Hamilton County voters elect first African American woman as commissioner

CINCINNATI -- For the first time ever, voters elected an African American woman to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

Despite a small campaign budget, Democrat Stephanie Summerow Dumas managed to unseat longtime Republican incumbent Chris Monzel in a race that shows just how blue Hamilton County is becoming.

“This would be a party win," University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven said. "This is a function of this county trending Democratic and the party just being able to turn out its vote.”

Unofficial results show Dumas, a retired social worker and former mayor of Forest Park, defeating Monzel with 51 percent of the vote.

“She did well in typically marginalized neighborhoods like Bond Hill, Avondale and Roselawn,” said Jared Kamrass, principal at Rivertown Strategies.

Dumas called her grassroots campaign the D-train. She relied on social media, yard signs, attending candidate forums and Sunday church services and the support of prominent community leaders such as Bishop Bobby Hilton.

“As a candidate she tapped into communities where very few have in the past," Kamrass said. "And that’s real. That makes a difference.”

Dumas first shocked the political establishment when she won the Democratic primary in May with 58 percent of the vote, beating her party’s first choice, Mount Healthy Mayor James Wolf. She won that race with just $450 worth of campaign signs that she moved around every few days.

Dumas was also the underdog in the race against Monzel, who has been a county commissioner since 2011 and a Cincinnati City Councilman before that. She raised $12,562, which was dwarfed by Monzel’s $389,987 war chest, according to the latest campaign finance records.

“There’s never been a person of color elected to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. It’s about time,” said Dumas, who often told her supporters, “you’re going to be part of history.”

Dumas, a former village administrator for Lincoln Heights, will join fellow Democrats Denise Driehaus and Todd Portune on the county commission.

Two years ago Monzel led a Republican majority on the commission. Now the board will be made up of three Democrats.

“What we’ve seen is a progression from Democrats being able to beat weak Republican candidates, to Democrats being able to beat functioning Republican candidates, and now we’re on the verge of seeing Democrats being able to beat strong Republican candidates,” Niven said.

Her win could also attract other political newcomers to run for office in Hamilton County.

“I think the message to first-time candidates is that the traditional model of paying your dues and waiting your turn no longer applies,” Kamrass said. “If you prove your meddle and work hard and connect with voters, you absolutely can win in this county.”

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