UPDATE: 6:07 p.m
In an email and a post to social media, John P. Hart II said he decided to run for Middletown City Council after being inspired by Pastor Lamar Ferrell who told him, “Middletown always needs good leadership and that the community needs people in City Hall that are not afraid to do the right thing.”
Hart said his “agenda has always been to bring prosperity and hope back to Middletown as a community.” When he began the campaign, there was no one else running and as others entered the race, he started to learn who they were and what they could bring to Middletown.
“My agenda has never been about our family business or to have a vote block on council; we are successful as we are,” Hart said. ” I never wanted to get into politics; I wanted to see change in our City leadership, for someone to step up and do the right thing.”
He said the candidate forums were “enlightening” and “allowed him to discern who will be the right people to guide this city, who will be willing to represent everyone” and where his strengths would fit in.
Hart was also critical of City Manager Doug Adkins, Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. and Councilman Talbott Moon and said the “first and most important thing is to elect a new City Government, for the incumbents are responsible for allowing our City Manager’s reckless behavior.” Mulligan and Moon are seeking re-election next week.
He said after talking to Ferrell on Tuesday and meeting with students at Middletown High School today, “I have determined that being on City Council is not my calling, that I can serve this great city better as a philanthropist and private citizen.”
Hart endorsed candidates Levi Cramer and Joe Wittman for the vacant two council seats as well as his colleague Nicole Condrey for mayor. Condrey is a professional skydiver and the general manager of Start Skydiving, which is co-owned by Hart.
He said Cramer and Wittman “are from two different political spectrums, have our best interests at heart and deserve our vote. Monica (Nenni) and Perry (Davis) are good people who love Middletown, which is evident by their presence on the ballot, but the passion Joe and Levi exhibit for moving our City forward is what we need.”
Hart provided in-kind donations to Condrey and Davis, who is affiliated with Start Skydiving, according to pre-election campaign finance reports filed with the Butler County Board of Elections.
“With this sentence I am officially ending my campaign for Middletown City Council and beginning my new campaign to bring hope back to the youth of our community with a program called “Leaps in Learning.”
A spokesman for the Butler County Board of Elections said, “As a matter of policy, we require the writing be signed so there is a clear record and no question about the authenticity or veracity of a candidate’s withdraw.”
Brian Hester, Butler County Democratic Party executive committee chair, said “I am sure it was a hard choice for Mr. Hart to make, especially after campaigning so hard, but I want to commend him for making the right decision for the voters of Middletown.”
Hester said he had read his campaign Facebook post and understand his concerns.
“His withdrawal will avoid unnecessary voter confusion when they vote next week and the potential of costly litigation over the result,” Hester said. “I believe Mr. Hart and I agree it would be unfortunate for the result of this election to be decided by a judge or City Council, and not the voters of Middletown. His decision will now prevent that from happening.”
ORIGINAL REPORT @ 4:42 p.m.
Middletown City Council candidate John P. Hart II has withdrawn from the race for one of two council seats.
In an email to the Journal-News and on social media page late Wednesday afternoon, Hart announced he was withdrawing from the council race.
“I know that I can do more for the community as a private citizen,” Hart said. “My only goal was to make a difference in the community.
Hart said he realized today after working with Middletown High School students and after some prayer, talking with close friends and participating in the recent candidate forums that he should drop out of the race. He said there were quality candidates running.
He said the candidate forums allowed him to raise issues and concerns publicly about the city and its administration.
The Butler County Board of Elections confirmed it received an email from Hart about his withdrawal. However, it was not signed.
A board of elections employee said a candidate can withdraw from a race up until the day before an election. Once the withdrawal is officially received, any absentee ballot that has not been sent, each polling place and the Early Voting Center will have a notification for voters that the candidate has withdrawn and any votes for that person will not be counted.
Votes for a withdrawn candidate from early absentee ballots will not be counted.
Hart, who co-owns Start Skydiving and Start Aviation, has operated at Middletown Regional Airport for 11 years. In the past few years, Hart and the city administration have been at odds over issues including the city not complying with the lease, the future direction of the airport and a decision for the city to resume serving as the airport’s fixed-base operator.
The city and Hart’s organization have been in discussions about moving the skydiving operation to the west side of the airport.
Brian Hester, Butler County Democratic Party executive committee chairman, recently said Hart should leave the race for having a federal felony conviction from 2010. Hester said Hart should drop out of the race to prevent voter confusion and possible costly litigation. He also said state law prohibits a person convicted of a state or federal felony from holding any office of public trust.
Hart served an 18-month prison term and probation and has paid his restitution. He also said his attorney advised him that he could hold a council seat because he was not convicted by the state of a crime. Ohio law allows convicted felons to register to vote and run for elective office. However, state law prohibits them taking office.
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