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City Council Election 2011: Interview with Hearcel Craig

Walker Evans Walker Evans City Council Election 2011: Interview with Hearcel Craig
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Hearcel Craig is one of two current Columbus City Councilmembers running for re-election, having served in this position since 2007. Craig, a lifelong resident of Columbus, currently serves as the chair of the Health, Housing & Human Services; Minority, Business & Workforce Development and Veterans Affairs Committees.

Below are Hearcel Craig’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: For almost four decades, I’ve dedicated my life to creating success for the next generation in Columbus. My public and private sector service has been driven by a core value: every Columbus citizen deserves a fair shot at a good job where hard work pays off.

I know about the power of opportunity matched with a drive to succeed.   I served in the US Army during the Vietnam era and became the first person in my family to graduate from college. Since college, I’ve worked my way up from the docks of JC Penney’s to senior leadership for a public office.

Serving as one of your Councilmembers has been an honor. A highlight of my service has been joining the entire community as we came together to give South Side Settlement House – and the entire South Side – a new opportunity to succeed. Coupled with this important initiative and our work to create new job opportunities, I am privileged to be the inaugural chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee for Columbus City Council.

I am seeking this office because our work is not finished. We have new jobs to create, new services to champion and a new generation to prepare for success in our great city.

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

A: Since joining Columbus City Council, I have been honored to serve as the current Chair of Health, Housing & Human Services; Minority, Business & Workforce Development; and Veterans Affairs Committees, as well as the past chair of Judiciary and Court Administration and the Public Service and Transportation Committees. I focused on three priorities:  investing in neighborhood services; empowering citizens to build strong, safe neighborhoods; and championing small business growth in Columbus. We’ve made great strides in every area – and have more to do.

Council has invested in neighborhood services, from new technologies to streamline snow removal to securing $50 million as the lead applicant in the fight against vacant and abandoned housing.

We have worked with citizens to develop the tools they need to promote public safety, including 58 neighborhood safety grants, Community Crime Patrols in five key neighborhoods, and neighborhood safety cameras for areas that wanted these tools.

Most importantly, we have championed small business growth. In the last five years, our investments with ECDI, a local economic development non-profit, have helped over 100 small businesses establish or expand in Columbus.

Looking ahead, we will continue our focus on small business with an ambitious plan to remove the barriers to establishing and growing small businesses. We’ll seek opportunities to provide vital access to capital, streamline doing business with the city and invest in the quality workforce companies need to thrive in Central Ohio.

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: We’re emerging from the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Fortunately, Columbus has bounced back faster than any major city in our part of the country. This is due to public-private partnerships with groups like ECDI, a local nonprofit economic development institute. In the last five years our investments with EDCI have helped over 100 small businesses establish or expand in Columbus. We have also invested in TechColumbus and the Small Business Development Center at Columbus State Community College to promote entrepreneurship.

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: While Downtown development has been an important catalyst for regional growth, we must accelerate our investments in urban neighborhoods which play a critically important role in the strength of our city. For these communities, we must focus on three key issues – continuing to invest in neighborhood commercial revitalization corridors; taking on vacant and abandoned housing through programs like Home Again; and investing in crime-prevention through neighborhood safety grants. Each of these solutions focus on empowering neighborhoods and small businesses, creating conditions for growth in our city core.

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: While we’re investing in strong public services, there’s always room for improvement. For example, public safety is Columbus City Council’s number one priority. In fact, we allocate more than 70 percent of the City’s budget for Police and Fire. Because of our fiscally responsible investment in neighborhood safety, the City of Columbus has never laid off a police officer or firefighter – even as other Ohio cities have cut safety forces because of budget constraints.

In fact, we are continuing our momentum by hiring nearly 200 police and fire recruits in 2011.

Our public safety efforts extend to new ways of building strong, safe neighborhoods. We are investing in ways to extend our safety forces like neighborhood safety cameras, as well as empowering communities with neighborhood safety grants and the Community Crime Patrol.

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: Mass transit is part of the key to attracting and retaining young professionals. That’s why the City is working with COTA to improve service and amenities. Unfortunately, the national recession has made investment in light rail cost-prohibitive at the local level. That’s why it’s especially disastrous to have the state defund the 3C rail plan and attempt to use the money in a questionable manner to study giving away public assets.

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: We’re making great strides through public-private partnerships like TechColumbus, ECDI and CCDC. Whether it’s microloans and venture capital or mentorship and veteran-owned small business certification, Columbus is a vibrant place to do business. In the next four years, my focus will be continuing and expanding small business development in Columbus. I will work with other councilmembers to help small businesses by improving access to capital, promoting mentorship and investing in quality workforce development.

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: Our small business growth efforts will have a critical impact on technology companies in Columbus. We already fund TechColumbus, which is an amazing vehicle for incubating and growing tech start-ups. Like all businesses, these companies can benefit from our small business plan – access to capital, quality workforce development, mentorship, streamlining City government and investing in innovation across Columbus.

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: I respect the divergent voices on this issue and appreciate the two year community dialogue about this solution. I have concluded that Columbus is a great city because of nationally-renowned areas like the Arena District. As home to thousands of jobs, the health of the Arena District is tied to the health of our economy. To protect these jobs and keep our momentum in the Arena District, I support the public-private partnership developed for district and the use of new casino revenue for this jobs-growing area.

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: I applaud Council President Ginther and Mayor Coleman for appointing a committee to review the use of non-income tax revenues, like the casino taxes. I believe it’s critical that we use these and all non-income tax funds in ways that meet our top priorities as a city – maintaining vital neighborhood services, investing in public safety and fighting for every job in Columbus. Fortunately, this committee understands these priorities and will help us develop a comprehensive approach to meeting these needs.

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: The answer is the same as what need to do to strengthen our city core – we must accelerate our investments in urban neighborhoods which play a critically important role in the strength of our city. For these communities, we must focus on three key issues – continuing to invest in neighborhood commercial revitalization corridors; taking on vacant and abandoned housing through programs like Home Again; and investing in crime-prevention through neighborhood safety grants. Each of these solutions focuses on empowering neighborhoods and small businesses, creating conditions for growth in our city core.

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: These are the very neighborhoods that will benefit most from our accelerated investments in urban neighborhoods. Commercial revitalization, housing redevelopment and crime prevention are key to the long-term success.

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 our experience in Columbus shows these extreme policies aren’t needed. I strongly support the basic collective bargaining rights of Ohio’s public union members. These rights have allowed us to work with our public employee unions to reform health care and pension costs, while negotiating vital protections for our police officers and firefighters. In fact, we’re on track to save $144 million by 2019 due in large part to these negotiations.

Leadership requires making tough decisions. I don’t believe we have to choose between basic rights and saving money. It’s our job as public servants to do both.

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: We currently provide baseline arts funding through a bed tax set-aside. We have also provided additional funding to arts organizations. Going forward, we must balance the competing investment needs and better align that funding to available sources like the bed tax, casino revenue and other non-income tax funds. I support the community-led advisory committee that’s reviewing these needs in light of the long-term impacts of the Great Recession.

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

A: I commit to continuing my leadership on Council with integrity, competence and accountability for every Columbus resident – listening to divergent voices, delivering real results and earning your support now and in the future.

More information can be found online at CraigForColumbus.com.

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