To Murray Seasongood, increasing voter turnout was just the first step toward good governance. As a former mayor of Cincinnati, Seasongood was a staunch supporter of civic engagement and professional local governance and felt so strongly about these issues that he and his wife, Agnes, started a foundation to create lasting change.
For years, voting rights have been a divisive topic for elected officials of all levels of government; some seeking to expand voting rights, and others promoting policies that would make it more difficult for some to cast their ballot. 2020 saw an unprecedented amount of legislation seeking to put up barriers and restrictions to easily accessing the ballot box. However, Murray and Agnes Seasongood understood that the recipe for good governance and a civically engaged community starts with high voter turnout as its foundation.
The Seasongoods were philanthropists whose work was dedicated to the promotion of good government and civic reform. An early board member of the National Civic League, Murray Seasongood was a lawyer and politician who was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and served as the first mayor under the city’s 1925 charter. Prior to his mayoral career, Cincinnati had a notoriously corrupt government, which he sought to correct by the creation of the Charter Committee which advocated replacing the corrupt government with the progressive, reform Council-Manager form. After leaving the mayor’s office, he continued his legal practice and was appointed as a law professor at Harvard Law School. Even in retirement he thwarted attempts to reverse his reforms. When asked once what his hobbies are, he responded by saying, “Good government.”
About Murray and Agnes Seasongood Foundation
In honor of that legacy, the Murray and Agnes Seasongood Foundation was founded in 1973 and devotes resources to projects rooted in civic philanthropy, transparency, and equitability and efficiency in government in the regional Ohio area.
One of the ways the Seasongood Foundation strives to support civic engagement and civic education is through grants to community organizations and professional associations committed to enabling good government and good governance. The Foundation recently engaged the National Civic League in two projects, first in a grant supporting the League’s revision of its Model City Charter and later in a research project to improve the ethics and effectiveness of Cincinnati’s city government.
In 2021, the Foundation’s strategic priorities for grantmaking were:
- Ethical Behavior in Government – projects that promote ethical understanding and behavior among elected and appointed officials.
- Student Internships – grants to government organizations in the region to support undergraduate (junior or senior) or graduate college student interns with an intention around public service.
- Public Safety and Community Relations – building productive relationships to assure equal justice.
- Voter Engagement – increase voter turnout by education people about the importance of voting and the voting process by reducing voting barriers.
Throughout their years of service, the Seasongood Foundation has supported numerous organizations, locally and regionally, in their work for good governance, civic education, and civic reform.
The Ohio Campus Compact was a campus election engagement project in the Cincinnati area that sought to expand student voter access and participation in ten area colleges and universities. Efforts included:
- Funding 15 fellowships to perform peer-to-peer outreach
- Students investing over 1,500 hours in engagement projects
- Recruiting over 400 student volunteers to perform 67 campus events including 25 for voter registration, 17 for voter education, 10 for early voting information and encouragement, and 15 for get out the vote efforts
During the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local jails and prisons were often left in the dark regarding information and resources for combatting the virus. Rise Up News, sought to tackle this issue through educational videos on the virus to be shown in the Hamilton County jail. Additionally, with the help of the Seasongood Foundation, the RISE newspaper was able to increase their readership by 80% in 2020. This increase allowed Rise Up News to increase the effectiveness of their coverage addressing lack of enrichment programming and reentry assistance at the county jails, and providing articles, information, and community resource listings to those who are incarcerated.
When asked about the foundation’s biggest accomplishment, Jerry Newfarmer, President & CEO said, “Our top priority and accomplishment in 2021 is creating enhanced public awareness of the value of reformed local government structure and operations” Newfarmer specifically cites their grants to WVXU for their daily Cincinnati Edition, local journalism production, and their special 2021 initiative, Trust in Government. With faith in all levels of government declining, the foundation’s commitment to good governance and public participation is more important than ever.