Cincinnati Mayoral Election: Candidates Share Their Visions For The City

In the coming days, Cincinnati voters will start casting their ballots for the person they believe is best fit to lead the Queen City over the next four years and out of a pandemic that has hobbled the local economy and killed more than 300 residents. Six people are running for mayor of Cincinnati in the May 4 primary, after which the field narrows to the top two vote-getters for the general election.

Aftab Pureval et al. posing for a photo: These six candidates will vie for Cincinnati mayor in the November election. Top row L-R: Gavi Begtrup, David Mann, Herman Najoli. Bottom row L-R: Raffel Prophett, Aftab Pureval, Cecil Thomas. Current Mayor John Cranley is term-limited out. © File photos / The Enquirer These six candidates will vie for Cincinnati mayor in the November election. Top row L-R: Gavi Begtrup, David Mann, Herman Najoli. Bottom row L-R: Raffel Prophett, Aftab Pureval, Cecil Thomas. Current Mayor John Cranley is term-limited out.

Early voting begin Tuesday when city residents can being choosing from a field of political newcomers and well-known politicians, some currently on City Council. That group of five Democrats and one independent includes: Ohio Sen. Cecil Thomas, of Avondale; Cincinnati Councilman David Mann, of Clifton; Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, of Clifton; retired Cincinnati firefighter Raffel Prophett, of Avondale; Businessman Gavi Begtrup, of Mount Lookout; and educator Dr. Herman Najoli, of West Price Hill.

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The Enquirer editorial board has been following all six campaigns closely during this election cycle, and met with each of the mayor candidates to discuss their policy points and reasons for running. The board also asked each candidate to fill out a questionnaire covering some of the most pressing issues facing Cincinnati, including concerns about corruption at City Hall, affordable housing, policing and the city budget, among other topics.

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It is important to provide our readers with some of the insight we gleaned from our time with the candidates, so we are presenting their unedited responses to our questions here. It is the board's hope that this summary will provide information that enhances your own evaluations of the race and helps you make an informed decision whether you decide to vote early or on May 4.

Q: Why are you running for mayor?

Herman Najoli: I am the unlikeliest of candidates. I am an outsider of politics, an independent and an educator who lives on the West Side. Rarely do you ever see anyone with those three attributes run for mayor in Cincinnati. I was compelled to enter the race last November after I assessed three things: my gifts, my desires and the opportunities ahead. My gifts include my active personality, talents in education and bold outsider ideas for excellence in organizational leadership within government. My desires include a passionate empathy for people, moral values like the dignity of hard work and independent mentality for uniting progressive thought and conservative philosophy. The opportunities ahead include the challenges of our community, the expectations of the moment and the need for lasting change that truly transforms our entire city, particularly the forgotten neighborhoods. At the end of my mayorship, I want it to be said of me, "He changed the game." Party politicians and career politicians come to our neighborhood every election cycle and promise heaven. Months and years go by, we never see them back in the community. Then we read about them engaged in corruption. It hurts. I will be a true neighborhoods mayor who is visibly present in all 52 neighborhoods. 

Gavi Begtrup: When I was the board chair of the Spencer Center, it took eight public school kids getting hit by cars before City Hall would fulfill our request for a school crosswalk. We need a mayor who will create an equitable and safe city with good jobs, not a city where kids have to die for City Hall to take action. Cincinnati is where I’ve raised my kids, it’s where I’ve built my small businesses, and it’s where I’ve worked in the community, especially building the Donald and Marian Spencer Center public school. The Queen City is home, but we’re struggling with stagnant growth and wages, unaffordable housing and rising violence. City Hall isn’t delivering for the people – it’s time for a change. We need the city to grow equitably and work for everyone. I’m running for mayor to restore a city government we can trust, one that is proactive in serving our community. As the only small business owner in the race, I have created good jobs with livable wages and brought tens of millions of dollars to our city. I also have deep policy and government experience as the former policy advisor for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, where I worked with diverse stakeholders to write legislation and billion dollar budgets. I have the experience in business, in government and in our community to be a mayor who will lead, create jobs and enact smart policies that serve the whole city.

Raffel Prophett: I love Cincinnati. I was raised, educated and served here. My wife and I built our home here and are raising our children. And so, I have a personal and vested interest in our city’s equity, well-being, success, sustainability and resilience. The city needs new leadership – courageous, creative and selfless leadership. A leadership responsive to the "real" needs of Cincinnatians. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the disproportionate hardship many of our fellow citizens face from health disparities to lack of access to the digital infrastructure. The city must step up to alleviate this suffering. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed "the fierce urgency of now!" We must make equity a reality for all Cincinnatians.

David Mann: My life has been a life of public service to my country and community. I have been privileged to serve in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Congress, Cincinnati City Council and as mayor for three years. I have no ambition for anything except to serve my community. I have chaired every committee of council and now chair the budget and finance committee. I understand better than most exactly what is involved in leading over 6,000 employees and 17 departments with a budget of $1.5 billion. We will have one of the youngest, least experienced group of council members in history after the next election. I believe my experience, evenhanded personality and maturity give me the tools to be a mentor and leader for this new council as we face the enormous challenge of recovering and moving on from the pandemic.

Aftab Pureval: I love Cincinnati. But for families across our city, it’s been a challenging year with COVID-19, the economic downturn and corruption in City hall. Our city is in a tough spot right now, but that is exactly when Cincinnati shines. And right now, we need strong leadership in the mayor’s office to come out swinging and accomplish what I know we can. I’m running for mayor to lift up all of Cincinnati. Our city must continue to grow, but we have to be honest that the success of the last 10 years has not been felt in all 52 neighborhoods. Every person in Cincinnati matters, and our measure of success cannot just be how the wealthiest are doing. It’s not enough, therefore, to just grow. We need to grow equitably. We either take on the inequities in our justice, health care, housing and economic systems, or we fall short of what we can be. I believe I’m uniquely situated to lead us into the next decade given my track record of taking on

corruption, reforming outdated bureaucratic systems and improving basic services. As Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, I ended the office’s nepotism and cronyism, expanded services and supported the most vulnerable among us with an award-winning Eviction Help Center. We invested in innovation while simultaneously saving taxpayers millions of dollars and giving money back to the county every year I’ve been in office. Together, I know we can move Cincinnati forward with creative solutions.

Cecil Thomas: I’m running to restore the integrity of the Queen City. Due to recent events involving elected members of council, Cincinnati’s character around the country and world is now in question. There is a perception that our city is a "corrupt city." The ripple effects of that can be very costly and can lead to significant, permanent damage to the city’s economic growth. Investors looking to invest in Cincinnati must feel there’s an equal playing field and that everyone is negotiating in good faith. It becomes very difficult for the Port Authority, 3CDC, REDI Cincinnati and others to successfully market our city if there’s a cloud of perceived corruption. Residents living in Cincinnati must have the faith and trust that their government leaders are good stewards over the affairs of the city. If this doesn’t happen in a timely manner, residents will flee the city and investors will look elsewhere.

Meet the Cincinnati Mayoral candidates: Herman Najoli >Cincinnati Enquirer See more videos > SHARE TWEET SHARE EMAIL What to watch next
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Q: What would be your top priorities as mayor?

Najoli: First, basic services and amenities. A center of business and economic excellence is resplendent with vibrancy. As mayor, I will work to streamline the city’s basic services. We will increase operational efficiencies in all departments. We will ensure functional amenities for residents. This will spur an extremely attractive and likable city for investment and growth. Second, crime and transit. An international juggernaut of education and sporting events has low crime and great connectivity. We want everyone to be involved in productive pursuits. We will improve the traditional avenues of fighting crime but also enable our people to pursue purposeful potential. Building our transit systems enables access and lessens social disparities. Third, affordable housing and desirability. A thriving metropolis of growing residents and home ownership makes it possible for its citizens to be housed. We will work through the Port Authority, neighborhood Community Development Corporations and numerous partner organizations to advance our urban redevelopment efforts. We will make our city attractive to newcomers for a much stronger tax base. And fourth, inclusiveness and health. A youthful place that cultivates equity and human potential is first and foremost inclusive and then is characterized by good public health. We will create a lab for facilitating belongingness. We will also ramp up our health systems to keep diseases at bay, tackle trafficking and addiction and make our health systems responsive to all.

Begtrup: Ending corruption, creating jobs with livable wages, making housing affordable and reforming policing and improving public safety. We must restore trust in Cincinnati government by rooting out the corruption in City Hall that is keeping our city from growing equitably. Entire neighborhoods are being left behind while we continue to dole out tax money to the rich. When corruption thrives, businesses and people suffer. And as a small business owner who has created good jobs with livable wages and brought tens of millions of dollars to the region, I will support the growth of small businesses in every neighborhood. I will champion policies to replace  gentrification with community-led development without displacement, addressing Cincinnati’s lack of quality housing at every price point. I will revitalize the Collaborative Agreement to make Cincinnati the country’s leader in police reform.

Prophett: Cleaning up City Hall. I will take the lead by returning City Hall to good governance practices: refine our council-manager-strong mayor form of government; hire a certified professional city manager; council sets policy; the mayor sets legislative agenda; and council and the mayor must be selfless leaders. We must also stop kicking the affordable housing can down the road. We must be committed to solving the affordable housing crisis. Transforming public safety is also a priority. Through data analysis, we will structure our public safety forces and other city assets to meet the needs of our citizens. I would also address poverty. I spent my formative years in the West End. I saw poverty, and I know how it affects families and their future. Poverty has so many negative ramifications, such as health, crime, infant mortality and a host of others. When I become mayor, I will get at poverty in a meaningful way in our city.

Mann: First, restore trust and confidence in City Hall through anti-corruption legislation and a return to the norms of the past for the city’s elected leaders. Second, move from pandemic recovery to the next exciting chapter in Cincinnati’s renaissance. Third, jobs and development. Fourth, maintain and increase numbers of police officers, firefighters, public service employees and staffing in other critical departments. Fifth, address racial disparity and end the time when Cincinnati is a "Tale of Two Cities," one Black and one white. Finally, increase the number of affordable housing units.

Pureval: My top priority is an economic recovery after COVID-19 that benefits all 52 neighborhoods. To make sure prosperity is shared in every corner of our city, we need to rebuild our economy after COVID and prioritize growing equitably. This means an economy with better wages, paid family leave and opportunities for people to start and grow small businesses. As mayor, I will prioritize recovering and rebuilding our economy so that all families can thrive. I will work to keep families in their homes, connect unemployed workers with in-demand jobs and direct funding to struggling restaurants. I will grow our economy by streamlining the process to start a business and attract new companies and skilled workers to Cincinnati. And I will fight to share prosperity more equitably by expanding Black businesses ownership and home ownership, reforming the city bidding process and taking on the racial health disparities of COVID-19. We also need to continue to reform and improve our police department and invest in public

safety so every neighborhood is safe. And we need to improve access to affordable housing and basic services like public transportation to get families back on their feet.

I’m not going to promise that we can do this overnight. It is going to take time, and it is going to take all of us. But with a shared commitment to executing on our values, I know we can get it done.

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Thomas: My first priority will be to set a course to restore integrity, character and trust. I would start by having a public, transparent, mayor and council retreat. The purpose will be to have a candid, laser-focused discussion regarding moving forward together, as a team. I would layout my vision for the city and the means to fulfill it. I would stress the critical importance of the continued growth of our city through economic development. Then, I would explain in detail how economic development impacts all other priorities. Transportation, infrastructure, public safety, public services, affordable and market rate housing, education, inclusion, social services, tourism, and a very resourceful Convention and Visitors Bureau. Our city should be clean, safe and vibrant. 

Q: Corruption at City Hall is front and center. Do you think the reforms currently taking place after the indictments of three sitting council members are enough? If not, what more needs to happen in your opinion?

Najoli: No, the reforms taking place are not enough. As mayor, I will undertake an intensive listening tour in all 52 neighborhoods to rebuild trust with residents. Those reforms are crafted by insiders. City Hall is deaf to resident ideas. A solution centered approach requires partnership with fellow citizens. For instance, I have developed a Checklist of Good Leader Behaviors (CGLB) that I would like each council member to review with me, as mayor, on a quarterly basis. Both actions are vital. Going out to the people to mine ideas and gain feedback, then working internally to apply the ideas or change leader behavior. Corruption at City Hall will only end when we are the character city of the United States. Our city is named after Cincinnatus – a paragon of virtue. We will benchmark our approaches against top cities in the world like Boston and London. I will create an "Elders Council," which will mentor ethical leaders in our city. We must end "business as usual" at City Hall.

Begtrup: The most important thing Cincinnati can do to end corruption is to elect a mayor and City Council who haven’t taken money from developers with millions of dollars of business in front of the city. Leadership starts with personal responsibility, which is why I created the Clean Campaign Pledge to not accept donations from developers, a pledge that a number of council candidates have signed onto.

Prophett: No! I believe the 1999 charter amendment, where Cincinnati voters narrowly passed the measure that created the council-manager-stronger mayor form of government, precipitated corruption. I recommended that the motion for an anti-corruption task force brought forth by Councilman David Mann be amended to expand the commission’s scope. The commission should broaden its scope to include an evaluation of the stronger mayor structure and its influence on corruption.

Mann: I authored the legislation creating the blue-ribbon reform panel charged with studying ethics issues at City Hall, including council involvement in development negotiations. The panel has been asked to  develop a code of conduct for elected officials and to review the link between developments and campaign contributions. The panel is to present its recommendations by August 1, soon enough for charter amendment proposals to make it to the November ballot. Despite these initiatives, corrupt people will be corrupt. We need to minimize the opportunities to sell votes.

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Pureval: Corruption is a massive problem holding our city back from what it could be. While I applaud the task force that the mayor has put together, and the charter amendments supported by Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Councilwoman Betsy Sunderman, we have to do more. I look forward to the recommendations from the task force, and Sunderman and Smitherman’s proposals are a strong start, but those reforms are reactive – changing the process for responding to corruption after it has occurred. What I think we should be laser-focused on is preventing corruption. The best way to do that is to increase transparency. Right now, our ethics disclosures for local elected officials do not provide enough information to hold our elected officials accountable for relationships with people who might have business in front of the city. This is true for both gifts and salaries. The good news is that we already have a

model in Ohio; we don’t have to recreate the wheel. The state legislature in Ohio has much more rigorous ethical reporting standards. The first thing we should do to drive more transparency and prevent ethical violations is to raise our ethical standards to meet those of the state legislature. This is a Day One action item for my administration, and it’s a very distinct and simple way to provide more transparency in the process.

Thomas: I applaud those legislators in their effort to address the corruption, however, I would go a step further and establish an Independent Charter Review Committee to clearly and distinctly define roles and responsibilities of the branches of government and provide recommendations. There’s too much ambiguity between the mayor, city manager and council, regarding roles and responsibilities. This would allow everyone to stay in their lanes. My Ohio Senate experience as a member of the Recodification Committee, charged with cleaning up our Criminal Code and the Sentencing Commission and cleaning up our sentencing laws, positions me to lead this effort by experience.

Q: Do you think the mayor should be involved in development deals? If so, to what extent?

Najoli: Balance is critical in all things. Obviously, city government is the leader in community development work and the mayor is the lead voice of the city. Good stewardship requires that the mayor be involved in development deals while great leadership requires that the mayor show wisdom in facilitating deals. As an educator, I have been a facilitator of adult learning, and I believe that the best mayor is a good facilitator. The mayor should be involved in development deals as a facilitator for stakeholders. Benjamin Barber, in his book "If Mayors Ruled the World," argued that mayors who are free of ideological infighting are the key to our global future. As an independent candidate, I am not beholden to any special interests. In assessing development deals, I will exercise high level governance.

Begtrup: Restoring the tripartite government enshrined in the charter is a priority of my campaign. The mayor must set a vision for an equitably growing Cincinnati and create values and priorities that guide development. For example, any development deal that receives incentives from the city must have community engagement and buy-in and must fit into a larger plan for affordable housing and transit. It is then the responsibility of the city administration to negotiate development deals and the role of council to evaluate those deals in alignment with our shared values and priorities.

Meet the Cincinnati Mayoral candidates: Raffel Prophett >Cincinnati Enquirer See more videos > SHARE TWEET SHARE EMAIL What to watch next
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Prophett: No. We have a city manager form of government where the CEO of the city is responsible for executing development deals. 

Mann: As the elected leader of the city, the mayor inevitably will have some involvement in development. He provides political insights to the city administration including the city manager and development officers. He may be needed to break impasses. His role can be very helpful and constructive so long as he respects the guardrails inherent in our charter. The city manager is the CEO and chief administrative officer. The city manager has independent authority and responsibility to the three legs of city government – city manager, mayor and City Council – and, ultimately, to the citizens of our city. 

Pureval: We have unfortunately seen what happens when politicians ignore rules and guidelines. We need to be skeptical about any politician getting involved in the specifics of development deals. The good news is that the charter provides a strong framework for us to follow. We should empower the professionals working in City Hall to negotiate with developers. We are not always going to agree with these City Hall professionals, but when we disagree, it should be transparent and out in the open. We have to put an end to the culture of back-room deals. As mayor, it will be my responsibility to set the vision for the city – to set priorities with respect to growing our economy, developing our infrastructure and our small businesses. I will empower my team, and the city manager and their team, to act on that vision and execute on those goals. It will be my job to be aware of the patchwork of development, but it will not be my job to negotiate specific deals. That should be left to the professionals.

Thomas: The mayor should not be directly involved in any development deals. His or her role should be to allow the manager and his team to use their gifts and talents to negotiate with developers. The mayor should expect the city manager to negotiate the best deal that’s in the city’s best interest. Then the mayor and manager should present the recommendation to council for discussion and input and eventual approval. Under a clearly defined charter, there shouldn’t be any problems. Critical to all of this is the hiring of a city manager and trust that he or she will hire the best and brightest administrators. The mayor and the council should get out of the way and let them do their job. 

Q: Will you take money from developers? What assurances will you give the public if those donors/developers were to come before council seeking tax breaks that the process would be fair?

Najoli: No. I will not. I am an outsider of all current city deals and operations. I have zero developer friends. With me as mayor, the process will be fair. The citizens of Cincinnati should have the confidence of knowing that I will safeguard their interests well. It would be extremely wrong for a developer or donor to offer me money in exchange for support. If this is the culture at City Hall, I will change it completely by ending such a practice. Good governance will be a hallmark of my administration. My campaign is funded 100% by residents of Cincinnati. I have no non-Cincinnati influences.

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Begtrup: We deserve a City Hall that we can trust, which is why I am not taking any money from developers with business in front of the city. The people of Cincinnati deserve leadership that will always do the right thing for Cincinnati, not the right thing for wealthy campaign donors. Cincinnati businesses deserve a fair playing field. 

Prophett: No. I will assure the public that there will be complete transparency, and if I am offered anything illegal, I will immediately inform law enforcement. 

Mann: To me the question should be, what are rules for political contributions? I supported the reform to our charter which ended the use of multiple LLCs by a single individual contributor. The blue-ribbon reform panel has been asked to consider strong rules regulating contributions from developer. The key is transparency requiring continuing full disclosure of all contributions, from everyone – ordinary citizens and organizations of any kind.

Pureval: In every campaign I have run, the support I received was based on people who aligned with my values and my principles – not based on what I could do for them, transactionally, once elected. That will continue once I am mayor. I’m proud that we are running a grassroots campaign focused on listening to all 52 neighborhoods, talking to voters in all 52 neighborhoods and getting both volunteer and financial support in all 52 neighborhoods. And I’m proud of the fact that we have almost 1,000 individual contributions. One thing I want to make as clear as possible is that my responsibility as mayor will not be to involve myself in the specifics of development deals; we need to leave that up to the business professionals to execute on our vision. I will always be transparent with the people of Cincinnati. For example, I do not have a PAC. If you look at my campaign, you will know the money I have and where it came from – voters of

Cincinnati can rest assured that what they see is what they get. My decisions as mayor, and the values that I will prioritize, will be dictated by one question: What is in the best interest of Cincinnatians? That is the rubric I will follow, whether it’s a decision on legislation, board appointments or strategic planning for the future of our city.

Thomas: I would not have any problem accepting donations from developers simply because I’m a man of honesty and integrity. My support is not for sale. That’s a tone that I established going back in 2005 when I first ran for City Council. I’ve never strayed from that principle. Integrity, transparency, trust and the fear of God have always been my guiding principles. I also strongly believe that most developers are honorable people of good will, and it’s up to each individual elected official to use their best judgment whether to accept a given donations. If there’s any doubt of the legitimacy, then it should not be accepted.

Q: If council fails to take action on a forensic audit of past development projects, would you support one for every project in the pipeline?

Najoli: Yes, I will. The idea of an outside firm looking into city operations has upside. I understand why council may not want to look at past development deals. Perhaps for past deals what we might do is convene a small-scale "Truth and Forgiveness Commission," which can uncover anything that might have gone wrong in the past for educational purpose.

Begtrup: We must ensure that no taxpayer money has been spent on projects that have been tainted by corruption. And then we must make sure that members of council who have conflicts recuse themselves from future development decisions.

Prophett: Yes.

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Mann: Sure, we always should know the relationships between developers, developments and council members.

Pureval: I do support a third-party audit of projects in the pipeline right now. Corruption has to be rooted out – and while that’s vital to the perception of our city, it’s also vital to the health of our economy. If people don’t trust our process and our leaders in City Hall, they aren’t going to feel comfortable investing here, moving here, staying here or raising their families here. Getting this right is critically important for the future of our city. We have to make sure that the deals currently in the pipeline are totally above board. Voters in our city and our region deserve that level of transparency and peace of mind. Hopefully, we do not find any evidence of corruption, but the best-case scenario is that we receive much-needed recommendations for how we can be better. A third-party forensic audit is a commonsense process improvement opportunity and a necessary step in our anti-corruption measures.

Thomas: I would support an audit, but it must be for the right reasons. There must be a clearly defined purpose and not a fishing expedition. If the audit will be beneficial in helping to explain how this all happened and to help formulate recommendations, then I think it’s good to help the city move forward. But if the audit is for the purpose of fishing, trying to score political points on past elected officials and developers, that’s not good and can only hinder moving forward. The last thing our city needs is developers overlooking Cincinnati and choosing to go elsewhere because we’re sending signals that all developers are bad. In their world, I’m sure, the word will spread quickly.

Q: Do you support the affordable housing charter amendment? Why or why not? If not, what is your plan to address the affordable housing shortage in the city?

Najoli: Having worked with many homeless men at a local shelter, I understand the plight of the unhoused. In 2015, I was named one of Cincinnati’s "Forty Under 40" for serving homeless persons. The need is great. I support the affordable housing charter amendment. City Council has been able to find money for needs in the past. We can do this. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." I am inherently solutions oriented. I will harness remarkable minds and provide fresh approaches for handling our housing needs. I would like to attract a certified Benefits Corporations (B Corps) in the real estate industry to the Cincinnati area. I would like more local organizations to embrace affordable housing as a corporate social responsibility goal. 

Begtrup: Affordable housing is critical to the future of our city, and funding the affordable housing trust fund is an important step in closing the gap between our city needs and availability. When families have access to affordable housing, kids grow up in more stable homes. When kids have stable homes, they do better in school, they do better in life, and they can break the cycle of poverty. I’ve seen this firsthand at the Spencer Center, where kids from all over the city are thriving. Unfortunately, we have a lack of quality affordable housing in our city. Despite creating the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, City Hall hasn’t adequately funded it, which is why 9,500 Cincinnatians felt it necessary to bring forth this amendment. Were I mayor today, I would convene an aggressive task force comprising big and small business, community groups and nonprofits to implement a public-private partnership to finance the trust fund before the May election. If City Hall fails to act, we should expect the charter amendment to pass and leave the city in a challenging funding position.

Prophett: Yes. The affordable housing crisis in the city is huge. There is a shortage of 28,000 affordable housing units today, and the crisis is only growing. After years of failed leadership, the civic engagement that it took to bring people together to put that trust fund on the ballot is admirable. That is what it will take to move our city forward. As mayor, I won't be some type of savior that has all the answers. But I will lead from the front as the collaborative chief to get things done. We must find creative ways to fund affordable housing without cutting essential services.

Mann: I do not support the charter amendment. It does not identify a source of revenue to provide $50 million per year forever. Given a general fund budget of $400 million, dedicating $50 million exclusively to affordable housing every year cannot be done without major impacts on basic city services, including reductions in numbers of police officers and firefighters and public service employees who handle waste collection, snow removal, street repair and maintenance. Recreation centers and health clinics will have to close or dramatically reduce their hours of service. The charter amendment takes virtually all authority over the $50 million per year from City Council, the city manager or anyone accountable to the public. The amendment creates a board of 11 people, two persons to be selected by the president pro tem of City Council. As to the other nine members of the board, council must appoint nine members selected by various groups with all sorts of direct interests in the expenditure of funds in the trust. That is, most of the board members have direct conflicts of interest. The board acts completely independently to decide how money is spent without anyone in government authorized to review these decisions. The board approves contracts which must be executed by the city manager. I wrote the legislation creating the affordable housing trust and the law taxing air bnbs, with all collections going to the trust. In addition, for the first time starting with current year’s budget, one-fourth of all district TIF funds now must support affordable housing. The city manager has recommended using $10 million of the federal stimulus funds for affordable housing. 

Pureval: I do not support the affordable housing charter amendment, but I do support prioritizing affordable housing. I empathize with the frustration of those who do support the charter amendment, because the truth of the matter is our city has not had a comprehensive approach to affordable housing. It has not been a priority. We need to get this issue right. Every day in the Hamilton County Courthouse, I see the devastating effects of not having an affordable housing strategy in Eviction Court. I see parents with small children being rendered homeless because they cannot afford their rent. This happens every day in Hamilton County, and it unfortunately disproportionately affects Black mothers. It is absolutely critical that we bring everyone to the table and prioritize affordable housing. First, we need to fund the affordable housing trust fund. However, relying entirely on the city’s general fund is a missed opportunity. We have to leverage city dollars in order to incentivize our institutional philanthropies and our Fortune 500 companies to invest in the trust fund. We also have to build an infrastructure that puts the city in the best possible position to win grants from the federal government, whether it be from the administration or from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But we cannot stop there. A comprehensive plan will also require a review of the city’s development incentives like TIFF, tax abatements and VITICA to ensure that we are not only incentivizing growth but also incentivizing equity. And finally, we need a real commitment to tenants’ rights. We need a housing court to hold bad landlords accountable and support tenants and homeowners who want to grow with their neighborhoods. And we have to balance the playing field in Eviction Court by working to ensure greater access to lawyers and legal services for tenants who cannot afford representation. For too long our city has not been committed to affordable housing. If I’m elected mayor, I will change that.

Thomas: I do not support the affordable housing charter amendment, but I do understand the need. A guiding principle of good fiscal responsibility is to not propose an expenditure without an identified source to pay for it. Requiring the city to spend $50 million from its budget without identifying the source of the expenditure would bankrupt the city. A more reasonable solution would be to identify federal, state and local funding sources, coupled with public private partnerships and set ambitious, 10-20 year goals. This would require the establishment of an Affordable Housing Sub-Committee. The purpose would be to have a significant number of interested party meetings to hear from the experts and develop a pathway. We should also invest a sizable portion of the federal stimulus windfall into the housing trust fund. 

Q: What is one thing in the city budget that you would change?

Najoli: Find a way to provide more support to neighborhood community councils. They are vital to revitalization and need more attention. Numerous councils state that their needs are overwhelming. The community councils are terrific partners in helping the city meet its other goals and priorities. There are some neighborhoods which are forgotten, and the community councils are not functional. These councils need to be revived and funded to ensure that all 52 neighborhoods operate in unison as one well-oiled machine. We will make the budgeting process more participatory for individuals through their community councils. 

Begtrup: To stimulate job creation and recovery in our neighborhoods, I would increase funding for Black and brown small businesses, which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. But it will take more than one thing to right our budget. Our city budget is facing unprecedented challenges due to uncertainty in tax receipts and the economy. My first action as mayor will be to conduct a complete review of the budget, both revenues and expenditures, and engage in a participatory budgeting process to align our spending with our vision for an equitably growing city.

Prophett: One change I would make would be to increase funding for community health (health department).

Mann: More resources. 

Pureval: The biggest thing in the budget that I would change is the process of how the budget is created. Right now, 95% of the budget gets baked in prior to the public having an opportunity to study it and respond. We need to actively seek out community engagement much earlier in the process. As mayor, I will be collaborative and transparent, reaching out to communities to get their feedback and an understanding of what’s important to them. The fact of the matter is, if you show me your budget, I will show you your values and priorities. My values and priorities have to come from the community, and that cannot happen on the one yard line. Community feedback needs to come at the very beginning of the process.

Thomas: I would revisit the area related to property tax abatement to target neighborhoods and projects that need tax breaks to move forward and to stop subsidizing million-dollar upgrades that shift more of the tax burden onto existing homeowners.

Q: Do you agree with defunding the police? If so, how would you change police spending?

Najoli: My philosophy is that we need to RESET the police. Twice a year we reset our clocks. It makes sense to periodically reset our thinking on many things. As mayor, I will ensure five things with the police department: Redefine the role of local police; Establish equality and due process; Stabilize community engagement polices; Enact transparency and accountability standards; Train on deescalation and sanctity of life. The RESET may streamline funding to enable policing systems reform. We will ensure that our city’s police department is operating on a futuristic model of excellence. Among other ideas, we will develop agile systems, establish input circles in communities, champion robust intervention, utilize data and so much more. 

Betrup: If we are proactive, Cincinnati can lead the country in police reform and be a shining city on a hill. We must revisit the Collaborative Agreement and aggressively push forward police and community relations. 2020 was the most deadly year on record as homicides and gun violence continued to mar our city. Just a few years ago, my daughter had to twice take cover during active shooter events in the neighborhood surrounding her elementary school. We need our neighborhoods to be safe and for our neighbors to feel safe.

Prophett: No. 

Mann: No. We have crime. We have too many killings. These incidents will go up if we have  fewer officers. We have high-quality officers and high-quality policing and, by most measures, we have better officers and better policing than in years past. The Collaborative Agreement and the consent decree have been powerful positive forces. We must look for ways, in the case of a 911 call, to match citizen needs with resources and capabilities of personnel sent to respond to the call. The police chief has requested funding for mental health teams in each district.  His request should be funded.

Pureval: COVID-19 has shone a light on the longstanding racial inequities in our society. In our housing, in our economic systems and in our justice system; systemic racism is real. You only need to look at the names Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Timothy Thomas. The names change every year, but the color never does. Black Americans feel the brunt of a system that leads to unjust results, and in some instances, the loss of life because of systemic biases. I do not support defunding the police, but I do support reforming and improving the police. And the great news is that here in Cincinnati, because of the landmark Collaborative Agreement, we have a framework to push us forward. In order to reform and improve the police so that every

single neighborhood is safe, we have to get back to the fundamentals of the Collaborative Agreement. Right now, the Citizen Complaint Authority is underfunded and understaffed. It can’t live up to its charge of being an independent and outside organization that investigates and holds our police department accountable. We need to fully fund that organization. We also need to do what we know works: making sure police officers are members of the communities they serve – engaging in community policing and being visible. Finally, we need to make sure we’re using our resources efficiently and intelligently by reforming our 911 process. Right now, 911 is only helpful if you are on fire or if your life is in danger. We have to take action on this by making sure police officers are only responding to issues they are trained for and where they can help – and when they’re not, we need to send unarmed and specifically-trained professionals. These are the ways we will continue to reform and improve our justice system. It’s not just important for our Black and brown communities; it’s important for all

of us.

Thomas: I do not agree with literally defunding the police. As a police officer for 27 years, I know very well how best to use police officers’ training. Police officers are trained to maintain public safety, but they are asked to carry out many other duties that other trained professionals should handle. For example, children left alone, mental depression, neighbor disputes, traffic management, fender benders or animal removal. I would establish a committee to look at calls for service, hold interested party meetings, and report back with recommendations. The intent will be to free our police to focus on more serious crime.

Q: If you ever hire a new city manager, will you do a professional search?

Najoli: We must find the most prepared person for what will be a marvelous mayoral term. As mayor I will be looking for a high-level thinker who will help initiate the city’s first -ever Board of Residents Intelligently Leveraging Leadership to Improve, Advance, and Nurture Talent (BRILLIANT) plan. A highly professional search will enable us to marshal our city to its best days yet. It is my belief that such a local professional can be found within the city of Cincinnati, but I am not opposed to an countrywide search process.

Begtrup: To get the city growing equitably, we must change the culture of City Hall from one of corruption to one of collaboration. Cincinnati deserves leadership at every level focused on serving the people. I have interviewed and hired hundreds of people, and I will have a city manager who will instill a culture of leadership and ownership at every level within the administration, aligned with our shared vision and mission of equitable growth and service.

Prophett: Yes.

Mann: Yes, when a vacancy occurs

Pureval: I am no stranger to professionalizing an organization. Before I took over the Clerk of Courts office, it was rife with patronage and nepotism. When you were applying for a job, it mattered who you supported in the last election, where you lived and who you were related to. We changed that. We drove a professional recruiting and hiring process that is now transparent and fair. Jobs are posted, candidates get a telephone screening interview and every interviewed candidate is asked the same questions. Based on your resume, your interview and the needs of our organization, we make a hiring decision. That same approach needs to be applied at City Hall in all of our hiring, including in the hiring of a professional city manager. I will direct a transparent and objective professional search to find the best person for the job, because Cincinnati deserves no less than that.

Thomas: Absolutely. It’s a good practice to bring in someone that has the proper skill set with the proper professional credentials. My role as mayor is to make sure he or she has the tools to get the job done. I would convene a search committee of very carefully selected members based on my vision for the city.

Q: Should the city manager be professionally credentialed? The last three haven’t been.

Najoli: I have a credential before my name that signifies my academic development. A professional credential is more than just a symbol of identity. A credential shows commitment to a process of excellence. The city manager should be credentialed and required to continue ongoing training. If Cincinnati is to become the character city of the United States, we must have high caliber leaders. I will support Key Performance Indicators and Knowledge Assessments of not just the city manager, but the entire administration of City Hall, plus city workers. We have seen a lack of ethics in the workplace at City Hall. A credentialed city manager is held to the high standards of an academic body. It is a great starting point.

Begtrup: Professional credentialing is one consideration in hiring, but also important are character, experience and values. Our city manager must have an ethos of service before self, must embrace a vision for an equitably growing Cincinnati, and must empower her entire civil service with leadership and ownership at every level.

Prophett: Absolutely!

Mann: Obviously the city manager should be qualified. The credentialing process of the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) is significant but should not be deemed a non-negotiable item. The real question is the range of an applicant’s experience and the applicant’s intelligence, integrity, personality and courage. 

Pureval: Our city has seen decades of success and national recognition for our city manager form of government. We should respect the unique balance we have, but we should also make our search for a city manager as professional as possible. I want the best person for the job, and our city manager search will reflect that.

Thomas: Absolutely. We want to bring in the best and the brightest based on qualification, professionally credentialed and experienced.

Q: Police Chief Eliot Isaac is retiring this year. Do you think the current mayor and city manager should wait to choose a replacement and let the new administration do it?

Najoli: The current mayor and city manager should wait and let the new team undertake the process of finding a new police chief. Succession systems are best implemented by the people who will be around to provide support and supervision. In my doctoral work, I have worked on wisdom and organizational citizenship behavior in the development of succession systems. I will bring this thinking to my work as the next mayor.

Begtrup: It is in the best interest of the city and our democracy for the next police chief to be chosen by our next mayor and council elected by the voters this November.

Prophett: Yes. The new administration should choose Chief Isaac's replacement. This will allow for alignment between the city manager and police chief.

Mann: It depends on the timing of Chief Issac's retirement. We should not have an interim chief for many months just because a new mayor will arrive in January 2022. 

Pureval: Yes, the current mayor and city manager should wait. The Chief of Police is one of the most important members of our city government, and it only makes sense that the new administration has a say in the future of the Cincinnati Police Department.

Thomas: I would highly recommend that the current mayor and city manager should only appoint an interim chief and should allow the incoming mayor and city manager to appoint a chief.

Q: What would you do to bring back Downtown post-pandemic?

Najoli: My vision is that Cincinnati will become the character city of the United States – a center of business and economic excellence; an international juggernaut of education and sporting events; a thriving metropolis of growing residents and homeownership; and a youthful place that cultivates equity and human potential. We will fully support small business and new start-ups created during the pandemic. We will invest in STEM to produce future workers and cultural activities that showcase our city. We will engage all city residents in pathways to a better life and boost housing outcomes for city dwellers. We will develop signature events for harnessing belongingness and provide opportunities for people to exploit their gifts. Our points of attack will aim at four things: entrepreneurial ingenuity, enhanced social life, increased foot traffic and expanding population. These four points will hinge on increased civic prosperity. It will be an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to a post-pandemic world. Every two months, I will be in every neighborhood to inspire a new breed of civic engagement. Post-pandemic, I want Cincinnati to be at the top of a list of ethical cities.

Begtrup: As the small business owner in the race, I have seen firsthand the devastation caused by the pandemic. Small businesses, and particularly Black and brown small businesses, are reeling. With my experience in policy, business and economic development, I am uniquely capable of bringing together diverse stakeholders to revitalize downtown – beginning with the creation of a small business fund to help businesses start, expand or reopen. With many people likely to continue working remotely, we must be proactive with neighborhoods, nonprofits, and downtown businesses to reimagine downtown, as Cincinnati has done multiple times in its storied history. We must look at new uses for existing space and work with Hamilton County on transportation projects to connect every neighborhood to downtown so that our city is accessible.

Prophett: I want to create an event that celebrates getting through the pandemic, honoring those who served and those we lost. Fountain Square would be a great place to hold the celebration.

Mann: We must use some of the stimulus money to support recovery of all downtown activity. The goal is not to return to normal, but to leap to a future many steps beyond where we have been. I want to see a downtown so far beyond a return to normal that though we feel something sort of  familiar, the total experience is much better than anything we remember. We must develop and execute a vigorous, catalytic plan to energize all aspects of downtown life including downtown workers, retail, commercial, food, entertainment, the arts, sports and residential space. I favor creation of an office reporting to the city manager charged with envisioning our post-pandemic world and a path to get there.

Pureval: It has been a really tough year, and we’ve all struggled. It’s been a particularly devastating year for our live events industry, our small businesses and our restaurants. When we respond and recover, we have to be targeted, specifically supporting those industries and supporting all of our neighborhoods including the Central Business District. The downtown area is the engine that drives the economics of our entire region, so when we bounce back, we have to prioritize getting people back downtown. I fully support the incredible work the city is already doing to address this: expanding outdoor

dining, expanding outdoor entertainment districts and making the downtown area more

walkable. I will continue this important effort, but we have to do more. We need to see these same efforts in our neighborhood business districts. Small businesses in the 51 other neighborhoods need the same creative approaches. Additionally, third-party delivery apps are crushing our local businesses. That local money should stay local: we should bring back the fee cap of 15%, at least in the short term, because it keeps

money in our local businesses and encourages people to return to our restaurants in-person. This is critical to lifting up our downtown and the residents who depend on it.

Finally, as mayor, I will use the bully pulpit to run a marketing campaign that lets the entire region know that Cincinnati is open for business. We need to encourage people to come back to the city and patronize our small businesses. That comprehensive approach is essential to lifting us out of COVID.

Thomas: I would start by doing a major impact study of the post-pandemic damage to our business sector, with a major emphasis on restaurants, other small businesses and vacant office space. I would want to know what businesses need immediate help to remain open, what businesses we lost, and what will it take to get them back. I would do a major campaign to fill vacant office and retail space by working with property owners and investors. I would give a major boost to our Convention and Visitors Bureau to do a major campaign to bring conventions and tourism to the city. Downtown Cincinnati is the core for the stability of the region. A strong core feeds a strong region, and a weak core results in a weak region. Downtown is the economic engine for the entire region.

Q: What’s your one big idea for Cincinnati?

Najoli: I want us to end the language of poverty in Cincinnati. We embrace the idea of abundance. What I have learned is that what one focuses on, expands. We will vastly change outcomes for children and families when we start driving them toward abundance. As mayor, I will implement a Cincinnati Operation for Maximum Performance, Assessment, and Support Services (COMPASS) whose aim will be to guide individuals to find their Perfect North and live abundantly. Through COMPASS, we will catapult Cincinnatians to their absolute abundant quality of life. My enduring legacy as mayor will be the end of poverty in Cincinnati and the germination of abundance as a mark of our beloved Queen City of the Midwest.

Begtrup: A Cincinnati new economy program. Cincinnati is home to some of the greatest entrepreneurship stories in history (see P&G and Kroger). Let’s spur the next generation of those successes by the city leading a collaboration with business, nonprofits, and philanthropies to build a regional entrepreneurial development program. The New Economy Initiative in Detroit is a good template for increasing Black small business ownership, and Cincinnati has wonderful existing assets in Mortar and the African American Chamber of Commerce. Through collaboration, we could lead the nation in recovery from the pandemic while creating jobs and wealth in our underserved communities.

Prophett: Transform public safety. The majority of incidents that police and fire respond to are health related. We need to integrate health care into public safety, which will require greater collaboration between the city’s community health system and hospitals.

Mann: I want us once again to be be known as the country’s best governed city with an exceptional commitment to racial justice and equity.

Pureval: My one big idea for Cincinnati is Black ownership. Black ownership of homes, Black ownership of neighborhoods and Black ownership of businesses. In order for us to win the next decade, we must grow equitably, and we must be intentional about growth in Black and brown communities. We do this by continuing to grow the capacity of the Minority Business Accelerator, the African American Chamber and the Urban League. These organizations are trusted partners who provide capital to launch African American and women-owned small businesses and continue to provide capital as those businesses grow. We also need to reform the way the city provides contracts to minority and women-owned businesses. And we need to incentivize our Fortune 500 companies to work with our local businesses. Finally, we need a real commitment to affordable housing. If we can accomplish true Black ownership in homes, neighborhoods and businesses, our city will be positioned to win the next decade for everyone.

Thomas: My one big idea for the city is to expand our convention center and to make Cincinnati a world-class city for tourism and conventions.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati mayoral election: Candidates share their visions for the city

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/news/cincinnati-mayoral-election-candidates-share-their-visions-for-the-city/ar-BB1fm57S

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