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City Council Election 2011: Interview with Robert Bridges

Walker Evans Walker Evans City Council Election 2011: Interview with Robert Bridges
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Robert Bridges is one of two Libertarian candidates running for the office of Columbus City Council this November. Robert is running on a platform focused on fiscal responsibility at City Hall, and a reduction in government intrusiveness, specifically as it relates to small businesses and economic development.

Below are Robert Bridges’ 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 not an attorney. I am not a career politician. I am a blue-collar, everyday citizen. I am running for City Council because I believe that it is time for change; a fresh voice. We are ready for common sense representation. I come from a blue-collar background. My father was a union factory worker and a Pentecostal minister. My mother was a homemaker who earned two college degrees while raising her children. I understand the struggles that so many families face, because I have lived it. Happily married for 14 years, my wife and I have raised two beautiful children. We also foster for various animal rescue groups around the city. I want to limit government intrusion in our lives, not increase it. Our diversity should be celebrated, not challenged. You will see me on the streets, listening to you, both before and after the campaign.

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

A: We’ve had one voice on city council since 1965. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but Columbus has more than one kind of person living here, and they all deserve to be fairly represented. I can provide some creative solutions to tired problems. I am interested in addressing crime, our many abandoned homes and the lack of jobs for residents.

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: “Economic development” to me means the growth of our local economy. Investing in small business is our best bet. We have a great untapped resource, and that’s our people. We need to encourage Columbus residents to invest right here, at home. What do you do better than anyone else? Maybe you’re an attorney, a baker, an organizer or a ditch digger – whatever it is, we need to make it easier for you to sell your skill. Columbus can be known as Start Up City, and all it takes is a little vision and some elbow grease. To begin, let’s continue to update our web presence, and modernize a portal for entrepreneurs to start from. Add in accessibility to city and industry leaders, and continue by renewing our partnership with area real estate developers. We’re home to some fantastic regional banks – let’s work with them to discuss small business assistance. Finally, we should honor local success stories – not those with the highest sales, but those who took that courageous step and invested in themselves. As much as I appreciate the big businesses who call Columbus home, I’d like to see us do more to help the small ones. That is our future.

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: To have a vibrant urban center, people – residents and business owners alike – need to feel safe. I see that as our biggest issue, and the only major thing holding us back from true urban living. Because of the deferred retirement option offered to police and fire in 2003, we will experience an exodus of first responders at the end of 2011. With a limited tax base and a shrinking economy, we have to look for ways to stay ahead of potential problems – otherwise we’ll lose hard-won ground in the coming months. For this reason I am steadfastly against spending any new sources of tax revenue (such as from the casino) on anything other than classes of new police, fire and 911 dispatchers. This is why we lost residents to the suburbs in the 1990’s, and we will do so again if we do not act now. That would be a devastating loss to our beautiful downtown.

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: Something else entirely: It’s a management issue. I believe that all these issues are essential city services, and should be a priority. I am a socially responsible fiscal conservative. This means I rather enjoy finding creative ways to pay for programs that are environmentally necessary. Curb-side recycling is one of those programs. Bureaucrats tend to look in one direction – taxes – and that’s it. There are other avenues that could be explored, such as corporate sponsors, partnering with a waste management team, partial subsidies, and more. Running the city is a business, and our customers expect certain services. There is no reason we can’t do a better job of plowing the streets. It’s a few days out of the year – if there are streets our plows are too big for, let’s hire some locals with front plows to do the work, or hire seasonal help to get through the few weeks we’ll need them for. We’ve become accustomed to a very reactive council, and that has to change.

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 do not think it hurts us, simply because we’ve only recently debated the merits of light rail. Personally, I’m a fan of “walking neighborhoods.” It’s a greener, more practical approach to how we live in Columbus. We simply don’t have the population density needed to offset the environmental damage a light rail system would produce – in short, not enough cars would be replaced. This doesn’t mean that other forms of public transportation shouldn’t be considered. In the past we have discussed trolley cars, and I think we should revisit that. We should look to other cities our size and see what they use. Tuk-tuks (mini-auto rickshaws), programs like Zipcar and London-style double-decker buses are all options we should discuss. The Ohio State University is in our backyard – we are remiss by not asking some of the country’s best and brightest students and faculty for active feedback.

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: The obvious answer to this is the economy. Everyone has been affected in some way, and we’ve all had to do more with less. That being said, access to capital is a big problem for small businesses. Banks are reluctant to lend, and while a city councilperson can’t change federal laws, we can create some local incentives to encourage investment in our citizens. It is important to recognize that we cannot ask banks to socialize the risks they take as part of their business. In other words, there won’t be a bailout for anyone. So this has to be managed carefully, with thought of the “after” as well as the “before.”

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: Columbus has done a great job of getting most of our services online. We have a website that is easy to navigate, easy to use and easy to remember. If nothing else, you can find information on what you’re looking for, and that’s to be commended.

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 am against it. They are purchasing the arena against taxpayer sentiment, solely because the resident hockey team loses money and can’t make their rent. The Blue Jackets are a fine team, but that isn’t the issue. We’re in a depression. Almost a quarter of our homes are vacant. Crime is rampant in parts of the city. We need that casino money for police, fire, and other essential city services. To commit millions of dollars, without a plan, with no way to sustain it long term, well, that’s just insulting and irresponsible. The State of Ohio has offered to loan the Jackets $10 million, half of which they will forgive if the Blue Jackets meet payroll. I have a problem with that as well. $5 million, forgiven? Local business owners meet payroll every week. How many jobs could they create with that kind of money? And they aren’t losing $12 million a year. Listen – if people aren’t buying tickets to see the Jackets play right now, then throwing money at a team no one is going to see anyway makes no sense. It tells me that jobs in the Arena District are being saved by our local business leaders, not local hockey.

If we were talking about a company, this would be crony capitalism. As elected officials, we need to do better than that. We’ve got a fantastic Chamber of Commerce that we should be working with. We should be talking to local business owners and asking what they think. With everything we’ve got to offer, there’s no reason for us to take casino revenue from bolstering our essential services. It is not the role of government to pick winners and losers in business. These big-business bailouts have got to stop.

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’s critically important that Columbus and Franklin County stay out of the way of the casino, and let them open. Since the beginning, they’ve done nothing but throw roadblocks in the way of this venue. If nothing else, city council has learned how badly they NEED this money. Stay out of the way, and let the casino be successful. Ancillary businesses will open around it, thus revitalizing the area. Let’s use the money to bolster city services that desperately need it.

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: Again, safety. There are certain risks that a younger crowd may be willing to take; it’s something else entirely for those with small children. It is vital for the growth and stability of our city – specifically our inner core – that we not lose sight of this issue. People need to feel safe, to feel as though their concerns are being met. Additionally, let’s make sure we’re getting out of the way so that businesses can develop to cater to that segment. There are things all residents can appreciate – strong schools, fresh corner markets, local boutiques – these are hallmarks of a walking community, and will keep people engaged in their community.

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: Pointing to the success of other neighborhoods is our best bet. Let’s repeat what worked and throw out the rest. I would add a stronger focus on safety and zoning to that mix, and I would also concentrate on absentee slumlords. Otherwise I believe we have made some great progress in several areas around the city. Duplicating that recipe will net us results, making Columbus an even better place to live.

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: Over 80% of the city’s general fund is tied up in collective bargaining agreements. Every year, that number grows. Without some kind of reform, we will have to lay off police and fire. Safety is a key part of my campaign – layoffs, especially among first responders, is the last thing I want to see happen. Ideally, none of this would be necessary. However, the reality is that healthcare costs are going up for everyone, and I am running to represent all segments of our city. That includes those who cannot afford their own coverage. I support Senate Bill 5, and I will continue to lobby for health care reform, which is at the core of this issue.

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: The small business programs I would like to create would apply equally to artists. I believe very firmly that Columbus must continue to encourage a strong arts scene. The Short North, Clintonville and inner core of Columbus are great examples of how art and culture can revitalize an area. Relaxing zoning codes to allow for temporary outdoor gallery space is one idea I love. Taking some abandoned properties the city must pay to upkeep and turning them into live/work places for the creative community is another. There are other options to discuss: A managed graffiti art program and a cooperation of city planners and local artists are just a few.

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

A: I am an anti-war, fiscally conservative, socially responsible, blue-collar-worker-turned-grassroots politician, who put everything on the line because I believe I can bring some diversity of thought to city council.

More information can be found online at VoteBridges.org.

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