Democrats fight over endorsement for who should replace Dale Mallory at Statehouse

Critics: Process is inconsistent, unfair

CINCINNATI -- Primary election fights among Republicans usually garner the most attention thanks to the burgeoning tea party movement, but it’s a local Democratic race that’s sparking the latest political battle.

As Democrats gear up for this year’s state elections, some members are upset the local party is ignoring its common practice of not endorsing in contested primaries.

Four people are running to become the Democratic candidate for the Ohio House 32nd District seat.

Democrat Dale Mallory currently holds the position, but he cannot run again due to term limits.

Other Democrats interested in replacing Mallory are Christie Bryant, Bentley Davis, Gabriel Fletcher and Kevin Johnson.

Catherine Ingram was also considering running for the spot, but is now seeking the Ohio Senate 9th District seat instead.

Bryant recently received a recommendation for endorsement by the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s nominating committee. The action has irritated backers of the three candidates who think the party shouldn’t play favorites.

The party’s much larger executive committee – made up of ward chairs, elected officials, precinct executives and others – will make a final decision on an endorsement Jan 27.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke favors giving the endorsement to Bryant.

“Frankly, while the committee heard from five candidates, each of whom had something to recommend themselves, Christie was the most impressive,” Burke said.

Bryant is a Northside resident and attorney. She serves as a field representative for the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers labor union, handling grievances and preparing for contract negotiations.

State Reps. Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill) and Denise Driehaus (D-Clifton) headed the nominating committee. Burke said Reece, who also is president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC), pushed for Bryant.

“This is a majority minority district,” Burke said, referring to the 32nd District. “I share the concern of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus that we not see a reduction of the number of African-American Democrats in the Ohio legislature.

“Rep. Alicia Reece has also expressed to me that the OLBC would benefit from the election of an African-American lawyer in this district,” he added.

Burke repeated the concern in an interview with The Cincinnati Herald: “Not only is she well-qualified, but in being African-American, Bryant’s nomination helps to (alleviate) the Caucus’s concern about their representation in the legislature.”

Two of the other candidates, Johnson and Fletcher, also are African-Americans.

Johnson, a West End resident who is co-owner of a post-construction cleaning company, ran unsuccessfully last year for Cincinnati City Council. He also was an aide to ex-Councilwoman Laketa Cole.

Fletcher managed Reece’s campaign for the Ohio House in 2012, and was an intern for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Davis, who is white, lives in Camp Washington. She is state director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, where she lobbies for issues like Social Security, Medicaid and pensions.

The local Democratic Party has no firm rule about making primary endorsements, Burke said.

“We have a decidedly mixed record in that regard,” he said. “In this race, for all of the reasons stated above, the committee overwhelmingly determined to recommend an endorsement and was equally strong in recommending Christie Bryant.”

The nominating committee, however decided not to make a recommendation in the contest for the Ohio Senate 9th District seat. Democrats seeking that spot include Angela Beamon, Dale Mallory, ex-City Councilman Cecil Thomas and Catherine Ingram.

Davis is bothered by the proposed endorsement in the 32nd District race. She noted the party doesn’t typically endorse in contested state legislative races.

For example, the Democratic Party decided not to endorse in 32nd District race eight years ago, when Mallory ran against Eve Bolton; and also didn’t endorse in the 31st District race two years ago when Driehaus faced competition from Luke Brockmeier and Terry Tranter.

“The party executive committee should keep with precedent and refrain from endorsing anybody for this seat,” Davis said. “This is a decision that ought to be made by the voters of the district.

“If the (party) feels we should move to a caucus system to endorse candidates, that would be another issue. As in a caucus system, any registered Democrat in the district has the ability to take part in the process,” she added. “But we don’t have a caucus system, because that limits participation. We have a primary system.”

The 32nd District includes downtown Cincinnati, College Hill, Mount Adams, Northside, Over-the-Rhine, Walnut Hills and the West End.

For more stories by Kevin Osborne, visit www.wcpo.com/osborne. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinwcpo

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