One of the highest ranking elected Republican atheists in the country just got arrested on charges of bribery, wire fraud, extortion, and money laundering.
But let’s back up for a bit because you might be surprised to learn there’s an elected Republican atheist at all.
Back in May, we learned that Cincinnati (Ohio) City Council member Jeff Pastor was an atheist after he came out via an article on Medium. (It’s behind a paywall now, but you can read a version of it here.)
Not only had the (ironically named) Pastor publicly come out as non-religious, that was in addition to being gay, Black, Republican, and polyamorous.
None of it made sense on paper, but Pastor appeared to be one of those guys who got a kick out of defying everyone’s expectations… even when his labels were downright hypocritical at times. For example, he described himself as “an atheist Jew who finds truth in agnosticism, humanism, theism, African/Chinese/Native American spirituality.” (He later removed the word “theism” from his article.) He also said he found truth in Democrats and Republicans… even though their policies are diametrically opposed on so many important issues.
The only justification I could think of was that, as a city council member, he could get away with it. He wasn’t going to be making the kinds of decisions we typically associate with liberals and conservatives, so there was no real consequence in adopting every label imaginable, in an attempt to be everything to everyone. That strategy could also help him out if he wanted to run for higher office down the road, which he told me over the phone he was certainly considering.
But alarm bells were going off in my head. Someone who pretends there’s truth to be found everywhere is someone who probably doesn’t have any core principles to begin with. If you can’t call out bad ideas when they’re staring you in the face — looking at you, Republicans — then your judgment deserves to be called into question. It doesn’t matter how nice it sounds when you say there’s value in all perspectives. Pastor was exhibiting both-sides-ism on steroids.
This is also worth mentioning: Pastor was first elected in November of 2017. There were nine seats up for grabs and 24 candidates. Pastor placed ninth — by a very slim margin. But a win was a win. He wouldn’t be on the ballot again until 2021.
That brings us to what happened yesterday:
FBI agents arrested Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor early Tuesday for leading what authorities describe as a brazen bribery scheme involving payoffs for help with city development projects.
Federal prosecutors say Pastor, a Republican who joined council in January 2018, began soliciting money from developers within months of taking office and, in some instances, accepted bags of cash in return for his vote or other favorable treatment.
[U.S. Attorney David DeVillers] said Pastor, who is accused of collecting $55,000 in bribes, at one point told the undercover agents he should be paid $200,000 for his help and sought a “monthly retainer” for his continuing assistance.
The FBI summed it all up in a press release:
Pastor is charged with each of the 10 counts in the indictment: one count of conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud (up to 20 years in prison), two counts of honest services wire fraud (up to 20 years), three counts of bribery (up to 10 years), three counts of attempted extortion by a government official (up to 20 years) and one count of money laundering (up to 20 years).
Just looking at the timeline, it means Pastor was allegedly committing all these crimes while at the same time trying to show everyone how he was both unique and universal. He’s just like you, but also, he’s nothing like anyone else.
I’ve never been so happy to cede an elected atheist to the Republican Party.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley has called for Pastor to resign, calling his alleged actions “the most egregious and disgusting acts of corruption and betrayal ever perpetrated on our city.” As of now, however, there’s been no public statement from Pastor regarding the charges against him. He has pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.
Incidentally, when another city council member was arrested earlier this year for the same kind of crime, Pastor said this:
Pastor said he doesn’t condone the behavior [Tamaya] Dennard has been accused of, exchanging votes for money. He said as far as he knows, it stops with her.
“I honestly believe no one is conducting this kind of behavior at City Hall. I can definitely say that is not the case with me. I am going to continue to work to restore trust and faith back city government.”
Well… That comment really pops out in hindsight, doesn’t it?