Ever since David Pepper finally confirmed last week what CityBeat first reported online in mid-March — that the prominent local Democrat will run for Ohio Auditor next year — speculation has run rampant about who will campaign for the seat he’s vacating on the Hamilton County Commission.
There’s little doubt that it’s an important race. When Pepper won his spot on the county commission almost three years ago, it swung control of the three-member group to Democrats for the first time since 1962. Local Dems are loath to give up power now that they’ve tasted it, so whom they select to guard Pepper’s seat is crucial.
But the offer to run statewide was one Pepper couldn’t easily refuse.
Gov. Ted Strickland personally asked Pepper to run for auditor, one of the few state offices not taken by Democrats in their 2006 sweep. Strickland figured Pepper — with his amiable personality, a centrist record and a knack for fundraising — met the criteria to compete equally well in Ohio’s urban and rural areas and possibly attract crossover Republican votes.
In fact, sources say, party leaders went public with Pepper’s announcement last week — a full 18 months before the election for auditor — to scare off any potential Democratic challengers and avoid a costly primary fight.
Pepper is good at campaigning. He not only won in his first race for Cincinnati City Council in 2001, a rare feat, but he finished at the top in a field of more than two dozen candidates. He repeated the first-place finish in 2003.
Besides his political savvy, Pepper is helped by his pedigree — he’s the son of ex-Procter & Gamble CEO and current Disney Co. Board Chairman John Pepper.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Pepper spent last weekend talking to potential donors in Cleveland.
All of which leaves local Democrats scurrying busily behind-the-scenes to prepare for a battle royale to keep the commission seat. The name most often mentioned is former Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley.
Facing term limits, Cranley resigned from council in January so he could ponder his next political move. A Westsider with strong backing from labor unions and neighborhood groups, Cranley has roughly the same basic constituency as Todd Portune, the other Democratic county commissioner, so that voting bloc could be sufficient.
Another Democrat who would be a good bet to run for Pepper’s seat is Hamilton County Coroner O’dell Owens. Since his election in 2004, Owens has kept an unusually high profile for a coroner, often speaking out through the media about the gun violence affecting inner-city youth. He might appeal to law-and-order Republicans in suburban areas, while Dems surely would like to elect the county’s first-ever African-American commissioner.
Still, many townships and smaller cities in Hamilton County often complain about how the commission is dominated by people who live in Cincinnati, so party officials might opt to go with someone outside the urban core. One such person who’s already expressed an interest is Whitewater Township Trustee Hubert Brown.
There are also some intriguing possibilities on the Republican side.
One name mentioned in GOP circles is Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou. A former Common Pleas Court judge, he resigned from the bench last year to accept the party chairmanship, potentially a better stepping stone to higher elective office.
Another possibly is Tom Brinkman Jr., an arch-conservative who left the Ohio House last year due to term limits after serving eight years. There’s also Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Monzel, who currently is campaigning for his third consecutive council term and likely will win with his incumbent’s advantage.
Political junkies should start placing their bets now.
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