CINCINNATI — Ohio State Sen. Cecil Thomas had every intention of supporting fellow Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld's run for mayor in 2021.
Then Sittenfeld found himself facing public corruption charges in federal court.
"I felt confident that he would have a really good chance at winning," said Thomas, D-Cincinnati, who represents Ohio's ninth senate district in the General Assembly and previously sat eight years on Cincinnati City Council.
"Unfortunately, this happened, and I was watching it very closely, seeing that, OK, now it's going to be very difficult for him to get the votes needed to win not just the election but the primary."
Sittenfeld has maintained his innocence since his Nov. 19 arrest and arraignment on charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and attempted extortion under color of official right. On Monday, the councilman voluntarily suspended himself temporarily from his legislative duties pending the trial proceedings in the U.S. District Court's sixth district.
Later Monday, Thomas announced his intention to join Sittenfeld and fellow City Hall veteran David Mann, another Democrat, on the ticket. He requested a petition packet from the Hamilton County Board of Elections Monday afternoon.
Thomas said what once was faith has changed to uncertainty in Sittenfeld's ability to get the votes he needs to advance to the general election while he is under indictment.
"Will the people still give P.G. their vote knowing that this indictment is looming?" he said. "The situation calls for at least giving the community an alternative other than those that would be left to run."
Thomas went on to say the decision, in the end, belongs to city voters, and, should Sittenfeld still gather enough votes to advance beyond the primary -- and Thomas does not -- he would continue to support Sittenfeld.
As for a Sittenfeld-Thomas showdown in November's general election, Thomas declined to speculate further than to say, "I'm in it to win it, you know, it's just that simple. I look forward to some spine-tingling conversations," he said.
Sittenfeld is one of three City Council members indicted on public corruption charges in the U.S. District Court's Sixth District this year. Tamaya Dennard resigned and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for votes, and a federal grand jury indicted Jeff Pastor on similar charges just days before Sittenfeld's arrest.
Thomas said he wants to get "the people feeling that we have a government that's functioning even though there's a lot of concern of how our government's been functioning as of late."
Thomas took office in the Ohio General Assembly in January 2015 after 27 years in the Cincinnati Police Department and eight years on Cincinnati City Council.
WCPO reporter Lisa Smith contributed to this story.