Students weigh in on “Culture of Corruption” in Cincinnati

Scandals among Cincinnati City Council members raise questions about ethical politics


Courtesy of Wikimedia

Three members of Cincinnati City Council were arrested in the past year.

In the past year alone, three out of nine city council members, Tamaya Dennard, Jeff Pastor and P.G. Sittenfeld, were arrested on counts of numerous federal charges including bribery, extortion and money laundering amongst other things. 

The genesis of it all began on March 16, 2018, when five council members, now referred to as the “Gang of 5,” used text messages to discuss political issues in direct violation of Ohio’s Open Meeting Act. The Gang of 5 included Tamaya Dennard, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young, Greg Landsman and Chris Seelbach. On March 7, 2019, the Gang of 5 admitted to violating the Open Meeting Act and settled a taxpayer lawsuit with the City of Cincinnati for $101,000.

In the same year, Councilwoman Dennard requested between $10,000 and $15,000 for personal expenses in exchange for a favorable vote on a development project. On February 25, 2020 Dennard was arrested, later resigning on March 2. On June 29, Dennard pled guilty to a charge of honest services wire fraud and on Nov. 24, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison.  

Much before Dennard’s fraudulent behavior, Councilman Jeff Pastor solicited and received $55,000 in exchange for favorable votes in connection with two developments, one of them by former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe who privately worked with the FBI. On Nov. 10, 2020 Pastor, along with an accomplice, was arrested on a sweeping 10-count federal indictment for the $55,000 alleged solicited payments. On Nov. 23, Pastor was suspended from City Council. His case is still pending.

The final corruption charge of the year was the arrest of P.G. Sittenfeld, a 36-year-old Democrat. He  was involved in Ndukwe’s fake development project for political savvy where he took $40,000 of the fund in checks. Sittenfeld was also the front-runner for mayor in 2021. 

Sophomore Nico Luginbill commented on this, saying, “I was surprised just how many people were arrested and a little surprised by Sittenfeld cause he was running for mayor…but at the same time we all know that most politicians are corrupt so I can’t be too surprised.” Sittenfeld was arrested for bribery on November 19, 2020 and suspended from city council on December 7, despite proclaiming his innocence.

Ohio as a state was still reeling from likely the largest racketeering and money laundering scheme ever in Ohio before the consecutive arrests of Pastor and Sittenfeld: the arrests of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others on July 21, 2020. These people were accused of organizing nearly a $61 million bribery scheme to assume control of the Ohio House. 

It doesn’t say much about Cincinnati in general, it just shows the nature of American democracy that: we can have three members of city council get arrested in one year for the exact same thing.

— SENIOR Grayson Mentzel

WHHS students weighed in on the corruption scandals. SENIOR Grayson Mentzel said, “To the typical American voter, I think local politics is less focused on in general because people know about the Presidential election but local positions and elections are not shown as much. So, it’s going to make people for a little while interested in their local level government, even if it’s not ethical, but it could make people pay more attention to it.” 

Mentzel also mentioned that, “It’s very interesting that this is being covered at the national scale like in the New York Times. It shows that  [the scandals] not only has a large impact on local but also on state level politics.” 

In an effort to combat future corruption, Cincinnati City Councilman David Mann is currently proposing a plan to create a commission that completes assessments of past Cincinnati city deals. The plan also entails that council members would be banned from early stages of deal-making with developers. Mann is calling it: Commission to Clean Up City Council.

Although all three scandals were unrelated, the large volume of allegations are indicative of a problem that has been brewing for years. These pay-to-play scandals only uncovered what was already happening behind the scenes in the Cincinnati City Council. 

Cincinnatians are now hoping for honest politics. “Hopefully we can see a new wave of qualified and more ethical local politicians, clearly the people we have right now aren’t ideal,” Luginbill said.