulnerable to meter increases that would jeopardize their stability.”
Click here for a look at Democratic non-incumbents running for Cincinnati City Council.