Cincinnati City Council race: Non-incumbents try to stand out from the crowd

4 Democrats are among 13 non-incumbents running

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati voters have a choice of 21 candidates to choose from when they go to the polls next week 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.

As with most political races at the local, state and federal levels, the people who already are in elective office – the incumbents – typically have an advantage because their names get mentioned in the media as they conduct public business.

With that in mind, WCPO is publishing articles focusing on the non-incumbents in the race. In all, 13 challengers are running 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.

This article will focus on the Democratic non-incumbents.

Shawn Butler

Butler, 33, is making his first run for political office. A North Avondale resident, he’s spent the last eight years working as community affairs director in Mayor Mark Mallory’s office.

Butler was inspired to run by his experience in helping implement Mallory’s initiatives. “I want to help continue the progress our city has seen in the last eight years,” he said.

The most important issue facing the next council is devising a structurally balanced budget, Butler added.

“In order to balance the city budget, we must stop using one-time resources, stop using funds from the future, and do a top to bottom operational review of our city resources,” he said. “I don’t believe that local government can continue to make cuts in service and expect to grow."

Butler supports the streetcar project and the lease of the city’s parking system to the Port Authority.

“We are taking an asset and turning it into a moneymaker,” he said. “This plan is good for neighborhoods. Better enforcement of meters will mean more turnover at meters and more customers for neighborhood businesses.”

About one-fifth of the $22,900 Butler has raised so far for his campaign has come from the Mallory family.

Michelle Dillingham

Dillingham, 41, lives in Kennedy Heights and is president of that neighborhood’s community council. She is a social worker who also worked in ex-Vice Mayor David Crowley’s office for about four years.

“Throughout my life, I have been an advocate: for my family, as we have a son with special needs; to my neighborhood as president of the community council; to statewide, serving as a commissioner for Ohioans with disabilities,” she said.    

Cincinnati can help balance its budget by cracking down on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors. Nationally, audits have found between 10 percent and 30 percent of employers misclassify workers. Even if 10 percent are unreported, she said, that means Cincinnati would collect an additional $23 million each year in taxes.

“Everyone should be paying their fair share, we owe it to our retirees,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham supports the streetcar project and also backs the city’s parking lease, with a caveat.

“I oppose privatizing public assets whenever possible. In the case, where it is in the best overall interest of the city, we must ensure transparency and accountability when turning over management our assets to private, for-profit corporations,” she said.

Also, Dillingham wants to work with state lawmakers from the area to restore cuts made to Ohio’s Local Government Fund.

Greg Landsman

Landsman, 36, lives in Mount Washington. He is executive director of The Strive Partnership, a group that works to help improve educational performance of students.

“Cincinnati is on the verge of a major comeback, but meaningful population and job growth will require new and serious leadership at City Hall,” Landsman said.

Recent councils have been polarized and unable to make the tough decisions necessary to get the municipal budget on a sound fiscal footing, he added.

“The city’s budget has not been structurally balanced for over a decade,” Landsman said. “As a result, we have had to resort to controversial and harmful stop-gap measures like this year’s parking deal.

“Additionally, a structural budget imbalance has to led to our credit downgrade, and has subsequently made it harder for us to pursue and invest in big projects,” he said. “The next council must work together to make difficult decisions

to ensure we get our fiscal house in order.”    

If he was on council earlier, Landsman said he would’ve put the streetcar project on hold until a budget plan was crafted that included more private support. Now that it’s underway, he generally opposes cancellation.

“Until it is proven to me that cancelling the project is a viable option, we need to ensure the investment works by getting a credible and privately supported operating budget and a plan to get to uptown,” he said.

Landsman is a strong critic of the city’s parking lease.

“While the Port has made improvements, the deal remains bad for businesses, citizens, and the city’s budget,” he said.

David Mann

Unlike the other Democratic non-incumbents, Mann has a long history in local politics.

Mann, 74, is an attorney who lives in Clifton. He previously was in the public eye when he served for 18 years on City Council, beginning in 1974. During his council stint, Mann served as mayor from 1980-82 and in 1991, when the post was mostly ceremonial.

Mann also served a single term as U.S. congressman, from 1993-95.

After an absence of nearly two decades, Mann wants to return to City Hall to correct what he views as a series of bad decisions, particularly involving the budget.

“The city’s budget is totally out of whack,” he said. “We should spend only what we have coming in each year just like any household has to do. We should not rely on one-time resources or the sale or long-term lease of valuable city assets.”    

A more responsible City Council should’ve canceled the streetcar project in 2011, when Gov. Kasich cut $51.8 million in funding, Mann said.

“We cannot afford a streetcar that does not go anywhere and which is over budget and will require continuing operating subsidies once it is built,” he said. “When the governor blocked the money to connect the streetcar with the UC/hospitals area, the project should have been stopped.

“Instead, the city has been spending as much money and finalizing as many contracts as possible prior to the election even though the election, in so many ways, is a referendum on whether the streetcar project should go forward,” Mann added.

Mann views the parking lease as a desperate move.

“The parking lease was another attempt to balance the budget for just a couple of years by giving up valuable income producing assets,” he said. “The city itself should be able to make the positive changes that (the contractor) supposedly will be bringing to us.”

Click here for a look at the other non-incumbents who responded to WCPO’s questionnaire.

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