Local News
12:00 am
Sun October 20, 2013

Mayoral candidates battling for black voters

Candidates for public office collect endorsements from groups and influential individuals the way that sports memorabilia enthusiasts collect autographed rookie baseball cards of Hall of Famers.

They hoard them.

And then they use them, for whatever they are worth, to get elected.

Cincinnati’s mayoral candidates, Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley have put together quite a collection.

Qualls has the Greater Cincinnati Building and Construction Trades Council and a number of their affiliated unions. She also has the backing of the Charter Committee, the Cincinnati Women’s Political Caucus, the Miami Group of the Sierra Club, the National Organization of Women Cincinnati, and others.

Cranley has Local 48, the Cincinnati firefighters union;  the Cincinnati Lodge 69 of the Fraternal Order of Police, former mayor Charlie Luken, the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, among others.

But perhaps the most significant group of endorsements for both candidates have come from leaders in the African-American community.

African-American voters will make up well over 40 percent of the electorate in what is expected to be a low-turnout election. They could well make the difference in the mayor’s race.

“I’ve been thinking for a while now that it really matters who gets the largest number of black votes,’’ said Gene Beaupre, a political scientist at Xavier University with decades of experience in Cincinnati elections. “It could all come down to that.”

And both mayoral candidates are using their high-profile black supporters to try to drum up support and get voters to the polls in the city’s predominately African-American neighborhoods.

Cranley has former mayor Dwight Tillery and State Rep. Alicia Reece, who served with Cranley on council, on his side. He also has former city council member Laketa Cole – who is actually on the Cranley campaign payroll as deputy campaign manager.

“I’m pretty sure that Reece and Cole could deliver Bond Hill for Cranley,’’ Beaupre said.

Then there are two black council members who have influence among black voters in Cranley’s corner – Republican Charlie Winburn and independent Christopher Smitherman. Both are aligned with Cranley on his opposition to the streetcar project and the parking meter lease agreement – both of which Qualls supports. .

Qualls has her share of support among African-American leaders. The present mayor, Mark Mallory, is supporting her – she is his vice mayor and has been a staunch ally of the mayor on the streetcar and the parking lease agreement; and, no doubt, the mayor sees her as the one who could set his signature projects in stone.

But Mallory has not been highly visible on the campaign trail – he’s appeared at her campaign launch and at some of her larger fundraising events.

She may have won some points with black voters with her recent announcement that, if elected, she will name an African-American, council member Wendell Young, as her vice mayor. Cranley hasn’t said who he intends to put in that position.

Young is a former president of the local chapter of the NAACP and is one of four former presidents who have endorsed Qualls – Marian Spencer, Milton Hinton and Paul Booth being the others.

On Friday, the Qualls campaign began running a pair of ads on black radio stations featuring prominent blacks endorsing her candidacy.  One features Spencer, who served a term on council in the early 1980s and the Rev. KZ Smith, a pastor well known in the African-American community. The other has council member Yvette Simpson and Ozie Davis III, a community activist from Avondale, doing the same.

The Cranley campaign is using its surrogates in ads on black radio stations too. One featuring Reece is up and running; a second one featuring Tillery goes on the air Monday.

Both candidates are spending Sundays making the rounds of black churches in Cincinnati – a long-standing tradition in Cincinnati politics. If you want black votes, it is expected that you show up at the churches.

The vast majority of African-American voters in the city are Democrats, but they can’t look to the Democratic Party here for guidance. With two Democrats running against each other, the Hamilton County Democratic Party is staying away from the mayor’s race.

This is where the battle will be joined – in the African-American community. The Cranley campaign is depending on public opposition to the streetcar project and the parking meter lease; Qualls’ campaign is banking on personal relationships in the black community built up over her decades of involvement in city politics.

If it is a low turn-out election – and there is every indication that it will be – driving up the turnout in the predominately black wards could well be the key that unlocks the door to the mayor’s office.