By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
Newly elected Cincinnati City Council member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney has been named the city’s newest vice mayor. Mayor-elect Aftab Pureval made the announcement during a press conference November 18 at Rockdale Elementary School in Avondale, Kearney’s alma mater.
“This is one of my first and one of my most important decisions, and in Jan-Michele, I think we’ve hit a home run,” Pureval said.
Kearney, a Cincinnati native, grew up in Avondale where she attended Cincinnati Public Schools Rockdale Elementary and Walnut Hills High School. She lived across the street from the elementary school at the time. Her father, Luther J. Lemon, M.D., was a family physician in the West End and later, in Avondale. The health clinic at Rockdale Academy is named after him. Kearney’s mother Elizabeth M. Lemon was a teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools, as was Kearney’s mother-in-law, Rose P. Kearney.
As a student at Rockdale, Kearney said she was shy and had a stuttering issue, which Rockdale teachers helped her to overcome. “Otherwise, I would not be here before you today,” she added, in explaining why she wanted the announcement to occur at Rockdale.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dartmouth College, a masters degree in consulting psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a law degree from Harvard Law School. She and President Barack Obama were law school classmates. Kearney added that Pureval reminds her of President Obama because of his passion for positive change, intelligence, and sincere caring for others.
Kearney worked for Taft, Stettinius & Hollister before going into private practice and then starting KGL Media Group, known as Sesh Communications, with her husband and former State Senator Eric Kearney, and several friends. They purchased “News, Information & Pictures Magazine” from businessman Howard Bond and “The Cincinnati Herald” from Porter Publishing, owned by Marjorie Parham and her son, Bill Spillers. Sesh expanded its print and online products and created signature events such as the Daddy-Daughter Dinner Dance and Nefertiti Awards.
Kearney was appointed to a vacant seat on City Council in March 2020, and ran for election to Council for the first time in the Nov. 2, 2021 general election. She won one of the nine open council seats, receiving the largest number of votes in a field of 35 candidates.
Kearney is passionate about Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods and serves as chair of Council’s Neighborhoods Committee. She emphasizes the need to increase homeownership for Black, Brown, and low income families in order to promote multi-generational wealth building. Economic growth through small business development, apprenticeships, and job training are also needed. Kearney says she is committed to making sure the City does more to create affordable housing, and create policies to allow development without displacement of current residents so that everyone benefits. Pedestrian safety, cleaning up the litter and stopping illegal dumping are needed to create healthy, safe neighborhoods and allow for neighborhood business districts to grow and prosper. “As we progress as a city, we have to make sure we pay attention to the underserved, to the people who are left behind. We have to work for everybody, so everybody has hope and the opportunity to advance,” Kearney said. “Our zip code should not be the determinant of our lifespan as it is now.” She added that she agrees with Mayor-elect Pureval in stating that racial equity is “a thread that runs through all of these topics.’’
“I’m honored and really excited to serve the people of Cincinnati,” Kearney said during the press briefing. “For everybody who didn’t vote for me, it’s okay. We’re here for you, too. It’s really important that we understand that regardless of party affiliation, the mayor, vice mayor, and members of council – all of us — are here working for everybody.”
Mayor-elect Pureval appointed a three-person transition team on Nov. 15 that includes former Mayor Mark Mallory; Michael Fisher, former President/CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; and Stephanie Jones, Esq., a former member of the U.S. Transportation Department and daughter of former Federal Judge Nathaniel Jones of Cincinnati. Jones said earlier that the community should expect “bold action” within Pureval’s first 100 days in office. Pureval said he intends “to shape not just the next four years, but the next four decades for our city.”
“We need to take a fresh look at the structural and environmental challenges that have held so many Cincinnatians back and take the necessary steps to ensure our local government works for not just some of us, but for all of us,” Pureval said.
Pureval noted that Kearney is on board in supporting his four specific areas of legislation on economic recovery with racial equity, affordable housing, public safety and climate action.
Once newly elected lawmakers replace the current lame-duck Council, the sticker price for that “bold action” will be front and center.