City Councilwoman Dennard resigns

Dennard was arrested on Feb. 25 on bribery and attempted extortion charges

Cincinnati City Council President Pro Tem Tamaya Dennard (left) resigned on Monday after she was arrested on Feb. 25. She faces charges, including bribery and attempted extortion, and will appear in court on March 9.

Less than a week after being charged with accepting cash for her support of the Banks music venue, Cincinnati City Council President Pro Tem Tamaya Dennard resigned Monday.

She was arrested on Feb. 25 and faces charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and attempted extortion under color of right.

“The last thing I want is to be a distraction from the work that needs to be done for this city,” Dennard said in a statement. “My main focus has been the people I serve. I need all of my time and energy to address these charges against me.”

The charges carry possible sentences of up to 50 years in prison if Dennard is found guilty.

Dennard was released on her own recognizance bond and has a court hearing scheduled for March 16.

Dennard’s resignation came under intense pressure from both the Ohio Democratic Party and state officials. On Sunday, Ohio Attorney General David Yost and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced a plan to launch impeachment proceedings. Deters said on Monday afternoon that Dennard’s decision was a “good step for the city and her personally.”

Prior to her resignation, five Cincinnati residents had sued Dennard directly in order to attempt to force her off the city council.

If Dennard had remained in office, she would have appeared in probate court regarding these impeachment lawsuits on March 9.

Comments from Dennard’s lawyers have stated that she intends to push back against all allegations and citizen lawsuits.

Dennard is also facing accusations that she failed to disclose debt on a financial disclosure form. In addition, she is reportedly facing eviction from her Cincinnati home.

“The first thing that comes to mind is, ‘Is she OK? Does she need help?’ For sure she shouldn’t be president, but that sucks,” junior music education major Carolyn Younquist said.

Center for Faith and Justice staff member and friend of Dennard Reverend Nelson Pierce noted that he believes this era to be black-and-white in its judgment of elected officials, leading to strong public opinions on the allegations against Dennard.

“I fear what people have termed the ‘cancel culture’ that we are in leads us to believe that people are either all or mostly good or all or mostly bad,” Pierce said. “That leaves very little room for nuance, to have balanced conversations about people, to understand that no one is above scrutiny and very few people are irredeemable.”

Pierce noted that even amid these allegations, he believes it is crucial to remember the work Dennard did in office.

While in office, Dennard fought FC Cincinnati’s development in the West End, founded Girls and Gals Day in Government, created a zero-tolerance rule regarding police officers’ use of racial slurs and helped to pass city Tobacco 21 legislation.

“Tamaya Dennard’s record as a city councilperson shows very clearly that she has stood up for and been a voice for people whose interests were not always represented and not always represented well by city council,” Pierce said.  “Her resignation is going to leave a big hole on city council, and I hope that whoever they choose to fill her seat will be able to step into those shoes.”

Dennard designated her political mentor P.G. Sittenfeld to fill her seat in the event that it became vacant. Sittenfeld announced on Monday that he will soon release information regarding the process of filling her seat.

City Council member David Mann noted the importance of filling the vacancy with another Black woman.

“We need someone of impeccable qualifications. Somebody who is a female, somebody who is African American, somebody who can step into that seat immediately and have a positive impact,” Mann said.

“I definitely think that representation and diversity of opinion is something they strive for, it shouldn’t be out of tokenism, it should be genuinely be out of a want for diversity of thought,” senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public (PPP) major Libby Grant said. Grant worked on Dennard’s 2017 campaign through the PPP internship program.

Other Xavier seniors and staff who worked with Dennard’s campaign for City Council in 2017 declined to comment on her arrest and resignation.

First-year political science and international relations double major Dale Hyde disagreed with this sentiment, stating that he believes the new member should be considered more on a basis of their ability to aid disenfranchised Cincinnati communities rather than color.

“The fact that they’re thinking it should be Black woman proves they’re just trying to predict the future,” Hyde said. “Choosing a candidate based on their race or gender is not as important as their values and their stances.” 

Pierce added his belief that Cincinnati media portrayals of the allegations against Dennard has been unfairly skewed based on her race.

“I think that Cincinnati media have a habit of denigrating Black leadership and it’s not just about Tamaya,” Pierce said, citing portrayals in the Cincinnati Enquirer of former judge Tracie Hunter and former Cincinnati United Way CEO Michael Johnson.

“There is a general pervasive racism, institutional racism that is constantly at work in our society,” Pierce continued. “In particular, the Cincinnati Enquirer is guilty of being intentionally blind to the way that institutional racism permeates its paper.”

“(This) is not to say that any particular writer on the Cincinnati Enquirer is racist,” Pierce continued. “I do think there are particular writers on the Enquirer who have political agendas that they write through, and those political agendas require them to write in a way that treats disproportionately unfairly Black leadership.”

Junior biomedical sciences major Alex Vinzce noted that he believes the volume of recent local and state corruption allegations have numbed current students to their weight.

“I remember when I was in high school when (Illinois) Governor Rod Blagojevich went to jail and it blew my mind because half of Illinois ‘governors have been to jail, but these things don’t really surprise me,” Vinzce said.

“I think we’ve been desensitized. It’s not shocking anymore, to see a person with so much power and little oversight take advantage of that,” Vinzce continued.

“I was just kind of really disappointed and surprised,” Grant said of the allegations against Dennard. “The whole message of (her campaign) was increased transparency, moving council meetings to times when working people can attend and have more voice, that was the whole focus.”

Pierce noted that he hopes these allegations will not impede the strength of future Black leadership in Cincinnati.

“I hope it will be a reminder to all leaders, Black leaders in particular, but all leaders, that the task of being an elected official, of being called to lead and to serve the community, is a special and sacred task and that it will be a reminder to treat it as such at all times,” Pierce added. “If the allegations are true, I hope that it’s a lesson. If they are proven true, you know, we can learn from the mistakes of people who inspire us as much as we can from their successes.”

Tamaya Dennard was elected on Nov. 7, 2017. She came in sixth place receiving 26,053 votes, or 6.3% of the vote, which was good enough to earn a seat on the nine-seat council. Dennard’s resignation came under intense pressure from both the Ohio Democratic Party and state elected officials.