BY JOE WESSELS
Loveland Local News
LOVELAND, Ohio — With just days left to file, the Loveland City Council race is starting to take shape and it appears it will be the local specialty – a bitter battle royal.
Through Thursday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections reports seven candidates have turned in the required 25 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. There are four open seats on the seven-member Council in the November 2 election. Loveland City Council elects four members once every four years, which could tilt the Council’s power once sworn in if four new members work in unison and win. The deadline to make the ballot is August 4 at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Norwood.
Candidates for Loveland City Council through Thursday, July 29, 2021
|Timothy Butler||Hickory Ridge Lane|
|John Hart||South Lebanon Road|
|Kim Lukens||Hounds Run|
|Neal Oury||Lowell Street|
|Ted Phelps||Pleasant Lake Drive|
|Kip Ping||West Loveland Avenue|
|Dave Stanton||Sentry Hill Drive|
A recent rift on Council between the slate that last ran in 2017 and all were elected – including Tim Butler, Ted Phelps, Neal Oury and Rob Weisgerber – leaves Butler pitted against former allies Oury and Phelps, both of whom have aligned themselves with Mayor Kathy Bailey.
Vice Mayor Rob Weisgerber, when contacted, thanked a reporter for reminding him to pick up petitions and then picked up petitions on the next business day, according to public records obtained by Loveland Local News. He has yet to have his signatures verified by elections officials, and it’s unclear if he has turned in any to be confirmed.
Weisgerber has attended only a few meetings in person during the past two years. He announced he had an unspecific health condition in January 2020, opting instead to participate in the meetings via video conference. Weisgerber has been on City Council for nearly three decades.
Butler said he knew things were getting testy on Council – primarily related to disagreements surrounding secret city manager and Council plans to build a $7 million parking garage in downtown Loveland. However, what shocked Butler was on Independence Day when lined up for the city’s parade to begin, he saw a float with two fellow Councilmembers he ran with last time together on their float – but he had been excluded.
Crouched in a truck bed behind Bailey, herself perched on the back of a convertible, were incumbents Phelps and Oury – and Council candidate newcomers Kip Ping and John Hart. Each person in the truck had their campaign sign adorned on the side of both vehicles. Councilman Kent Blair, who is not up for re-election until 2023, drove the truck. Councilman Andy Bateman walked the parade with the Loveland Historical Society float, an organization he has supported for several years. There were no Weisgerber signs and no Weisgerber in person or on video – and Butler was off on his float, alone.
“Certainly, the placement of the campaign signs on the mayor’s lead vehicle is a declaration of her intent to support the four candidates. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Butler said.
The one person with a target on his back appears to be Butler. His crime? Disagreeing with Bailey and the other six members on Council. Bateman, along with Bailey, Weisgerber, Phelps, Oury and Councilman Kent Blair, rarely comment during Council meetings on any pending legislation – even for seemingly substantial measures, like the parking facility, plans to annex parts of Miami Township, including more than 250 homes at the Grailville property or the Council’s plans to use eminent domain to take the Mobil gas station in downtown Loveland to build a turn lane. Attempts to meet with any Council member – except Butler and Bateman – have not yielded responses.
Ping, an engineer, who ran unsuccessfully for the Loveland City School District school board in 1999, currently sits on the city’s Law and Ordinance Committee, appointed by Bailey.
Hart, a former coach and recently-promoted former math teacher-turned-Loveland Intermediate School assistant principal, currently chairs both the city’s Recreation Board and the Comprehensive Master Development Plan Committee. Bailey also appointed Hart to both committees.
Hart said he thought the current Council was doing a “…pretty good job, honestly,” and with new items coming before Council, he wants “to be a part of those conversations to make sure that we are being good stewards.” He said it is nearly impossible to slow down the growth Loveland is seeing, but he wants to be “strategic about how we’re growing and where that growth is occurring.”
Ping did not respond to attempts to contact him.
If Hart and Ping would win, assuming Weisgerber does not file to run, Hart would knock an incumbent out. He insisted that is not his motivation.
“I’m just throwing my hat in the ring,” he said. “I’m not necessarily gunning for anybody’s seat. I’m not super unhappy with any one individual.”
Despite those words, Hart and Ping appear to replace the ailing vice mayor and one other sitting member.
After a recent committee meeting at City Hall, Bateman, who isn’t up for re-election until 2023, said he would not talk with a reporter before clearing what he was going to say “with the rest of the team.” When asked to elaborate, Bateman insisted he speaks freely but said he would instead not do so because he does not want to sow discord among Council members. He feared speaking about Council elections would return the city to the 2017 political chaos, an election where Bateman, and all the current Council members running for reelection, plus members of the heavily influential Loveland Community Heartbeat Political Action Committee, or PAC, worked to oust former Mayor Mark Fitzgerald, along with former Councilmembers Pam Gross, Angela Settell and Steve Zamamgias. All eventually resigned or lost their seat on Council.
Despite his colleagues working to unseat him, including those who he ran with last time and long-time personal friend Phelps, Butler insists he’s not running against anyone either.
“I’m going to run on my record, which I think is a positive one,” he said. “I’ve certainly voted against various positions that the mayor supported. But I feel those positions are best for the city of Loveland. She may view it differently. And maybe that’s why I’m not in her support group. And that’s fine.”