On the walls outside the mayor’s corner office at City Hall, a gallery of faces looks down in judgment. They have the look of a jury that’s in a mood to string someone up, or at least recommend an extreme makeover with tar and feathers.

Not every former mayor is Judgment Day-grim. Pictures since the 1980s bring smiles and flag-draped backgrounds. But the old gang would not truck with such trifles. They were as starchy as their collars. They were all business.

How would they judge the newest member of the Cincinnati Mayor’s Club, John Cranley?

In his first weeks in office, Cranley looked like the boldest mayor yet. Using the same strong-mayor powers gifted to mayors Charlie Luken and Mark Mallory since 2001, Cranley blocked a parking privatization plan and tied Mallory’s trolley tracks in knots. Killing plans worth more than $200 million made Cranley look like a superhero: a politician who actually kept his promises.

But every Superman has his kryptonite. Cranley took office believing his most trusted council allies were his handpicked vice-mayor, David Mann, and Councilman Kevin Flynn. Then both flipped on the streetcar, betraying Cranley and the promises they made to get elected.

For a few days of drama, Council flipped and flopped like a carp in a boat. Breathless editorials and stories made it sound as if the city’s future was hanging by a streetcar wire. Cranley said, “Voters sent a clear message as to what they wanted on the streetcar,” and cited polls showing 70-74 percent wanted to stop it. But then Mann caved, and Flynn engineered a veto-proof vote to damn the deficits, full speed ahead.

It was an early and unhappy ending for the mayor’s pledge to “demonstrate that the people are in charge” and restore something as foreign to City Hall as pocket watches and fedoras: “fiscal responsibility.”

At City Hall, that’s a dead language. Among the previous 10 mayors, only Arn Bortz (1983-84) had the kind of business experience Cranley has earned since he left Council. None besides Bortz had to mind their own business.

“I certainly believe my experience in the private sector has broadened my horizons,” Cranley says. That began when he resigned from Council in 2009 to avoid a potential conflict of interest with a project he put together in Price Hill, called Incline Village.

“We ran into enormous headwinds with the economy collapsing,” he says. When the biggest backer withdrew, “It became worthless overnight. I personally, with other investors, put a lot of money on the line. But eight months into 2009 it was essentially dead. I would say that in everything I’ve ever done in my life—running for Congress, running for mayor—nothing else was ever as stressful as having other people’s money at risk. My friends and family. In a project going nowhere.”

He learned the hard way about City Hall red tape. Inspection delays “cost us three months which I can quantify as roughly $15,000 out of my pocket.” That project was led by a City Hall insider, with city support.

Incline Village’s condos, apartments and restaurant appear to be a success. “The community has embraced it,” he says. “But it certainly gave me a great appreciation for what it means to go out there and take a risk and put your name on the line.”

“We owed it to ourselves, the neighborhood and the investors to make it work. Failure was not an option. We downsized our ambition.”

When Cranley took office he believed that, “Reality has set in. Sobriety.” He added, “I’m trying to close a $20 million [budget] shortfall, not add to it.”

But then Council ordered another round of Old Trolley. Cranley was disappointed, but accepted what he couldn’t change.

“I like to say to folks, ‘You may not have noticed but as I’ve taken office I tried to do it low key,’ ” he laughs. “Look, we inherited a mess. Our bond rating was downgraded the first time in memory. We have an $800 million pension [liability] problem.”

Cranley hopes to leverage private investment in neighborhoods, like the 3CDC projects he says return four private dollars for every public dollar. “In what universe would it not make sense to go for that?”

He wants more cops. “We had 1,135 cops four years ago. I’m not sure we will ever get back there. Right now, at street strength, we have 925. In District 3, if you have a priority call it takes 20 minutes for a cop to get to your house. For a non-priority call it’s 40 minutes. That’s not acceptable. We need more resources and a different approach.”

He will emphasize job creation, better access for minorities and women to city contracts and “big wins for neighborhoods” like his project in Price Hill, where he grew up. “I have a passion for the West Side and the black community and I feel like those two parts of town have been neglected during the renaissance elsewhere.”

When re-election comes up in 2017, he hopes, “I added jobs, landed major deals, reduced the poverty rate, made a noticeable improvement in public safety and increased inclusion at the same time I saved taxpayers money, balanced the budget and made neighborhood improvements.”

If that sounds unrealistic, Cranley is a one-man Optimists Club. He turns 40 on Feb. 28, but his boyish looks are a natural fit with a can-do attitude. He’s anchored by his devout Catholic faith, studies in philosophy and a degree from Harvard Divinity School as well as Harvard Law, where he gave his class’ graduation speech.

In that speech, he joked that he’d won the high-low poker game of grades, then dared his classmates to take on the high-low economics of society by making the world a better place for the less fortunate.

After five years as a developer and a lawyer at Keating Muething & Klekamp, he says he can meet that challenge. “I’ve given up a wonderful career at a very good law firm that pays substantially better than this job. But this is the job I feel called to do.”

Thanks to his business experience, Cincinnati has a mayor who knows what all mayors used to know—that business makes the Blue Chip City work.

The faces on the wall outside his office must like what they see.