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City Council Election 2011: Interview with Andrew Ginther

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Andrew Ginther is not only one of two candidates running for re-election this year for Columbus City Council, but also the President of Council. Ginther currently serves as the chair of the Rules & Reference Committee, has previously served on the Columbus Board of Education and has a background in conflict resolution.

Below are Andrew Ginther’s answers to 15 interview questions that specifically address the concerns of Columbus Underground readers:

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your personal, professional, and political background?

A: I am a native of Columbus, born to parents who taught me the importance of service and giving back to the community. A proud graduate of Columbus City Schools, I earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in political science from Earlham College, studied peace and conflict resolution at the University of Ulster and Queen’s College in Northern Ireland and taught at public schools in Belfast and Derry. I also had the opportunity to serve consecutive internships at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Georgia, where I taught non-violence and dispute resolution to school children in the most dangerous parts of the city.

I began my career as a Legislative Aide in the Ohio Senate and then as Coordinator of Violence Prevention for Strategies Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE). I spent 10 years working for Triumph Communications as Coordinator of Community Relations, and recently accepted a new position as the Vice President of Community Affairs and Outreach for Children’s Hunger Alliance. In 2001, I was elected to the Columbus Board of Education and re-elected in 2005. I then joined Columbus City Council in 2007, and was selected by my colleagues to serve as Council President in January of this year. I live in Clintonville with my wife Shannon, our young daughter and our Boston Terrier.

Q: What drove you to run for City Council, and what are your primary areas of interest when it comes to Columbus issues?

A: I was fortunate to have parents who gave me every opportunity to succeed, and who instilled in me the importance of giving back. I chose public service as a way to repay all those who made a difference in my life – my parents, teachers, mentors and coaches. The last four years on Columbus City Council have been filled with opportunities to take on the real issues facing our neighborhoods. A national recession allowed us to refocus delivering core city services more efficiently and effectively. We’ve made changes that will save taxpayers at least $144 million by 2019, while investing in public safety, maintaining neighborhood services, and fighting for every job in Columbus.

These challenges have also led to bold new economic development partnerships like Columbus2020! and renewed emphasis on small business growth with partnerships like TechColumbus, the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), the Community Capital Development Corporation (CCDC) and The Center for Workforce Development at Columbus State Community College.

We’ve also taken every opportunity to leverage public funding and private dollars to strengthen our neighborhoods. This year alone we made an unprecedented $34 million investment in street resurfacing and sidewalk projects.

I believe Columbus’ best days are ahead, but we have to work together to build the opportunity to succeed in our city.  I am asking voters for the opportunity to continue our work creating jobs, and building healthy, safe and strong neighborhoods.

Q: The topic of economic development is a hot issue in Central Ohio, with renewed emphasis through the Columbus 2020 program. How do you specifically define “economic development” and what specific types of programs will help the regional economy grow over the next five to ten years?

A: At Columbus City Council, we help create the conditions where businesses can succeed. That can mean everything from developing public private partnerships focused on attracting and retaining jobs to improving access to capital for small businesses. While sometimes overlooked, our efforts to improve neighborhood services and the overall quality of in Columbus play a vital role in the 21st century job market.

In each area, we’re delivering real results for Columbus residents. For example, the city is leading the way in an unprecedented public-private partnership to spur economic development: Columbus 2020!. This partnership is focused on adding 150,000 new jobs by 2020, increasing personal income, and leveraging $8 billion dollars in new capital investment. In the last five years, our partnership with EDCI has helped over 100 small businesses establish and expand in Columbus. Our investment in TechColumbus helped secure $15 million for central Ohio technology companies.

We must continue to build on this momentum, looking for new and innovative opportunities to support job creation in Columbus.

Q: Downtown Columbus has grown residentially and commercially over the past 10 years, due to public investment and a renewed national focus on urban living. What further needs to be done from a public policy level to continue the growth of the core of our city?

A: Our focus must remain building healthy safe and strong neighborhoods, downtown and throughout Columbus. That includes continuing to invest in core city services like police and fire throughout Columbus, and making sure our economy is strong. It also means embracing bold ideas like those outlined in the 2010 Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan. One of the most compelling ideas highlights the need to build connectivity between Columbus’ great neighborhoods. For example, the concept of a “Creative Campus” capitalizes on existing expansions, planned or underway, at the Columbus College of Art and Design, the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus State and State Auto to help connect historic eastside neighborhoods to downtown through mixed use development and green space. The city has an important role to play in partnering with these entities to help facilitate development, and to invest in the planning, engineering and construction of the infrastructure necessary to help make this concept reality. The Downtown Strategic Plan is a roadmap for future development of Columbus’ urban core, and I intend to continue promote dialogue about these ideas and push for implementation of those that can have the greatest impact.

Q: A common anecdotal complaint about local government centers on a lack of adequate city services: unplowed streets, lack of curb-side recycling, potholes, too few proactive police patrols, et cetera. Is this a funding issue, a geographic issue, or something else entirely?

A: Council and the Mayor have made substantial investments of taxpayer dollars into each of these areas, and we have made marked improvement. We have maintained police and fire personnel while other large cities have made cuts, we have purchased additional equipment and implemented new technologies to better plow our streets, and we filled more potholes last year than ever before. It is my job to help align city resources with the most critical needs and to continue to invest what I believe will help grow the economy, promote public safety and improve neighborhood services. And, given the opportunity, this is what I will continue to do.

Q: It’s practically a daily occurrence that a national publication produces an article on the growing importance of public transportation networks to young professionals and the Millennial generation. Does our lack of rail transit hurt our ability to attract young talent to our region, and if so, what needs to be done to address this issue?

A: I am a strong supporter of public transportation and understand the importance of transportation systems in promoting economic development. While especially important to younger generations, public transportation helps connect workers of all ages to jobs, and can help open up new corridors for business. If Columbus continues to grow, improvements to public transit are inevitable. But, a compelling argument can be made that our public transportation system is actually holding us back. Regardless, there are many reasons why we need to invest in public transportation beyond job creation. The positive impact on public health and on the environment, the improved connectivity of the City and the benefit to the travel and tourism industry are just a few. In the meantime, we need to continue to invest in other ways to make traveling through and to Columbus neighborhoods easier and safer, reduce our reliance on automobiles and continue to promote connectivity.

Q: Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. What are the biggest challenges that our small business community currently faces, and what would you do differently to address those challenges?

A: Columbus City Council is focused on entrepreneurship and small business growth because these innovators are the backbone of our economy. That’s why we are renewing efforts to identify the challenges facing local companies and expand the tools available to establish and grow small businesses throughout our city.

We have a great foundation to build on because Columbus is already ranked the 7th best city for high-impact companies by the U.S. Small Business Administration and one of the best cities for women-owned businesses by Forbes.

Moving forward, Council will consider new ways to help create conditions where small businesses thrive. We are pulling together a roundtable of small business owners, economic development leaders and local business associations to review potential solutions based on a year of consistent outreach. We’ll work with these leaders to craft innovative solutions that address access to capital, mentorship, quality workforce, health care, and streamlining business with the city.

Q: Several years ago, Columbus was ranked the No. 1 “Up & Coming Tech City” in the country. What role does Columbus city government play in continuing to support our technology-friendly environment from a city services perspective?

A: At the City of Columbus, we’re continuing our efforts to position Columbus to compete in a global economy that is increasingly reliant on technology.  We are pursuing a more robust wireless broadband infrastructure in Columbus to expand the city’s fiber optic infrastructure that will attract high-tech companies and provide innovative new options to enhance public safety and increase government efficiencies. In addition, we continue to provide support for TechColumbus, an internationally acclaimed small business incubator created to accelerate the growth of high tech firms. Internal to Council, we will soon be launching enhancements to our Website that will allow the public to access all Council produced agendas, legislative attachments, minutes, (video) and other information in a timely, user friendly format from their computer, Smartphone or tablet.

Q: The recent announcement that the City of Columbus and Franklin County would be purchasing Nationwide Arena has quickly become a hotly discussed topic. What is your personal stance on this issue, and why is it a good/bad deal for taxpayers and a good/bad deal for the region?

A: While I absolutely appreciate the passionate arguments of those both for and against this agreement, I support this shared public-private investment in jobs by the state, county, city and private sector. The Arena District is home to 172 businesses and thousands of jobs. In the next three years, we expected over 2,000 more jobs will be added in this area. This equates to $29.6 million in annual income tax revenue that helps pay for critical services throughout Columbus. The Arena District also attracts visitors, fills hotel rooms and helps fund human services through bed tax receipts, while generating nearly $20 million for schools over the last 11 years. When considering the impact the on jobs, economic development, neighborhood services and schools, I support the agreement.

Q: A portion of the revenue from the Columbus Hollywood Casino is being earmarked for the purchase of Nationwide Arena. Where else should the Casino revenue be spent, and what percentage should be earmarked for redevelopment of West Side neighborhoods surrounding the Casino?

A: It is important to point out that the city and the Hollywood Casino developers have each pledged $2.5 million specifically toward West Side redevelopment. This is ahead of the casino actually being built, and any revenue being realized. On a larger scale, we need a community dialogue about how to best use non-income tax revenues.  That’s why I’ve partnered with Mayor Coleman to form an independent committee to review current, future and potential non-income tax revenue. The recommendations of this group of citizens will help us make fiscally responsible long-term decisions that invest in neighborhoods, protect our families and create new jobs for Columbus.

Q: According to an article published in April by USA Today, the inner core of Columbus (defined as a 3-mile radius from the center of Downtown) saw 45 percent growth in the number of 20 to 40-year-old residents, a faster growth rate than the rest of the region as a whole. In the years ahead, as these young professionals look to buy homes, have children, and further invest in their community, what specifically needs to be addressed to keep them engaged in central-city neighborhoods?

A: We need to continue to invest in the things that attracted these residents in the first place. We need to help grow the economy and create well-paying jobs that can sustain a family, build neighborhoods where people feel safe, and invest in the neighborhood services that matter most. Our investments must continue to support the services and amenities that make Columbus such a great place to live, including support for the arts and the exceptional recreation and entertainment options that make Columbus so vibrant. And, as a community, we must continue to support our public schools, to hold our educators accountable, and celebrate the significant achievements our schools have made.

Q: Beyond programs that target the young professional demographic, what types of programs and initiatives would further accelerate the revitalization of urban Columbus neighborhoods, such as Franklinton, The King Lincoln District, The South Side, Weinland Park and beyond?

A: There is an incredible amount public and private investment going into many of these neighborhoods, most especially in the King Lincoln District and Weinland Park. In these neighborhoods, brick and mortar investments include improved infrastructure, the clean-up of brown fields and the redevelopment of housing stock. In addition, concepts contained in the Downtown Strategic Plan for development of the Scioto Peninsula help to build momentum for development occurring in Franklinton. We will continue to focus on ways to foster positive development of the Southside, including redevelopment of the former Schottenstein site.

A key concern for all of these neighborhoods is the vacant and abandoned housing crisis that’s swept major cities across America. To tackle this problem, Columbus was the lead applicant for $50 million in federal funding rebuild neighborhoods. Our land bank has helped transfer unsafe properties into the hands of responsible owners who are committed to their neighborhoods. Two of my colleagues, Zach Klein and Michelle Mills, are tackling a common problem for vacant and abandoned property – graffiti crimes. They’ve put forward a strong plan to help residents quickly recover from a graffiti crime, while holding irresponsible and absent property owners accountable. It’s these innovative solutions that make the difference for all Columbus neighborhoods.

Q: Arguably, the largest issue on this year’s ballot is SB5. What is your stance on this issue, and why do you feel it’s important for voters to vote “yes” or “no” on this issue?

A: I will vote “no” on Issue 2 because working families deserve elected officials who protect worker’s rights and save taxpayers money. In Columbus, we have done both. We have worked with our public employees to reduce health care and pension costs while maintaining the high-quality services residents deserve. Collective bargaining has also helped improve worker training, safety and productivity – especially for our police and firefighters. In fact, our efforts have helped put the city on track to save $144 million by 2019. We will continue to protect taxpayer money by working with our public employee unions and the state should do the same.

Q: Several weeks ago, local leaders met to discuss the importance of arts funding and the growth of the creative class as it relates to economic development. How can Columbus invest in the creative community, specifically as it relates to smaller arts collectives and individual artists?

A: Columbus City Council has long provided financial support to Columbus artists through funding of the Greater Columbus Arts Commission (GCAC), dedicating a portion of the city’s bed tax revenue for this explicit purpose. Through GCAC, Council has helped to ensure that the public’s investment in the arts is maximized, and that we do as much as possible to support the creative class in Columbus. Council has also been very supportive of concepts that help develop the talents of individual artists through partnerships like The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space housed in the redeveloped Lazarus building downtown.

As Council President, I am very supportive of concepts like Independents Day, which gives local artists the opportunity to showcase their talents while raising the profile of the creative class. I am encouraged by the fact that community leaders have begun to coalesce around the need to provide greater support for the arts, and to explore ways to increase private and public funding to ensure the long-term sustainability of the cultural sector in Columbus.

Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.

A: I ask for your support so I can continue to serve all of Columbus, working every day to keep our city a thriving, vibrant community that maintains great neighborhood services, invests in strong public safety and fights for every single job in Columbus.

More information can be found online at AndrewGinther.com.

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