Cincinnati's Three New Council Members Want To Make A Difference
On Tuesday morning, at Music Hall, Cincinnati's re-elected mayor and the nine council members elected in November will take their oaths of office for four year terms.
Six of those council members will be incumbents returning for a final term on council before the term limits law kicks in. Three will be brand-new council members, two of which won as first-time candidates.
On the surface, it may not look as if much has changed.
"On the surface" is the operable phrase there.
Let’s look at the newcomers and the people whose seats they will be taking.
Jeff Pastor is an African-American Republican who is, ostensibly at least, taking the place of another African-American Republican in Charlie Winburn, who couldn't run because of the term limits law.
Greg Landsman is a Democrat, but he is seen by many as somehow taking the place of Kevin Flynn, a somewhat conservative Charterite, who chose not to run for a second four-year term. Both are interested more in process than politics; and many assume that, like Flynn, Landsman will align himself with the agenda of Mayor John Cranley more often than not.
And there is Tamaya Dennard, an African-American woman who takes the place of another African-American woman, Yvette Simpson, who chose not to run for re-election to council and ran for mayor instead, losing to Cranley. She will also take over Simpson's position as president pro tem of council.
But it would be a huge oversimplification to believe that these three new council members are simply being plugged into the roles of the departing council members.
In fact, it would be nonsense.
Pastor comes off as sort of a low-key fellow – certainly not the bombastic, loquacious force of nature known as Charlie Winburn.
Landsman comes from a different background than Flynn, a real estate lawyer who was the only true Charterite on city council. Landsman worked as Ohio's director of faith-based and community issues when Ted Strickland was governor; and, pushed hard for the Preschool Promise and has worked hard to get it up and running.
Dennard and Simpson are both African-American women. Both grew up in poverty and found ways to lift themselves out of it, with the help of mentors and friends. That's pretty much where the similarities end.
Simpson, of course, was almost always at odds with Cranley and his legislative agenda; there was many a Wednesday afternoon during the mayoral campaign where the two of them sniped back and forth at each other.
Don't even bother trying to pin a label on Dennard. She was a council aide to Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, but she is as independent as can be. Neither Cranley nor anybody else can depend on her vote. She has made it clear she wants to work with all her colleagues, but she won't be pigeon-holed.
Let's take a quick look at these three new council members:
Dennard surprised a whole lot of people by finishing sixth in a field of 23 candidates in her first run for public office.
But you could make an argument that she outworked most candidates; and she had a wide range of endorsements, far beyond the Cincinnati Democratic Committee and the Charter Committee.
When a candidate is endorsed by Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders' political organization, and gets a favorable rating from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, as Dennard did, it is a sign of broad support.
She says the business community was impressed by her educational background – she holds a bachelor's degree in business administration and international business from the Carl H. Lindner School of Business at the University of Cincinnati and has worked in the private sector.
She had the support of liberal groups because of her personal story and how it impacts her beliefs today.
"I went out and talked about my journey through life,'' Dennard to
ld WVXU. "I talked about the experience of growing up in poverty.
"People know that I am going to be a passionate advocate for human services because of the way I was raised,'' Dennard said. "I went to those city health clinics for check-ups when I was a kid."
Today, she is a social and civic innovation specialist with Design Impact, a non-profit which works with neighborhoods seeking economic and social development.
She says she plans on keeping that job.
"The work I do at Design Impact will help keep me in touch with the community,'' Dennard said.
She said she has talked with Pastor and Landsman about what they can do together to end some of the bickering and political-infighting on city council.
"During my time there, I could see that a lot of things didn't get done because one guy would say the sky is blue, somebody else would say it isn't, and it would just be a mess,'' Dennard said. "Nothing would get done."
Dennard said that if she disagrees with Cranley or Republican Amy Murray on an issue, "my inclination will be to sit down with them and talk about it instead of going on social media and causing an uproar."
She said she will concentrate on the creation of "affordable housing and income-based housing," along with economic development, in the city's neighborhoods.
"And when we do that, the people of those neighborhoods must be involved from the beginning,'' Dennard said. "That doesn't always happen."
Will she be part of a majority to vote for Cranley's agenda? She steered clear of the subject during the election campaign.
"There are things I like about John; and there are things I don't like,'' Dennard said. "The same goes for Yvette.
"Here's the truth of the matter – you can look for me to be an extremely independent member of council."
Landsman, who won a council seat in November after falling short four years ago, told WVXU his agenda is very simple.
"The one thing I am interested in doing is bringing people together to get results, particularly for the children and families of this city; and especially for those who have been left out,'' Landsman said.
He is a father and former teacher; and he is the son of teachers. He believes deeply that the key to a good life for disadvantaged children is in a good education.
"I was raised to believe in the value of every child and every family,'' Landsman said.
He has been CEO of 767 Group, a child and education advocacy firm and is the former of executive director of Strive Partnership, a non-profit aimed at raising academic performance levels for disadvantaged students.
It is little wonder, then, that he chose Vanessa White, a former member of the Cincinnati Board of Education, as his chief of staff at City Hall.
The one thing he learned, he said, after knocking on thousands of doors during the campaign, was that "people are tired of the bickering at City Hall. People don't want the constant fighting."
As a newcomer, Landsman believes he can bring a more collaborative atmosphere to city council. He thinks the same can be said of the other new council members.
"We haven't been part of previous council and the baggage and conflict that comes with that,'' Landsman said. "We are in a position to say that there is a better way to do this."
"You have to reject the idea that everything that council does has to be a 5-4 vote,'' Landsman said. "There must be more issues where we can work together, hammer out solutions and come away united.
"There is a lot of talent and passion on this council,'' Landsman said. "People forget that working collaboratively is possible and ideal, even if it is hard."
Landsman said he believes that too often council rushes into big decisions without enough deliberation and enough input from the citizens who will be impacted the most.
"Our job is to try to slow everything down,'' Landsman said. "Not to stall. Just to be thoughtful and hear from all voices before making decisions."
Landsman told WVXU that, when this term is over, he wants Cincinnatians "to say he is a guy who works very hard to get things done. Results matter."
A year ago, Pastor was a teacher at the King Academy Community School in the West End and a complete unknown to the vast majority of Cincinnatians.
But Tuesday, he will be sworn in as a member of Cincinnati City Council, after taking the ninth and final spot in last November's election.
For months before that, voters had seen Pastor's image on social media and yard signs, looking sharp in a dress white uniform from his days in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
He told WVXU that running for council is something he had been planning to do since 2014.
"I always wanted to be a philanthropist,'' Pastor said. "Somebody said to me, 'Why be a philanthropist; why don't you get involved?'''
So he approached the Hamilton County Republican Party in 2016 about becoming a candidate for city council.
The GOP was losing its only African-American council member in Charlie Winburn; he was term-limited out in 2017.
Republicans voters are a distinct minority in the city of Cincinnati and party leaders concede it is hard to get any Republican elected to city offices. That's why the GOP didn't even bother to field a candidate in last year's Cincinnati mayoral primary.
Still, Pastor seemed like a long-shot when he was endorsed by the Hamilton County GOP.
He changed jobs in the middle of the campaign, becoming the executive director of the Charles L. Shor Foundation for Epilepsy. After taking that job in September, Pastor loaned his campaign $54,000.
Somehow, it worked; and Pastor won, edging out Democrat Michelle Dillingham by a scant 223 votes.
Some people say he is taking the place of Winburn, but he says he is an entirely different personality than the sometimes over-the-top Winburn.
"I'm less confrontational than Charlie,'' Pastor said. "He is something of what I call a John McCain Republican – he didn't always align himself with the party line."
But Winburn, Pastor said, "was instrumental in getting me elected."
"Charlie Winburn told me that you're a newcomer; you've got a great story to tell and here's how you tell it,'' Pastor said. "And he raised a whole lot of money for my campaign."
The story Winburn wanted him to tell was of a young person who overcame poverty and occasional homelessness to end up earning degrees from Central State University, Payne Theological Seminary and Wright State University.
"My mother was the biggest influence in my life,'' said Pastor, who now lives in Mount Lookout with his wife Tara and their four children. "I remember times when my mother was working three jobs just to make ends meet. There were periods of time where we were homeless, but my mother also worked to put a roof over our heads and food on the table."
He told that story over and over again at neighborhood candidate night events and to anyone who would listen.
"I think the life experience I have had is going to be useful as a council member,'' Pastor said.
"As a teacher, I tried to teach students how to think, not what to think,'' Pastor said. "On council, I don't want to be too dictatorial or ideological.
"I have committed to not being acrimonious,'' Pastor said. "I believe the people of this city really want to see council act differently than it has in the past."
The three new council members, Pastor said, "are in a much better position than anybody else to do that. We've not been part of the problem."