Analysis: Aftab Pureval really won two elections


Aftab Pureval, the mayor-elect of Cincinnati, was absolutely right on Tuesday night when he declared his election by a margin of nearly two to “historic.”

Historical, yes. Unexpected, no.

It had become evident in the last month of the campaign that the 39-year-old Clerk, son of Indian and Tibetan immigrants, would topple his opponent, Council Member David Mann, whose five decades on the Cincinnati political scene s ‘is probably over on Tuesday evening.

But the point is, Pureval won not one but two elections on Tuesday.

The first, his, against Mann; and the second in the race for Cincinnati city council, where eight of nine seats went to approved Democrats, including six who have never served on council before.

For a brand new Democratic mayor with big ideas and big plans, this is a dream come true.

“It couldn’t have been better for Aftab,” Democratic political strategist Jared Kamrass said. “There’s no question he can find six votes to do whatever he wants.

“And these Democrats on the board love him or love him,” Kamrass said. “There is no one who hates him.”

One theme ran through WVXU’s election night talks with new board members: they want to collaborate; they want to end the infighting; they want to get things done.

It must be music to Pureval’s ears.

What mayor, governor, or even president wouldn’t want to deal with a legislative body that loves him and wants to cooperate?

A politician’s dream.

Photos courtesy of the candidates

Clockwise from top left: Jeff Cramerding; Reggie Harris; Mark Jefferys; Greg Landsman; Victoria Parks; Meeka Owens; Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney; Scotty Johnson; Liz Keating.

Pureval is, as the late Red Barber baseball broadcaster put it, in the seat of the catbird.

“He doesn’t even need all Democrats to get what he wants,” said Sean Comer, director of government relations at Xavier University. “It is a lot of power to exercise for a mayor. It gives him a lot of latitude to go further in his projects.”

And, Kamrass said, the Eight Democrats seem to like each other.

“There doesn’t seem to be any of those Smitherman v Sittenfeld situations that we’ve seen in the past,” Kamrass said.

How did the Democrats do it?

Party discipline in an election with a very low turnout. (At 24%, that was the lowest voter turnout in Cincinnati in decades.)

Most Democratic voters – a majority in the city – clearly voted the entire Democratic card and ignored the Republican and Chartist candidates.

“Voters are now more polarized than ever – Democrats vote Democrats and Republicans vote Republicans,” Kamrass said. “And Democrats are as organized as they’ve ever been.”

Party discipline for Democrats extended to running for the Cincinnati Board of Education. The four candidates backed by the Democratic Party – newcomers Mary Wineberg, Brandon Craig and Kareem Moffett, as well as incumbent Mike Moroski – were elected to the four seats up for grabs on the school board.

The only republican

Three members of the Republican City Council who were appointed to their posts were on the ballot – Liz Keating, Steve Goodin and Betsy Sundermann.

Keating, Liz.jpg

Keating was the only one to survive, taking ninth and last place on the board by 1,538 votes in the unofficial vote tally against unapproved Democrat Michelle Dillingham, an unlucky candidate who has now finished 10e and just out of the race in two back-to-back municipal elections.

Keating, the granddaughter of the late William J. Keating, congressman, board member and newspaper editor, appears to be the kind of Republican who will be able to work with the Eight Democrats on many issues. Not all, probably, but a lot.

“For me it was more about listening to everyone and what they wanted to see from the board members, rather than trying to make the headlines and trying to shout my message,” Keating said. at WVXU’s Becca Costello on Tuesday night. “I think it’s going to be important in the future: being able to listen and learn from people and have a lot of voices help guide me.”

Keating got the approval of the Charter Committee, but that’s certainly not what won him the seat. She has reached out to non-Republican voters – which is the only sane thing for a Republican candidate to do in Cincinnati, given that analysis of city voters shows only 8% identify as Republicans.

She was very present on social networks; and two well-known politicians in the black community – former Mayor Dwight Tillery and Republican Charlie Winburn did radio commercials for here on black radio stations.

Smart movement.

Comer said Keating, when she takes office, will have a decision to make.

“Does she want to collaborate and work with the majority; or does she want to be a Republican and choose to be a thorn in the side of Democrats? said Comer.

So far, anyway, she has shown an inclination to work with her future fellow board members.

What happened to Charter?

In 2020, after three sitting city council members were charged with federal corruption charges, the air was charged with discussions about the “culture of corruption” at Cincinnati city hall. And the Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s self-proclaimed “good government” political party, smelled its oats and sensed an opportunity to take more than a foothold in city council in this year’s election.

It was a bust.

Charter had eight approved candidates and only one won a seat – Keating, who is a Republican but has accepted Charter cross-support.

The two with the highest hopes were both former board members who were attempting a comeback – Jim Tarbell and Kevin Flynn.

Surprising to many, neither approached a board seat.

Flynn, who left the board rather than run again in 2017, did the best of the two, but it wasn’t good enough. He finished in 12e place, nearly 3,500 votes behind Keating, the ninth.

Tarbell, who has been a part of Cincinnati’s music, restaurants and political scenes since the 1960s, did even worse – he finished 15e, 5,630 votes out of the race.

He proved that name identification is not enough.

Voters decided it was time to move on and pick some new faces rather than settle for well-known names.

“They seemed to lie down and wait for voters to come to them,” Comer said. “You have to have a tough campaign to win in this atmosphere. It doesn’t matter your name.”


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