Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election Post-Mortem

The final election results are in. Once again, Roxanne Qualls was the top vote-getter. Greg Harris has been ousted from Council, and Charlie Winburn and Laurie Quinlivan will join the fray. What does all this mean?

First, the political breakdown is as follows: Council now has three Democrats plus a Charterite/Democrat; one independent (Berding); three Republicans; and a Charterite who leans Republican.

Next, the big question is on the 2010 budget. Part of that will depend on what happens with property tax. Crowley and Harris, as lame ducks, could be in favor of ending the property tax "rollback," which would constitute a significant tax increase. If that's so, a tax increase would pass if just three members of the newly constituted Council were in agreement. (The property tax millage must be finalized next week, before the new Council takes office.)

But if the property tax isn't raised, the budget will need to be reduced by around 50 million dollars. I thought Greg Harris had offered a plan that made sense: go to the unions (including the FOP) for concessions in 2010, with reimbursement made in 2011 and 2012. The problem, of course, is that 5 members have apparently made promises that there would be no police or fire layoffs. If they're unwilling to change their positions, then concessions are out of the question. (If I were a union member, and I knew that my employer would not, under any circumstance, reduce the size of its workforce, I'd vote against concessions). That may mean huge cuts in services: parks and recreation; health clinics; reduced trash collection.

I suspect Mayor Mallory learned a lesson as an incumbent executive. He knew he had won the race and, he acknowledges, he didn't campaign very hard. But this race wasn't about him. It was about the Council he'd be working with. Mayor Mallory is an extremely likeable guy who campaigns well. He needed to be on the trail more to support the Dems for Council. This was the first time Mallory was in this position, so the error is certainly understandable. The mayor will come to regret that his coattails weren't a little bit longer this year. But his personality and affability may make him uniquely able to bridge the divisions amongst the current Council to build a majority that can govern sensibly and effectively.

Jeff Berding may be the key to a governing majority. If he wishes to mend fences with the Democratic party, he may join forces with Qualls, Quinlivan, Thomas, and Cole. But he's been treated badly enough that it's unlikely he'll be looking to make peace. Instead, the Council Dems will have to find a way to offer him an olive branch if they wish to garner his vote on important issues.

Council committee chairs are appointed by the mayor, so expect little changes there. That means Cole probably retains the gavel in Finance. But membership (and vice-chairs) are elected by Council, so there should be some shake-ups in the composition of the committees.

Finally, there's one thing I don't understand, perhaps because I've only lived in Cincinnati since 2000: why does Roxanne Qualls do so well in these field races? Don't get me wrong. Qualls is smart as hell, and I enjoy hearing her pontificate on public policy; she resembles liberals who are about 30-40 years older than she is. (Qualls often reminds me of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.) But Qualls isn't terribly charismatic, at least not in the traditional politician sense of the word. And "smart" doesn't always get you very far with the electorate; we live in a county that twice sent George W. Bush to the White House. It's got to be more than mere name recognition. What's the answer? Why does Qualls do so well with so many demographic and geographic groups across the city?

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