CINCINNATI — If you were wondering what Nick Lachey was going to do now that “Newlyweds” is over, cross one more thing off your list: running for mayor of his hometown of Cincinnati. Because Nick’s old 98 Degrees bandmate Justin Jeffre has beaten him to the punch.
Jeffre, 32, announced his candidacy for mayor of the Queen City at his alma mater, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, on Friday (April 1).
He was introduced by Lachey, who wore jeans with a white Jeffre campaign T-shirt and said of his friend of more than 20 years: “If I could think of one person who has more pride in this city than I, it’s my good friend Justin. … In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never been more proud of him than I am today.”
Wearing a dark blue pinstriped suit and light blue shirt, Jeffre stood atop a staircase in the front hallway of his high school surrounded by the 11 members of the Baby Grande singing ensemble, who sang him onto the “stage” with a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” Behind him was a campaign sign that read “Be the Change.”
At the 4 p.m. press conference attended by approximately 70 friends, family and supporters, Jeffre kicked off his campaign by answering the most burning question of the day.
“I want to warn everyone up front, don’t be fooled by my common-man credentials, don’t be fooled by my boyish charm, and definitely don’t be fooled by the date on the calendar, my candidacy for mayor is no joke,” said Jeffre, putting to rest rampant rumors that the announcement was some kind of April Fool’s Day prank.
“Whenever I travel, people ask me where I’m from: New York or L.A.?” Jeffre said. “And when I say Cincinnati, they say ‘Why?’ My answer to them is always the same: ‘You’ve obviously never been there.’ ”
The low-key singer went on to give a fairly polished stump speech with plenty of applause lines for his supporters that touched on an array of subjects, from improving education to revitalizing downtown with an arts district and improving police/community relations.
Earlier in the day, Jeffre said he’d been mulling over the run for office for seven or eight months and was trying to keep it under wraps until his announcement on Friday, but word leaked out early. In fact, he said he was flattered to have already endured his first political rite of passage: a Jay Leno monologue joke.
During Tuesday night’s show, Leno joked, “Former 98 Degrees singer Justin Jeffre is running for mayor of Cincinnati. Good campaign slogan, too: ‘Vote for me, or I’ll release another album.’ ”
Jeffre, who along with Lachey has been an avid booster of his hometown for years, said he stepped up to the challenge because he was tired of seeing Cincinnati beaten up in the press for negative things like 2001′s riots and efforts by the KKK to erect a cross on downtown’s Fountain Square. He is running a “grass-roots, bare-bones” effort campaign as a nonpartisan independent candidate. One of his campaign posters featured a waving American flag over a sea of what looked like people jumping up and down in the pit at a concert.
“Cincinnati needs a mayor who is not talking about building a party or a political career,” Jeffre said, alternating the classic Bill Clinton karate-chop hand motion with his own twist: a snap of the fingers. “We need a mayor who is working on building the city!”
After the press conference, Lachey said, “People will be quick to write him off, but he really cares about this city for the right reasons, and I will help him any way I can.” The former bandmates are scheduled to celebrate the announcement at a party on Saturday night at a Cincinnati nightclub.
Jeffre has a film crew following him and plans to release a documentary or even a reality show about his run. “I think my chances [of winning] are great,” Jeffre said before the press conference. “I think it will be a tough race, but I have a great team already, and people in town know me and know what I’m about.”
He does have name recognition, though he might want to think about his buddy Nick for a cabinet position at least. “I’ve heard of 98 Degrees and I know who Nick Lachey is,” said Cincinnatian Julie Thorp, 31. “I know [Jeffre] was in the band with him, but isn’t he, like, 30? I don’t think he’s ready to be mayor of Cincinnati. I wouldn’t even vote for Nick at this point … well, maybe I would, he’s kind of cute.”
Even if the whole mayor thing doesn’t work out, Jeffre hasn’t shut the door on music entirely. He’s been doing some producing and “behind the scenes” management work since 98 Degrees broke up in 2002, and he said the guys have been discussing recording a reunion album (see “Nick Lachey Forging Ahead With Solo Career, Says 98 Degrees Reunion In The Cards” ).
Asked about the album, Lachey said with a grin, “We’ll revisit the idea after my whole solo album thing is done … but Justin will have to record his parts in the mayor’s office!”
This story was originally published at 2:34pm ET.