Dennis Deters, Denise Driehaus to campaign on sewer, public safety issues across Hamilton County

Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 13:59:05-04

By mid-August of a busy election season, Dennis Deters' three children have grown tired of church festivals.

“My kids, who are little – 5, 6 and 7 – I said, ‘Do you want to go to a festival?’” Deters said of a conversation he had with them about the St. Teresa of Avila Festival in West Price Hill this past weekend. “They said, ‘No!’”

It has already been an exhausting year for Hamilton County Commission candidates Deters and State Rep. Denise Driehaus, and the pace will only pick up heading into the fall as both try to win what is considered the county's most anticipated -- and expensive -- local contest.
County voters will soon begin to notice the gravity of the race, too, as campaign ads pop up in their Facebook newsfeeds, commercials bombard their radio airwaves and campaign leaflets litter their front porches in the coming weeks. 

'The city and county continue to fight' 

Rising rates and continuing scuffles between Cincinnati and Hamilton County leaders over management of the Metropolitan Sewer District are top of mind for both candidates.

Concerns over the sewer district peaked this year when an internal audit revealed unethical practices have plagued the agency for years. Sewer rates, which have risen more than 120 percent during the last decade, have exacerbated residential upset with the situation.

Whoever wins a seat on the three-member county commission – Driehaus, a Democrat, or Deters, a Republican -- will help determine the fate of the sewer’s future.

A 50-year agreement between Cincinnati and the county to jointly operate the district is set to expire in 2018. Republican leaders have been vocal with discontent over Cincinnati leaders’ management style of the sewer district, prompting some to believe the Republican-controlled commission might try to cut the city out of future deals.

But Driehaus says she wants to work closely with city leaders to figure out the sewer system’s future and is considering a variety of options, including handing over control of the sewer district to an independent panel made up of both city and county appointed officials.

“People are so frustrated that the city and the county continue to fight, over (the sewer district) in particular,” Driehaus said during in an interview with WCPO. “Somebody needs to look up from this blame game they’re playing and say, ‘We need to look forward.’ We’ve got a contract to negotiate.”

Collaboration is a selling point Driehaus has been pitching on the campaign trail. She takes pride in the three state bills she sponsored and pushed through a Republican-led legislature while working as an Ohio representative.

She wants to see the county work with often-overlooked cities, neighborhoods and villages to help revitalize street corners and strengthen business districts. Over the last few months, she’s stopped in at neighborhood and city council meetings throughout the county. It’s at those gatherings, she’s noticed some county residents feel left out of the redevelopment boom places such as Over-the-Rhine or the city of Blue Ash have scored.

“Can we try to engage and make everyone feel a part of the county?” Driehaus said. “They are a part of the county but I feel like sometimes they feel isolated.”

Meanwhile, Deters plans to focus on the sewer’s future but he will play up some of the experiences he’s had serving on the county commission since January and acting as a Colerain Township trustee as well. In both of those roles, he cites his focus on public safety issues, including the region’s heroin epidemic, as a strength. Deters has chaired the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition since taking a spot on the commission this year.

He wants to see county leaders try out new approaches to alleviate the drug’s grip on the region.

As a Colerain Township trustee, for example, he helped to launch a program that established a police, paramedic and social worker team that works to reach out to residents after they've experienced a drug overdose. The team offers up treatment resources and invites addicts to treatment sessions. Since it launched last July, overdose numbers have dropped -- 83 cases  were reported from January to May in 2015. This year, only 56 overdoses have been reported during the same time, according to the township's public safety director. 

“We’re not seeing the success we need,” Deters said of cracking the drug problem. “Every part of our system that touches this issue is having to think about to do business differently. I call it an emergency.”

'This thing is going to be close' 

Both campaigns told WCPO they plan to campaign “everywhere” in the county until Election Day. They’re raising significant cash – Deters brought in $120,000 by the end of July and Driehaus raised $267,000 as of April – to reach the 800,000 people who live here.

Driehaus and Deters -- both candidates from well-connected, Greater Cincinnati political families -- will crisscross the county to reach every possible voter.

“Dennis needs to be everywhere. To be completely honest – he’s got to be everywhere,” said Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou. “He needs to not be afraid to go in the city of Cincinnati, where he can pick up some votes. It’s a swing county and you need every vote. There’s just no doubt about it: This thing is going to be close.”

Deters will get a boost from voters in Colerain Township, the county's largest township, where he was a trustee. And others might notice he shares a namesake with popular Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters. Deters will appear on the ballot as Dennis Joseph Deters.

But voters will also recall the Driehaus name, too. She’ll have an easier time in her district, which includes a chunk of Cincinnati, the city of Norwood and Amberley Village. Other voters might recall her family name from her brother Steve Driehaus’ time in congressional and state office.

Driehaus has been focusing her time more on areas in the county where neither she nor her brother served.

Her campaign manager, Alex Linser, said the team will send out mailers, put Driehaus on television and use targeted digital ads to get their message out. But he sees Driehaus herself as their strongest weapon.

“Look, the strategy is to try to get Denise in front of as many people as often as possible,” Linser said. "You can ask her a question, all over, about different things -- there's no issue that she's not an expert on."