David Pepper thinks he knows how to fix Cincinnati City Hall

I don’t know if David Pepper, who will leave his six-year term as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party later this month, will run for Mayor of Cincinnati in 2021.

I know he’s thinking about it because he told me he did. But he’s still far from a race.

But I know what he’ll say if he were mayor, given the sad state of affairs at Cincinnati City Hall, where three members – two Democrats and one Republican – are charged with serious crimes this year. And I tend to take him seriously on the matter – he was on the council from 2001 to 2005 when he ran for mayor’s office and lost to his Democrat, Mark Mallory.

His solution to the “culture of corruption” in the town hall is actually quite simple; it would require next to nothing of new legislation or massive reforms.

It would only require council members to meet the requirements of the City Charter, which was passed in 1925 and has served the city well for generations.

“If I am mayor and I get the impression that you as a councilor are interfering in development projects, you will be publicly called to do so and you will be demoted by every council chairman you have,” Pepper told WVXU.

“Not to sound like old grandpa, but for a council member to negotiate with property developers before a zoning plan goes to the town planning commission for review? No, that’s not right,” Pepper said. “This has not been done in this city for almost a century.”

And boy are these three councilors accused of meddling.

Democrat Tamaya Dennard, arrested and charged in February, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in an honest service case in a bribery case accused of taking money from a developer. Republican Jeff Pastor, arrested and charged in early November, is charged with filling his pockets with bribes from another developer – a charge he denies.

Then, in late November, came the case of Democrat PG Sittenfeld – then the leading contender to replace the temporary John Cranley in the 2021 mayoral election. He was charged with bribery charges for illegally taking money on an executive PAC he was for had created his campaign by the same developer who worked on the Pastor case.

Sittenfeld has protested his innocence in video tweets. But in all likelihood, his mayoral ambitions are over, even if he is acquitted in the end. He has been voluntarily suspended from the council and probate judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler will appoint his temporary replacement.

At the moment – with Sittenfeld’s status unclear – four Democrats are running for Mayor of Cincinnati: Councilor David Mann, former Councilor and State Senator Cecil Thomas, community activist Kelli Prather, and retired firefighter Raffel Prophett.

Pepper, who is stepping down as state chairman after a series of statewide elections in which the Ohio Democrats were largely beaten by the GOP, is considering running for mayor.

“It’s something to consider,” said Pepper. “It’s a job that I ran for before and I thought I had some good ideas back then. And now we have this unique situation, this serious problem that hangs like a cloud over City Hall.”

Regardless of whether he is running for mayor or not, he hopes the council can revert to its old form and restore citizens’ trust, which is clearly eroding.

“I think we all see the need for something that will lift us up,” said Pepper.

When he was on the council, Pepper said the city charter was “the North Star” – a document that made it clear that the councilors’ job was to set guidelines and vote on development projects after being fully scrutinized by the city’s executive officers and city administration.

“The only thing the city charter can’t do is give the council a way to become a bunch of mini-mayors,” said Pepper.

“Maybe before this all happened, people thought our councilors were a bunch of good two-shoes,” Pepper said. “Maybe we were. But it worked. We took city law seriously. That has to happen again. “

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