CINCINNATI -- Jeff Pastor describes himself as a "New Age Republican."
What exactly that means will be up to Pastor himself to define, as this 34-year-old political newcomer officially takes his place on Cincinnati City Council this week.
Pastor has already proven that he can beat the odds. He won election to city council on his first try - as a Republican in a city that is becoming increasingly progressive.
“We are in the 21st century, and its time for Republican faces to reflect that change in our country,” Pastor said.
These three council newcomers who are younger, seemingly more open to compromise and less bound by party lines may ultimately change the atmosphere and voting patterns of this nine-person council.
How this new council reacts to big issues coming up this year -- such as improving city-wide transportation, creating a designated housing court and managing a very tight city budget -- remains to be seen.
But so far Pastor seems to be getting the most attention of the three newcomers. At least one council member, Chris Seelbach, criticized him on Dec. 17, when WCPO reported that Pastor had chosen a former Covington commissioner who had been at the center of a political scandal nearly a decade ago involving campaign pamphlets with anti-gay overtones, as his chief of staff.
Other council members have quietly wondered how Pastor will vote, who he will align himself with on council, and if he will vote along party lines.
“He will absolutely listen to what citizens and voters want,” said former Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who was term-limited from running for council again. “He’s not going to be a party guy. He won’t let the Republican Party tell him what to do, and that’s a good thing.”
And Pastor freely admits that achieving results on council, even through compromise, is far more important than toeing the party line.
“That’s what they sent me here (City Hall) for: to be effective, not to toe their purist lines," Pastor said. "The election is over. This is a new era of governing.”
Political observers have quietly given Pastor the nickname of ‘the wild card’ because they are unsure how he will vote once he arrives at City Hall. They're also curious to see if Pastor's allegiance to the Republican Party will play into how he votes.
Pastor chuckled at the nickname, and said if people really want to understand him they should know he is driven by “facts, data and objectivity.”
“At the end of the day, I just want to get things done,” Pastor said. “I’ve never met a Republican or Democrat pothole. A pothole is a pothole, right?”
Perhaps Pastor’s biggest goal over the next four years is to reduce poverty in the city. That issue is very personal to Pastor.
He grew up in a house where his mother often worked multiple jobs, including as a Metro bus driver, to provide for himself and his three siblings, as well as a drug-addicted stepfather. But she made sure Pastor went to college.
Pastor has a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Business Administration. He also served in the Ohio Army National Guard and as a chaplain candidate in the U.S. Naval Reserve. After working as a teacher at King Academy Community School, Pastor changed jobs last year and now works as the executive director for the Charles L. Shor Foundation for Epilepsy.
“I’ve watched how poor folks and middle income folks get trampled on for political gain,” Pastor said. “That gets me riled up. Wasting taxpayer dollars gets me riled up.”
Pastor can recite from memory the poverty rates of many neighborhoods in the city. He believes the solution comes from luring companies here that pay good wages, and training workers in high-demand skills.
Pastor is an avid reader, a fiscal conservative, and a free market capitalist who believes in market rate housing.
Pastor said he believes government should handle the basic services of the city – fixing potholes, replacing the Western Hills Viaduct, ensuring there are enough firefighters and police officers to keep the city safe. But he also believes the city must help solve the heroin crisis and drug addiction, poverty and mental health challenges for the poor.
“For the first year it’s learning the ropes,” Pastor said. “I know that I’m a rookie. I’m not here to be a hotshot, but I am here to use all of the tools that I have … to create policies that will foster economic growth in the city of Cincinnati.”