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The Tarbell chain reaction

Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell in the 2007 Cincinnati St. Patrick’s Parade.
Photo by Joe Wessels © 2007.

Well, that’s it. Cincinnati Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell pulled the trigger and has decided he will step down Sept. 3.

That’s Labor Day, ironically, because Tarbell said he is without a job, something many politicos said would be the decider in whether or not he would go early. Instead, the decision was made months ago Roxanne Qualls would run and prior to that – be appointed to Tarbell’s seat, a reliable source has told me. Some very key people were already working on her campaign as early as May or June, but that close-knit group of people were given strict orders not to tell anyone.

Another shocker: Qualls, who ran as a Democrat for City Council and made a nearly successful bid for Congress as a Democrat, is going to run on the Charter ticket this fall. She said she remains a Democrat on the county, state and national level, however. The Charter Committee – who says they are independent, good government citizens – only runs candidates for city office.

Even Tarbell told me he was shocked that the secret remained so for as long as it did, until just before the official announcement. I wondered, too, why that was possible and would venture a guess that it has something to do with the respect many feel for Qualls and Tarbell. Frankly, people in all three Cincinnati parties – whether some “Whistleblowers” like to say the “liberal press” were weak in our collective knees about Qualls’ return and it reflected in our coverage – were very (even if somewhat reservedly so) happy about her return.

Qualls was a very popular candidate by all measures. Having won her first seat on Council in 1991 (after two unsuccessful attempts in 1987 and 1989), Qualls became the top vote-getter (thus making her mayor) every after election after, starting in 1993. In fact, she received around 61 percent of the vote last time she ran, in 1997, an aide said.

Typically, a Council candidate must get around 30 percent of the vote to finish in the top nine and win a seat. For comparison, during the last election the top finisher was Democrat John Cranley. He finished with around 49 percent of the vote totals.

I, for one, was particularly bummed about the news. Not because I dislike Qualls (I don’t), but because I was hot on the trail of the news the week before, but never quite managed to get it confirmed. I had received a pretty good tip that Qualls had resigned her Northern Kentucky University post to run for office. Apparently that part was true, but no one would confirm it.

Those close to Qualls and Tarbell told me after the announcement how amused they were with my inquiries and were surprised how close I actually got to getting it confirmed and that I didn’t fit the pieces together. Hinesight is 20/20, of course, but I was not hitting on all cylinders, I suppose.

I understood Quall’s resignation from NKU to be an indication she was either running for the Hamilton County Commission or Congress, and as a Democrat. Apparently I was wrong in my assumptions, but knew I was on to something when I was getting over-the-top “nos” when I asked about it from people like Democratic Party chair Tim Burke and cryptic congratulations from Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune, sent to me via e-mail.

Next up: Expect an endorsement from the Hamilton County Democratic Party, who has already endorsed nine candidates – a full slate – for this fall’s election. That means someone would have to step down, something that Party Executive Director Caleb Faux has not denied, but said to me, at Qualls’ announcement, that no decision was made because it was too early. They had no idea this was going to happen. Uh-huh. Sure.

Democratic Party insiders have said it will be second-time candidate and retired Cincinnati Police officer Wendell Young who will step aside. Due to a bad cell connection (I’m in southern Kentucky right now), I was unable to talk to Young for more than about five seconds. Stay tuned.

Though he doesn’t have a job – other than selling Grammer’s Restaurant before the end of this month – Tarbell said he would run for Cincinnati Public Schools’ school board. But only if he could find the right partner or partners to go in with him.

He said that he doesn’t have that right now and that means he’d be “crazy” to go it alone, and won’t. Might that be why so many incumbents have said they won’t run this fall? Fear that such a recognizable name might get together – or already has – with another very recognizable name to run for the school board? I don’t know, but stay tuned.

As a side note, I wrote my column about Tarbell in Saturday’s Post. I have to admit that I like the guy. Who doesn’t? He’s got a great personality, a great smile, wears a top hat and tails to special events, knows just about everything about Cincinnati history, loves Over-the-Rhine and this city just like I do, rides a red scooter around town and gives some very funny quotes – a godsend for a reporter. Plus, he’s just a great, old-fashioned cheese ball. So, I took a little time out to say thanks for what he’s done. Maybe if you see him, you’ll do the same…


  1. Begging the question: if the Dems endorse Roxanne does she lose the Charter endorsement, or does she receive a coveted and long-foresaken “cross endorsement”?

  2. Caleb Faux worked for Qualls.
    One of the co-chairs of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee of precinct execs who vote on endorsements, works for Cramerding, former Charter exec dir.

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