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Cincinnati mayoral candidates scramble to file paperwork as deadline looms

Cincinnati City Hall
Posted at 4:29 PM, Feb 17, 2021

CINCINNATI — Hopeful candidates were dotting their i's and crossing their t's Wednesday in a final push to appear on the ballot as Mayor John Cranley's potential successor before Thursday's deadline to qualify for the race.

As of Wednesday afternoon, six candidates appeared to have the necessary 500 valid signatures from registered city voters to make it on the ballot for the nonpartisan May 4 primary. The top two vote-getters in that contest will go on to the general election in November:

  • Gavi Begtrup (Mount Lookout)
  • David Mann (Clifton)
  • Herman J. Najoli (West Price Hill)
  • Raffel Prophett (Avondale)
  • Aftab Pureval (Clifton)
  • Cecil Thomas (Avondale)

Cranley, who cannot run for the office again due to term limits, was first elected mayor in 2013 and then re-elected in 2017.

The makeup of the group so far is somewhat unusual, said political scientist and University of Cincinnati professor David Niven.

"This race includes not only heavy hitters, but heavy hitters that are aligned with each other," Niven told WCPO, specifically referring to Mann, Pureval and Thomas, all of whom are well-known Democrats in Hamilton County politics currently or recently serving terms in different city-, county- or state-level offices.

This means their respective support bases typically overlap.

"This is going to be a very difficult challenge, when candidates are coming from the same wing of the party," Niven said. "It's hard to go into groups and say 'Endorse me; back me,' because those groups are going to think, 'We have other friends in this race.' It's very difficult."

Another prominent Democrat who had hinted at a run -- City Councilman Chris Seelbach -- said Wednesday he would not pursue the ticket.

Niven said he believes the strong showing by established Democrats is a direct result of Democratic city councilman and previous front-runner for mayor P.G. Sittenfeld's indictment late last year on federal public corruption charges. His case is still unfolding in U.S. District Court and, consequently, he is temporarily suspended from Council. Sittenfeld's attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case; that decision is still pending.

Sittenfeld announced Thursday morning that he would not seek the office amid his court case.

"The race was almost over before it started and then had to restart in the last few weeks," Niven said.

The challenge now is earning voters' attention.

"This is just a tough race, and to get people to pay attention... It's not that people will reject these candidates; it's that they won't hear enough about them to give them great thought," Niven said.

At least one other Democrat with name-recognition, Kelli Prather, told WCPO Wednesday afternoon that she planned to file her signatures with the board of elections Thursday. Prather previously ran an unsuccessful bid for the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners in 2020 and for U.S. Senate in 2016.

City Councilman Wendell Young indicated in December that he was considering a mayoral run and even picked up paperwork to gather signatures. WCPO reached out to Young Wednesday afternoon but did not immediately hear back.

Prospective candidates have until 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, to submit their signed petitions.