On Tuesday, February 13th, Beyond Civility hosted a Side-by-Side for some new faces on Cincinnati City Council. Citizens gathered at the downtown Mercantile Library to hear newly elected Councilmembers Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, and Jeff Pastor talk about their formative years and what civility means for city governance. Moderated by BC board member Patti Foster, the three public servants shared entertaining, witty, and at times deeply moving stories about their lives growing up and how they came to form many of their beliefs.
Pastor talked at length about his difficult upbringing and the virtues those experiences imparted to him. Born just as the War on Drugs reached its fever pitch, he saw many male role models in his life lose their way to drugs and incarceration. He acknowledged the resilience of his mother and the guidance of his grandmother for setting him on a successful path in life, eventually becoming the first member of his family to attend college. Above all, Pastor credits his work ethic to the struggles he saw growing up and the discipline his mother taught him, oftentimes telling him “you didn’t ask for this life but it’s the one you’re given.”
Likewise, Dennard spoke openly at length about the virtues of hard work imparted during her upbringing. She was raised by a single mother who struggled to provide. Dennard joked, “we were so poor, the ends didn’t have to meet; they just had to see each other.” Even still, her mother raised her with a sense of pride and confidence. She was a kid interested in politics from a young age and registered to vote as soon as she turned 18. Dennard recalled the inspiration she drew from seeing Barbara Jordan give the keynote speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. She combined that youthful passion for politics with a commitment to service instilled by her grandmother. “You can’t do everything,” Dennard said, “but everyone can do something.”
Finally, Landsman described his young life split between two households following his parent’s divorce. Through that experience, he had the opportunity to see more of the world and gain an appreciation for the inherent value of every person alongside virtues of personal responsibility and independence. Landsman also talked candidly about his difficult teenage years. He was lonely in that time and got into trouble often, setting a record for detentions at his high school that still stands today. But he said he grew from those experiences and developed a deep sense of empathy for those around him.
The three came together for a discussion about what civility means to them on city council. For Dennard, it’s about speaking hard truths but focusing on policy, not personality. She says the important thing is to keep an eye on the big picture and keep the spirit of “leaving it on the field.” Pastor sees things similarly, hoping to open up lines of civility with his fellow councilmembers through simple acts like visiting each other’s offices to crack a joke or sharing a meal together at his home. Landsman said he genuinely likes his coworkers and enjoys the time he spends with them. He expressed concern about the fact that city council generally receives more press when they bicker than when they work together to solve problems. Summing up the evening, Landsman said “challenge with everything you have, but do it with kindness.”
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