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Calfee NOW Episode 21 with Cincinnati Mayor-Elect Aftab Pureval

On episode 21 of Calfee NOW, Charlie Luken, Senior Counsel and former Cincinnati Mayor, Patrick Hayes, Senior Counsel, and Michael Bowen, Associate with Calfee's Government Relations and Legislation practice group, spoke with Cincinnati Mayor-Elect, Aftab Pureval. 

Topics discussed included:

  • The Mayor-Elect's background and how he got into politics. 
  • His initiatives and priorities for the City of Cincinnati.
  • The importance of affordable housing in Cincinnati.
  • How mayors from all over Ohio can work together to accomplish their goals.

Calfee NOW Aftab Pureval

Watch the full episode.



Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

Well, thanks everybody and welcome to another edition of our Calfee NOW series. Today's a special one. We have the mayor elect for the city of Cincinnati, Aftab Pureval. He's actually the 70th Mayor of the City of Cincinnati. So, Aftab, how are you doing, sir?

Aftab Pureval:

I'm great. Thanks so much for putting this on. I really, really appreciate it. It's good to be with so many friends here. The week of Thanksgiving. Are you guys...

Michael Bowen:

Absolutely.

Aftab Pureval:

... Ready to throw down on some turkey and some stuffing?

Michael Bowen:

This is a special one too, because we have the former Mayor of Cincinnati, Charlie Luken, on, as well as our colleague Patrick Hayes from Calfee. So, mayor elect, we'll get right into it. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up being the 70th Mayor of Cincinnati.

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah. It's been kind of a whirlwind for me. I was born and raised in the Dayton area of Beaver Creek, went to Ohio State for undergrad and moved to Cincinnati for the first time in 2005 for law school. I went to the UC College of Law, where Pat and I became fast friends. Pat was the student body president of UC Law, he spoke at our commencement and gave one of the top five speeches of my life.

Patrick Hayes:

I'd like to point out I ran unopposed that [inaudible 00:01:21]...

Aftab Pureval:

[crosstalk 00:01:21]

Patrick Hayes:

... That [inaudible 00:01:21] year.

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah. We became fast friends. I moved out to DC and I was an antitrust litigator with the law firm of White & Case. I did that for four years and I actually started the day Lehman Brothers went under. That was the beginning of my career was the precipice of the housing collapse. Those four years were intense and stressful, to say the least. I got homesick. I wanted to come back to Cincinnati, so I became a special assistant U.S. Attorney. I was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District here in Cincinnati for a year and then I transitioned to P&G. I was a beauty attorney. I was the global brand attorney for Olay and Covergirl for several years. Loved the company. Loved my time there, but had this calling for public's service, always had a passion and an interest for it, but never thought that a brown dude named Aftab could find an electorate to elect me.

Aftab Pureval:

It was really President Obama who convinced me that no matter what your name or ethnicity is, that if you're passionate and work hard you can run, and you can serve. I ran for the Clerk of Courts in 2016. People didn't think I had a chance. My opponent was very well known and very well established, but we shocked a lot of people by winning and that kind of put me on the path to now being the 70th Mayor of Cincinnati. It's been a wonderful experience so far, just incredibly humbled and honored and grateful for the opportunity to lead. I will say I have a whole lot more new friends calling me every day. I've got... People think I'm much funnier than they used to. Everyone's laughing at my jokes these days, so that's nice. Although it's having...

Patrick Hayes:

Who? Tell me who? Come on. Who's really like... Come on

Aftab Pureval:

Not anyone on this call, but it's having the opposite effect on my wife. She thinks I'm increasingly ridiculous. She keeps me humble, but it's been a fun ride these last few weeks.

Michael Bowen:

Fantastic. Mayor I'll hand it over to you, Mayor Luken.

Charlie Luken:

Hey, good afternoon. I was just wondering. Watching you since the election, before the election, I understood your plans for the city a little bit. If you could highlight a little bit about what's at the top of your agenda and I'm interested in if any of your conversations since the election altered priorities or the emphasis of what you're thinking you want to do when you get sworn in January, 1.

Aftab Pureval:

Nothing's altered my priorities or my vision or, certainly, my values. I will say there are different issues that are more timely, maybe, than others. For example, during the campaign we kept hearing about this infrastructure bill, this infrastructure bill. Will it pass? Will it not pass? Well, it's finally passed. Coordinating with the county on MSD, on the banks, on the convention center, on a whole host of things, it was always a priority, but now it's even more times sensitive. It's even more urgent. I just met with Denise today. I plan on meeting with the entire county commission. I Met with Denise at her invitation. It's even more important for us to be coordinated, to be collaborative, to go to the federal government, either through the grant process or the legislative process with the United Front, to say for the region of Hamilton County and Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, our priorities are the Brent Spence Bridge, our priorities are Broadband, our priorities are lead pipe and MSD. That kind of coordination needs to happen right now.

Aftab Pureval:

That's incredibly timely, but nothing will ever me off of my top priority, which is the growth of the city and growing with racial equity in the center of the frame. Mayor, you know how difficult the budget is for the city. Unfortunately, what makes it even more difficult is the pandemic and the times that we're living in. So many people are still working remotely because we are still in the middle of this pandemic and our vaccination rates aren't what we want them to be. Because of that work from home, a large percentage of folks are eligible for a tax refund if they live outside of the city. That represents a real challenge to basic services in our city budget. There's even more of an impetus on us to grow, to recruit out of town businesses and employers, to recruit remote workers, to create the kinds of neighborhoods that those young families are looking for.

Charlie Luken:

I know we particularly emphasized affordable housing during the campaign.

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah.

Charlie Luken:

That's something that's got a lot of attention and I think there have been some things done by council that makes the [inaudible 00:06:37], but I'm wondering if your thoughts on that subject, as it is so timely. It seems like it increased in importance, even with COVID and the pandemic, but it's always been there.

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah. The wonderful thing is that our city is growing, that our population is growing, our skyline is growing, but unfortunately, due to a whole host of issues, our wages haven't necessarily kept up with our rents and our property values. On top of that, because our population is growing, our housing supply hasn't grown commensurate with that growth. It's creating a lot of pressure on our affordability of housing here in Cincinnati. What we need more of, is housing. We need housing supply to go up across the board, market rate, workforce development, affordable housing, low income. We just need more supply across the board and that supply has to be built equitably. In order to do that, one of my top priorities, particularly as it relates to affordable housing, is to take a look at our zoning code and make sure that it is creating the kinds of city, the kinds of neighborhoods that we all want to live in.

Aftab Pureval:

Taking a look at the prohibitions, I think 70% of the city prohibits multifamily units. Does that make sense in 70% of the city? I'm not sure that it does. Obviously, we have to do this in partnership with our neighborhoods, but taking a look at that and taking a look at parking requirements for houses and businesses, particularly ones that are along major public transportation routes. I'm not sure that that makes sense either, but the biggest issue, as it relates to affordable housing, that I think we can take action on very soon, after taking office, is our tax abatement program. Mayor, you know this. A vast majority of our tax incentives and tax breaks are going to our wealthiest neighborhoods in Cincinnati. I care that we have more supply, but I care very deeply where it's going. I would like to see us reform that tax abatement process to include things like census track or location, to ensure that Price Hill and Bond Hill are getting their fair share of tax breaks and tax incentives and that they're creating the kind of economic activity that those neighborhoods are looking for.

Charlie Luken:

Good stuff.

Patrick Hayes:

Yeah, absolutely. Really, really good stuff. In addition to those items that Mayor Luken mentioned, I know you've also been really busy assembling your transition team and getting things up and running on that. As you start to look towards working with that transition team, what are some other specific initiatives that you're looking to introduce or continue within the city in the coming months and years?

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah. The top issues for me, we've already talked about growth and racial equity, as it relates to economic development. We've talked about affordable housing. The two other big things for me are public safety and the environment. We have a violent crime challenge here in Cincinnati. We certainly cannot grow and we certainly can't have healthy places to live if our city across the board is mired in gun violence, which it is. What is even more heartbreaking is that many of the victims are children, and many of the perpetrators themselves are children.

Aftab Pureval:

We have to make sure we're working collaboratively with law enforcement. Not just at the local level, but also at the national level. Later this week I'll be meeting with, hopefully the new U.S. Attorney, Ken Parker, the Chief of Police and also the sheriff to talk about ways that we can get a better handle on these illegal guns that are flooding into our communities, to prioritize our resources so that we're preventing violent crime and prosecuting violent crime. Chief Isaac will be the first to tell you that law enforcement alone can't solve this problem. So much of the root cause of the violence is poverty, particularly in the middle of this pandemic. Making sure that we provide opportunities for pathways out of poverty, including youth mentorship programs and youth employment. We also have to make sure that their parents have good jobs too, so creating an equitable economy is going to be critically important to me, my transition team, and I believe the new council as well.

Charlie Luken:

Can you say your Vice Mayor selection? I've known [Jan 00:11:12] Michelle for longer than he would care to remember, but I think she's and incredibly person and a wonderful pick, but I wonder if you'd take a second to highlight your thought about her and what went into [choosing her as your 00:11:26] Vice Mayor?

Aftab Pureval:

She's a home run choice. When you're looking for Vice Mayor, you're looking for someone who can step into the role of Mayor without missing a beat. As a Harvard Law grad, as a community leader, small business owner, someone who's only been on council for, I think, like a year and a half and is already leading the way on violence with the new boys and girls club in Roll Hill, on affordable housing, on racial equity, as she was working on the racial equity task force before the pandemic hit. She's got the trust of the community, long standing groups in the community and is someone who can lead on day one. I'm quite frankly honored and lucky that she said yes. She was a consensus pick. I'm looking forward to not only working with her, but also learning from her. She's got decades of experience in a whole host of arenas that I'm looking forward to leveraging.

Charlie Luken:

Yeah. I think, I think she married down.

Aftab Pureval:

Yes. Yeah. I was just about to say she's perfect, other than her husband. I mean, nobody gets them all right.

Charlie Luken:

Well, for anybody who's listening, that's an inside joke. [inaudible 00:12:43]

Aftab Pureval:

Former Senator Eric Kearney, a lovely guy in his own right, but it's safe to say he out kicked his coverage.

Charlie Luken:

He did.

Michael Bowen:

So Mayor, I'm going to actually go off script a little bit here and ask you a question.

Aftab Pureval:

Right.

Michael Bowen:

I've been thinking a lot about here, as a Clevelander. We have a brand new young Mayor in the City of Cleveland now. We have a new young Mayor in the City of Cincinnati and then, obviously, we have our friends in Columbus, in the middle there. Tell me a little bit about how the Mayors could start working together or continue working together in the three C's and frankly, across the state, how to move some of the policies you discussed?

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah. I'm admittedly learning about some of this, but there are... What's nice is that there are already organizations and an infrastructure set up on the national level and also on the local level. What's wonderful is that it's all nonpartisan. At the end of the day, our national leaders can posture and be partisan and advocate whatever agenda they're looking for, but when it comes to the Mayor and local offices, that's when the rubber hits the road. What I have found already in this job, and in my previous job in county government, is that that partisanship kind of goes out the window. It's about delivering results for the people. As a charter says, there's no Republican or Democratic way to fix a pothole. So I'm looking forward to partnering with Mayors across the country and across the state, no matter what their party is, to figure out what are the best practices.

Aftab Pureval:

Violence, gun violence, is a problem all over the country, not just in Ohio and not just in Cincinnati, so what are the smart, innovative ideas? What's working? What's the data say on that, on housing, on poverty? I'm looking forward to collaborating with Mayor-elect Bibb, with Mayor Ginther, but also with small town Mayors as well, and Appalachian Mayors in the state to really start rowing in the same direction so that we can improve education, we can improve life expectancy, not just in Cincinnati, but across the state.

Michael Bowen:

Wonderful. So, once again, this is kind of our little wrap up session here we do Mayor. Thank you for coming once again and I guess I'm going to leave the floor open to you, to share anything that you like our clients to know, our fellow partners, our fellow colleagues, both Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus. I'm going to give you the mic to kind of freestyle here.

Aftab Pureval:

Yeah. Look, I believe that the Tuesday we got elected was a historic night. Historic because of the amount of change that we saw on council, but also his historic because of what our campaign and our election represented, the first Asian and Indian American Mayor of Cincinnati, but also of any major city in the Midwest. I think that is, not just a national story, but an international story, to suggest that Cincinnati is a place where no matter where you're from or what you look like, if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams and my family's story is exactly proof of that. I mean, my mother is a refugee. She's from Tibet, grew up in India, in a refugee camp. Then one generation, my family went from being refugees to now, the next Mayor of Cincinnati. That story all only happens right here in our community and we as Cincinnatians are so excited for other people to come here and to share in that story.

Michael Bowen:

Well, thank you Mayor.

Charlie Luken:

[crosstalk 00:16:26] that there are a lot of... You made a point about Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus a second ago. I think the mistake I'd made, not that you can learn from ancient history, but keeping those [inaudible 00:16:41] around the state of Ohio, which I know you're going to do, does give you an exposure to the way other people are working on problems that I think is helpful and I think I missed a lot of that. So your interest in kind of a best practices from around the state and around the country, I think will really be helpful to you.

Aftab Pureval:

Thank you, Mayor. Please keep the advice coming. I've never been Mayor before. So looking forward to learning from you and others.

Charlie Luken:

I've never given much advice and I don't plan to now because things have changed the great deal. I think things have changed, generally, for the better and are on a positive track because of some of the new thinking, much of which you articulated in the last few minutes and throughout your campaign.

Aftab Pureval:

Thank you guys. Well, I hope you guys have a great Thanksgiving. Are you guys traveling? Are you going to have to battle the lines?

Patrick Hayes:

I was going to go back and answer your original question, which is I've been looking forward to my mom's stuffing for the last six weeks.

Aftab Pureval:

Stuffing's the best. Isn't stuffing the best? Stuffing's covered with gravy is my wheelhouse. I mean, turkey's fine, but the stuffing is the star for me.

Patrick Hayes:

Absolutely. Well, we, we hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving as well.

Aftab Pureval:

Thank you guys.

Michael Bowen:

Guys. Absolutely. Thank you, Mary. Like, and we'll be in touch. Thanks everybody for joining everybody.

Patrick Hayes:

Take care. Bye.

Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the view points of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary. Updates related to all COVID-19 government assistance programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance are being disseminated from government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.

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