Sittenfeld trial exposed underbelly of Cincinnati politics

Former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and his wife Dr. Sarah Coyne arrive for jury selection in his federal public corruption trial at The Potter Stewart United States Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

The trial of P.G. Sittenfeld, who could’ve been, and probably would’ve been our mayor, revealed a lot about the character of the former councilman and just as much about the culture of corruption infecting city government.

Sittenfeld, 37, was found guilty Friday of federal corruption charges, including bribery and attempted extortion. He could face up to 3.5 years in prison, according to a sentencing expert.

It’s the story of Icarus. Sittenfeld, an immensely talented and privileged young man, was brought down by his own unchecked ambitions and arrogance. He placed his mayoral ambitions ahead of the interests of taxpayers and abandoned common sense and ethics for a few campaign contributions. 

With the conviction, Sittenfeld’s political career is officially over. Our hearts go out to his pregnant wife, Sarah Coyne, and their son, who are most significantly impacted by seeing their husband and father facing a prison term.

Former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and his wife, Dr. Sarah Coyne, arrive for his federal public corruption trial at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati on Monday, June 27, 2022.

The jury deserves credit for rejecting the “everyone does it” defense. Everyone doesn’t do it, and even if they did, we shouldn’t stand still for it. 

The trial revealed that it’s an all-too-common practice for some Cincinnati politicians to lean on developers for donations. This has several bad effects, in addition to tainting political outcomes.

First, it hampers development. If developers think they have to pay local politicians for the privilege of doing business in Cincinnati, they are likely to pass those (hidden) costs onto taxpayers, inflating the cost of local projects.

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