For the first time in 11 years, Wyoming has a new mayor – and the first mayor in Wyoming history to be African American. Fellow council member Jeff LeRoy recently sat down with Thaddeus Hoffmeister to learn more about him.
Fresh out of high school in San Diego, California, Thaddeus Hoffmeister joined the Army. “I spent 11 weeks of my life learning Morse code,” he reflects, “which qualifies me to be a HAM operator.”
The reality is much more impressive. Thaddeus was trained as a code interceptor, and was assigned to Fort Meade, Maryland to work with the National Security Council. He stayed in Maryland after three years in the Army, attending college in Baltimore at Morgan State on an ROTC scholarship, followed by law school at Northeastern. Though primarily a law professor these days, he’s remained in the Army for more than three decades, currently serving as an Army attorney in the Washington D.C. National Guard. The military “taught me leadership,” he says, reflecting. “You’re always being trained to lead somebody.”
That leadership experience will certainly come in handy as Wyoming’s new Mayor. Thaddeus is a congenial, serious person who impresses no matter the topic. He’s pensive, yet curious, and during our interview he asks me almost as many questions as I ask him. Though he’s ascended the summit of Wyoming politics, he insists I not call him “Mr Mayor.” In fact, he agrees to the interview only if I promise to call him Thaddeus or Thad. “My running group jokes that I need a top hat like that Boardwalk guy,” he says, summoning memories of Monopoly, but you can sense he’s a bit uncomfortable with the mayoral title. He’s just Thaddeus.
After residents elect seven City Council members at-large, the new Council is sworn in December 1st on odd-numbered years. The first item of business is election of the mayor, and only the seven new council members can vote. In 2019, Thaddeus was elected Mayor 7-0.
Thaddeus met his wife, Alea, in law school and they have two daughters, Zola, age 14 and Ava, 11. They’ve lived in Wyoming a dozen years, coming here from Washington D.C. when Thaddeus was recruited to teach criminal law at the University of Dayton. “Very supportive,” Thaddeus responds when I ask how his family views his political foray. “They’re amazing.” Of note, Alea works for U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, but that’s not what got Thaddeus into politics.
“I’ve always been interested in politics at different levels,” Thaddeus explains, sharing how he clerked for a federal judge in New Jersey and worked on Capitol Hill in D.C., including for D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. “Even in high school, I was elected to student government.”
I ask him what he likes best about Wyoming. “First and foremost, the education,” he says. He quickly pivots though, explaining how he’s “never seen another place like Wyoming” in all the places he’s lived and traveled. “You know everybody here. It’s why I never foul too hard in basketball because I know I’ll see everyone again.” Foul too hard? Thaddeus’s reputation as an avid basketball player precedes him, but it’s this competitive streak that has driven him to so much success. He laughs off the foul questions that follow and smiles: “I’m not that competitive. I know I’ll see the other team again, so I keep that in mind.”
What does he think about being Wyoming’s first African-American Mayor? He thinks briefly, then makes it about the city, not him. “Wyoming is the same place that welcomed us as newcomers. It’s open, friendly. No one judged me. They said, ‘hey, welcome.’ I’m proud to live in a place that is open to all.” Thaddeus proceeds to tell me about a famous book he read about the “innovator’s dilemma,” and he likens that to Wyoming. “What can we do better?” he asks, rhetorically. “Apple reinvented itself. What can Wyoming do better?” It’s a question left unanswered with one exception: safety.
When I ask Thaddeus what he wants his legacy to be, there’s no hesitation. “I want people to say I made Wyoming safer.” What does that mean? “Roads. Bikes. Pedestrians. I want people to slow down and be cognizant. We need more measures in place. Speed bumps. More trafficking measures. I love that flashing light” by the middle school. Thaddeus has already established one task force to look at Safe Passage to Schools – sidewalks along Mount Pleasant and Compton – and another is in the works to review the entire city’s safety measures and make recommendations to council. “Safety is how I want to be remembered,” he says, and his voice trails off as though he’s thinking years ahead. “We need to do our very best for everyone.”
Though he’s always had an interest in politics, Thaddeus is the first member of his family to be elected to office. What about the road ahead? Is there a higher office in mind? He smiles. “Let’s see how this term ends. I may be maxed out right here.”
Maxed out or not, remember: if you see the mayor around the City, just call him Thaddeus or Thad.
Wyoming’s New City Council Members
Nancy Averett discovered Wyoming through her career as a freelance writer on environmental issues. “I got assigned a story for Cincinnati Magazine about the emerald ash borer,” she recalls. “There was a talk being given about it through Wyoming Newcomers that I attended. I remember driving through town thinking, this is a really beautiful place…and they care about trees!” So when it came time for her family to relocate in 2013, she suggested they give Wyoming another look.
That same concern gave Averett the initial impetus to run for city council. Writing about environmental science convinced her to make personal changes in her energy consumption, but she believes that isn’t enough. “I’d like to make Wyoming the greenest small city in Ohio,” she says. “We can find ways to reduce our carbon footprint that won’t cost more, and in the best case can actually save us money.” To do that, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
“I like to look at communities around the country the same size as Wyoming, and see what they’re doing,” Averett says. “Let’s see if their ideas are applicable here.” As an example, she suggests the city investigate switching the streetlights over to LEDs, something that Hamilton and Middletown have done.
“That’s a big cost saver right there, since LED lights are much more energy efficient.”
Another area of concern to Averett is pedestrian safety, also inspired by personal experience. Just after moving to Wyoming six years ago, her husband and daughter left their rented house on E. Charlotte Avenue to get pizza. “I heard the sirens in my kitchen and wondered what had happened,” she says. “Then I got the call from my daughter.” Her husband Jim had been hit by a car while crossing Springfield Pike. Fortunately, his injuries were minor, but she has lobbied for better safety measures ever since.
“I’m working to get a school crossing guard at Charlotte and the Pike, something parents at the Vermont School have been asking for,” she says. “We’re forming a Safe Routes to School Committee, and talking about putting in sidewalks along Mt. Pleasant Avenue as well.”
This is Averett’s first time serving in public office, although as a newspaper reporter early in her career she covered city councils and school boards in three states. There were things for which she wasn’t prepared, however.
“When I walk into a public space, I’ll have neighbors or acquaintances who want to talk about a problem in the city they want me to help solve,” she says. “I should have seen that coming!”
But she welcomes the chance to talk with people about decisions facing the council.
“I believe strongly in government transparency,” she says. “It should not be a mystery to people how our decisions are made.”
Zachary Green’s ties to Wyoming run deep. He’s lived here for nearly 20 years with his wife, Jennifer, a third-generation Wyoming resident. He served with the city’s fire department and started his successful business here as well. And the thing he likes best?
“It’s our neighbors. It’s our friends. It’s that small-town feel,” Green says. “That’s what makes Wyoming so special.” As a new member of the Wyoming City Council, Green believes his priority is to preserve Wyoming’s unique character by focusing on three areas, each close to his heart: finances, safety and infrastructure.
“Wyoming has a triple-A bond rating and finances second to none,” he says. “That’s tremendously important. I want to use my entrepreneurial experience to maintain good fiscal responsibility.” He knows whereof he speaks. Green’s start-up company, MN8, was founded in 2010 and quickly expanded; MN8 now sells emergency illumination solutions and firefighting equipment in 25 countries. He earned accolades from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and has testified before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee. He was one of 10 delegates chosen by the Obama administration to represent the US at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2016 as well. With his fire department background and experience, Green naturally finds safety issues vitally important, too. He plans to bring that expertise to the Public Safety Committee during his time on City Council.
Infrastructure is Green’s other main concern. “We got pretty lucky with the Springfield Pike project, and were able to tap into state funds for our repairs,” he says. “But all our roads and our water mains are showing their age, and they’re going to need help.” He grins and jokes, “We can’t just kick that can down the road.”
In addition to the Public Safety Committee, Green will serve on the Economic Development Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission. He looks forward to working on the issues facing the city, getting to know his fellow council members, and hearing from fellow residents.
“I think communication is one area where Wyoming can improve,” he says. “Communication has changed so much in the last few years.”
But for Zachary Green, it all comes back to the small-town relationships.
“The great thing is,” he says, “that hasn’t changed.”