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Mayoral Candidates Share Big Ideas with Columbus Underground

Walker Evans Walker Evans Mayoral Candidates Share Big Ideas with Columbus UndergroundPhotos by Susan Post.
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Last week, Columbus Underground interviewed both Columbus mayoral candidates live on Periscope to find out more about their visions for the future of the city. Each candidate offered their opinions across a broad spectrum of topics, which we’ve transcribed snippets below to help better inform voters on major issues.

Public Safety and Police Forces

Zach Scott: “Training is always paramount for you to have a good police department and Columbus is one of the best police departments in the country. I’ve always said at some point we’re going to use body cameras — one of the things I want to make sure we do, is do it right. There’s a little confusion around body cameras and the laws. The devil’s in the details. Some of the police agencies around the country are having problems with it when it comes to citizens privacy.”

Andrew Ginther: “I believe passionately that our patrol officers ought to have body cameras and have called for them to start using them by the end of next year. It’s going to be part of a longer term process. We have the best division of police in the country, and the way you remain the best is to continue to embrace best practices for law enforcement. One third of the divisions of police in this country are already using body cameras, and it’s quickly becoming a best practice.”

Developing Neighborhoods and Growing Downtown

Andrew Ginther: “I’ll build on the success that we’ve taken to Weinland Park, Merion Franklin, The King-Lincoln District and American Addition. We’ve been able to transform the South Side of Columbus on Parsons Avenue with Nationwide Children’s Hospital making a billion dollar investment on the north side of that stretch, anchored with Columbus Castings on the south side where we’re creating 500 new jobs. We’ll be taking that type of approach particularly to The Hilltop and Linden. There’s a disproportionate amount of vacant and abandoned housing in those neighborhoods. We’ve got to take the same type of public-private approach, but it’s going to be long term. Those neighborhoods didn’t end up where they are today in five or ten years. It’s going to take a long sustained effort. I’m very proud of the work that’s been done in Downtown. Downtown isn’t just the center of our city, it’s the economic engine of our region. We have over 100,000 people working Downtown, paying income taxes that help pay for firefighters in Northland and code enforcement on the East Side and police officers in Westgate. The vitality and strength of an economic core in Downtown is absolutely essential to basic city services throughout the city. I’ll continue to build on those successes. I think we have a long way to go, particularly with affordable housing for young professionals.”

Zach Scott: “Downtown is doing really well right now, and we have a lot of success stories. We’ve got to continue that success. Unfortunately, when you get a little further out of Downtown — a mile and a half to two miles — now you start getting into the 10,000 blighted homes and 22 percent poverty rate. Some parts of the South side are in 40 percent poverty. Poverty has risen 70 percent in the past ten years, and that creates a lot of issues. Homelessness is going down throughout the country by 15 percent, and it’s going up in Columbus by 7.6 percent. When you’re having those issues, it’s a tale of two cities. We’re also second in the country in income segregation. I think we’re going to have to start putting jobs in neighborhoods. I’d like to see us go back to more of the blue collar middle class of when I was growing up in Columbus — that’s manufacturing, but advanced manufacturing. Businesses are looking for a strong workforce, and we’ve got to go back to the high schools to build that workforce. Cleveland Avenue has some serious issues in the Linden Area. Some of it is around Parsons Avenue. The Hilltop needs a lot of assistance too.”

Affordable Housing and Middle Income Housing

Zach Scott: “I’d like to see us bring back the dollar program for people whose homes are not too dilapidated. With a moderate amount of money you can get in there and repair those homes. There’s quite a few contractors who would love to take these challenges on. I would like to see us at some point have law enforcement and firefighters live in neighborhoods. In the academy, when you’re starting out new, why not get an officer — firefighter or police — to buy a place for a buck and live there for five or six years and fix the place up. We can spend money and fix up homes and get affordable homes, but if we don’t have jobs to keep these homes afloat, what are we going to do? At some point the root problem is going to still be workforce development, so we’re not always going back to the well for more public tax dollars.”

Andrew Ginther: “We’re short by 54,000 units of affordable housing in Central Ohio, and the goal of the Affordable Housing Alliance is to cut that in half over the next ten years. Right now, the average rent for a safe, affordable two-bedroom apartment in the community is $811 a month. It’s taking over 50 percent of what folks are making to have a safe place for their families. We’ve got to commit to this longer term strategy. Not just building new places, but investing in revitalizing places in neighborhoods like Linden and The Hilltop.”

Improving K-12 Education in Columbus

Andrew Ginther: “My belief is that the Mayor should be partner-in-chief to the Superintendent. Dr. Good has made some great progress, and has got some outstanding board members helping him make reform and restoring the credibility and trust between the public and the school district. We’re continuing to see some schools perform very well. The challenge is that those schools are not in all the neighborhoods throughout the city. I believe the city’s role is to support the district by focusing on birth-to-five and making sure everyone has high access to early learning opportunities and high quality preschool. I also believe in expanding our support of after school learning opportunities, and summer learning.”

Zach Scott: “One of the issues we have in place is that we have some structures that seem to be sound. The problem we’re getting into when you talk about accountability — it seems like we’ve had structures in place, but no one is being held accountable. Don’t you think some of the issues we’ve had around the schools have produced some of the issues we’re having? We have some good systems in place and I think the Education Commission actually had some good ideas, but no one is leading the charge. My idea is similar to the Commission, but I’m going to bring some more stakeholders onboard to get involved. I want to see the Chamber of Commerce, Health Services, parents and educators involved, as well as students who recently graduated.”

The Future of Transportation

Zach Scott: “If we’re talking about a real rail system, we’re talking about a generational thing that we’ll have to continue to work on and build on. What I’d like to do is make sure we put some sort of model together and then take it to the voters at some point and ask if this actually something that you guys would like to see us moving towards. That way they know what portion would be taxpayer funded, what portion would be private, and what portion would be federal. You can’t just jump out there and try to do something without informing people and making sure they’re all on the same page. I’d like to see COTA expand more. I love the CBUS, and I’d like to see it go east to west instead of just north-south.”

Andrew Ginther: “We’re the largest city in the country without a multi-modal mass transit system, and we’re expecting another 500,000 people in the region over the next 35 years. That’s a 25 percent increase in our population, and based on the current infrastructure, it would put us at a huge competitive disadvantage with respect to drawing the young and talented, and with respect to major employers. I believe it’s in our best interest with regard to economic security and protecting the quality of life we have in this city, that we commit to the long term development of a multi-modal system. That includes bikes, cars, trains, rail, streetcar — all of the above.”

Making Columbus More Welcoming to A Diverse Population

Andrew Ginther: “One of the things that I think makes Columbus so special is that when you come here, and you’re passionate about a particular issue or an area of the arts, culture or civic engagement, if you roll up your sleeves and get involved, you can make an impact in this city. This is not a place where you’ve got to wait your turn or go get the blessing of the blue blood culture you find elsewhere. We have to keep that and continue to think about how are we remaining open and smart and welcoming.”

Zach Scott: “I would like to see us have a ward system. Out of the top 50 cities in the US, we’re the only one that does not have district representation. The only way to get real diversity and to get people involved who want to be involved and have a seat at the table, is to have representation that comes from the neighborhoods — and to have those individuals voted in, so they can be accountable to their constituents from the districts.”

Keeping a Balanced Budget

Zach Scott: “We need to have an open checkbook — that’s the first thing I’m doing. I like letting the public know where these tax dollars are being spent. We had a tax increase in 2009 and we got 85 million in returns, and at first it was all going to be for safety — but where all that money has went, we don’t know. We’re not able to keep track. We have improved the rainy day fund, and we do a lot of tax abating. There’s nothing wrong with tax incentives, I get that because it spurs the economy, but I think we have to negotiate the deals better.”

Andrew Ginther: “We didn’t just vote to raise taxes in 2009, we voted to reform city government and we committed to act on the recommendations of the economic advisory committee. We committed to realize $100 million in savings by 2020 by working through our collective bargaining process. We also committed to restore the balance in the rainy day fund to 75 million, and we’re ahead of schedule. We also said we’d make an unprecedented investment in economic development, and through public and private partnerships with Columbus 2020 and JobsOhio, we’ve seen significant returns on that investment. We have more work to do. We could be looking more thoughtfully about shared services with other suburban municipalities, as we have an opportunity to realize efficiencies there.”

Platform Overview and Vision for the Future of Columbus:

Andrew Ginther: “One of the things that’s really important to me, based on growing up in the family that I did with foster brothers and sisters, is knowing that not every child in every neighborhood is born with the same opportunities that I had. So even with all the great statistics, we know that not every family in every neighborhood is sharing in the success story that is Columbus. My overall vision for our city is for us to become America’s opportunity city — a place where you’re more likely to go from poverty to middle class and beyond. That is the vision I hope to achieve.”

Zach Scott: “My platform is pretty simple, even though it’s complex to make sure that it functions properly. It’s about jobs, education, safety and stronger neighborhoods. We’ve had over 300 shootings in the City of Columbus last year. That kind of stuff needs additional revenue. The root problem we’re having — which I’ve felt while being in the neighborhoods all these years — centers around jobs and education. If we can address the real jobs issue that’s been going on around here for the past decade, and address the school issues, we’ll see a more consistent level of lower crime.”

For ongoing discussion on the 2015 Columbus Mayoral Race, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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