Help wanted: Local GOP has hard time finding candidates in Cincinnati

Obama helped boost Democratic voters

CINCINNATI - It ain't easy being a Republican in the city of Cincinnati, especially if you're the chairman of the party.

With just four months until the filing deadline, only three Republican candidates have declared their intentions to run for Cincinnati City Council -- and one of those is an incumbent.

Even worse, the GOP so far has no one lined up to run for mayor this fall.

That means there likely will be two Democrats facing off in the November election for mayor after the nonpartisan September primary, just as there was in 2005.

In fact, the Hamilton County Republican Party was one of the factions that pushed for the charter amendment in 1999 that allowed the direct election of Cincinnati's mayor.

But in the three mayoral elections held since then, the GOP has fielded candidates only in two of the September primaries, and only in one of the November general elections.

To make matters worse, the party also has no candidates so far in the race for Cincinnati Board of Education.

The situation has gotten so dire that party leaders recently sent a mass email to members soliciting people to run for public office.

Under the subject line of "Candidates needed now!," the email stated, "It's time to continue to build our brand in the face of whatever challenges might arise, because we know it makes our country better."

Also, the party will hold a special event on Feb. 20 entitled, "The Future of the 513." It's described as "a panel discussion on the future of our region and our party."

Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou said GOP candidates always have had a tough time in Cincinnati, which is a predominantly Democratic city. But the challenge has been more difficult since Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 and 2012, bringing with him an influx of new voters.

"The city, a place Barack Obama won with 76 percent of the vote, is not friendly to conservatives," Triantafilou said. "But if we give up there, we only let the progressives get a stronger foothold."

The problem facing local Democrats is just the opposite: Too many people wanting to run.

"The lack of Republican candidates for council and the mayor's office demonstrates that the city of Cincinnati is a Democratic stronghold, where it is very difficult for Republicans to succeed," said Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman.

"In the 2013 election, we have strong incumbent candidates and plenty of well-qualified non-incumbents, as well," Burke said. "Our biggest challenge in terms of council is that we have five or six non-incumbents who want to run, but only three slots available."

Still, the GOP chairman said the situation is similar to the one faced by Democratic candidates in the rest of Hamilton County, which is predominantly Republican.

"Like Democrats who struggle to field candidates in suburban communities like Green Township or Anderson Township, where the GOP has a concentration of voters, the GOP finds it difficult to find great candidates for public office in the city of Cincinnati," Triantafilou said.

Obama's two candidacies inspired many people to register and vote for the first time, he added. Many of those people were in urban areas, and mostly are African-Americans and people under age 40.

"It has become more difficult," Triantafilou said. "With only three announced candidates (for City Council), we are seeing some difficulties in recruiting good candidates. President Obama's domination of the city vote is a factor."

The GOP's council candidates so far are incumbent Charlie Winburn, a pastor from College Hill who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2005; Amy Murray, a Hyde Park businesswoman who was appointed to council in January 2011 to fill a vacancy but lost election in her own right later that fall; and Sam Malone, a Winburn protégé who works for Urban Resources Group.

Malone won a City Council term in November 2003, but was defeated in a reelection bid two years later. At the time, Malone was facing a misdemeanor domestic violence charge for allegedly beating his 14-year-old son with a belt. He was later acquitted of the charge. He also ran for council in 2007 and lost.

Malone hadn't yet picked up petitions to run for council as of Feb. 13, according to the Board of Elections.

For comparison, the GOP fielded five City Council candidates in 2011; five again in 2009; seven in 2007; four in 2005; and nine in 2003.

It requires at least five members to create a majority-voting bloc on the nine-member group.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann expressed some interest two months ago in being the Republican candidate for mayor this year.

Since that time, however, he's been noncommittal and political insiders say it likely won't happen.

"He has not given us a definitive answer about this race," Triantafilou said. "Commissioner Hartmann has made hard choices at the county level as county budgets have shrunk and the county has trimmed operations. He would be an outstanding mayor because he has real experience in managing the county's finances."

The party isn't currently in active talks with anyone else should Hartmann decide not to run, he said.

"No other candidate has emerged, but the party continues to entertain any person who would be a serious candidate," Triantafilou said.

"We will not field just any candidate to simply have a named candidate, though," the chairman said. "Any person who wants to run must demonstrate a seriousness about the job and about a campaign that would convince the party faithful to support that person."

And it's not an impossible task.

In 2009, Brad Wenstrup – a podiatrist and Iraq War veteran who was a first-time candidate – got 46 percent of the vote in his race against incumbent Mayor Mark Mallory, a Democrat. Since then, Wenstrup has been elected to represent Ohio's Second Congressional District.

"Dr. Brad Wenstrup was a serious candidate in 2009 and he made all Republicans proud," Triantafilou said. "If someone like Congressman Wenstrup emerges, we will consider an endorsement."

Twelve non-incumbents have picked up petitions from the Board of Elections so far to run for City Council. It doesn't necessarily mean, however, that all win actually run.

Besides Murray, other non-incumbents who've picked up petitions include Democrats Jeff Cramerding, Michelle Dillingham, Gabriel Fletcher, Kevin Johnson, Greg Landsman, David Mann and Vanessa White; independent Theo Barnes; and Angela Beamon, Tim Dornbusch and Dadrien Washington, whose party affiliations weren't immediately known.

To appear on the November ballot, council candidates must file petitions containing the signatures of at least 500 registered voters who live within city limits by Aug. 22. They must also pay a $75 filing fee.

So far, four candidates have indicated they will run for mayor. They are current Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley, both Democrats; Libertarian Jim Berns; and independent Sandra Queen Noble.

The filing requirements are the same for the mayor's race although the deadline is earlier, on June 27.

Cranley said he would welcome the extra competition, and believes it would be good for voters.

"I hope anyone who puts forth a vision for our city will run and participate in the campaign," Cranley said. "It will be helpful to debate these ideas fully before the public."


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