City Council Election 2011: Interview with Zach Klein
Zach Klein was appointed to fill an interim seat at Columbus City Council in January, following the departure of previous councilmembers. In addition to his current position on Council, Zach is an attorney for Jones Day, and previously worked for the campaign of Attorney General Richard Cordray and in a financial management position for the office of Vice President Joe Biden.
Below are Zach Klein’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 dedicating my life to public service because I have seen first-hand how effective government leadership and policies can make a real difference in people’s lives. As an assistant attorney general, I worked with the Ohio Attorney General to take on Wall Street and recover $2 billion for pensioners in the State of Ohio. Further, as a special assistant U.S. Attorney, I worked with other federal prosecutors to put criminals who devised illegal monetary scams that ripped off seniors and low-income individuals behind bars. I am taking lessons from those endeavors and applying them to my work on the City Council.
I believe that effective government leadership begins with neighborhood input and community dialogue. This approach allows us to continue our aggressive economic agenda that promotes and encourages private-public partnerships, like the Franklinton Creative Campus, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital expansion, the Scioto Mile, and the Ohio State University Medical Center expansion. Additionally, through collaboration, we can continue to make prudent fiscal decisions that allow us to identify the investments necessary to make our neighborhoods strong, safe, and secure.
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 am honored and privileged to serve as a member of the Columbus City Council. I am seeking this office because we must continue to work with businesses so that our job market remains the strongest in Ohio; we must continue to hire police officers and fire fighters so that our city is safe; and we must continue to build strong neighborhoods by improving infrastructure and investing in our recreation centers and parks. Columbus is undoubtedly a special place, and I look forward to serving the City for many years to come.
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: The city plays a vital role in facilitating economic development and urban renewal. Public-private partnerships are one way that the City of Columbus is working to facilitate economic growth. Through these arrangements, private enterprise brings ingenuity, investment, and ideas and pairs them with public resources, such as infrastructure upgrades and utility improvements. In the past eighteen months, through public-private partnerships alone, we have created, retained, and saved over 14,000 jobs.
Our work is not done, though. We must continue to actively encourage private business investment to ensure job growth and identify barriers to entry so that entrepreneurs and small businesses can succeed. That’s why I’m focused on small business development through better access to capital, stronger incentives for all businesses to establish and expand in Columbus, and a top-to-bottom review of how we do business at the City.
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: It’s hard to believe that the home loan crisis began less than five years ago. Since then, we’ve seen over 6,000 vacant and abandoned houses in Columbus – fewer than most major metro areas, but still too many. We must continue to aggressively go after vacant and abandoned houses, using every tool at our disposal to get these homes rehabbed or torn down. Over the next four years, I will work with the Administration and the City Attorney to explore new tools to tackle this problem and fight for the aggressive use of existing tools to end the vacant and abandoned housing problem.
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: I believe our results speak louder than political rhetoric about city services. Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of Columbus residents. That is why we spend over 70% of our operating budget on public safety. I am proud of the fact that in 2011 alone, the city is adding approximately 200 additional police officers and fire fighters. We must continue to fund community crime patrollers, Crime Stoppers, and neighborhood safety grants. Taken together, these investments create and maintain strong and safe neighborhoods for all Columbus residents.
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: The lack of light rail certainly doesn’t help us, but I believe it’s one of the many factors young professionals consider when choosing a home. Recent research shows that today’s young professionals choose a home first and a job second. That’s why our efforts to further improve quality of life are so important. For example, areas like the Short North were once part of the city’s neighborhood commercial revitalization program. Thanks to public and private collaboration, however, the Short North is a vibrant example of urban living at its best.
There are several neighborhoods around Columbus that are in the same position the Short North was 15 years ago. We must aggressively pursue our public-private partnerships so that the areas that are on the verge of vibrancy ultimately succeed, and, at the same time, identify what can be done to stabilize and rebuild areas that need investment or may be struggling.
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’ve done a great job promoting Columbus as a great place to live, work and raise a family. It shows in the enthusiasm of local businesses. Of Central Ohio small businesses surveyed for the Columbus Chamber, 70% expect to increase profitability in 2011 and over half plan to hire more employees in 2011. We must both continue and expand on our efforts to support these homegrown small businesses. That’s why I’ve joined my colleagues to promote a unified agenda for small business growth in Columbus. We’re looking at ways the city can be a catalyst for small business success, creating an inviting atmosphere for innovative small businesses. Key areas of focus will include creating better access to capital, better aligning our mentorship opportunities for new businesses, investing in quality workforce development that meets the needs of current and future employers, and conducting top-to-bottom review of how we do business at 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: This is really about supporting small business growth – for example, through TechColumbus – and promoting successful public-private partnerships, like the Ohio State University Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital expansions. Our $1 million dollar investment in TechColumbus – $500,000 this year alone – has helped it realize $15 million in private investment. That’s part of the reason Columbus is ranked the 7th best city for high-impact companies by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
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: In addition to serving full-time on the Columbus City Council, I am an attorney at a local law firm. One of the firm’s historical clients was involved in the discussions around the arena plan. While I was not personally involved in any of those discussions, other lawyers at the firm were. Accordingly, to follow Ohio law and in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, I neither voted on this proposal, nor discussed it with any of my Council colleagues.
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: Regardless of how the revenue is derived, the city must be fiscally prudent in how we manage our funds. Our primary focus must be on strong neighborhoods, safe families, and great jobs. In determining budgetary decisions, it is important that we maintain a productive community dialogue with groups like area commissions, civic associations, and block watches to ensure they have the tools they need to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
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: My wife and I live in Italian Village, an exciting example of what residents 20-40 are looking for in a neighborhood. My neighbors are concerned about the same issues as most residents. What will the economy look like in ten years? Does the city do a good job of providing basic services and protecting public safety? Will Columbus provide the amenities I’m looking for in a hometown? I believe we’re providing great answers to these questions. While the Great Recession hit every Ohio family hard, Columbus is bouncing back faster than any major city in our part of the country. Crime continues a decade-long decline in Columbus, even as we continue to be the only big Ohio city to grow in population. And I’m excited about the diverse amenities we enjoy, from bike paths and metro parks to shopping and restaurant destinations.
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: As I said before, these neighborhoods need our support in the fight against vacant and abandoned housing. We also need to fully fund our neighborhood commercial revitalization efforts to grow sustainable commercial opportunities across Columbus. Finally, we must continue to empower residents to fight crime through initiatives like Crime Stoppers and neighborhood safety grants.
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 am voting “no” on Issue 2 because I believe in working families, and I believe in the collective bargaining process. In the City of Columbus, we have maintained reasonable, arms-length conversations with our fire fighters, police officers, and public-sector employees about wages, benefits, and working conditions, and through the collective bargaining process, we have saved taxpayers $144 million dollars over the next ten years.
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: Our support of the arts, human services and a host of important causes must be reviewed now to ensure sustainable long-term funding. That’s why I’m supportive of the committee established by President Ginther and the Administration to review our non-income tax revenues.
Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.
A: I am proud of the work that we have accomplished – including tackling graffiti vandalism, investing in strong and safe neighborhoods, promoting our recreation and parks facilities and programming, hiring police officers and fire fighters, fighting for every job, and being fiscally prudent in order to maintain our AAA bond rating – but our work is not done, and I am running to keep my seat on the Columbus City Council so I can continue our efforts to ensure that Columbus is the best place to live, work, and raise a family.
More information can be found online at www.ZachKlein.org.