CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati on Tuesday voted in the first round of a hotly-contested mayoral election. After a bitter primary, Mayor John Cranley, a centrist Democrat endorsed by the party establishment and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson backed by the progressive wing of City Hall, were the top two finishers in the race, qualifying for a decisive November 7 election.
Simpson claimed first place in the primary contest in an impressive showing with 45 percent of the vote. Cranley garnered 34.47 percent of the vote. But Simpson isn't taking her victory for granted.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Simpson said. "I'm cautiously optimistic." The councilwoman says that now the field has been narrowed, she can draw more contrasts between her and Cranley.
"We congratulate Yvette Simpson on a good showing tonight," Cranley said about Simpson's strong performance. "We look forward to debates we'll have."
Former University of Cincinnati board chairman Rob Richardson Jr., a relatively unknown figure in local politics fell out with 20 percent of the vote. Despite proving he can raise money, his campaign struggled to gain traction or name recognition against his formidable opponents. The political first-timer made City Hall bickering one of his top campaign issues, blasting Cranley and Simpson for "failed leadership."
Richardson did not endorse either of his rivals, saying it was "too early" to start picking sides.
"I will continue to engage to make our city better," Richardson said. "I'm gonna continue to fight."
It has been a heated race so far with the candidates squaring-off on the controversial streetcar the incumbent fought against. Simpson is an unapologetic supporter of the rail system and seeks a multi-million dollar expansion of it. Cranley campaigned against the streetcar's construction during his last mayoral race. However, despite victory he was overturned by a determined City Council to commit to the massive transit project.
Turnout was meager with 11 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. However, it is still double of the last primary in 2013 of 5.6 percent. But this year's was way lower than the record high (still miniscule) 15 percent in the 2001 primary that was on September 11.
Councilwoman Simpson says one of her campaign's goals moving into the fall will be voter education.
"Some people still aren't sure how the system works," she said. "I'm concerned about voter turnout not being where it needs to be."
The election comes during an increasingly grim opioid crisis in one of the hardest-hit areas in the Buckeye State — a massive undertaking for a city that will likely need allies in the state and on Capitol Hill. In Cincinnati overdoses are outpacing car crashes and gun violence in causes of death. In some surrounding counties like Butler, opioid abuse is the leading cause of death and shows no sign of slowing down.
Whoever wins the city's top job will either inherit or carry on the fight against a spike in gun violence. The first three months of this year are on track to make 2017 the bloodiest year in a decade. According to the Enquirer, gun violence is 35 percent higher than the past 10 year's average. Even discounting the deadly Cameo nightclub shooting, 2017 is shaping to be the most violent year since 2008.