CINCINNATI -- When Roxanne Qualls began talking seriously in early 2012 about running for mayor, most political pundits figured she would be hard to beat.
After all, when Qualls ran for City Council in the 1990s, she easily placed first among various council candidates three out of the four times she ran. She only left office in 1999 due to term limits.
But in Tuesday’s head-to-head mayoral race against John Cranley, Qualls suffered a double-digit defeat few would have predicted just a year ago.
Cranley coasted to victory with 32,716 votes (58.02 percent) to 23,675 for Qualls (41.98 percent).
Much of Cranley’s success can be traced to how he shaped his message: Promising to cancel Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project and stop a lease of the city’s parking meters to the Port Authority.
Voters agreed and his election is as much a referendum against the streetcar and the parking lease as it was about electing the 39-year-old lawyer, husband and father.
And he didn't skip a beat Tuesday evening by imploring city leaders to immediately stop streetcar spending until he can take office December 1.
"They should stop spending right away," he said.
"We're going to get out of the streetcar project, which is too expensive," Cranley told the crowd during his acceptance speech. "We're going to find an alternative."
Cranley began campaigning early, in February, while Qualls mostly focused on her current duties as a member of City Council.
As a result, Cranley won an upset victory in September’s mayoral primary, getting 55.9 percent of the vote to 37.1 percent for Qualls.
Many pundits dismissed the results, noting voter turnout was a meager 5.7 percent.
But even with 29 percent turnout in Tuesday’s general election, Cranley maintained his margin.
“We’re going to get this city’s fiscal house in order, and we’re going to do that by balancing the budget in a real way,” Cranley said at his victory celebration.
Qualls praised Cranley in her concession speech, stating she admired him as a person and a politician. But when asked later if the focus on the streetcar and parking lease were detrimental to her, she agreed.
“Very clearly from the beginning, when John was putting together his campaign, he understood the divisiveness of those issues and that’s why he focused on them,” Qualls said.
“There are obviously a significant number of people who have a very strong negative opinion about both those issues,” she added.
Cranley also raised more money than Qualls.
As of late October, Cranley had raised just over $1 million, while Qualls had $687,000. Final tallies won’t be available for a few weeks.
Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman, said Cranley was able to cobble together an impressive coalition.
“I am surprised by the margin (of victory) but I am not surprised by the fact that he won,” Burke said. “John won with a huge margin. He built a fascinating coalition, both within the Democratic Party and, frankly, outside the Democratic Party.”
Cincinnati’s nonpartisan mayoral race saw two Democrats running against each other this year, which can mean whoever gets crossover support has an advantage.
“(Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman) Alex Triantafilou was bragging he didn’t know a single Republican who didn’t vote for John,” Burke said. “But I’m not taking anything away from the fact that he had solid support within a significant portion of the Democratic Party.”
In fact, a review of Tuesday's voting patterns indicate that Cincinnati precincts that had higher turnout benefited Cranley -- an indicator that his supporters were more motivated than Qualls'.
Tuesday's voter turnout was 29.5 percent.
Of Cincinnati's 175 precincts, 118 had turnout in excess of 25 percent. In those precincts, 58.9 percent of the vote went toward Cranley.
Fifty-six precincts had turnout of 25 percent or less. In those precincts, the vote split was more evenly divided, with Cranley getting just above 50 percent.