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Analysis: Local GOP Has 'Renewed Optimism' It Can Make Inroads At City Hall

The ever-dwindling band of Republicans in the city of Cincinnati haven't had much reason for hope in city politics for two generations now.

But the turmoil and "culture of corruption" at City Hall that has landed three council members in some very hot water – federal charges of bribery and abusing their offices – somehow is giving them a feeling there may be better days to come.

Some even dream of a return to Republican majorities on City Council.

That may be a pretty big stretch in this totally blue city.

It is probably more realistic for Republicans to aim for increasing their current two members of council to three, especially after the drubbing the GOP took in the county at the hands of the Democrats in the Nov. 3 election.

But it doesn't hurt to dream.

Next year's Cincinnati City Council election is one where opportunities abound for first-time council candidates, whether they be Republicans, Democrats, Charterites or Independents. But it is not an easy row to hoe, even for those appointed council members running for the first time.

Richard Nixon was in his first year as president the last time a Republican majority was elected to the city's nine-member council in 1969. The Reds were still playing in Crosley Field and the brand-new Bengals were at Nippert Stadium while Riverfront Stadium was being built on the banks of the Ohio River.

In the 50 years since the 1971 council election, Republicans counted themselves lucky when they had three council members.

Still, Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Alex Triantafilou says his mobile phone has been buzzing constantly with calls from Republicans telling him 2021 could be the GOP's year in Cincinnati politics.

"I can tell you there is new energy in our party about rooting out the corruption at City Hall,'' Triantafilou said. "There is a renewed optimism out there."

Still, going from two council members – both appointed and first-time candidates – to a five-member majority in one election is an extremely steep hill to climb.

The GOP has a good start with its two appointees – Steve Goodin, a highly-regarded lawyer with Graydon Law and a former Army JAG officer, who was appointed to the suspended Jeff Pastor's seat last month, and Betsy Sundermann, an East Price Hill Republican who was a probate court magistrate and appointed after Amy Murray left for a job in D.C.

Both will be voices for reform in city government.

Running as an appointed council member is not easy. You need to get name recognition and get it fast.

The Republican Party has a real albatross hanging on its neck when it comes to preaching reform. The fact is that one of the three council members arrested and charged in the FBI investigation into pay-for-play at City Hall is a Republican – Jeff Pastor, who is facing charges of taking bribes for his vote on a downtown development project.

The other two – Tamaya Dennard and P.G. Sittenfeld, who was deep into a 2021 campaign for mayor – are Democrats.

Triantafilou immediately called for Pastor to resign from council after his arrest; and Pastor, who was first elected to council in 2017, finishing ninth, is persona non grata in Republican circles now. But his presence on the list of indicted council members makes it somewhat hard for Republicans running for council to be too high and mighty about corruption at City Hall.

Another problem popped up earlier this week when former council member Kevin Flynn announced he was going to attempt a comeback and run in 2021. Flynn, who was on council from 2013 to 2017, was elected as a Charter Committee candidate, but he says he will run as an Independent this year.

Flynn is a passionate defender of the council-manager form of government. And there is general agreement in Cincinnati political circles that, of a long list of non-incumbent candidates, Flynn has the best chance of winning a seat next fall.

Another thing about the GOP council slate, whoever ends up running – you will not hear a GOP candidate for council even breathe the name of Donald Trump. Not in this heavily Democratic city. Donald who?

So, in addition to Goodin and Sundermann, who do the Republicans have running?

Here's what we know so far:

- Liz Keating, whose grandfather, the late William J. Keating, was a former congressman and Enquirer publisher, is actively raising money – quite a bit of it, we hear – and will certainly have the Republican Party endorsement.

- Linda Matthews of North Avondale, a former teacher and small business owner, has been campaigning to convince more of her fellow African Americans to abandon the Democrats and come to the GOP. She has a campaign page up and running on Facebook.

- Rayshon Mack of Mt. Auburn, who works in management at the U.S. Postal Service and is constantly tweeting on politics, plans to run as a Republican.

- Pete Witte, a Price Hill small business owner, who has become a force in the local party, is being talked about in some GOP circles as a potential council candidate. Witte ran in 2003 and lost.

There are others likely to come out soon.

Triantafilou is not interested in talking specifics about the GOP slate of council candidates; he says it is far too early. But he does say it will be a slate of candidates serious about winning.

"We're not going to just put names on the ballot, just to fill out a slate,'' Triantafilou said. "We're looking for people who really care about winning.

"What I want to do is find a group of serious adults who can run and win – whether that is a slate of five candidates, seven or nine,'' Triantafilou. "I don't know. I just know our party wants winners."

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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