By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
When people talk, listen completely. – Ernest Hemingway
Perhaps more than anything, incumbent Councilman John Hobbs III’s larger-than-expected 63 to 37 percent victory over challenger Shaun Strong encapsulates his journey from political novice to respected leader.
Hobbs was appointed by Judge Jack Puffenburger out of a pool of over 100 applicants in 2020 to fill the District 1 City Council seat after then-member Tyrone Riley was suspended to face federal bribery charges.
With his victory last week, we may be witnessing a remarkable story of transformation unfold. Hobbs’ journey from learner to leader is a testament to his personal growth. It demonstrates that he has learned to navigate the complex waters of local politics.
In this exclusive interview, we explore the essence of Hobbs’ approach to leadership – one that balances the roles of both student and mentor. By actively listening to his constituents, seeking guidance, and offering support, he has redefined what it means to be a leader in Toledo’s current political landscape. His dedication to understanding each issue independently and casting votes based on merit rather than getting mired in partisan politics sets him apart.
This week we delve into the mind of Johnny Hobbs III, a councilman who has quickly learned the ropes to become a guiding force. I discuss his strategies and unyielding commitment to his district as he continues to learn and lead in service of the people of District 1.
Perryman: The political analysts have described you as a “man of the people,” attributing your success to a strategy of getting out in the community, meeting with the people, and staying in touch with your constituents. How do you respond?
Hobbs: That was not a campaign strategy at all. It is the earnest desire of my heart to be in touch with the citizens of Toledo. I grew up in a time when men went into the barbershop, and those senior or mature men would talk to the younger men to help them understand what it meant to be a man. I walked down the street as a kid, and Mr. and Mrs. such and such were sitting on their porch, and I had to say, “Hey, how you doing?” And they would tell me, “I’m a barber, a pastor.” It was about communication and contact. I’m a councilman, and everything I do involves engaging people, so it was natural.
Perryman: Why is that contact so important?
Hobbs: What people appreciate more than anything is that you will listen. They understand you don’t have the answers for everything, but when you are sincere and honest, they perceive and know you’re doing your best. So, as we repeatedly returned month after month and they saw that sincerity, they became more comfortable. That’s how the trust between the community and city government began to be rebuilt in District 1.
Perryman: You started talking about walking down the street and engaging with people sitting on their front porch. I wish we could go back to those days. However, the engagement piece defines your leadership.
Hobbs: I’m glad you said that. What happened to the day when the police were in the community? We want that back. That’s what we heard the community kept asking. We had two of the highest crime areas of Toledo, one on the east side and the other in the old South end, Fearing and Airport, Detroit, Western. So, we got officers walking a beat for a mile and a half sections. Those officers walked for eight hours, engaging the children, the teenagers, the single parents, the husband and wife, and the homes. The residents see the officers at the gas stations and the library, and people driving down the street would blow, and they’re waving.
This began to bring the trust back between law enforcement and the citizens of our city. We also had officers on bikes in two other sections of Toledo where they rode the bikes for eight hours, would get off and talk to the kids, played basketball, threw the football, all the things we grew up on, and people wanted it so much more. We need more police officers.
Perryman: So, you not only had a working relationship with the police department on behalf of your constituents, I saw that you had a good relationship with the African-American pastors.
Hobbs: There was so much support because I am a second-generation pastor. My father pastors a church. This is his 46th year, my 18th year of pastoring, so I have those ties.
As you know, the Church and the barbershop are the Black community’s New York Times, where the information flows. I am thoroughly entrenched in these two places, and many of these pastors I have played for as an organist my whole life. Many of them, I have ministered at their churches and been a part of food drives or clothing giveaways over the years, so they know my heart. Seeing someone doing the work they do but also sitting in a place to help make decisions that would benefit our community was a great brotherhood and great friendship and outreach.
Some were able to move through me by asking, ‘How can we get this done, how can we help you, how can we assist you.’ So, to engage them where they are for their members to see, someone who is a pastor and councilperson brings another element to the relationship.
Perryman: Other politicians have come to the Church but have not been able to generate support, at least on the level that you have. Talk about the difference.
Hobbs: That authentic relationship with the pastors developed because I knew the power of the sacred desk, so I didn’t use that sacred platform to politicize. I have fellowship with the pastors, leaders, church mothers, and the deacons. I understand the function of it, and I know that you just can’t show up in our spaces during election time and think that will move us.
Perryman: Thank you. Another observation from your time on council is that each vote you cast always appeared to be “for the reason that it was presented.” That is not universally true of other politicians. They get stuck in one position. However, you had the ability to look at a single issue independently and determine the right way to go, which has made you a rising leader.
Hobbs: As an African American male, I understand that if I stand for the truth, I will often have to stand alone. But my resolve is clear: I won’t be swayed by what’s advantageous for city council or the administration but by what genuinely serves the best interests of our city’s people and District 1’s constituents. If I have to stand alone in doing that, I will because I’m man enough.
I do as much research as I can to understand the way something is and how it operates. If that means I have to stand alone in voting a particular way, that’s what I will do. Knowing at the end of the day, I can sleep at night because I made a conscious decision to do the right thing.
Perryman: I talked with you when you were first appointed. You didn’t know much about things, yet you both listened to the people of District 1 and were willing to be mentored by others. You both asked for help and gave help. What are the most important things you’ve learned?
Hobbs: One critical insight I’ve gained during my tenure is the complexity of enacting change. Coming in, I assumed I could quickly initiate action on issues as a council member. However, I quickly learned that a majority of seven votes is required to pass any measure. This was a revelation to me, as I was unaware of the need for the support of six other members to effect change. So, I’ve learned the importance of securing these seven votes, which often involves persuading others to share your perspective, a challenging task when agendas differ.
Another key lesson is the reality of differing perceptions of what is right or wrong and how to navigate these differences. Working collaboratively with fellow council members is essential. For instance, Councilwoman Grim and I successfully allocated ARPA funds for medical debt relief, and together with Councilwoman Moline, we redirected approved funds to improve unimproved streets. So, learning that it takes a cooperative approach to accomplishing objectives like preserving the Frederick Douglass Center has taught me the value of teamwork and strategic alliances in achieving council goals.
Perryman: Anything else you want to add or emphasize?
Hobbs: I am thankful for District 1 leading the way. We are one for a reason. District 1 became a leading example in community engagement, spearheading initiatives like town halls, community meetings, and neighborhood block watch. Our approach has led to tangible changes, such as the police resuming patrols on foot and by bike within our community, directly responding to the needs articulated by District 1’s constituents.
The media covered these meetings like crazy, so I just want everyone to know that I truly have a heart to serve and will continue to serve my district and the citizens of Toledo with every fiber of my being. While I acknowledge that I’m not perfect, there is never an intention to do anything else but the will of God in my life.
Perryman: How do you respond to your opponent’s offer to assist as a block watch leader following his congratulatory call acknowledging your victory?
Hobbs: I will collaborate with any block watch or town hall leader to improve our community. That’s what I’m here to do and what our community and city need. I will continue to work to enhance our neighborhoods, supporting small businesses and ensuring safety. I’m committed to working with every fiber of my being for those things.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at email@example.com