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Cincinnati swears in its first Asian-American mayor, along with one of its most diverse councils yet

Cincinnati's first Asian-American mayor officially stepped into the job Tuesday. Aftab Pureval took the oath of office at a ceremony in Washington Park, along with the nine members of council elected in November.

All but one of nine council members campaigned together on a slate of candidates endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party. Pureval says his office will collaborate closely with council.

"Today we have a historically diverse and cohesive set of council members before you, council members who bring a lifetime's worth of unique experiences, challenges and talents," Pureval said. "Today we have a mandate from the public to execute on our bold vision. And today in Cincinnati, we have a coalition to get it done."

The lone Republican on council, Liz Keating, said she's looking forward to serving with the others.

"I will always listen and learn before I act," Keating said. "I will always put people over politics. And I will always recognize the honor and the privilege it is to serve our city."

Newly sworn in Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney challenged those listening to get involved in their mission for a more equitable city.

"If you're in a corporate board room, and you look around and you see that someone's not represented, pull up a chair," Kearney said. "If you're a large developer, please partner with our smaller minority- and women-owned developers. Let's all, let's all, participate and take advantage of the bounty that Cincinnati has to offer."

The swearing in and inaugural council session was scheduled for the ballroom inside Music Hall but was moved outside on short notice because of the COVID-19 surge.

Pureval says he's open to reinstating some public health measures to slow the spread.

"As far as a city-wide mask mandate, I'll be collaborating with our health department in the coming days to continue monitoring the situation," Pureval said. "But of course, we need to use all the tools at our disposal to keep people safe and get us out of this pandemic."

The medical director for the Cincinnati Health Department said Monday he thinks it's time for another public mask mandate in the area. Cincinnati council approved a public mask mandate in 2020 that expired early last year, once the mayor's emergency declaration expired.

City employees are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID or submit regular testing. Pureval says he thinks that's working and is committed to keeping that in place, rather than shifting to a stricter mandate.

Pureval and the new council meet again Wednesday to discuss a severance package for outgoing City Manager Paula Boggs Muething. She is resigning this month as Pureval kicks off a nationwide search for a new city manager.

Pureval has recommended John Curp to fill the role as Interim City Manager during the search. A contract for that position is on Wednesday's council agenda, as well. Pureval says Curp will apply for the permanent job.

You can hear more from Mayor Pureval on his priorities on Monday's episode of Cincinnati Edition, now available online.

The new council's first vote was to approve Victoria Parks as president pro tempore (often shortened to president pro tem) of Council. The group also approved new rules of council; instead of being required to serve on at least three committees, each council member is required to serve on only one committee.

Meet the new council

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney

Kearney has served on council since March 2020, taking the seat Tamaya Dennard resigned after being arrested on federal corruption charges. Kearney was chair of the Neighborhoods Committee last term, and will be chair of the new Healthy Neighborhoods Committee. Kearney is president of Sesh Communications and owner of The Cincinnati Herald. She lives in North Avondale with her husband Eric Kearney, a former state senator and current president of the African American Chamber of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

President Pro Tem Victoria Parks

Parks, of College Hill, served the rest of late County Commissioner Todd Portune's term after he retired in December 2019, previously serving as his chief of staff since 2016. Parks authored the county's declaration of racism as a public health crisis and helped have Juneteenth declared a paid holiday for county employees.

"We are public servants; we are here for you," Parks said. "We need you. Kindly join us as we seize this moment, as we stand at this fork in the road and we choose the right way."

Greg Landsman

Landsman is the only incoming council member previously elected to the job. He was first elected in 2017 and was part of the "Gang of Five" controversy less than a year later.

Landsman will serve as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.

"This is the year," Landsman said. "But only if we build a better culture at City Hall and a new way of measuring success. We must create a culture of respect, of integrity — where we stay in the fight together; we view challenges as opportunities; center the needs of our constituents over ego and politics; we lift each other up and show grace and kindness to each other always."

Jeff Cramerding

Cramerding, of Price Hill, is a labor lawyer and union leader for the University of Cincinnati faculty. He's been involved with the West Price Hill Community Council for more than 20 years and is a founding member of Price Hill Will. He has helped run many local campaigns for Democrats and Charterites and got the Democratic nomination last year.

"I just want to say to all of you, I encourage you to be bold and audacious and really raise the city up," Cramerding said. "And I will pledge, my colleagues will pledge, to support you and make sure you have the resources necessary to make that happen."

Mark Jeffreys

Jeffreys started his own predictive and data analytics company, 4Sight, after working 16 years at P&G. Jeffreys is an elected trustee on Clifton Town Meeting, where he leads the Parks Committee and the Transportation and Public Safety Committee. His non-profit "go Vibrant" is responsible for the interactive flying pig and foot piano at Smale Riverfront Park. Jeffreys is one of nine candidates endorsed by the local Democratic party.

"I always say that good government is not just what we do, but how we do it, and how we solve problems," Jeffreys said. "We will need all of you, an engaged citizenry, to help. And we'll need to allow ourselves to imagine and dream about building a better Cincinnati."

Meeka Owens

Owens, of North Avondale, works for the Hamilton County Clerks Office and has been contact tracing and coordinating vaccine distribution during the pandemic. She co-founded the Greater Cincinnati Voter Collaborative last year. Her son Justin is a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force.

Owens will chair the Climate, Environment and Infrastructure Committee.

"I aspire to help create a city where democracy always prevails because of our commitment to making government more accessible, collaborative and inclusive," Owens said.

Liz Keating

Keating was appointed to council in December 2020 when P.G. Sittenfeld, a Democrat, accepted a suspension after being arrested on federal corruption charges. She is the only Republican on council (she was also endorsed by the Charter Committee during the November election). Keating is the marketing director for The Jim Stengel Company. She lives in Hyde Park.

"Congratulations to my new colleagues, council members and Mayor, and all of your staff," Keating said. "I look forward to working alongside all you as we create a brighter future for all of Cincinnati, where every child has a roof over their head, food on their table, a safe neighborhood to live and equal opportunities for their future."

Reggie Harris

Harris is a retired professional ballet dancer, trained clinical social worker, and licensed therapist. Until recently he worked at The Community Builders, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. Harris is relatively new to Cincinnati, having lived here since 2015. He's on the Board of Directors for the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority and is board chair for Equality Ohio.

Harris will serve as chair of the Equitable Growth and Housing Committee.

"If you know me you know I have opinions, but I enter public office with an open mind," Harris said. "I vow to lead with humility, and to listen as much as I speak. So that means I will have a lot of listening to do."

Scotty Johnson

Johnson is a retired Cincinnati Police Officer. He worked for CPD for more than 30 years as a beat cop, school resource officer, SWAT negotiator and public liaison. He served as director of security for Mayor Mark Mallory. Johnson lives in Mt. Airy.

Johnson will serve as chair of the Public Safety and Governance Committee.

"The three-prong cord in which I will be operating under is honesty, respect and integrity," Johnson said. "Hold me to it — hold my colleagues to it. We will move the needle when it comes to housing. We will move the needle when it comes to disparity. And we will move the needle when it comes to a just Cincinnati to make sure everybody is respected and everybody has a seat at the table."

Committee schedule and members

Pureval announced his plan for council committees late last year, elevating issues like housing and climate change. Council voted Tuesday to approve the committee chairs, members and jurisdiction.

Budget and Finance Committee: will meet weekly on Mondays at 1 p.m.

Chair: Greg Landsman

Vice Chair: Reggie Harris

Members: All council members

Jurisdiction: Budget and appropriations; sale and lease of property; development agreements; human resources and pension; federal and state grants; tax policies; bonds and financial reporting; municipal sewer district; Greater Cincinnati Water Works and Stormwater.

Public Safety and Governance Committee: will meet every other week on Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m.

Chair: Scotty Johnson

Vice Chair: Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney

Other members: Mark Jeffreys, Liz Keating

Jurisdiction: Police, fire and safety policies; ethics and finance reform; Citizens Complaint Authority; audit and city manager review; liquor licenses; council rules; procedures and committee membership; Good Governance Office; city charter review; animal treatment.

Healthy Neighborhoods Committee: will meet every other week on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m.

Chair: Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney

Vice Chair: Victoria Parks

Other members: Reggie Harris, Scotty Johnson

Jurisdiction: Community engagement; community service; community councils; Invest in Neighborhoods; neighborhood enhancement program; neighborhood business districts and community development corporations; collaboration with Cincinnati Public Schools, Preschool Promise, universities and higher education institutions; regional collaboration; racial, gender and LGBTQIA inclusion and issues; racial equity task force; litter and dumping; homeownership.

Equitable Growth and Housing Committee: will meet every other week on Tuesdays at 11 a.m.

Chair: Reggie Harris

Vice Chair: Meeka Owens

Other members: Jeff Cramerding, Mark Jeffreys, Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Liz Keating, Victoria Parks

Jurisdiction: Residential and commercial incentives and policies; innovation ecosystem and public-private partnerships; zoning and planning commission; labor and workforce development; arts and cultural Institutions; aging and accessibility issues; homelessness; small business growth; neighborhood development; economic inclusion policies; equity in city government; marketing and special events; tourism.

Climate, Environment and Infrastructure Committee: will meet every other week on Tuesdays at 1 p.m.

Chair: Meeka Owens

Vice Chair: Mark Jeffreys

Other members: Jeff Cramerding, Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney

Jurisdiction: Environmental sustainability; bike and pedestrian and recreation infrastructure; Vision Zero implementation and oversight; transportation and infrastructure; road maintenance and repair, ODOT; OKI & County TID; snow removal and sanitation; SORTA; parks and recreation; parking; public services and fleet; utility planning; Health and Human Services; youth issues and employment; Children and Families Cabinet.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.