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UC Law community remembers Commissioner Todd Portune

County commissioner, public servant leaves legacy of advocacy

The University of Cincinnati College of Law community remembers alumnus Todd Portune—a tireless advocate for the city and county he helped shape for more than 25 years as one of the longest-serving Democrats in the region’s history.

“Public service is in my blood,” said Portune in a September 2019 press conference. “It’s what I am, it’s what I’ve been about, and I love what I do.”

Portune died on Saturday, Jan. 25, after a long battle with cancer. He was 61.

Growing up

A son of Cincinnati's West Side, Portune was a graduate of Colerain High School, where he was a National Merit Scholar. Very active in extra-curricular activities, he was named an All-City Athlete, was president of the high school band, sang in two choirs, and was named a “Colerain Distinguished Graduate”. He went on to major in political science at Oberlin College, excelling in track and cross-country racing, winning championships in the 880-yeard and 800-meter distances. This was in addition to playing defensive back on the football team.

After graduating from Oberlin, Portune attended the College of Law, earning his JD in 1983. While at UC, he was president of the Student Body Association, received Order of the Barrister honors and graduated with Honors.

I had the greatest admiration for Todd,” said Lockwood. “He was so dedicated to serving the community. I always had the feeling he would be a successful advocate.”

Professor Bert Lockwood, Director of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights

Portune was also a research assistant for Professor Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, and was a student in Lockwood’s first class at the College of Law.

 “I had the greatest admiration for Todd,” said Lockwood. “He was so dedicated to serving the community. I always had the feeling he would be a successful advocate.”

After graduation Portune worked as an attorney, specializing in the areas of civil litigation and mineral rights. Eventually, he would make partner at the law firm Cohen, Todd, Kite and Stanford.

Portune’s initial foray into politics led to a defeat by Ohio Senate’s Stanley Aronoff. Per most accounts, it was his only defeat. Several months later, he was appointed to a fill a vacant seat on Cincinnati City Council. Portune would go on to win re-election for the next four terms.

After eight years on Council, he was elected a Hamilton County Commissioner, making history as the first Democratic Commissioner in Hamilton County in 36 years. He would spend the next 19 years on Council, winning re-election four times.

Tackling issues, Getting results

Todd Portune, UC Law alumnus

While working as a commissioner, he tackled big and small issues and made a lasting impact. He helped overhaul the SORTA Board and the Metropolitan Sewer District. He helped develop The Banks. And, he took a keen interest in addressing the infant mortality rate in the county. Portune helped create Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative effort of caregivers, parents, healthcare professionals and community members committed to addressing infant mortality. He also worked to improve dental health for disadvantaged people. 

Beating the odds

Many have said that the fact Portune served in public office for such a long time was a miracle. In 1996, doctors discovered tumors on his spine, warning they could cause paralysis if they continued to grow. Six years later during treatment for a blood clot, the spinal tumors hemorrhaged, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Portune continued to work, however, from his hospital room—not letting this setback stop him.

Though told the chances of him walking were slim, he proved his medical team wrong and learned to walk with crutches, though never regained use of his left leg. That leg was amputated some years later when a connective-tissue sarcoma was found. Even then, Portune continued to work, calling into meetings from his hospital room.

In September 2019, Portune announced that he would not run for re-election in 2020. A few weeks later, he announced his retirement at the end of the year.

In his memory

To honor his memory and the impact he made throughout the community, the County Administration Building will be renamed in Portune’s honor. In addition, city leaders will rename a portion of Court Street in front of the County Administration Building as Todd Portune Way.