Ohio Politics

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Sharen Neuhardt ends campaign to lead Ohio Democrats

Laura Bischoff in our Columbus bureau is reporting that

Sharen Swartz Neuhardt

Yellow Springs area attorney Sharen Neuhardt is dropping out of the race for Ohio Democratic Party chairman, clearing the way for Cincinnati attorney David Pepper to get the job.

The party’s executive committee is slated to name a new chairman Tuesday.

Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner and Cincinnati city councilman who twice ran unsuccessfully for statewide offices, has support from a majority of the state party’s executive committee, Pepper and Neuhardt said on Monday.

“We need to get on with the business of uniting the party and electing Democrats,” said Neuhardt, who was Democrat Ed FitzGerald’s running mate this year. “And we need to be all focused on winning the (national 2016) Democratic Convention for Columbus. We have got a lot of work to do.”

Neuhardt had the backing of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and others while Pepper picked up endorsements from Congressmen Tim Ryan of Youngstown, Joyce Beatty of Columbus and Marcia Fudge of Cleveland.

After suffering the second consecutive GOP sweep of statewide offices, party Chairman Chris Redfern announced in November he would step down, even though earlier this year he had won a new four-year term. Redfern also suffered a defeat at the ballot box when Republican Steve Kraus beat him for a seat in the Ohio House.


Here's the letter Neuhardt sent to Democrats:

Dear Fellow Democrat:

Since November 4, Democrats around this state have been engaging in spirited conversations about the future of our party and how best to move us forward and take the Ohio Democratic Party to the next level.  I have been proud to be part of that conversation, along with David Pepper, Janet Carson, Antoinette Wilson, and Bob Hagan, the four other fine candidates who expressed an interest in being the next Chair of the party.  We have participated in listening tour meetings held throughout the state, including two held yesterday in Dayton and Cincinnati, and there have been countless personal conversations and emails about the best way forward for our party.

Each of the five candidates for party Chair has written about his or her vision for the party, and our statements are in large part perfectly consistent with what we have been hearing on the listening tours and from fellow Democrats, including each of you on the Executive Committee.  Just yesterday, David Pepper and Nina Turner released a statement of their vision, which I thought was an extraordinary document.

Apart from our vision, however, I have also wanted to discuss why the party desperately needs to adopt good governance policies – the kind of governance policies that any well-respected business or nonprofit entity would have had in place for years, but which the ODP has neglected to adopt.  As a result, we hear again and again about situations like these:

  • Over the last several years, contracts for consulting, campaign, and other services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars being entered into between the party and companies owned directly or indirectly by party officials or members of the Executive Committee.

  • The party being burdened with nearly $2.0 million of debt that few, if any, Executive Committee members even knew exists.

  • Salaries and other benefits being paid to party officials without prior authorization or approval by any governing body, including questions about what financial arrangements will be put in place for any past Chair, our new Chair, and any other leadership team members.

  • Referral fees, commissions, or other payments being made to employees or officials of the party or their affiliates by vendors who provide services to the party or to candidates of the party.

  • No annual audit or oversight of the party’s books and records despite the requirements of the Constitution and Bylaws of the party.

  • An Executive Committee with little or no power or authority and who fails to receive any important information as to the actual operations of the party.

Many of us might agree that there was nothing improper about any of the situations described above if we knew of the facts surrounding them.  The simple truth is that we don’t and that the culprit here is the party’s failure to have an ethics and conflicts of interest policy, procurement policies, and financial controls that are commonplace in virtually every other respected entity in this state.  It’s also concerns like these that are partially responsible for the fact that significant parts of organized labor, as well as major donors to the party, have been reluctant to invest further in our party.

David and Nina’s vision for our party includes what they refer to as “Organizational Integrity.”  However we describe it, the situations highlighted above need to be addressed.  Speaking for myself and the parts of organized labor and the many Democrats who have steadfastly supported me in this endeavor, we trust that David and Nina will do the right thing and address these matters.

We have much to accomplish in a short time and we need to unite our party.  I am so grateful to all my supporters who have advocated on my behalf and fought this good fight; however, on this day before the election, we need to accept that the majority of members of the Executive Committee believe that David Pepper is the right person to lead our party.  The most important thing is not who leads our party, but what they believe.

Because we need to unite our party, get on with the business of winning the Democratic convention for Columbus, and implementing our shared vision for moving the party forward and winning elections, I want each of you to know that I am withdrawing my name as a candidate for election as our next party Chair.

Let’s get ready for 2016 and 2018, my friends!


Sharen Neuhardt

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