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Newcomers Join Council; Bortz, Ghiz Among Ousted

By Kevin Osborne · November 9th, 2011 · News
election_purkeyll-5Issue 48 opponents celebrate at Arnold's - Photo: Lauren Purkey
Voters sent a resounding message in Tuesday night's election, giving Cincinnati City Council's conservative majority its walking papers and returning control to Democrats after a tumultuous two-year term. In the process, two longtime incumbents known for their fiery tempers were defeated.

Once the final, unofficial results were tallied, three of the four Republicans on council were rejected by voters, along with a Charterite who often sided with the faction.

Two longtime incumbents, Charterite Chris Bortz and Republican Leslie Ghiz, were defeated in their bids for a fourth and final council term. Also, GOP contenders Wayne Lippert and Amy Murray lost in their effort to keep the seats they were appointed to earlier in the year when they replaced departing members.

In fact, the only Republican to remain on the nine-member council was Charlie Winburn, a preacher and ex-Democrat from College Hill who isn't reliably conservative and is known for crossing political and ideological lines when it suits him. Winburn is African-American and typically draws strong support from black Democrats, as well.

[For more election coverage, go here for pre- and post-election stories and here for an Election Night photo gallery.]

Much of the Democrats' success in the council elections likely is spillover from the large Democratic, pro-union voter turnout to defeat state Issue 2. That's the measure pushed by Gov. John Kasich that restricted the collective bargaining rights of public-sector labor unions, including police and firefighters. Many of the Republicans defeated for City Council supported Issue 2.

That sound you hear in the distance is Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke thanking Kasich for his hubris.

The other big surprises of the evening:

** Cincinnati elected its first openly gay candidate, Chris Seelbach, after years of having closeted and semi-closeted politicians at City Hall. Seelbach's victory comes just 18 years after conservative groups persuaded voters to approve Article 12, an amendment to the city's charter that prevented officials from enacting any laws aimed at protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

Seelbach helped to repeal Article 12 in 2004, and his election signals a major shift in attitudes for the Queen City.

** Christopher Smitherman, an independent who also is the NAACP local chapter's outspoken president, was returned to City Council after a six-year absence. He previously served a single term as a Charterite in 2003-05, before losing his reelection bid.

** Three first-time candidates were successful in their campaigns. They were Democrats Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld, and Charterite Yvette Simpson, who was cross-endorsed by the Democratic Party.

** In what's believed to be a first in Cincinnati, a majority of council members are African-American. They include Winburn, Smitherman and Simpson, along with Democrats Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young.

Not surprisingly, the popular Roxanne Qualls easily finished in first place among the 23 candidates vying for a spot on City Council in an at-large, citywide field race. A Democrat, she received 37,275 votes, or 8.43 percent of ballots cast. That's 6,801 more votes than the second-place finisher.

The strong finish positions Qualls well for her widely expected mayoral bid in 2013, once current Mayor Mark Mallory leaves office due to term limits.

What was a surprise was the person nipping at Qualls' coattails. Sittenfeld, at age 27 a political newcomer, was second by a sizable margin. He received 30,474 votes, or 6.89 percent of ballots cast. Sittenfeld's strong showing easily beat four incumbents: Wendell Young (third place); Charlie Winburn (fourth); Cecil Thomas (fifth); and Laure Quinlivan (sixth).

A Mount Lookout resident, Sittenfeld works as an assistant director at the Community Learning Center Institute. A Cincinnati native who graduated from Princeton University, Sittenfeld's father is noted investment adviser Paul Sittenfeld, and one of his sisters is best-selling author Curtis Sittenfeld. He easily led the council pack in campaign fundraising, collecting more than $217,000 as of July, far ahead of even council incumbents. That war chest allowed Sittenfeld to frequently air TV commercials, something that is unique for most first-time candidates.

Some critics, however, have chastised Sittenfeld for avoiding taking a stance on controversial issues, including whether he supports the city's streetcar project.

The last time a first-time candidate finished so high was in 2001, when David Pepper placed first. Pepper is the son of retired Procter & Gamble CEO John Pepper, and also raised a large amount of cash.

I'm obviously incredibly gratified and excited about the outcome tonight,” Sittenfeld told reporters at the Board of Elections offices. “But we've said all along this wasn't about winning an election, this wasn't about tonight. It's about tomorrow for Cincinnati.”

He added, “I'm so proud of the coalition we put together: young and old, East Side and West Side, black and white, all working together.”

Rounding out the winners were Simpson (seventh place); Smitherman (eighth); and Seelbach (ninth).

Seelbach received 23,484 votes, or 1,440 more than Bortz, the 10th-place finisher, also known as the “bubble position.” Additionally, Seelbach received 2,765 more votes than Ghiz, who finished in 13th place.

Seelbach's victory occurred 34 years to the day that Harvey Milk was elected as the first openly gay man to serve in public office in California, when he won a spot on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk later was assassinated by an ex-colleague.

I'm excited and I'm proud,” Seelbach said. “More than anything, I'm ready to get on with it. I'm ready to work after 18 months of campaigning. I want to help the city move forward and become more competitive.”

Noting his unique place in Cincinnati history, Seelbach added, “I didn't run just as an openly gay candidate, I ran on a platform. But I am who I am.”

The night's other unexpected surprise? That independent candidate Sandra Queen Noble, who has a penchant for wearing cat costumes in public and likes to talk about her lawsuit against the “Stolen United States of America” for “$994 trillion,” received 2,726 votes, to finish in 22nd place.

If you're one of those voters, we'd like to talk to you.



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