Want to understand Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Landsman? Ask him to roll up his sleeves

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 04, 2018

CINCINNATI -- In order to understand Greg Landsman, just ask him to roll up his sleeves.

The words tattooed on his forearms – ‘Believe’ and 'Never give up' -- not only define the character of this new Cincinnati City Councilman, they also pay homage to his political victories.

Landsman, 41, won a council seat in November by a wide margin, proving that he could rebound from a heartbreaking election loss in 2013.

“The fact that we didn’t give up after 2013," Landsman said, "it’s something I want my children to appreciate, and it’s a core value of mine: If you truly believe in something, you can never give up. Ever.”

Landsman, a Democrat, knocked on more than 25,000 doors during his campaign and raised an impressive $275,000 to become one of three new council members sworn into office on Tuesday.

Greg Landsman is sworn in as a new Cincinnati City Council member on Jan. 2, 2018, by his wife, Sarah. Photo by Leigh Taylor.

This is the latest in a WCPO series of stories on each of the new council members – Landsman, Tamaya Dennard and Jeffrey Pastor.

This freshman class of lawmakers comprises one-third of city council’s nine seats. Their youth (they range from ages 34 to 41) and their seeming willingness to work across party lines may signal a shift in how council does business.

Bickering, refusing to attend caucus meetings, pocket vetoes and bloc voting were all frequent tactics at City Hall over the past few years, with some council members using social media to criticize one another.

But those days may be over.

The tattoo on the arm of newly elected Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Landsman pays homage to his beliefs and his political victories. 

“I do not believe you can govern by Tweet or Facebook post,” Landsman said. “Governing requires the hard work of problem solving with lots of people, and working through the details until you get to a solution that really works. That’s governing and that’s what people expect.”

Landsman is coming to City Hall with very lofty goals: raising wages across the city; overhauling transportation; growing the middle class; asking developers to do more for the communities they build in; sharing more services with the county and townships; and persuading the city to take a bigger role in education.

The workload may seem idealistic, but Landsman has a history of tackling complicated problems.

Landsman took the lead on the Preschool Promise campaign and for two years helped forge compromises between educators and city business leaders on a plan for near-universal preschool.

Voters approved that $48 million levy in November 2016, with 62 percent of the vote -- the largest winning margin since 1952.

Three days later after the levy passed, Landsman had the word ‘Believe’ tattooed on his left forearm to honor the achievement.

“At the end of the day, I think those who are able to accomplish big things are the ones who believe in what they are doing the most,” Landsman said. “So it’s on my arm as a reminder to never give up on the things I believe strongly in. Ultimately if you keep going and you’re committed to it, it will get done.”

In late December Landsman added a tattoo to his right forearm to honor his 2017 election win. His 7-year-old daughter Maddie designed a tattoo with the words, 'Never give up.'

Landsman currently works for child and education advocacy through his firm, the 767 Group, and helps to run an early literacy venture philanthropy fund, Every Child Capital. He also helps foundations with work improving two towns in Israel and the children living there.

City Councilman Greg Landsman gives a speech after being sworn into office on Jan. 2, 2018. Photo by Leigh Taylor.

Children were the highlight of Landsman’s well-known television campaign ads, which filmed him at a playground with his wife, Sarah, and their two children, along with plenty of other families.

“My focus will always be on children and families and the things that we have to do to grow our middle class,” Landsman said.

Landsman hopes to use the same formula that brought wide-ranging voices to the table for Preschool Promise on other complicated citywide issues.

For example, he wants to work with employers and CEOs to increase wages up for middle class workers. And he wants to partner with fellow new council member Tamaya Dennard to work with developers to add community benefit agreements when they ask for tax abatements and city help with projects.

“We’re seeing a lot of development in the city and it’s a good thing," Landsman said. "I believe we have an opportunity to lead the country in terms of how to do development in the most inclusive way possible.”

He wants to work with developers to add more affordable housing, address renters’ rights, pay better wages and hire people from the neighborhoods where they are building.

Landsman knows that he may get pushback.

“To get that policy right is going to require a lot of people coming together over months,” Landsman said.

In the short term, Landsman will focus on shared services: asking City Manager Harry Black to bring new ideas for how the city can share services with Hamilton County or nearby townships and villages, once every 60 days or so, for city council to vote on.

“Ultimately people expect us to get things done,” Landsman said.