Daughter Elyse and son Ethan sit with their dad as Commissioner Todd Portune makes announcement, surrounded by supporters (left to right): Lew Atkins, Mark Quarry, Lisa Daria (in front of Quarry), Dwight Tillery, Victoria Parks, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Gwen McFarlin, Brian Garry, Sam Maslow, Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, Commissioner Denise Driehaus (in front of Pureval), Eric H. Kearney and former Commissioner Chris Monzel. Photo by Dan Yount
By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
After 27 years as one of the area’s most respected public servants, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who has served both as county commissioner and previously as a Cincinnati City Council member, said in an emotional press conference last week that he will not seek re-election in 2020 due to the spread of cancer in his body.
With his daughter, Alise, and son, Ethan, at his side, Portune said he would continue in office as long as possible for the duration of his term. He still has work to do, he said.
Portune said there is not a job he had enjoyed better than being able to serve the people of Hamilton County and Cincinnati. “I consider these jobs the greatest blessings any person could have bestowed upon him or her. I thank God for allowing me to serve all of you in the process, and I hope I have made a difference. In my life, my physical challenges have been blessings because they served as opportunities for me to become a better person and help others who are facing similar life-changing events and to do so in a way that glorifies the Lord’s healing powers and grace in our lives.’’
Portune continued, “However, since my accident at home in April, I have not been able to carry out my duties and responsibilities as commissioner in a manner in which you have become accustomed nor in the manner in which I believe the job must be performed.’’
He added his life has been “rich and blessed in service to others.’’
Health issues from the past two decades have left Portune partially paralyzed, in a wheelchair and missing one leg. Doctors in 1996 discovered tumors on Portune’s spine and warned him they could paralyze him if they continued to grow. Treatment for a blood clot in 2002 caused the spinal tumors to hemorrhage, paralyzing Portune from the chest down.
Portune was elected to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners on November 2, 2000, after having served eight years on Cincinnati City Council. He has been re-elected four times and is serving his fifth term.
He serves as chair of the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (TID) and is continuing his leadership on transportation issues. He is past president and county delegate to the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments Board of Trustees. He is the president of the County’s Emergency Management Agency’s executive committee, and he chaired the County Homeland Security Commission. He has also served as president of the Hamilton County Family and Children First Council and is the 15-year chair of the Hamilton County Solid Waste Management District policy committee.
According to a resume, Portune has spearheaded a county agenda focused on fiscal discipline, improvement of public health, environmental justice, care for and prevention against abuse, abandonment and neglect of the county’s seniors and children, economic development and strategic and prudent transportation enhancements. In order to meet serious budget challenges brought on by the recession, Portune introduced zero based budget principles, mandates reviews, and aggressively pursued shared services and government reforms. Portune’s budget and government reforms lead to a reduction in the size of county government by 25%, while the county maintained its full menu of services. Despite a 30% drop in revenues, the county has annually balanced its budgets, improved its reserves and strengthened its financial picture.
Under his leadership, the promise of The Banks riverfront development projects has become an unequivocal success, with 100% of the new housing occupied, virtually all retail and commercial space in operation through the first three phases, and an economic impact of over $1.5 billion in value and 5,000 new jobs.
Portune’s proposed Land Bank for the county with a reformed Port Authority at the helm is redeveloping blighted and abandoned properties all over Hamilton County for large and small-scale commercial development and new residential construction. Portune’s Home Improvement Program has leveraged over $50 million in new private investment, fixing up the aging housing stock of the county with 75% of the improved properties benefiting middle class homeowners and over 2,500 local contractors receiving jobs.
Portune has led the way for improvements in public health, public safety and the environment. As chair of the county’s solid waste policy committee, the county aggressively reduced the impact on landfills, increased recycling options for residential and commercial customers alike, and pursued new environmental initiatives that still today are reducing energy consumption and the county’s carbon footprint.
As Emergency Management and Homeland Security chair, Portune introduced a process that secured over $63 million in needed homeland security and first responder needs. The county now has a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center, and active Regional Hazmat Response Unit and a county-wide warning system providing 100% coverage for the county for the first time.
Portune’s leadership in attacking infant mortality, in pursuing reimbursable revenues for public and behavioral health, expanded oral and dental care and ensuring medical homes for all county residents are saving lives, reducing costs and improving overall public health.
His leadership in creating the “Perfect Storm” coalition of communities affected by the high costs of the Clean Water Act compliance have generated a model new policy of enforcement for EPA that is poised to save local ratepayers as much as $1 billion in costs of sewer repairs. Portune’s advocacy will save county ratepayers in excess of $200 million on the cost of required sewer repairs.
On a personal note
Portune graduated from Colerain High School in 1976 and was named a “Colerain Distinguished Graduate” in 2002. He went on to study political science at Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1980, and was inducted into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He was accepted to law school at the University of Cincinnati where he became president of the Student Bar Association, received Order of Barristers honors and graduated in 1983.
Portune resides in Green Township with his three children.
Mayor John Cranley said, “In addition to improving our community in thousands of ways, the eternal values of human rights Commissioner Portune has fought for will be the most important and enduring of his legacy. He fought for gay rights before it was popular, against police brutality before it was popular, for disability inclusion before it was popular, for harm reduction and addiction help before it was popular, for all minorities and for those who had no voice. It’s the legacy that has inspired all of us, myself included.”
Former Mayor Mark Mallory, added, “Commissioner Todd Portune’s public service stands out as an example of true commitment and selfless duty to the people of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. He has faced unimaginable challenges yet he has shown remarkable strength and courage in his effort to fight for what he believes in. He worked on many issues of importance to many people. Most memorable to me was Commissioner Portune’s crucial work to get a deal done to finally build The Banks. Todd has been a friend for many years and I wish him the best.’’
And Gwen McFarlin, chairwoman, Hamilton County Democratic Party, wrote, “Todd Portune is the epitome of good government in action. Greater Cincinnati is a far better place to live and work because Todd Portune has worked to make it so. From leading enormous projects like The Banks development to helping individual homeowners with a flooded basement, Todd has worked tirelessly on every problem and opportunity he has faced as a Hamilton County commissioner and Cincinnati City Council member. Just as importantly, Todd treats friends and opponents alike with dignity and respect, relishing the chance to talk an opponent into seeing things his way. And there is no better role model for perseverance than Todd, who battled through serious health issues for decades with grace and stoicism.’’