By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
Tim Burke, who has voluntarily served as chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party for the past 24 years, has retired. The Hamilton County Democratic Central Committee, made up of precinct executives, voted June 9 for former State Representative Connie Pillich and Springfield Township Trustee Gwen McFarlan to succeed Burke.
Burke, who recently turned 70, said while he in many ways looks forward to being out of the center of the local political fray, he will miss it. And he said he supports women take a leadership role in the party. “It’s about time we have more women in leadership.
As a party, we helped to support women’s marches, and women are speaking out and making changes,’’ he said.
Burke said, “It has been a distinct privilege to serve as Democratic Party chair, at times a unique challenge. We as a party are a loose coalition of allies, sometimes a strained one, but we are united by beliefs in Civil Rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, voting rights, indeed, in human rights.
“It has been my goal to reflect that in our leadership, our candidates and the issues for which we have fought, we have sought to celebrate the diversity of the Democratic Party in the chairs of our committees, including our nominating committees, and the Cincinnati Democratic Committee, virtually every one of which has been co-chaired by a Black and a White, almost always a male and female. This year thanks are due to John Smith and Jenny O’Donnell, Steve Driehaus and Eric Kearney, Janaya Trotter Bratton and Becky Cull and at the CDC Christie Bryant Kuhns and Ann Sesler. Our committees, leadership and candidate positions have consistently included representatives of the LGBTQ community.’’
He said when local Democratic leaders had the opportunity to advise then Governor Strickland on the appointments to judicial vacancies in the county, three went to African Americans; two went to women, and only one to a White male. At the Hamilton County Board of Elections, where he served as board chair, he played a very direct role in who is employed in the democratic positions, with the three top Democratic positions, all of which pay over $90,000 per year, held by one White woman, one Black woman and one Black man. “I am proud of that diversity,’’ he said.
Burke, who was student body president at Xavier University, said he has sought to use his law practice to accomplish that same kind of change in eliminating the unfair mortgage the federal government had placed on Valley Homes in Lincoln Heights, ending racial steering by the largest real estate company in Cincinnati, halting Nationwide Insurance’s redlining of poor neighborhoods where they refused to sell homeowner’s insurance, and challenging Simon Leis’ sheriff’s office and Prosecutor Joe Deters for the arrest and multiple tasing of an African American businessman who was in the midst of a diabetic event.
“In both party leadership and the practice of law, I hope I have made a difference,’’ he said.
Burke said much remains to be done. He noted the protection voting rights would continue to be a battle. (He worked with a group that filed an amicus brief in the Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph Institute U.S. Supreme Court voters purge case.) He added the need to stand with organized labor, which will remain under attack until, working together, changes will be made in who holds public office in Columbus and Washington. He calls for the need to promote women as candidates and protecting their rights to equal pay and against sexual assault. He encourages those “incredible young people here in Hamilton County and across this country who are standing up against the NRA.’’
Burke said the best part of the job was helping young candidates win their first offices. While he has led Hamilton Democrats through the elections of six U.S. Presidents, five Cincinnati mayors, and the elections of hundreds of council members, judges and county leaders, he says the highlight of his tenure as party chair was helping Democrats carry Hamilton County twice for President Barack Obama.
Burke maintained a friendly rivalry with Hamilton County GOP chair Alex Triantafilou, with both serving on the Hamilton County Board of Elections. “While we often disagreed on many issues, I always found Tim to be honorable and a man of integrity,” Triantafilou said in a televised interview. “I respected him as an adversary because of his strong mind and work ethic.”
Burke’s last election as party chair, the May primary, saw Democrats in one of their strongest showings at the polls in decades.
“I’m anxious to explore free time and what that is,” he said. He said he looks forward to working at his law downtown firm (Manley Burke), spending more time gardening, walking his terrier mix, Buster, and spending time with his wife and six grandchildren.