The four men vying to fill the 1st Ward City Council seat all live in Middletown, though the paths they took to get here could not be any more diverse.
Jason Jones, Tom Allen, Rob Hoffman and Gary Barge will come before City Council Tuesday, May 18, to interview for the open position.
Young. Old. Practical. Revolutionary. Introverted. Eccentric. Rich. Poor.
All four applicants taken together represent just about every aspect and characteristic of the city’s 1st Ward constituency.
But who are these fresh faces in the city’s political arena? And what exactly do they have to offer Middletown?
The alpha dawg
The idea of a music mogul running for public office might be somewhat novel, but Rob Hoffman said his experiences finding viable solutions for sometimes impractical problems would serve him well as a councilman.
“I’m not a politician and I don’t want to be,” Hoffman said. “But I do feel I have some good, creative solutions, which I’ve offered throughout my life in town. It’s a natural extension to attempt that same thing for the city itself.”
For the last six months, Hoffman said he has studied the city’s charter to “think about things we could do a little differently.” He describes his methods as unconventional and out-of-the-box, but said they have kept him ahead of the curve in the music world.
“I was the first record label in the world to give away full-length downloadable music for free on the Internet,” Hoffman said. “I remember friends of mine with Sony and Atlantic music said they weren’t sure it was a good idea. A lot of those people are no longer employed in the music industry.”
In addition to hammering out a more permanent budget and finding a way to pave the crumbling city streets, Hoffman said officials need to work together to energize the city’s business core.
More than anything else, Hoffman said he wants to serve on council so he is able to say he “stepped up and tried to do something” for the city he loves.
“I want to be able to say that I tried for my children’s sake,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those people sitting on the couch, watching as all of this comes down.”
The young gun
Born and raised in Middletown, Jason Jones has had political aspirations for some time.
Should he be selected, the 30-year-old said his role would be helping the city “continue to turn that page.” He drew some inspiration from the election of Josh Laubach and A.J. Smith to council last year, as he said it showed him voters wanted “fresh faces who hadn’t been a part of Middletown’s past” in office.
“The past is important, but it’s equally important that there be new ideas and viewpoints that maybe haven’t been a part of the council before,” Jones said. “I think I have a lot of fresh ideas and I truly love Middletown.”
Jones said he was considering a run at Council last fall, but as his father was just starting a new business he simply did not have time.
“I kind of let it go by the wayside to help him out at the time,” he said. “The untimely death of Mr. Armbruster was a terrible loss for the city, but in a way it opened a door here for something I didn’t expect.”
Outside of political aspirations, Jones said music and prayer both play tremendous roles in his life. Growing up as the son of a preacher, it’s not exactly a shock to hear he feels a strong connection to a higher power.
Jones’ priorities lie in public safety and economic development, ensuring the city is a safe place to live while “building a roadmap for the future through smart business and zoning decisions.”
“We need to take a serious look at how we use our land,” he said. “We may have a lot of buildings, but a lot of them aren’t full right now. If we make smart decisions, as Cincinnati and Dayton continue to link we’re sure to become a key part of that.”
The frugal litigator
If one thing is certain about Tom Allen, it’s that he likes to stretch a dollar almost to its breaking point.
Take his undergrad experience, for example. Instead of taking up residence in one of Miami University’s many dorms, he opted to live with his parents in Middletown and commute to school every day.
“It was a lot cheaper, so it was just the natural choice,” Allen said.
For the past 16 years, Allen has been practicing everything from complex business litigation to First Amendment cases with the Frost Brown Todd law firm.
Following a decision to pursue his law degree after several years working in AK Steel’s treasury department, Allen landed an internship with the Frost Brown Todd and never looked back. He’s now a partner at the firm and is looking to pursue “a different way to give back to the community.”
“I’m not a politician and never have been anything like that,” he said. “I received some inquiries if I’d be interested in running for this vacancy and after a lot of thinking I realized it was a great way to help Middletown grow as much as possible.”
He said he has no set agenda, but said some priorities for City Council in the coming months will certainly include the economy, Section 8 housing and business.
“I’d want to do everything I could to make the city business friendly so we can get more jobs in the area,” Allen said. “The council needs to do what it can to make sure the local economy is growing as much as possible.”
The repeat contender
Gary Barge has tried to get a seat on Middletown City Council three times — once interviewing for the appointment and twice running against Armbruster — but has not been deterred.
His goal in securing a spot on the council is to help “move Middletown back into the All-American city it once used to be.” Having studied the city charter “backward and forward,” Barge said he is ready to hit the ground running should he be appointed to fill the open seat.
“I’ve always been engaged with the city,” Barge said. “I have the interest, I have the support of the community and I’ve taken steps to really understand how the city works.”
Barge, a medically retired mechanic, said his experiences as a small businessman give him a unique perspective on finances. Barge would like to see the creation of an enterprise fund for small businesses to tap in at low interest rates to get their operations started. The city’s budget needs to be streamlined, slimmed down from its 60 funds to something “more available to the citizens so people can understand why this money is being transferred from one fund to another.”
Although he argues he would be a great addition to council, Barge said he does not think any of the four candidates is more qualified than the rest.
“Not to put any other candidates down, but I just don’t think you can be more qualified for this job,” he said. “You just have to go in there and find out for yourself.”
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