In January 2018, newly elected Council member Tamaya Dennard takes the oath of office holding a red folding chair, signifying her campaign motto based on the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm’s comment, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Photo by Tana Weingartner
‘It’s not what people call you, but what you answer to’
By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
Tamaya Dennard, who was President Pro Tem of Cincinnati City Council resigned from the council Monday, saying in a statement, “The last thing I want is to be a distraction from the work that needs to be done for this city. My main focus has been the people I serve. I need all of my time and energy to address these charges against me. It is for this reason I have decided to step aside.” Dennard faces federal charges.
Her announcement coincided with Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters threatening to indict Dennard for bribery in addition to the three federal corruption charges already filed against her in United States District Court. If Deters had done so, the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court could have begun the process of forcing her suspension.
Deters wrote in a statement shortly after Dennard’s announcement. “Her resignation is a good step for the city and for her personally.”
Councilman Greg Landsman, who reportedly gave Dennard $1,000 last year when she asked him for money to cover hardship expenses, said he will ask for an internal review “of votes, inactions relative to the whole thing, and anyone else.’’ Landsman said he believes that’s necessary in helping rebuild public trust.
“What matters most for the city and those we serve, is for us to be totally focused on the job we were elected to do,’’ Landsman said.”
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who picked Dennard for his staff when he was elected, was asked by her to choose her successor. Under City Council rules, Dennard designated him to select someone to fill her seat if it became vacant.
“This has been a tough stretch for our city, and this is the right thing to allow our city to move forward,” Sittenfeld said in a statement Monday afternoon. “I will soon be sharing the process for filling the open seat, so that we have nine Council members doing the city’s business.”
Sittenfeld has 30 days to act or the power to fill Dennard’s seat would go to the full council.
Councilman Wendell Young said, “I do believe it should be a female. I prefer an African American female. It should be someone who has credibility in the Black community, who is electable, a person with some life experience. I think we need to be very thoughtful but move quickly.”
Among other attributes, Sittenfeld said he will seek a leader who is ‘a bridge-builder; who seeks to work with all council colleagues; to build strong relationships with the private, non-profit, and public sectors; and to forge common ground across race, gender, and geography. A leader whose prior experience demonstrates a commitment to the betterment of Cincinnati. A leader who helps reflect the diversity of our city.”
City Council is losing both women on the nine-seat governing body. Republican Amy Murray is leaving later this month to take a job in the Trump administration.
Federal prosecutors allege Dennard attempted to solicit more than $15,000 from an individual associated with a local law office involved in the development of The Banks riverfront development, promising to vote in the firm’s interest if they paid her. She allegedly used more than $4,000 of the funds for a vacation to a resort in Florida, the FBI affidavit states.
Downtown development firm Frost Brown Todd reportedly confirmed that it was the firm Dennard had approached, and Tom Gabelman, an attorney there, had been the one she contacted.
He informed the FBI about the contact, and agents paid Dennard through Gabelman, according to the FBI. Agents arrested Dennard February 24 and charged her with honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion. The FBI said it has recordings of Dennard’s conversations as well as text messages.
At her swearing in ceremony two years ago, Dennard, who finished sixth in the voting in her first run for public office, talked of being raised in poverty in College Hill and how improbable it is that she could rise out of that life and achieve what she has achieved.
Dennard then said, “I’m here to work on issues at the root cause, and not Band-Aid solutions. Yeah, we can open more shelters, but we need affordable housing. We need income-based housing. That’s the issue.”
She then added, “My mother, struggling to put food on the table, used to tell me, ‘It’s not what people call you, but what you answer to.’”