Kevin Flynn Says Goodbye

One term on city council was enough for Kevin Flynn, but he’s not ready to leave public service for good.

Illustration by Ben Kirchner

Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn shows me his iPad countdown app—the remaining minutes of his lone four-year term ticking away over a photo of him driving his new boat, one modified for wheelchair entry. He’s christened the vessel The City Council.

Flynn, who elected not to pursue a second term in this month’s election, exudes the air of a happy soon-to-be retiree who’s done good work but has other forms of fulfillment on the horizon. He would love to sit on the board at his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, where he’s served as an adjunct law professor for 25 years. He plans to remain active in his Mt. Airy community and promises to “point things out” as the city approaches budget time. Flynn may be preparing to sail away after getting his fill of playing politics, but he’s not likely to drift too far.

What motivated you to run for office in the first place? I was injured, oh, about 15-and-a-half years ago. Every day that I’m alive is a blessing. I should have died from that accident. The Cincinnati Fire Department saved my life that day. They cut me out of the car. So I no longer needed to work 80 hours a week as a real estate lawyer, and I wanted to figure out how I could give back.

Four years ago, we were not putting the city’s resources into our police and fire. Our fire department—it was only a matter of time, people were going to die. My campaign theme was the three most important issues facing the city are budget, budget, budget.

What about some of the more dramatic votes? The streetcar, for instance—you were the deciding tally. Since I was the last one to fall, so to speak, to make the streetcar veto-proof, I felt a responsibility to make sure that it did work, and that it would work long term without taking money away from basic services, because that was still my most important [issue]: police, fire, garbage collection, streets.

And the recent Children’s Hospital rezoning vote? I don’t mind if someone else has different reasoning than I have. Reasonable people can disagree reasonably, but if people don’t have a reasonable reason, I can’t argue with that. And so with the Children’s Hospital thing, it had been going on for years. But then for [councilmembers] to not come to meetings and delay the vote, and then come in with a motion that says if you give Avondale $27.5 million then it’s OK to “destroy the fabric of the community”—it didn’t make logical sense to me. Either you’re taking the principled position of no-way-no-how does this work, or you’re saying we want to extract additional money because you can afford it. If this was just an office building it would be one thing, but it’s a critical care tower. It literally can be life and death.

Everyone today is so partisan, but last year you stepped down from a position as a Democratic Party precinct executive because at times the position was at odds with your Independent ideology. I’ve voted in every Democratic primary. I’ve never been involved in Democratic politics, the party itself, [but] I’ve worked for Democratic candidates. I’ve also worked for Republican candidates. I find it much more refreshing to work for someone because you believe in them rather than because they have a D or an R or an I or a C after their names. I don’t vote because somebody tells me to vote for them or because I’m going to get something out of it—I vote because it’s the right thing or the wrong thing to do.

Do you have any words of advice for the council newcomers? Stay true to yourself. Do what’s right because it’s right, not because you think it’s going to advantage you politically. City government, city council shouldn’t be seen as a step on a career path. I would have been happy to serve for no salary—and I still wouldn’t have missed a council meeting. It’s frustrating to me to see that people are getting paid $60,000 a year and missing meetings. You’re not just responsible to yourself, you’re responsible for the people of Cincinnati.

So why not run again? It’s taken a lot out of me, physically. It’s a three-hour process for me to get up. And even at night, it’s difficult on the best of nights. That’s why I sometimes respond to constituent e-mails at 3 o’clock in the morning—it’s because I’m not sleeping. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be physically capable of doing things for the city. I’ve given my four years, now it’s time for somebody else to give his or her four years. But I’m not leaving engagement with the city. I will still be involved with City Hall.

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