22 City Council Candidates and the Women Who Inspired Them


The 2017 race for City Council will draw to a close in just two weeks. Twenty-four candidates, including six incumbents, are looking to fill nine seats, and before you visit the ballot box on November 7, we thought you might like to see a personal side of each council hopeful. We asked each candidate: “Tell us about an influential woman in your life and how her influence will affect your approach to government.” Their responses brought us hope.

In an age where throwing mud is acceptable and collaboration seems to be forgotten, we want to remind you what community really looks like. The stories below illustrate how one human being can empower another to work for something better. Isn’t that what it’s all about? These middle school teachers, grandmothers, wives, and leaders radiated power they may not have even known they had. Among their proteges are our future leaders, role models, and mayors.

One voice shapes another, shapes another. Picture the world as a compilation of great individuals. See this community as a quilt of humans pushing one another to just do better. This is Cincinnati, people, and we’ve got some kickass individuals.

Doesn’t the future look bright?

Compiled by Sharee Allen, Justine Daley, Kiersten Feuchter, Ellen Huggins, Kelsey Johnson, and Chelsie Walter. Photos courtesy of each candidate.

Women of Cincy is an apolitical organization dedicated to giving a voice to women of all beliefs. We encourage our readers to have open minds, make informed decisions, and be engaged in their community.

Candidates Tonya Dumas, Seth Maney, Councilman Chris Smitherman, and Tamie Sullivan did not respond to interview requests.

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Derek Bauman

“It truly is my mom, and here is the reason why: My mom did not make it out of the 11th grade and worked manual, hard labor jobs her whole life. She worked midnight shifts for years at a time and there were periods where she couldn’t leave to do anything else because the medical insurance that she had was what her family had for healthcare. Looking back on that, I realize she was so dedicated to me and our family. My dad would work during the day and my mom would work at night and they would hand me off in the morning, and that’s how it went, living paycheck to paycheck. Now she’s finally retired and teaching Sunday school at age 75.

“I am a labor guy. Growing up in a working class family and being a police officer, I worked the road my entire career, so I have done that myself in terms of physically demanding job. I truly have an appreciation for labor and working people. That kind of weaves into everything I talk about in terms of policy. For one example, I’m a big advocate of public transit. We could only afford one car growing up and my mom would take the car to work and then drop my dad off at the train station in the morning to take the train to work into downtown Cleveland and we would pick him up after she slept all day. We need a strong and robust public transit system so that people can get to work. It’s hard for people to do all the things they need to do, especially if you’re in a lower income job, but people rely on that.”

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Erica Black-Johnson

“Growing up a ward of the court, there were so many influential women during my childhood, and there have been several more since I became an adult and entered the workforce... I guess I'll go with a former boss, Mrs. Gwen L. Robinson-Benning, president/CEO of Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency (CAA).

“I worked for CAA from 2008 to 2012 and was very impressed with Ms. Robinson's class, spunk, vision, creative leadership, intelligence, and sincere, motivational speaking – so much so that I asked her to mentor me. While she didn't necessarily accept the call to do that, she did give me some strong and powerful words of wisdom that I realize are true till this day: She said in order for her to lead, she realized she had to be in a position to make decisions. While I've been working to achieve that ever since, I believe serving on City Council will be the prime opportunity to finally achieve that, and for a great cause! Decision making power for a municipality like Cincinnati, coupled with a sincere desire for helping people from all walks of life, can lead to fulfillment of great visions.” 

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Cristina Burcica

“Women with diverse backgrounds can influence movement while impacting social and legal structures. They have proven that women are able to succeed in every field and role in society. Most importantly, they paved the way for generations of women to be leaders. I would like to mention the great diplomacy of Grace Kelly. She’s been a great model to me. She helped many people when they needed it and made them happy. She founded AMADE Mondiale, a Monaco-based nonprofit organization that was eventually recognized by the UN as an NGO. AMADE Mondiale promotes and protects the morale and integrity and general wellbeing of children throughout the world. This was done without distinction of race or nationality or religion, in the spirit of complete political independence, and I am an independent. Princess Caroline, her daughter, continues her work. Kelly was also active in improving the arts institutions of Monaco. She was an American hero and she was able to mingle and work with other cultures. It is not easy to do this type of diplomacy and integration.”

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Mayor John Cranley

“My wife, Dena Cranley. At 2:00 today [October 6], we’re having a major press conference at City Hall that my wife is organizing with the First Ladies of the African American churches in town that are coming together to have a health day in the churches this weekend. This is the third annual First Ladies for Health. They’ve organized through voluntary efforts this grassroots idea of getting people to get healthcare screenings and updates in their churches, and so my wife is a great example of somebody who makes a difference for this community just by volunteering time and energy. It’s a really inspiring example of what people can give back to this city.

“She’s constantly challenging me to be better. She’s constantly pointing out my shortcomings [laughs] and encouraging me to be a better leader. She’s there in bad times and certainly makes sure that I don’t get too big of a head, you know, in good times.” 

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Ozie Davis III

“Dr. Jenny Laster taught me in the Grassroots Leadership Academy to be true to who I am and to keep the people first. She is my first leadership teacher and one I’ll always credit for my ground level approach.

“Dr. Laster lived the plight of the African American woman during the Civil Rights era. Her steadfastness and commitment to excellence has driven me.” 

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Tamaya Dennard

“Has to be my mom. She’ll be 64 in October, not in the greatest of health, but she stands on her feet for 10 hours a day, every day. And she is my hero for a lot of reasons. Growing up and going in and out of jail, you understand that jail is a place for bad people, but my mom, she did what she had to do to make sure that I had what I needed. My mom is pretty amazing. My mother was busy trying to feed her kids, clothe her kids, and get to work. She didn't have time to worry about policy. She voted every election, but she didn't have time to sit at City Hall for hours or protests at Fountain Square. That's where a lot of women find themselves. But there isn't empathy for women in these spaces. These women are often relegated to a space of apathy.

“Oftentimes, people aren't afforded the opportunities to go participate in protests or petition government around issues. People don’t always understand the privilege it takes to do these things – the privilege to even think about these things.

“It is my duty to speak for people who aren't represented in government. I will always see it as such. The CEO of Kroger doesn't deserve more access to City Hall than a single mother who lives in Winton Terrace. I want to bridge norms so that we are thinking about every community, every time. That's what equity looks like and that's the lens I will bring to City Hall every single day.” 

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Michelle Dillingham

Dr. Jeannette Taylor. She was the first African American dean at UC, and she used to be the dean the College of Evening and Continuing Education. When I met her, she had just become a professor at the UC School of Social Work. She’s the one who influenced me on my whole path into politics. She taught this class called Policy, and in that class, I was completely just, transformed. I thought I was just gonna be a therapist, and her policy class completely opened my eyes up to the fact that social works could be in the realm of legislative advocacy and policy development and be change agents and be leaders. She really helped mentor and lead and encourage women throughout her career. She was the one who got the social work department connected into City Hall and made us take courses in leadership and policy, and really, I think it influenced a lot of us there.” 

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Manuel Foggie

“I have two women. One of the women is my mother. I was raised by a single parent. She had a strong work ethic and she worked a number of different jobs just to provide for our family. I never needed anything or wanted for anything. Seeing her work ethic made me stronger and it really shaped who I am today.

“Another woman is Michelle Obama. She took on a role in American history, that she didn’t ask for. She had to do it because her husband was the president of the United States. She took that on with full force. She made America come together at the same time as it was experiencing a recession.

“Michelle Obama disagreed with a lot of people, but she made sure that they put their differences aside and came to a solution. That makes me different, as well, from everyone else running for City Council. I can work between different party lines. I'm not affiliated with any political party. I'm actually an independent. I believe that if we put aside our differences and just hear each other out, and come up with a solution together, then we can actually move forward and life would be happier. We have to put our differences to the side.”

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Henry Frondorf

“I would have to say my wife, Jaclyn. Jaclyn's got a degree in economics from Toledo. We have four kids at home, ages 7, 4, 2, and 4 months. She's really just a badass. She's able to somehow make sure the kids are off to school on time, their homework is done, the house is always nice. She's really the perfect wife. She's more than I really could ever have dreamed of. She's always on me to make sure I'm doing the right thing and that I think about everything before I react to a decision. She's someone to look up to, really. She's like, ‘If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right the first time,’ about everything. She's great at thinking through all the possible sides of a story. She really harps on me on that, to make sure I don't overreact. That really affects how I make decisions. I make sure I understand all sides of the story. She's made me make myself have good reasons for my decisions.

“All day, every day, she's dealing with four little kids. She somehow stays calm enough to make sure everyone's doing okay. If you can manage four little kids without going insane, there's something special about you. Just watching her handle our children, as well as being the vice president of our school's PTA, and picking up litter in Westwood, it just reminds me, if I think I'm busy, she's more. I'm not really that busy. She hasn't even been to the bathroom by herself in probably seven years. She's really working 24/7.” 

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Brian Garry

“That would be my mother. Her name’s Patricia Garry. She was a legislative aide for Charles P. Taft. When I was younger, I was with her 24/7 while she was doing all of her community activism. She was the president of the Bond Hill Community Council and she started the Bond Hill Urban Redevelopment Corporation, and she worked in the public schools. I’d be with her, even in my teenage years, at City Hall, and so I saw how policy was made and how politics work.

“I own a construction company, and we do all affordable housing – I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She worked in affordable housing and community development since I was a baby, and as an adult I work in affordable housing and community development, doing development without displacement. You can develop an area without kicking everybody out. You can improve the area without just completely gentrifying it.

“She’s really forthright, you could say; she’s straightforward. She just says what she feels and thinks without trying to cater to everybody and sugarcoat everything. I try to be like that to some degree, and I certainly have spoken out on a lot of issues in my time. The power of her example, just telling the truth as she sees it, is one of the most powerful parts of how she’s influenced me.” 

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Lesley Jones

Reverend Dr. Yvette Flunder is the founder and presiding bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. Bishop Flunder continues the long tradition of religious leaders being strong social justice advocates. She infuses the principles and teachings of the Christian faith into every aspect of her fight for fairness, equality, and justice for all. I liken her spirit to that of Ella Baker, civil rights and human rights activist; Fannie Lou Hamer, voting rights activist; and Shirley Chisholm, first African American woman in Congress and first African-American to make a bid for the presidency. Reflecting the vision and tenacity of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, Bishop Flunder has influenced me with her message of freedom and inclusion for the marginalized and most vulnerable in our nation. She has helped me see beyond the surface and read the wrinkles, furled brows, and lackluster eyes of the disavowed, displaced, disadvantaged, and misunderstood. Most often these are women; immigrants; returning citizens; veterans; differently-abled; HIV/AIDS positive people; black and brown skinned people; lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and gender nonconforming folks.

“According to Reverend Dr. Flunder’s teaching of radical inclusivity, they all have a seat at the table alongside white, wealthy, straight, American born citizens who are educated and who have never been to jail or prison. I am inspired to make policy that levels the playing field for the marginalized and most vulnerable in our city. It is impossible to legislate a person’s heart, but it is imperative that we legislate decision making by creating policies and funding initiatives that result in fairness, equality, and justice for all. Therefore, my ‘people first’ approach to policy making means being inclusive and innovative, so that people of every race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic level, sexual orientation/identity, and neighborhood is served and has equal access and opportunity.” 

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Greg Landsman

“My mother always believed in the importance and the value of every young person, and I think her commitment to doing what she knew to be right, despite what challenges she and others may face, led her to make some significant changes in terms of what her [special needs] students experienced. For example, they were isolated. She was given curriculum that really wasn't making much of an impact in their lives. So she threw out the curriculum, created her own, gutted the classroom – literally – turned it into a café that her students would run learning really important skills that they could use for the rest of their lives. They opened it up to the rest of the school and it became one of the places where kids wanted to go every day.

“Her students went from being totally isolated to being a part that everyone loved at the school. Equally as important, they learned the skills they needed to get and keep a good job. In the afternoon, ultimately, my mom worked with each of the students to find jobs in restaurants in town and many of them have that job every day and they were able to keep that job because of what they learned in her class. Instead of having something that wasn't really going to have an impact, they got the things they needed to have a pretty decent job and a good life, and they were connected. And it is all because one person decided she had enough agency and power and passion to change what was happening with these kids and children. That is a very important thing for leaders in any capacity, certainly those at City Hall, to understand and pursue.” 

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Vice Mayor David Mann

“My sister, Trish Smitson, who’s actually younger than I, but she’s had an enviable career. She is currently the head of the Red Cross here in Cincinnati, and before that, she was the managing partner of one of the major law firms in town, Thompson Hine. The things I find instructive in her life for me are 1. She’s had some difficulties along the way and she’s overcome them, impressively, and 2. She, as did our father, shows a tremendous respect for individual human beings, which I think is the key to leadership positions. If you don’t respect the people that you have responsibility for, it comes through and it gets in the way of success and it gets in the way of your life.” 

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Councilwoman Amy Murray

“Betty Turner Asher was the VP of student affairs during my time at Arizona State University. Thanks to her leadership, I learned the importance of thoroughly understanding all sides of an issue and treating everyone with dignity and respect. My mantra has been, ‘You can disagree without being disagreeable.’” 

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Jeff Pastor

“There are plenty of influential women in my life. My mother. My wife. My mother's story is unique in that she worked three jobs at one time to put food on the table. She made too much money to qualify for federal income tax benefits, and she made too much money to qualify for government assistance. I tell you this story because it's a story of hard work. It's the true American story. Her dignity, and her desire to provide for her family, drove her to do everything that she could to provide for her family. That influences the way I look at politics.

“My approach to politics is to do everything I can to help the least of us. To help that working mother, that working father, that working family who are caught in the middle. It's the story of my mom that really compels me to protect those the middle. My mom, with several issues, including a drug addicted spouse, it’s her – and those people who make up a vast majority of those here in the city of Cincinnati – her tenacity, her sheer desire to want to improve our lives, that drives me to want to help others.” 

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Councilman Chris Seelbach

“My maternal grandmother, Ruth Miller. At a young age she married my grandfather, who was physically and mentally abusive and an alcoholic, and had six kids. This was 50, 60 years ago, and she took the brave step to divorce him and raised six kids on her own and she got a job as a legal assistant. She lived in what you might call a house, but there was no running water, there was an outhouse in the backyard where you went to the bathroom – even in the cold of winter – there was a tub in the kitchen which they filled up with water and that's where you showered. Her kids went on to have jobs and have families. My one uncle was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early forties, and my grandmother took care of him on a daily basis for the rest of her life. He couldn't walk and it affected him mentally. She bathed him; she fed him, everything, up until she died.

“So, that’s been a big influence in my life and as a council member, which I have been for six years. Fifty percent of our city still lives in poverty, so I have a direct connection to that; I think about my grandmother every day. There has to be a safety net in place for people who are struggling just to get by and are, you know, one illness or one car accident away from being homeless. So her story and the fact that the community around her helped pick her up when she was struggling – therefore, she never did fall – really does influence who I am every single day.”

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Councilwoman Yvette Simpson

“It’s hard to pick one woman. There were just a lot of women in my life who have really inspired me to be thoughtful, to be inclusive. The woman who’s had the most impact on me to get me here was my mentor. And you know, this ‘power of we’ thing really does start with her decision as a woman – who had a husband and three kids – to take on a mentee who she didn’t know, who needed a lot of help, and who now, 25 years later, is emblematic of my approach to leadership: You gotta step out of your comfort zone; you’ve gotta go help somebody in need; and you gotta hold on.

“Even Kamala Harris – she inspires me to just be fierce. She was a state prosecutor in California, and she’s now in the Senate battling an administration, and people are calling her all kinds of names, but she is doing what she knows how to do, which is to be a great litigator. She is taking on bold things – like the bail system in our country. I’m like, do you know how big and institutionalized that is, and you’re gonna take that on? And she does it fiercely. She also found time to help a little girl in Cincinnati get elected to mayor. She just reminded me that, no matter how busy you are, no matter how hard you work, if you don’t help somebody else, then what is it?” 

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Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld

"There are five women who have a profound and ongoing influence on my life: my wonderful wife, Sarah; my amazing mother, Betsy; and my inspiring three sisters, Jo, Curtis, and Tiernan. They are all driven, giving, and kind – and because of them, I appreciate that when women succeed, families and communities also succeed. Their impact on my approach to policy is that all decisions I make must be done through the lens of empowering women and ensuring that they always have a seat at the table. I'm proud to say that's what I've done and will continue to do both in public life and as a husband, son, and brother." 

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Kelli Prather

“The most influential woman in my life was my mother, Gloria Faye Prather – the epitome of a strong woman. Although she raised her last five children on her own, she encouraged each of her children to love and respect our father as much as we loved her. Our mother encouraged us to work hard, do our very best, put God first, and focus on quality over quantity. This will affect the way I develop and implement policy because I put people over politics and focus on quality of life. I will aim to develop policies with a family-centered approach that will make a positive impact and ultimately make a rewarding difference in people’s lives.”

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Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan

“Roxanne Qualls, Cincinnati’s former mayor, vice mayor, and council member, took me under her wing when I was first elected to Cincinnati Council in 2009, and was a friend and mentor while we served 2009 to 2013. Roxanne taught me the importance of:

  • Count to five. You can’t accomplish anything on council without five votes.
  • Persist and push back if city administration says, ‘That’s not how we do it’ when you or citizens have great ideas to improve our city.
  • Transportation work takes way longer than one imagines.
  • You must ‘get in the plan’ to get it funded.
  • Laugh, laugh, and laugh some more.

"Roxanne is a great influence, and friend, sharing best practices in how to get things done at City Hall. We share the desire to do what’s best for citizens, not special interests or party bosses.”

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Dadrien Washington

“The female that really changed my life, her name was Miss Lecture. She was my eighth grade teacher. She’s the one that really changed my life. Coming from Evanston – an urban neighborhood, I guess – I was just one of the urban kids doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. I was constantly fighting. In eighth grade, I remember that I got into a fight that got kinda bad. Miss Lecture grabbed me and said, ‘Okay, look, just give him an after-school [detention].’ So I had a couple of days of after-school detention, and she made me write. She was like, ‘Just write.’ And then she seen what I was writing and then at the after-school, I got into it with somebody there. She grabbed me and pulled me to the side and said, ‘Why are you like this? Are you even looking at what you’re writing? You’ve got a thing for literature. You’ve got something there; why don’t you focus on it instead of focusing on fighting?’ And I did. Her focusing me on writing got me in love with literature, got me in love with learning. I love to read and write. For her to do that for me and change my whole life – it gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of what I can do now.

“I’ll be honest with you: You’re talking to a person whose father is a crackhead. My stomach used to hurt because of crack smoke in the air and I slept on fire escapes downtown, and now I’m a write-in for City Council. That’s my story. If it wasn’t for what Miss Lecture done, I would be dead or locked up. Her seeing something that I couldn’t see in myself, that changed my whole perspective. And that’s why I call myself a compromiser. I want to see what I’m not seeing that that person is seeing; but then again, I want them to see in me what they don’t see. She helped me to see more than just that one way.”

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Councilman Wendell Young

“[My wife.] Kathy Young is a retired educator, who spent much of her career in Cincinnati Public Schools building students and teachers. She has a keen eye towards serving needs of students, regardless of their abilities, along with the knowledge it takes to mold our children. Kathy is a mother of five children and a grandmother of seven. She is an active member in the community. Currently a member of Phi Delta Kappa, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Top Ladies of Distinction, The Drifters Inc., Holidays Incorporated Bridge Club, former board member of the NAACP. She was also a member of Cincinnati Federation of Teachers where she was the building rep. She has also received the 2016 Dada Rafiki: I see you sister award and 2013 Center for Closing the Health Gap Caregiver Award. Her dedication to public service and commitment to the community fuels my passion to make sure everyone's voice is heard and continue my fight. Without my wife, I would not be where I am.”