CINCINNATI -- If you live in the city of Cincinnati, make sure you vote in Tuesday’s mayoral primary. After all, it’s costing you about $400,000.
That’s the price of holding a special election in September. Because there is no other issue on the ballot in Hamilton County, the city will bear the full brunt of the cost. And that means city taxpayers are really footing the bill.
If you divide the cost by the 201,843 registered voters within city limits, that means the primary election costs about $1.98 per voter.
In reality, though, the cost is higher.
During the only two times that a Cincinnati mayoral primary has been held previously, voter turnout was notoriously low.
Sally Krisel, deputy director at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said she “optimistically” estimates 25 percent turnout Tuesday.
In the 2001 mayoral primary, turnout was 15 percent. The election was held on the same day as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which may have been a factor.
Four years later, the turnout wasn’t much better: Only 21 percent of eligible voters participated.
No primary was held in 2009 because there were only two candidates running for mayor.
Cincinnati’s mayoral race is nonpartisan, and the two top vote-getters that emerge from Tuesday’s primary face off in the November general election.
The likely winners will be Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley.
Qualls, a downtown resident, is a Realtor and currently is vice mayor. Cranley is an ex-city councilman who lives in Mount Lookout; he is an attorney and lobbyist.
No Republican candidate is running for mayor. Other candidates are Libertarian Jim Berns and independent Queen Noble.
The Board of Elections had a total of 1,783 absentee ballot requests or walk-in voters, Krisel said. Of that amount, 1,431 ballots were submitted, for an 80 percent return rate.
During the 16-month period when Qualls and Cranley served on City Council together, in 2007-09, the pair’s voting record was identical about 98 percent of the time.
In the mayoral race, however, Qualls and Cranley differ on two big issues: Whether to build a $133 million streetcar system in downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and whether to lease the city’s parking system to the Port Authority.
Qualls supports the streetcar system, adding it will spur redevelopment of vacant and dilapidated parcels along its route, as similar projects have done in other cities.
Cranley once supported the concept of a system, but didn't want local funding used. His position hardened after the state of Ohio pulled $52 million in promised funding. The city now must bear too much of the cost, he said, which threatens its fiscal outlook.
Also, Qualls supports the parking lease, stating the $92 million upfront payment will help the city quicken the pace of development projects, including the I-71/MLK interchange.
Cranley opposes the lease. It would lessen public accountability for how meters are enforced, and threaten the livelihood of neighborhood businesses.
Both campaigns have worked hard to motivate voters to get to the polls in the primary.
“Roxanne has a bold vision for growing the city's jobs and population by further expanding neighborhood development, building a regional transit system, and bringing fiscal sustainability and increased transparency to city government,” said Jens Sutmoller, Qualls’ campaign manager.
“She is focused on continuing the momentum the city is now experiencing and investing in Cincinnati's future,” he added.
Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s campaign manager, said Tuesday’s election results – particularly the margin between the two candidates – would be telling.
“Voters should care about the primary because it's a chance for them to reject Vice Mayor Qualls' vision for the city that prioritizes the streetcar and leasing our parking meters over providing the basics and delivering for our neighborhoods,” Kincaid said.
“Our message has been resonating with voters and we hope that they will reject the politics of lies and personal destruction that Ms. Qualls has resorted to,” he added.