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Richardson Joins The Cincinnati Mayor's Race, Guaranteeing A Primary Battle

Rob Richardson greeting supporters in Corryville.
Howard Wilkinson
Rob Richardson greeting supporters in Corryville.

Before a capacity crowd of supporters at a hall in Corryville early Tuesday evening, labor lawyer Rob Richardson Jr. became the latest entry into the race for Cincinnati mayor.

Richardson, who just finished a nine-year term as a University of Cincinnati trustee, told his supporters – the majority of whom were young millennials – that he has no interest in embracing the status quo or business-as-usual at Cincinnati City Hall.

"So we're here tonight to challenge the nature of how business operates at city hall,'' said the 38-year-old Mount Auburn resident. "We're not here just to change the leadership at city hall, we're here to change how business is fundamentally done at city hall."

Two other Democrats – incumbent mayor John Cranley and council member Yvette Simpson – are already declared candidates. If more than two candidates file to run, a primary will be held and the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

All three are Democrats. The Republicans have yet to find a candidate. But Republican council member Charlie Winburn – who is term-limited off of city council this year – stood in the back of the room before the Richardson event began.

Asked what he was doing there, Winburn said, "Ask me later."

Richardson told his supporters Tuesday night that the opposition was likely to try to distract voters from the real issues in the race.

"So what we have to remember is what this election is about,'' Richardson said. "This election is not about the streetcar. This election is not about east side versus west side. It's not about Democrats versus Republicans. It's not about gender; and it's not about race. It's about the type of city we want to be. It's about the past versus the future."

There has been speculation for months that Richardson would get into the race. The only thing holding him back was his nine-year term as a University of Cincinnati trustee; and that term ended in December.

For the past year, he was chairman of the UC board of trustees; and he led the board in the hiring of a new president, Neville Pinto, a former UC faculty member who was serving as acting president of the University of Louisville; and a new football coach, Luke Fickell, who was on the staff of Ohio State University's head coach, Urban Meyer.

The new candidate's father is Rob Richardson Sr., president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. His father was also the long-time president of the Laborers Union in Cincinnati and past president of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.

He talked emotionally about his great-grandfather who was a slave in the South and his father's first cousin, Vivian Malone, who was the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Alabama, facing down Gov. George Wallace and the National Guard in 1963.

His father, he said, came to Cincinnati and went to UC to study electrical engineering but had to drop out of school to support his family.

Years later, Richardson said, his laborer father was working on constructing the building where his son earned a degree in electrical engineering. Richardson Jr. went on to earn a law degree at UC.

His father's background and his work as a labor lawyer is likely to translate into some substantial organized labor support for Richardson's candidacy, but Cranley has significant labor support as well, especially among the public employees' unions, whose members got raises under the city budget Cranley pushed through council last year.

Richardson also fought for unions in 2012 by pushing for the adoption of a "responsible bidder" ordinance before city council. The ordinance favored giving Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) contracts to union contractors with apprentice programs.

Cranley was on the other side of the responsible bidder ordinance. Hamilton County, which owns MSD, went to court to fight the responsible bidder ordinance and won.

Richardson and Cranley were on opposite sides of the fight over building the streetcar, with Richardson in favor and Cranley opposed.

Cranley is likely to pick up an endorsement on Jan. 11 from the Ohio Democratic Party when its executive committee meets. The party typically endorses re-election bids by incumbent mayors in the state's major cities. Cincinnati Democratic Committee (CDC) – made up of precinct executives from around the city – issues an endorsement in the mayoral primary.

Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke said the CDC plans to meet Jan. 21 to discuss whether or not there will be an endorsement in the mayoral primary.

Burke said he is personally backing Cranley for re-election.

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Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.