By Dan Sewell
CINCINNATI: A longtime Cincinnati-area officeholder announced plans Monday to run for Ohio governor, setting up a Democratic primary with the county leader from Cleveland.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said he’s been hearing a desire, “an appetite, if you will,” from rank-and-file Democrats for a choice in the May 6 primary. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald has been considered the Democrats’ presumptive nominee as they seek to take the governorship back from Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014.
“I believe that I am the candidate to lead our party,” Portune said at a news conference in an urban neighborhood banquet hall. He said he has more experience, a strong record and the demonstrated ability to win votes in the southern part of Ohio.
Portune, 55, noted that FitzGerald already has lined up a number of endorsements and said he understood some Democratic leaders wanted to “clear a path” to the nomination. But Portune said a primary doesn’t have to be costly, saying it should lead to a healthy discussion of issues, energize Democrats and help build momentum for November.
When asked about Portune, a spokesman for the Democrats said the party expects to win with FitzGerald.
“The Ohio Democratic Party is focused on holding Governor John Kasich accountable, and next fall we will elect Ed FitzGerald governor along with the rest of our endorsed statewide candidates that are committed to putting Ohio back on track for the middle class,” party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said in a statement.
Portune spent the past two decades as a Cincinnati city councilman or Hamilton County commissioner. He said Monday he is beginning the steps needed to become a candidate, but that he’ll travel throughout Ohio to gauge support over the next month before deciding for sure to file for the primary.
A state Republican spokesman said regardless of the Democratic candidate, the GOP will focus on progress in the state.
“As the Ohio Democratic Party deals with its internal issues, we will continue to tout Ohio’s turnaround that began under Gov. Kasich and Ohio Republican leaders,” spokesman Chris Schrimpf said in a statement.
Portune recently told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that he began thinking anew about running for governor after fellow Cincinnati Democrat state Sen. Eric Kearney was pressured off FitzGerald’s ticket amid questions about tax liens. Portune said Monday he mainly decided to run because Democrats “on the ground” want a contested primary.
Gladys Dunbar of Shaker Heights in Cuyahoga County was among several people who came from Cuyahoga County for Portune’s announcement. She said she likes Portune’s experience and would prefer him over FitzGerald.
“I think he’s for the people and that he shares my Democratic values,” Dunbar said.
Portune has promoted riverfront and other urban redevelopment, along with environmental, transportation and public safety initiatives. He also has spoken out against the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals’ stadium deal with the county.