19-year-old Mount St. Joesph sophomore plans to be youngest Cincinnati council member ever elected

'I always wanted to be a politician'
He's 19 and he wants your vote, Cincinnati
He's 19 and he wants your vote, Cincinnati
Posted at 9:16 AM, Jan 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-16 09:16:30-05

CINCINNATI -- Manuel Foggie doesn't hesitate for a second when asked why he was inspired to run for Cincinnati City Council.

Foggie said he was scrolling through the internet a while back when he spotted a congratulatory message to Jewell Jones, who had been elected in 2015 at age 20 to become the youngest member of the city council of Inkster, Michigan, a Detroit suburb of about 26,000 that's roughly 260 highway miles north of Cincinnati.

Jones didn't retain that position for long.

Last July, the Michigan state representative for the district that included Inkster died on a hiking trip in Oregon and Democrats selected Jones to run for her seat in November, when he swamped the Republican and promptly became -- at 21 -- the youngest person ever elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.

"I saw his campaign and I said, like, 'Wow, we're the same age basically,' and he was a criminal justice major and I thought, 'We're in the same field,' " Foggie recalled. "This is me, but in another city and state, and so that's when I just started researching Cincinnati City Council and what the requirements are (to run) and you just had to be a registered voter and live inside the city limits and I thought, 'I'll give it a shot.'

"I thought about it for two days and I thought, ‘Why can't I do that?' If I want to pursue a dream in politics, why not start with something I love, something I care about -- let's start with the city I grew up in, the one my little brother goes to school in, the one my family lives in … ," Foggie said.

Long before this summer's filing deadline of Aug. 24, and long before he has gathered the required 500 signatures on a petition that would support his candidacy, Foggie, 19, is talking about a city council campaign that would, if successful, make him the youngest person to be elected to council in a city that has a population about 12 times larger than Inkster's.

Foggie, who will run as a Democrat, made it clear that he's a fan of fellow Democrat and Cincinnati council member P.G. Sittenfeld, who in 2011 was the youngest candidate ever elected to Cincinnati council, when he was 27. In 2013, Sittenfeld was the top vote-getter when the city elected nine council members and a mayor.

Sittenfeld and Foggie met at city hall recently, when they talked about running a successful campaign and a typical day on the job for a council member, Foggie said.

There's been some speculation that this year's council race could attract a crowded field of candidates because at least three council seats will be open in the fall.

Republican Charlie Winburn is required to step aside after serving two consecutive terms because of term limits and Kevin Flynn, a Charterite, has said he won't seek a second term. Democrat council member Yvette Simpson has announced that she will run for mayor rather than council, opening up a third seat and almost guaranteeing a tough battle with fellow Democrat and incumbent John Cranley, who received an overwhelming endorsement last week from the Ohio Democratic Party.

Foggie isn't the only candidate to notice that at least three council seats will be up for grabs.

Greg Landsman of Mount Washington, who finished 11th in the 2013 race, has also announced plans to run again this year.

Incumbent Christopher Smitherman, a registered independent, has filed for re-election and Michelle Dillingham of Pleasant Ridge, who finished 12th in 2013, also has submitted the necessary paperwork, said Sally J. Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

She pointed out that there will be a mayoral primary May 2 if more than two candidates file for mayor by the Feb. 16 filing deadline. There is no city council primary, so scores of candidates, in theory, could have their names on the ballot in November.

Manuel Foggie

Foggie, who lives in an apartment in Hartwell, is a sophomore at Mount St. Joseph University, where he's in the paralegal studies program and has plans to become an attorney. He's an offensive lineman on the football team after playing at Northwest High School, where he also was a member of the swim team for four years and competed in the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter freestyle.

He noted that he was 0-for-3 in his effort to become class president at Northwest, where he studied firefighting technology for two years at Butler Tech. Butler provides technical training to students from a variety of high schools in the region. 

Foggie is the son of a single mother, Ronnette Foggie, a bus driver for Ayers Transportation Services, who lives in Roselawn with her younger son, Thomas, a 12-year-old who attends the School for Creative & Performing Arts.

Foggie stressed that his mother and his grandmother, Cheryl Foggie, who lives in the West End, both encouraged him to run if he was truly committed to investing time and energy in a campaign. 

He said his grandmother's advice was simple and straightforward: "She just told me ,'If you want to do it, do it. The worst thing they can tell you is no.'"

While the term "politician" might have negative connotations for many people, Foggie embraces it.

"I'm a different kind of person," Foggie said. "I always wanted to be a politician. First off, I was thinking big -- senator, governor and hopefully president … But I never thought about the smaller steps that you have to take before taking on bigger tasks."

Perhaps because of his youthful optimism and a lack of first-hand knowledge about how things work in Cincinnati politics, Foggie didn't seem to be discouraged by the observation that he would appear to be a long shot to win a council seat.

Foggie said he's been working since he was 14 and he's not adverse to investing long hours in running a campaign, attending college and working part time.

He sees himself as a consensus-builder, someone who proposes a mass meeting of thousands of people who could let their voices be heard about key issues that face the city and, perhaps, offer some ideas about how to address those issues.

As a part-time security guard and as a resident of the city, Foggie is also concerned about crime rates that are far too high, inadequate public transportation that make it difficult for some people to get to and from work, a shortage of downtown attractions that would appeal to families, an over-abundance of rundown and abandoned buildings, and a paucity of programs to help the homeless.

Much of the crime can be traced to young adults and teens in the 15-21 age group, which he is part of, Foggie said.   

"By being in that age group, you get stereotyped -- we're young -- (and some members of that age group) don't have their heads on all the way," Foggie said. "I get it. I've been stereotyped and I have my head on as tight as I could possibly have it on, I think."

Although he said several times that he thinks his youth, energy and ability to listen to people will make him a successful candidate, Foggie made it clear that one setback won't shatter his dreams of a career in politics.

If he loses, Foggie said, he's prepared to take a look at what went wrong with the campaign and fix the problem. Meanwhile, he's trying to come up with a catchy slogan for 2017.

"I don't want to use the line 'Make Cincinnati great again,' but we can have 'Cincinnati's better days are to come,' " Foggie said.