City Council Candidate Will Petrik Asks ‘What’s Possible?’
Right around the time when a community organizer from Chicago’s South Side was elected president, Will Petrik decided that he too wanted to become a community organizer. He worked in Chicago with a national student campaign against homelessness and hunger, as well as organizing students on the campus of Evergreen State College in Washington. After five years living in Columbus, Petrik is now running for City Council.
Petrik said being part of Ohio’s Medicaid expansion two years ago helped push him toward running for City Council. While working on the Medicaid effort, he saw democracy “up close and personal” and it seemed to Petrik that too much of the time, governments don’t listen to people and communities.
“I really want to be part of, how do we make people part of the conversation in Columbus,” said Petrik. “It feels like at the state and the federal level, that there’s gridlock, that money runs the show and it’s all about winning the game.”
Petrik is running as a Democrat but without the party’s official endorsement. He is excited about the grassroots nature of his campaign and feels blessed by all the people who have volunteered to help him.
“There’s an excitement about possibility in this city right now,” said Petrik. “I think with Mayor Coleman announcing that he wasn’t going to be running for mayor, there’s really an exciting mayoral race and a lot of conversation happening there, there’s also a lot of excitement around the city council race and our team is definitely excited to be part of that conversation.”
As a candidate, Petrik said he wants to start conversations about increasing the minimum wage, expanding early childhood education and improving public transportation.
On raising the minimum wage, Petrik said, “I love Columbus. I love the culture, I love the arts, I love the vibrancy of the scene here, it’s great. But there’s still that story of inequality. There’s a tale of two cities.”
In the last decade, said Petrik, the cost of basic family needs in Franklin County has steadily increased, but “if you look at wages, or even the median family income, it’s actually stayed flat or gone down over the last ten years. So to me a question emerges, what are we going to do about that? How are we going to support families?”
One of the biggest concerns Petrik has heard from Columbus residents is the state of the public school system. He pointed out that cities such as New York, San Antonio and Denver have attempted to make pre-kindergarten education a universal right for all children.
“When a child starts in Kindergarten, and if they’re already two or three years behind, they’re likely going to be marginalized,” said Petrik. “It’s about participation, if you’re not participating right away, you’re likely not going to be able to participate in high school, in college, even in the economy.”
Petrik said that making an early investment in children not only improves their performance later on, along with improving the performance of the schools they attend, it also provides affordable childcare for parents who have to work during the day.
“To the credit of the current Mayor Coleman and City Council, they have increased spending for early education, but I think that that’s one area where we can do so much more,” said Petrik.
Petrik also emphasized the need for improved and expanded public transportation systems in Columbus, which has become a frequent self-criticism of both city leaders and residents.
“We’ve been talking about more and better public transportation and comprehensive transportation for many, many years and I guess I don’t really know what’s holding it up,” said Petrik. “I think there’s a lot of public support for it and so part of what I’d like to do is continue to be an advocate and continue to be supporting that. I know I’m not the leader but I want to be an ally and I want to be working with public transportation advocates.”
Petrik said that while he’s excited by the potential for a light rail system, he is also concerned about the affordability and availability of such a system for residents who need it most.
“How do you make it affordable to people that need public transportation to get to work, get to the doctor’s office, to get to school?” said Petrik. “There’s definitely not just light rail, but how do we make public transportation affordable and better.”
Another idea Petrik wants to bring to the conversation centers on participatory budgeting, a decision-making process that cities like Chicago and Vallejo, California have experimented with in recent years. Participatory budgeting involves having citizens of a municipality vote on where to allocate a certain amounts from a city’s budget, giving citizens more control over which public projects receive funding.
“Currently we get a menu with politicians listed on the menu and the idea of participatory budgeting says, let’s first ask the question what do you want on the menu and what do you want for your neighborhood, what do you want for schools, what do you want for safety, for parks and rec, for all the different things in your community, and then let’s vote on it, let’s come together and figure that out,” said Petrik.
Petrik believes utilizing a participatory budgeting model will help citizens feel more involved in the democratic process, strengthening the relationship between people and their elected governments.
“It’s something that I’m excited about and I’m trying to educate people about and talk to people about and would love to think about how to bring it to Columbus,” said Petrik. “Fundamentally part of what I want to do is start a conversation about the future of the city so the big question of this campaign is, what’s possible?”
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