On the campaign trail, Ohio Democrat Greg Landsman touts a taxpayer-funded program he spearheaded to raise preschool teachers' pay. A year into that program's existence, however, teacher wages lagged behind as executives raked in six-figure salaries.
Landsman in May boasted that he "led the charge to pass the Cincinnati Preschool Promise," a program that raised property taxes in part to "create better-paying jobs for preschool teachers." But one year into that program, participating teachers were not making the $15 an hour that Landsman and other Preschool Promise organizers advertised—even as three of the program's executives raked in six-figure, taxpayer-funded salaries, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported in 2017.
Despite the program's early shortcomings, Landsman is using his former role as a Preschool Promise "strategic adviser" to propel a run for Congress, arguing that his work on the program proves he'll "never stop fighting for our children." But not everyone is convinced. Buckeye Institute research fellow Greg Lawson told the Washington Free Beacon that while competitive executive pay is important, voters are justified in questioning an organization that fails to prioritize its "frontline workers."
"This is one of the concerns we always have when we're talking about new programs. … You want to limit those kinds of administrative costs," Lawson said. "Perception matters. It's going to be hard to justify spending more money if people are going to look back and say, 'Well, why did you spend this over here?'"
Landsman's campaign did not return a request for comment. Preschool Promise defended its decision to prioritize executive salaries—a board member in 2017 told the Enquirer that the lucrative wages were "needed to attract quality employees" and that the program did not have the funds to "responsibly" pay teachers $15 an hour. The explanation did not suffice for Democratic city council candidate Michelle Dillingham, who voted for the program and now works as an organizer for the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.
"We are not where we'd like to be a year into this. My greatest fears came true," Dillingham said one year after voters approved the tax hike required to create Preschool Promise in November 2016. "You can't pay their workers 15 bucks an hour? That's offensive to me. We were promised a living wage."
Following his work as a Preschool Promise adviser, Landsman joined the Cincinnati city council in January 2018. He went on to support a number of controversial proposals. As homicides reached an unprecedented high in Cincinnati in the summer of 2020, for example, Landsman penned a motion to pull $200,000 from the city's police budget, a proposal that a local NBC affiliate described as "basically the definition of defunding." Around the same time, the Democrat signed onto another motion that endorsed ending cash bail, a policy he said he supported because George Floyd's death "changed something" in him.
Landsman is running for Congress after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited him to challenge Rep. Steve Chabot (R.) in Ohio's First Congressional District. He did not face an opponent in the state's May primary and will square off against Chabot, who is a top target for Democrats as they look to retain control of the House, in November. Chabot has a slight financial advantage in the race—he's raised $1.3 million to Landsman's $1.1 million.