By Ron Wahl

Assistant to Councilmember and Mayor Roxanne Qualls, 1991 -1999 and 2007-2013

Assistant to Councilmember and Vice-Mayor Jim Tarbell, 1999-2007

Jim Tarbell is not a conventional politician.  In fact, most political consultants

would say that he breaks all the rules for becoming a politician.


Raise lots and lots of money,

any way possible. 

The most efficient way to do this is to request donations from people who have lots of money and will make a lot more money from the decisions politicians make i.e., developers.  Most political consultants call this a win-win situation.  This can be done both legally and illegally.  Oftentimes there is not much difference between the two.  Most political consultants deem a politician successful if he can do this without going to jail. If you have followed the political news over the past year, you already have an idea how this works. 

Jim Tarbell is bad at this.  He doesn’t raise a lot of money, usually just enough to get by.  He  likes to have events because he wants people to have a good time.  Most political consultants say this is a very inefficient way to raise money because most of it is spent on food and entertainment. 

And he doesn’t get a lot of money from developers. Probably because he asks developers to change their plans because they don’t mesh with the character of the neighborhood.                                                                                                                   



Become adept at political
speech and calculus.

Anyone who has read a political mailer has an inkling of what this is about. Political speech is all those words that sound wonderful and mean little.  Political operatives read books and go to workshops on how to do this. 

Political calculus is keeping a running tally of how many votes are gained or lost by every action taken.  This includes the words that a candidate speaks, the events a candidate attends, the clothes a candidate wears, the company a candidate keeps, the hair styling, everything. 

Jim Tarbell is totally oblivious to all of this.  For starters, he doesn’t have any hair.  Some would say he dresses eccentrically.  And he can say some wild stuff to large crowds.  As for the company Jim keeps, it doesn’t matter if he’s hanging out with college professors or street people, he loves them both.  Jim is drawn to the beauty and excitement of life, wherever he finds it.  And he is driven to share that beauty and excitement, unedited, with everyone he meets.    

A few days ago, an old friend and fan of Jim’s mentioned that he was afraid that people who do not know Jim would see him as someone lost in the past, not ready to deal with today’s issues. 


When I think about that statement, I remember the Jim Tarbell who saw the potential of OTR when everyone else wanted to tear it down; who rode a bike around Cincinnati before it was the thing to do; who figured out the importance of mixed-use development and mixed income neighborhoods before they became catch words; and who, 20 years ago, took up the crusade to build a stadium in order to develop a neighborhood – something that eventually happened this year. 


Maybe if we want to know what Cincinnati will be doing 20 years from now,
we need to
be looking at what Jim Tarbell is thinking today. 



Get your information from the

most politically correct sources on the left/right political spectrum.

Most of the time, Jim Tarbell gets his information from observing the world around him.  He walks the streets. He talks to everyone.  He has an uncanny way of sniffing out the remarkable things that are happening around us every day.  And he wants to share those experiences so others can have them too. He’s done this all his life.  As a kid, he learned how a successful business district develops by closely watching the activities around Hyde Park Square.  As a young man, he learned the importance of preservation before it became a fad; he convinced the archbishop not to tear down St. Paul’s in Pendleton, and to let him live in the church as guardian until he found a use for it, which he did (Verdin Bell). 

Jim knows where the collective intelligence of the City resides and how to access it.  He knows where to find city department directors, long since retired, who have expertise in issues that have resurfaced after decades of dormancy.  He knows how to find the academics who have the information he needs.  He knows the city employees in the trenches who understand what’s really going on.  And he knows the street people who have information that the rest of us are not privy to.