TRANSCRIPT: Aftab Pureval talks to 'Cincinnati Edition' about why he wants to be mayor
Cincinnati voters have some big choices coming up this November when it comes to the city's government. Not only will most of Cincinnati City Council be made up of new faces due to term limits and corruption charges for current members, but we'll also have a choice for a new mayor as current Mayor John Cranley faces his own term limit.
That contest between Cincinnati City Council Member David Mann and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, both Democrats, has gotten heated of late. Cincinnati Edition sat down with both candidates to dig in on their proposals for the future of the Queen City. Here's our conversation with Pureval.
Michael Monks: Joining us now is Hamilton County Clerk of courts Aftab Pureval, a candidate for Cincinnati Mayor. Coming up in November he faces Cincinnati City Councilman David Mann. Mr. Pureval, thank you so much for being with us.
Aftab Pureval: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. It's always good to be back with you.
MM: How's it going out there?
AP: It's going great. You know, it's my favorite time of year. The mornings are cool, the evenings are cool. And the day is warm. So it's been fun knocking on doors, being out in the community, sharing our vision, but also hearing from voters about what their challenges are, what their hopes are, and how a new generation of leaders in City Hall can help them push Cincinnati forward.
MM: So you're out knocking on doors, I know that that wasn't an option available to those campaigning maybe even earlier this year, certainly last year, because of COVID-19. So I'm wondering, what have you learned about this city and about this county that you serve over the course of the past 18 plus months during this pandemic? Does anything stand out to you that maybe you didn't know before about your neighbors and your town?
AP: (I’ve learned) that we’re resilient, and we're fundamentally optimistic and hopeful. You know, I run the Hamilton County Clerk of courts. It's approximately 200 public servants, who, despite this pandemic, every day of this pandemic have been coming into work to make sure that justice runs efficiently and effectively here in Hamilton County. They've been risking their lives and their health to come in person to work because, you know, we can't work remotely as essential workers here in the courthouse. And so I've been really inspired by the public servants, like my employees, like our sanitation workers are grocery workers.
This last year and a half has been really, really tough. But we have banded together. And we're making the best of a tough situation. And it is tough right now in Cincinnati -- tough because of the pandemic, tough because of the economic downturn. Tough because of the indictments on Council. And I really believe that what I'm hearing on the doors and in the community is people are looking to turn the page on this dark history and lift up all 52 of our neighborhoods.
MM: Well, let's talk about the role of government specifically in response to the covid 19 pandemic. I think last year, it's safe to say that the federal response was disjointed. A lot of decisions, important decisions about combating this unprecedented health crisis, were left to states and then local governments. How do you see the local government's role in this health emergency?
AP: We've got to do everything that we can to make sure that people are safe and feel safe coming back to working in person, patronizing our local restaurants or small businesses in person, so that we can get our economy back on its feet and grow our city. Now, cities our size are either growing or we're dying. We have to grow. We've got to grow our skyline, grow our population, grow our tax base, in order to have the resources we need to not just do basic services, but also to excel and achieve equity, racial equity. So, when we grow, we've got to keep equity in the center of the frame and I think if you run for mayor, you should have a plan. I've got a plan. I've got a bold, progressive vision to move our city forward.
Number one: economic recovery, to recover from the pandemic, to grow our community and to grow it with equity. Number two: a comprehensive affordable housing plan so that people can afford to live and work in our city and grow with the financial success; not just in some communities, but in all communities. Number three: a public safety and criminal justice plan that keeps all of our communities safe and also increases the trust between the community and law enforcement. And finally, an environmental plan. We've got to continue to be a leader in environmental policies in order to do three things. Number one: keep emissions down. Number two: conserve our natural resources. And number three: we've got to we've got to reprioritize litter pickup and beautify our city.
MM: I heard you reference turning the page, and that's I assume a reference to some of the challenges that the current city government has faced. Multiple indictments, one conviction and sentencing, with others fighting against the charges that were levied against them at the federal level. Of course, anti corruption measures are still top of mind for a lot of voters in this community. There have been some actions to try to address this. I'm wondering should Aftab Pureval be mayor next year, what happens as it relates to anti corruption initiatives?
AP: I think we've seen what happens when politicians ignore rules and laws that they themselves pass. And I'm not just talking about Washington DC, unfortunately, I'm talking about right here in Cincinnati. We've got to get this corruption routed out and solved. It's obviously important for corruption sake to end it. But it's also important to growing our city in the future of our city, because if people don't trust their local leaders, they're not going to invest money in small businesses here, they're not going to move here and stay here and raise their kids here and put their kids in our public schools here. So, this really does threaten the future growth of our community.
You know, I think we've got to be skeptical of any politician involving themselves in development deals, whether it's the mayor or city council. It would be my job as mayor to respect the charter and get back to the fundamentals of the charter. And the charter lays out very specifically what the role is for both Council, the mayor and also the city manager. And it's my role as mayor to set a bold vision, and make sure that we're executing with excellence to achieve that vision.
But it's not my job to negotiate the specifics of deals. With respect to development, it's also not Council's job. If I'm lucky enough to be mayor, there will be a bright line between the professionals in that building who are paid by your taxpayer dollars and the politicians, I'm going to empower the professionals to do their job to negotiate these deals, to vet these deals. Now, I'm not say we're not going to disagree with the professionals, of course, but when we disagree, it's going to be transparent, it's going to be public. We're going to put an end to these backroom deals.
MM: I want to know about how the next city government might operate considering that there are expected to be a lot of new faces at City Hall, either due to the aforementioned indictments and removals, or just the new nature of some of the current people who are running for reelection or running for election for the first time after being appointed in. We have a lot of new faces in this large crowded council field. And then should you be elected you would also be a new face.
That's been one of the criticisms I guess from your opponent, David Mann, who says, ‘elect me because there's going to be a lot of new faces on Council, I'll bring a steady hand.’ How do you see that scenario playing out if it's you, and a lot more new faces on city council? I imagine you see that as an advantage of some sort.
AP: I do. And look, I'm no stranger to transformational government. I mean, I took the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts as the first Democrat elected to that position in over 100 years. It was it was an office known more for the patronage and nepotism that defined it rather than the services it was providing. And the very first day of my administration, I put an end to that corruption I brought in diverse qualified staff. I treated my employees with dignity, paying a living wage, offering comprehensive paid family leave. I protected our LGBTQ employees well before the landmark SCOTUS decision, and we did more than that. We lead on justice reform, launching a nationally recognized Help Center to help folks who can't afford an attorney stay in their homes during this eviction pandemic deal with landlord tenant issues. From wage garnishment to small claims, we've helped thousands of people with legal issues. And we also work with the National Bail Project to come into Hamilton County and reform the way we do cash bail. But we didn't just do that. We also innovated launching new technology providing more services with fewer employees. And as a result, every single year of my term, I've given money back to the county, saving taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.
You know, I don't have the experience in City Hall that has been rife with corruption, and you know, personal vendettas and partisanship, but I think voters want to turn away from that they're looking for effective, bold governance. And that's what I have a track record for. And I agree -- with a new council, a new mayor, the decision that voters make this November will not just have an impact of the next four, eight years, but will have an impact on the next generation. And I'm the only candidate in this race, who respects voters enough to tell them what I'm going to do with my four comprehensive plans with my bold vision for the future. I think voters will respond to that.
MM: Mr. Pureval, I know that we spoke about the pandemic at the top of this conversation, but something else that we saw emerge very intensely over the past 18 plus months is what has been characterized as a reckoning on racial justice. We certainly saw protests here last summer, as we did all across country after the killing of black people at the hands of police. And we heard a lot of calls for police reform and they came in a variety of manners. Cincinnati had long been heralded as an example for how a community can deal with police reform effectively after this kind of tragedy. Do you see opportunities for further police reform here in Cincinnati? If so, what are they?
AP: Public safety is such an important issue. And it'll be the most important job that I have, if I'm elected mayor, keeping all 52 of our neighborhoods safe. It's so important that I've rolled out a public safety and criminal justice plan. I reject the false choice that we either have to choose safety or we have to choose justice. In fact, my plan says that we can make all of our neighborhoods safe while also reaching for justice while also improving relationships between the police and our community.
You know, we are a national model for this due to the Collaborative Agreement. But unfortunately, our city leaders have moved away from the fundamentals of the Collaborative Agreement. We cannot be complacent about this issue. We have to continue to innovate, continue to reform, continue to push improvements. And that's what my plan calls for: getting back to the fundamentals of the collaborative, fully funding the Citizen Complaint Authority, not just in this budget cycle, which it has, but moving forward and into the future. It also calls for getting back to the City Manager's Advisory Group, which by the way, costs no money. The MAG, as it's known, is a really fundamental pillar of the Collaborative Agreement because it ensures that folks in the neighborhood, on the streets, who understand the challenges of crime and why it starts are communicating regularly with the city manager so that we can devise policing techniques to do the most important job which is to prevent crime, violent crime from happening and prosecute violent crime.
I am no stranger to taking an office like the clerk of courts and finding efficiencies and finding innovative ways to do it. And that's what my plan calls for. Here's just a couple of specific ideas to make sure that we're using resources to address violent crime. Number one: we can have emergency unarmed responders respond to mental health issues. I just read in the news that Price Hill, one neighborhood, has called the police 1200 times for mental health and addiction issues. One resident in that neighborhood called the police 200 times, costing taxpayers of over $500,000. That's just one neighborhood. I think we can do better. I don't think that that is necessarily working for the residents or for law enforcement because it diverts resources away from what I believe should be the priority and the focus, which is preventing violent crime and holding violent criminals accountable.
MM: We talked earlier about you knocking on doors as part of this campaign. You have become a familiar face to voters for running multiple campaigns. And this has been an issue raised by your opponent, David Mann, who has suggested that maybe you run for office too frequently, too soon, within timeframes. And I note that this week, you sent out some news that David Mann also did this very similarly, in the early 90s running for a series of offices in consecutive years.
So I'm wondering, is this an issue for both of you? Are you trying to make a point that you know, maybe you are guilty of this, but he was guilty of it before? Or is it your suggestion that this should not be an issue, that the voters can trust that you want to be Cincinnati mayor, and you're not going to be looking for the next thing?
AP: This isn't a real issue. I think because David Mann doesn't have any new ideas or any plans to push Cincinnati forward. I mean, he's admitted such. He’s resorted unfortunately to some of these personal attacks. We don't have any time for that. What I'm focused on is making sure that that the city has affordable housing, making sure that that we have public safety that works. I of course, I do not support defunding the police. I want to make sure that we are all safe and also increase Community Trust with our law enforcement. I want to push the envelope on our environmental issues to make sure that Cincinnati is doing our part to fight against climate change. And of course, I want to make sure that we have an economy that's growing, and that is working for all of us.
You know, if I'm lucky enough to be elected mayor, this will be the most important thing that I will ever do, period. The stakes are just too high. It's going to take all of us rowing in the same direction in order to accomplish all of the great things. I know that we can.
MM: You mentioned affordable housing. We saw earlier this year a ballot initiative that would have required the city to spend at least $50 million a year on affordable housing was overwhelmingly defeated by voters. But it doesn't change the fact that the area does have a problem with access to affordable housing. And I don't even think that was denied by people who oppose that ballot initiative. So what is the path forward on increasing access to affordable housing in Cincinnati?
AP: The sad fact is, we currently as a city do not have a comprehensive strategy for affordable housing. And I see the results of that every single day in eviction court. Every single day, we are evicting people in the middle of a pandemic. And when public health experts are telling you to stay at home, if you do not have a home, and the shelters are full, that's not just a problem for you and your family and your children. It's a problem for all of us.
And by the way, this is another racial equity issue. Because disproportionately in Cincinnati, and across the country, we are evicting black women with children. To put it another way, we are disproportionately evicting black mothers. So this is an issue that deserves a comprehensive plan. I've put one forward.
Here are just three specific ideas from my plan: We need more supply of housing across the board, we need more low income, more workforce housing. And yes, we need more market rate housing. And unfortunately, our zoning code is artificially keeping our housing supply down because our zoning code is from an archaic period, trying to create a city from the 1950s. It just simply in many ways does not fit what we want our city to look like and how we want it to grow.
It does this in two specific ways. Number one, in many parts of our community, it prevents multi-unit housing from being built. It has onerous requirements for parking for small businesses. If we want to create the kind of dense, diverse neighborhoods that have good public transportation, that are walkable, that have bike lanes, then we need to reform our zoning code.
The second thing we've got to do is reform our tax abatement process for the residential space. Right now the city of Cincinnati is being sued in federal court because the vast majority of our tax abatements are tax breaks and tax incentives are concentrated in our three wealthiest communities. I'm not sure that makes sense. I want more supply. But I care very much where it goes.
I think the tax incentives and tax breaks should be concentrated in areas like Bond Hill and Price Hill communities that don't have density that are looking for economic investment that want to grow. And so making sure that in the decision matrix we also include location. I think that will bring more equity to that process.
And then finally, I'll finish where I started. You know, so much of the affordable housing conversation misses the fact that 60% of our city are renters, not owners. And so we've got to take a look at eviction court because the equities are completely unbalanced there. Ninety percent of landlords are represented by an attorney. Ninety percent of tenants are representing themselves. Landlords are frequent fliers. They understand the process. Tenants get a scary legal document in the mail, they have no idea what's going on. In order to balance the equities there, I believe we need a county-wide housing court: one judge to hold bad, out-of-town landlords accountable, and one judge to work with legacy communities who want to grow with their community, who wants to benefit from the growth of their legacy neighborhoods. And we've got to have more legal resources in the eviction proceedings to balance the playing field.
MM: I've got about a minute left Mr. Pureval. I want to know about the culture at City Hall and how it would be different under a mayor Pureval and whether you see the role of Mayor as setting the tone and the culture in that building.
AP: It's absolutely my role. And the culture that I will set at City Hall is one of collaboration. It's one of mutual respect. And it's one of getting success for the citizens of Cincinnati. What we've seen in the culture at City Hall right now is that it's dictated by transactional relationships. There's obviously been corruption in City Hall and it's just been really petty and in some instances unproductive. I think a new mayor and a new city council has the opportunity to change the tone there and make sure that our city government is more effective.
MM: Last question you're in a chili parlor in Cincinnati. What is Aftab Pureval ordering?
AP: I'm getting a four way with onions.