Election Nights always are a bit problematic for CityBeat. That’s because elections are held on Tuesdays, the same day that the newspaper is published.
As a result, around the same time that final results usually are being tallied by the county’s Board of Elections, issues of the newspaper are rolling off the printing press, are bundled together and being thrown into the backs of vans for overnight distribution. Last week’s elections were no different, so CityBeat readers once again had to content themselves with our extensive online coverage of the night’s events.
One advantage to this logistical difficulty, however, is it gives us extra time to process the results so we can then reflect on what they might mean for Cincinnati and its residents.
The evening’s biggest surprise, by far, was the unexpected turnover on Cincinnati City Council. Fueled by the wave of Democratic, pro-union voters energized by state Issue 2, a whopping four City Council incumbents were defeated in their bids to keep their seats. Gone were Republicans Wayne Lippert and Amy Murray, who were appointed to fill the unexpired terms of members who departed earlier in the year.
(Their defeat no doubt helps lessen the stigma for Greg Harris, a Democrat appointed to council in early 2009 but who lost in that November’s elections.)
But voters also decided to not to give a fourth and final term to two longtime council members, Republican Leslie Ghiz (who landed in 13th place among 23 candidates) and Charterite Chris Bortz (who finished in 10th place). Only the top nine vote-getters win in Cincinnati’s citywide, at-large field race.
By comparison, Bortz had placed third during the council elections in 2009, while Ghiz placed fifth. The strong showings back then let them coast to victory.
So, what happened in the past 24 months to cause such a drastic reversal of fortune? It would be easy to blame the pair’s defeat on the blue tidal wave of support for Issue 2, but that really tells only part of the tale.
Let’s start by looking at how many people voted for Ghiz and Bortz this year, as compared to 2009. Back then, Ghiz received 30,050 votes while Bortz got 32,911. Last week Ghiz received just 20,719 votes while Bortz got 22,044. For readers who are bad at math, that means Ghiz received 9,331 fewer votes than she did two years ago, while Bortz got 10,867 fewer votes.
It’s not just because the pool of voters widened with more Democrats showing up this year.
It’s clear that past supporters of Ghiz and Bortz made a conscious decision to rebuff them this time.
Part of the reason is the pair showed no leadership in recent months on the city’s dire fiscal situation. Council members learned last spring that the city likely was facing up to a $33 million deficit next year. Bortz and Ghiz were the de facto leaders of a conservative majority on council, which also included Lippert, Murray and Republican Charlie Winburn.
After years of being in the minority on the group, this was a chance for conservatives to step up to the plate and offer their own bold vision for the city. But they struck out.
Instead of spending spring, summer and fall trying to craft a plan for spending cuts and/or revenue enhancements (yes, that means taxes and fees), the conservative majority spent most of their time endlessly repeating what they wouldn’t do to balance the budget (like lay off police and firefighters) rather than announce what they would do.
The faction said it shouldn’t draft a plan that might be overturned after a new council was elected Nov. 8, but voters know a dodge when they see one. If you won’t say upfront what you’re planning, that means you either don’t have faith in your own proposals or you know most voters won’t like them. Or both.
It’s also no coincidence that Bortz and Ghiz are two of the most hot-tempered people on City Council. Bortz all but stomps his feet when Mayor Mark Mallory decides to cancel meetings, while Ghiz is known for tweeting sarcastic comments about her colleagues while work is being conducted in council chambers.
The disturbing trend began in late 2009 after Ghiz told then-Councilwoman Laketa Cole, a Democrat, “you never shut up” during a testy exchange in a committee meeting. For good measure, Ghiz added, “What are you going to do, call me out of order and kick me out of the meeting? I don’t care.”
After her defeat last week, Ghiz was quoted in The Enquirer saying she and her husband would put their North Avondale house up for sale a few days later, making it seem like she was getting the hell out of Dodge because she lost. Well, not quite.
Having known Ghiz for years and aware that not everyone gets her sense of humor, I asked her whether her defeat prompted the decision.
“I don’t know about moving out of the city,” said Ghiz, who gave birth to her second child in February. “I think that was assumed by people, not actually stated. Our house is going on the market, but we were thinking of that anyway. Losing council just opened up the geographic field for us. When we were batting it around before, we knew we couldn’t move out of the city; now we have that option.”
Then there’s the matter of an advisory opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission last year that Bortz kept hidden until a citizen’s public records request revealed its existence. The incident made headlines in CityBeat and The Enquirer.
In a nutshell, The Enquirer reported in April 2010 that Bortz received an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission indicating he shouldn’t participate in any decisions about the city’s proposed $95 million streetcar project. The letter was dated June 2009.
About two weeks before The Enquirer’s article, CityBeat asked Bortz about any potential conflicts of interest involving the project, but he didn’t disclose the commission’s letter. Bortz only told CityBeat about other advice from the city solicitor and private attorneys who said he could participate in project decisions as long as it didn’t involve the streetcar’s exact route.
After a streetcar opponent learned about the advisory opinion’s existence and tipped off The Enquirer, the newspaper filed a public records request to get it. When confronted by CityBeat, Bortz said was under no obligation to publicly disclose the advisory opinion because he requested it as a private citizen, not as a councilman.
That type of contorted reasoning might be technically legal, but it in no way can be described as straightforward and upfront. In fact, I’d call it downright slippery.
After the city’s attorney submitted additional information, the Ohio Ethics Commission issued another opinion that again said Bortz should refrain from decisions on the project. Reluctantly, he did so after that point.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the defeat of Bortz and Ghiz, maybe it’s that voters actually do pay attention to the behavior of their elected officials and how they conduct themselves once in office.
Let that be a warning to the four newcomers joining City Council next month.
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