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City Council Candidate Profile: Tiffany White

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The Wendy’s at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Nelson Road is the only restaurant in the Shepard neighborhood in North Central Columbus.

It’s one of the things Columbus City Council candidate Tiffany White has witnessed the effect of in her neighborhood. And as a member of the North Central Area Commission, those problems are brought to her front doorstep: residents forced to lug groceries from across the city on the bus, streets without street lights or sidewalks, new landlords doubling the rent and prematurely ending leases, a growing homelessness problem, etc.

“You have a lot of families leaving, and they’re leaving a place of comfort to go to a place where maybe they’re not necessarily wanted. And that’s in the suburbs,” says White. “So now you’re putting barriers in place again when it comes to housing. And housing for people of color has always been an issue.”

Her work on other committees, including the Mayor’s Community Safety Advisory Commission and the Community Shelter Board’s Rebuilding Lives plan in particular, has exposed her to issues in the culture of the Columbus Police Department, ongoing issues with harassment and discrimination both outside and inside the division, and the struggle to build community trust.

She says these are the issues that inspired her to run. She’s applied to be on council a few times, even becoming a finalist for appointment. She’s also running because the change she has been able to set forth during her 10 years as commissioner has hit a ceiling.

“Someone said to me, ‘Do you really believe that the recommendations you make are going to have any teeth or anything’s going to change?’” she says. “I’ve been on many committees and commissions, and recommendations have been made. And maybe one or two things are implemented.”

“I believe that they’ll change if you have the right people in place to push them forward,” she says.

Columbus Underground sat down with the City Council candidate to discuss the issues, her affiliation with Yes We Can, and why she is running.

Addressing everyday issues:

“I live in the home that I inherited, so I’ve seen it be a very working-class neighborhood. And it was a village. So you knew what was going on with your neighbor. You knew if someone was ill, you knew if a kid was having issues. But we also had teachers that lived in our communities. We had officers that lived in our communities. We had role models in our community, and they weren’t considered threats. So if you don’t live it, you don’t see it every day. You just enter into it for an event or a moment.

“It’s easy to not address it, but it’s hard for me to not address it when I see it every day. I hear the concerns. We have food deserts. We have streets with no street lights. I think we’ve always needed the sidewalks. It’s not a new concern. We’ve closed a lot of neighborhood schools where kids could just walk around the corner or within a block or two.

“It’s hard to make changes in a system where you want to stay in good favor. I think anyone who leaps out there is taking a risk. Obviously I’m taking a risk. I might not ever be on another committee or commission, but I’m not gonna stop fighting. I’m not going to stop advocating for families. I’m not going to stop advocating for the homeless. We need to address poverty.”

Affordable housing:

“Stability and housing is a big one. I think that’s a benchmark for everything. I’m around lots of little kids. And when they go, well our lights are off…and then I talk to the parents and they’re like, “I’m paying $1,100 a month.” Oh, I got ya. I understand. Let’s see if we can find something for you to help you get your lights back on. But that child still has to go to school every day. So we’re not putting our kids in a position to be successful adults because all they see is struggle, distress, concern. And with the price of housing going up so high, especially in multi-bedroom locations. It’s hard for folks. It really is.

“There’s some people that are doing really good things and trying to put affordable housing in place. And they’re running into roadblocks. Well, they’re smaller developers and not large developers. Why don’t we give these smaller developers an opportunity not only to build the affordable housing, but for them to prosper and thrive and continue to do that in our areas of town? Give them the opportunity you have to grow business somewhere.”

On education:

“I think if you’re a startup coming in, we can have a good conversation about an abatement. But I think an abatement should also carry some type of responsibility to a community. And we always hear, we have these community partners. If we had the community partnerships that invested in our schools, we wouldn’t have the issues that we do as far as services. Not necessarily report cards, but if you address the physical disabilities, or the mental disabilities or the behavioral disabilities of these children, then potentially they could focus, build their strengths academically and be able to hit these benchmarks. But with the lack of that…your opportunity to actually grow your academic life is shortened.

“Most people have to go to work every day. So either you work in the middle of the day, or you work when your children get home from school and then you’re not there with them to reinforce the things that they learned in school. Or they just don’t go at all. So we have to make sure that if we’re going to say we want pre-K for all, then we make sure that there’s transportation to get those children those early learning skills. So when they go into kindergarten, they can be as successful as possible because you have things in place for their success.”

On police reform:

“This is a concern. We need to address it, and not address it with tours around town…but actually sit down and have really serious conversations about what’s happening in these particular communities.

“We don’t want a Ferguson. And I personally feel that we’re one officer and African American male or female away from that occurring. And it doesn’t have to happen, but you have to have the right leadership in place to say we’re consciously working hard. And we cannot be defensive about what the folks are saying. We have to be empathetic about what’s going on with them.

“I also think that we need to make sure that our police and fire are getting the right mental health services and the time that they need. Once something does happen, intentional, unintentional, whatever the case may be, there’s still something. We’re all human. But people do need to be able to take the mental health time that they need, get those services, and it not be a blemish on their record or a sign of weakness. To me, it’s a sign of strength that you recognize that it’s actually eating away at you or bothering you and you need to take a moment.”

The city boosting the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour:

“In reality, you could have done that a while ago. And you don’t take into consideration that when you do bump these folks up, if they’ve been making less than 15, they probably are underemployed and are receiving some kind of benefit to reside in the city. The National Low Income Housing Coalition said to live in the city of Columbus, you have to make about $18 an hour. So moving it up to 15, we still haven’t hit the mark. [They say] you’d have to have 1.8 jobs, which means you need to have almost two full-time jobs.

“So again, whenever in this election season, and whenever someone is contesting anyone, you always see lots of changes and things. And I call those bandaids because we’re still not fixing the problem. We have lots of things that we need to address and we’re not.”

On Yes We Can:

“I’m a Democrat and a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, that’s a bipartisan group.’ At the end of the day when you’re making decisions, especially in an at-large position, you represent everyone, whether their Republican, Democrat, green, independent, whatever they affiliate themselves with. I’ve known a lot of the folks with Yes We Can, and I’ve met them and work with them in different capacities on different things. I could have run independently, but when the opportunity came to run with other individuals — because that’s what all the other parties do, is they run as a slate or a ticket for that particular election cycle…”

What she feels voters need to know:

“This is what I tell everyone, not just for my campaign or my election, but for everyone — you really need to look at what [candidates’] body of work is. What type of outreach have they had in your community? Or do you only see them when they need signatures or to show their face to campaign? What I found is when I’m knocking on doors, people are like, ‘I’ve never had a candidate knock on my door.’ Well, me either.

“I always ask, ‘What is it that we could do better in the City of Columbus?’ So I’ve heard transportation. I’ve heard there’s nothing to do Downtown for seniors anymore. Safety is a concern. Even some of these neighborhoods where we’ve had lots of reinvestment…people are breaking into cars or breaking into house because it’s not the same community anymore.

“What I commit to do as a councilperson is to have those conversations. I want to go to block watch meetings and actually sit there…

“And I have to sit there and listen and I have to have solutions. ‘I’ve talked to this person, this person, and these are the things that we’re able to do.’ Or, ‘Hey, those sidewalks are not gonna be in the budget for about another three to five years. But it’s still on my radar. I have not forgotten about you.’

“It’s accountability and it’s being as transparent as possible. And I think that’s the one thing that I bring to the table, other than [the] foot-soldier things that I do, that is different from anyone else who’s running for council.”

For more information on White’s platform, visit tiffanywhite4thepeople.com.

Read profiles with other candidates running for City Council in the November election.

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