Alicia Reece may not be widely known in the landscape of American politics, but her recent primary win for Hamilton County Commissioner in Ohio raised awareness regarding how a successfully run political campaign can evoke humanity and unity in the middle of a global pandemic.
Reece recently clinched the win last Thursday in a tight and oftentimes contentious race on the Democratic ticket between Connie Pillich, a former gubernatorial candidate and Ohio state representative and Kelli Prather, a neighborhood activist. Reece, who is also a former Ohio state representative, was announced the winner of the April 28 primary on May 14, two weeks after Pillich refused to concede.
Reece, who serves as a board chair on the National Action Network, secured over 46.99 percent of the vote, while Pillich had 43.3 percent according to Fox 19. Reece will now face her Republican opponent, Andy Black to secure a seat left open by the late Todd Portune on the three-member Hamilton County Board of Commissioners in November. Reece is also the only Black woman in the state running for a county commissioner position.
Reece ran a campaign focused on meeting her intended constituents in the middle, as local governments scramble to come up with solutions for safe and efficient voting practices during COVID-19.
“I am running to be a bridge builder to bring us together and be united.” – Alicia Reece
“What we have is a bottom up blueprint that we’ve put together now that has shown through the victory of my race that it can work,” she said in an interview with MadameNoire.
“I’m very proud of my team, we used a virtual call to action.”
“This race is huge because it’s 2020, it’s a presidential year, Hamilton county is a key county for anyone that wants to win Ohio and go on to win the presidency.” Hamilton County is one of 24 swing counties in the state, Reece explained.
During the primary, which faced several challenges after in-person voting was suspended as a safety precaution, Reece’s team put together virtual voting drives, vote-a-thons and BYOB (bring your own ballot) drive-thru happy hours (without alcohol of course). During the statewide stay-at-home order, Reece ran under the slogan, “Voting Is Essential” and used the hashtag #PutItInTheBox, referring to the ballot box.
Reece said that she hopes resources will be made available to help communities who are affected disproportionately by COVID-19, especially after an unreleased White House report from last week showed coronavirus rates are spiking in the Midwest.
Hamilton County, which is predominantly white at 67 percent according to the U.S. Census, knows she will have to represent all intended constituents, but understands the needs of underserved communities in her region.
“I have the experience of understanding, I’ve been a vice-mayor, I’ve been a state representative, I’ve worked for the city of Cincinnati as well as other parts of the county and so we decided that we’re going to run. We were the underdogs in this race,” she said.
“I had a very strong opponent in this primary. I was not endorsed by my local party even though I had been the DNC vice-chair at the convention. Even though I had won seven elections, and even though I was on the platform to help draft the national democratic platform, I was not endorsed. And sometimes we see that as African-American women when we get into races that are not African-American districts. We have a tough time sometimes getting the backing and support.”
“I’m running on helping connect people to information and resources to help them put their lives together,” she said. It is a message that she learned very early growing up in Cincinnati under her parents tutelage, who fostered a sense of awareness and advocacy among her and her siblings.
“I am rooted in civil rights, both my parents were heavily involved in civil rights and so growing up…I always tease people, we didn’t go on vacations, we were marching with civil rights organizations, whether it was [the] Rainbow PUSH Coalition or National Action Network (NAN), we were always marching for justice and opportunity,” she said.
“Everybody thought I wasn’t going to win because I was young, I was Black and I was female.”
As she approached college, Reece said it was important to attend a historically Black college to command a broader view of the world and selected Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana, over Brown University, an Ivy League institution located in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated from Grambling with a degree in communications.
But it was a conversation with Rep. Maxine Waters in 1999 that pushed Reece to run for a city council seat. Until that point, Reece worked as an outreach director for a local congressman and had dreams of becoming the next Oprah.
“She told me, “Listen I’ve been watching you, you need to come from behind the scenes and become a candidate.’”
“Without her, I probably would never have ran for office,” she continued, calling Rep. Waters her “political shero.”
“Everybody thought I wasn’t going to win because I was young, I was Black and I was female,” she said. She called out the connection between her first political win in 1999 and the road to county commissioner, describing both as an important “faith walk.”
From then she went on to become Ohio”s assistant director of tourism, but returned to political life when she was elected president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.
Reece knows that earning the title of Hamilton County Commissioner will provide a larger platform to help those in her community who are being overlooked, especially in terms of funding resources.
“The county commissioner oversees the budget for the entire county,” Reece said which includes 49 municipalities, cities, villages and townships in Hamilton County. The commissioner helps distribute funds dedicated to the county prosecutor’s office, the auditor’s office, the county treasurer’s office and also includes budgeting allocated towards jobs and family services, taxes, and infrastructure systems.
“People are going to vote for who can help them survive. Because America is in survival mode right now.”
In the upcoming general election presidential race where Donald Trump will be met with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Reece hopes more attention will be directed towards the needs of Black women voters who have become the most loyal voting block in the Democratic Party.
“We’re very popular and wanted between Labor Day and November, and then after that, a lot of times its back to business as usual. We’re last on the menu. We’re the first on the ballot and we’re last in the policy conversation. And so we’ve got to somehow change that.”
“I think this election will be different because African American women are speaking up, speaking up directly and speaking up early,” Reece continued.
She expressed she feels similarly regarding how Ohioans are treated after the national election. “People are going to vote for who can help them survive. Because America is in survival mode right now,” she said.
“We’ve got to make sure at all costs that we protect the ballot box. Because the ballot box is how we protect our democracy.”
As the coronavirus wages on Reece makes sure to continue doing her part by checking in on family members, friends and the elderly. She also still manages to host her weekly podcast, Alicia Reese Soulfood on Fridays. She said she looks to a higher source for her inspiration in this difficult time, especially as November approaches.
“Everything I do, I look to God first. I’ve had a lot of tragedy that I’ve experienced and I know many others have,” she said.
“I’m only interested in what his assignment is for me. And I’m only interested in making a difference while I’m here.”