Mayor's races highlight political hope for Ohio Democrats

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017 file photo, Mayor John Cranley and city council member Yvette Simpson participate in a mayoral debate hosted by WCPO at the Cincinnati Art Museum, in Cincinnati. It's mayoral election time, which means Ohio Democrats will finally get some wins. After a Republican sweep last year of statewide offices as Donald Trump scored a decisive victory in the presidential swing state, Democrats are in rebuilding mode and leaning on the urban areas that are among their last voting strongholds. Democratic incumbents face Democratic challengers in three of the state's largest cities. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

By DAN SEWELL, Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP) — It’s mayoral election time, which means Ohio Democrats will finally get some wins.
After a Republican sweep a year ago of statewide offices as Donald Trump scored a decisive victory in the presidential swing state, Democrats are in rebuilding mode and leaning on the urban areas that are among their last voting strongholds. Democratic incumbents face Democratic challengers in three of the state’s largest cities, with Dayton’s Democratic mayor unopposed for re-election.
While the mayoral campaigns revolve around local issues of strong interest to city residents such as crime, public transportation and budget crunches, they can have broader political significance. Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck says the Democrats need to develop some potential stars, and winning and governing cities is a place to start.
“The Democrats have a very thin bench, so they’re looking for vote-getting appeal,” Beck said. “These are not high-visibility races, but they are important for candidates with any kind of statewide ambitions; they have to have done well in their own locales.”
Dayton’s mayor, Nan Whaley, is already trying to use her local popularity for a springboard into the governorship, running statewide for that nomination while assured of re-election at home. She was the youngest woman elected to Dayton city commission in 2006.
Whaley is among four candidates for the party’s nomination while four Republicans are vying ahead of 2018 elections when Democrats will try to slow GOP momentum stoked in 2014 when Gov. John Kasich’s landslide re-election led Republicans across the state.
In Cincinnati, incumbent John Cranley, a former councilman who twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress, is trying to fend off councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Cranley points to strides in Cincinnati’s downtown development and revitalizing the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and said his policies for job growth, fiscal responsibility and public are working.
“We have a proven track record of progress,” said Cranley, who has enjoyed a fundraising advantage and the backing of Democratic party leaders but ran behind Simpson in their primary.
Simpson, who said she has “a strong vision for our city” that is more inclusive, has a populist appeal that voter Kurstin Jones described as “having this energy about her.”
Jones, 27, said Cranley has had some accomplishments, but that she remains “that mythical undecided voter.” Two mayoral debates in the past week didn’t help her reach a conclusion, Jones said, especially since so much time was spent by the candidates on attacking each other.
In Cleveland, three-term incumbent Mayor Frank Jackson faces longtime east side Councilman Zack Reed. A runoff was required after Jackson earned 39 percent of the vote in a crowded primary field to Reed’s 22 percent in the September primary.
Jackson, who is seeking a record fourth term at age 71, is staunchly supported by Cleveland’s business community and possesses a health campaign war chest of just over $700,000 according to his latest campaign finance report. Reed’s last report in August showed he had $9,100 on hand. Reed has focused on increasing public safety, including hiring hundreds more police officers.
In Toledo, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, a former city council president, is seeking her first full term after winning a special election two years ago to serve out the term of her predecessor, D. Michael Collins, who died after suffering cardiac arrest.
She’s up against fellow Democrat and Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz. They’ve tangled over city spending and how best to deal with the algae in Lake Erie.
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents in Columbus and Akron are still midway through their first terms.
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Associated Press writers Mark Gillispie in Cleveland and John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.
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Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell