Mayor John Cranley stood on the steps of Cincinnati City Hall Thursday evening and called on P.G. Sittenfeld to resign following the councilman’s arrest on bribery charges.
Cranley called it “another sad day for the city I love.”
The sad days are starting to pile up at Cincinnati City Hall.
Sittenfeld’s arrest was the third arrest this year of a member of council on federal corruption charges, following Democrat Tamaya Dennard in February and Republican Jeff Pastor earlier this month.
The arrest of Sittenfeld, a Democratic mayoral candidate well known around the state, sent the political establishment reeling.
“Just like the other two council members, he needs to resign. He’s entitled to due process, but he should focus on that,” Cranley said late Thursday.
In the wake of Sittenfeld’s arrest, some Democrats and Republicans called for his resignation. Others lamented the situation but stopped short of calling for him to resign.
“Given the events of three councilmembers arrested this year, we need to clean house,” Cranley said. “We need to clean up the legislative branch.”
Cranley said he will review all votes related to the deals outlined by the charges against the accused members of council.
In the case of Tamaya Dennard and Jeff Pastor – the two other council members charged with corruption – the motive seemed to be cash, Cranley said. Sittenfeld’s case seems worse, he said.
“In this case, it seems to be to accumulate power for power’s sake,” Cranley said. “In many ways that’s worse.”
Cincinnati City Council reacts, or stays silent
Sittenfeld’s arrest did draw an immediate call for his resignation from fellow council Democrat David Mann, as well as council Republican Betsy Sundermann.
Within minutes of Sittenfeld’s arrest, Mann told The Enquirer: “I’m sick, sick, sick” and “sad, sad, sad.” Mann was the first member of council to react publicly Thursday.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to persuade the public that honest business can be done at city hall,” Mann told The Enquirer. “I just found out. I have to absorb this. I don’t get it. Why does anybody think these things happen without consequences?”
Mann said Sittenfeld, a fellow Democrat, should resign.
The Enquirer reached out to every member of Cincinnati City Council. Only Mann agreed to an interview. No other member of council returned the message.
Sunderman called for Sittenfeld to resign on Twitter.
“The culture of corruption is real,” Sundermann tweeted. “It has infected City Hall and needs to end.”
Sundermann and councilmember Greg Landsman on Monday introduced proposed reforms, including the creation of a Cincinnati Ethics Commission and allowing for the recall of people in public office.
“We need to clear out those responsible for deteriorating the integrity of government,” Sunderman tweeted. “While I believe in the presumption of innocence, P.G. Sittenfeld needs to resign immediately and fight his case outside the walls of City Hall.”
After the mayor finished his address at city hall, Councilman Chris Smitherman, an independent, tweeted at 5:30 p.m. that Sittenfeld should resign.
“After careful review of the federal indictment, and carefully reading the allegations of the complaint there is no question that they are strong and credible,” Smitherman tweeted. “With regret I now formally call on Councilman Sittenfeld to resign.”
The other five members of council were more guarded.
Councilmembers Greg Landsman and Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney issued statements – but were silent on whether Sittenfeld, a Landsman ally, should resign.
“We have a lot of work to do to restore public trust, and the comprehensive reforms I’m fighting for are needed now more than ever,” said Landsman, a Democrat. “The people of Cincinnati deserve to know that their government is working for them.”
Lemon Kearney said she wouldn’t comment on the allegations “because I don’t know the facts first-hand, and as an American, I believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
She pledged to make sure people’s voices will be heard, “and yes, trust is something that must be earned. We will work to earn back your trust in us.”
Councilman Chris Seelbach did not return a message seeking comment. But he tweeted that he’s never been offered or accepted a bribe.
Councilmembers Sittenfeld, Pastor and Wendell Young did not return messages and were silent on the arrest.
‘If the allegations are true’
Democratic leadership at the county and state level called for Sittenfeld’s resignation. “if the allegations are true.”
That’s what Ohio Democratic Chair David Pepper said in a statement as well as Hamilton County Democratic Chair Gwen McFarlin in a near-identical statement sent a few minutes later.
“I was saddened to learn of Councilman Sittenfeld’s arrest,” Pepper said in the statement. “The allegations raised are significant and serious. Councilmember Sittenfeld deserves the due process afforded to all our citizens and should be able to respond to these serious charges brought against him. If the allegations are true, he should step down from elected office to restore the public’s faith in City Council.”
Pepper then said the scandals in Cincinnati and in the Republican-controlled General Assembly show “Ohio’s political culture is deeply broken.”
“Pay-to-play is the way things have been done for too long at too many levels, from the top down,” Pepper said. “In my own campaigns I have focused on the issue, only to have it dismissed as business as usual, and nothing changes. It must end, or we will never advance as a state.”
GOP response differed
That differs from the response the Republican Party had a week earlier. When Councilman Jeff Pastor, a Republican, was arrested Nov. 10 on federal charges, Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken and Hamilton County Chair Alex Triantafilou called for his resignation within hours, regardless of whether he’s guilty or not.
On Thursday, Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou called for reforms in a series of tweets. He said voters need to make changes and “understand how truly broken city hall has become.”
“Calling for resignations is not enough,” Triantafilou tweeted. “A wholesale massive change is needed in our city and it does not need to be partisan. We need to all work together to root out bad actors and restore faith in our city. I love our city too much to give up.”
Mayoral candidates react
Sittenfeld’s arrest dramatically changes the 2021 mayoral race. Sittenfeld was one of four candidates who have announced and was considered the favorite to win. Mann, Sittenfeld’s fellow Democratic member of council, was one of Sittenfeld’s potential rivals for the job.
Raffel Prophett, a retired firefighter, wouldn’t call for Sittenfeld’s resignation, saying that’s not his decision. Prophett said he was busy and didn’t want to comment at length.
“All of it is unfortunate, especially on the candidates and families,” Prophett said.
Democratic mayoral candidate Kelli Prather had harsher words. .
“He should resign now,” Prather said. “I hate to see anyone in a bad predicament. I want people to pray for P.G. Pray for the best, expect the worst…Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and individuals need to be held accountable.”
Former Mayor Luken shocked
The corruption charges against three members of city council this year shocked former mayor and councilman Charlie Luken. He said they don’t resemble what he remembers of city government when he served on city council and as mayor in the 1980s through early 2000s.
“We were so far away from anything that even smelled like this, that it is difficult for me to understand what has transpired, and how this behavior got into the behavior of 801 Plum Street,” Luken said.
When asked whether Sittenfeld should resign, Luken hesitated to say yes. But he said he doesn’t see how Sittenfeld could govern effectively.
“The allegations going forward make it impossible for him to be effective,” Luken said. “If I was him, I would be inclined to resign and get my house in order for the good of himself and good of Cincinnati.”
How reactions compare to Pastor and Dennard
When Republican councilman Jeff Pastor was arrested a week earlier on Nov. 10 on federal bribery charges, reaction was swift. On the day of his arrest, prominent Democrats Cranley, Mann and Sittenfeld himself called for him to resign.
Cranley called the charges against Pastor “one of the most egregious and disgusting acts of corruption and betrayal” in the city’s history.
But with one of their own, it might take a day for some Democrats to react. That’s how long it took before some started calling for Democratic Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard’s resignation after her arrest on bribery charges. The day of her arrest, reaction around city hall was cautious. Only Mann came out that day and said she should resign.
The next day, however, calls for Dennard’s resignation grew. Cranley gave a speech at the council meeting saying Dennard owes the public an explanation.
“If these allegations are true or if there’s no credible explanation of innocence – that either she didn’t take the money or she didn’t send those texts – unless she can claim that, she needs to resign,” Cranley said of Dennard.
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.