John Rush Brings Lessons from Social Enterprises to City Council Campaign
John Rush always knew that at some point in his life, he wanted to occupy elected office in some capacity. But his plan had always been to run when the youngest of his eight children had left the home – a moment which is still a decade away. In the meantime, he expected to continue building relationships with local leaders and prepare for interactions between the state, city and county. But recently people started suggesting that his work as president and CEO of CleanTurn, the job training and placement enterprise for returning ex-inmates, might make him a prime candidate for office.
Now Rush is running for Columbus City Council with the endorsement of the Franklin County Republican Party.
Rush grew up in a West Virginia trailer park before joining the Marine Corps. Toward the end of his service as a Marine sergeant, he worked as a substance abuse counselor for his battalion, where he began thinking more about the huge and negative impact drugs and alcohol can have on a person’s life. After the Marines, Rush moved to Chicago where he learned more about urban life and poverty.
“I knew what Appalachian poverty was in West Virginia but I did not know what K-Town poverty was in the West Side of Chicago,” said Rush.
Rush developed relationships with friends in Chicago’s West Side who were constantly struggling to find work and establish themselves because of their backgrounds. He became drawn to economic development, community development and social justice and eventually started Cleanslate, a social enterprise aimed at finding jobs for people with criminal records or other challenges to employment. For Rush, the key metric involved in Cleanslate was whether people were able to keep the jobs they were placed in at least a year later.
“A lot of the workforce development organizations, first of all they’re bootstrapped, they’re running on tight budgets, but a lot of the funding is oftentimes focused on placement,” said Rush. “That’s not a bad thing but it’s not the full picture.”
In 2011, Rush started raising the money to start CleanTurn, a program similar to Cleanslate, in Columbus. Like Cleanslate, CleanTurn would focus on training people to commit to the jobs where they’re placed rather than simply on job placement. CleanTurn was launched in 2012 and has enjoyed significant success and recognition.
Rush has a number of ideas on how he could improve and expand efforts to reintegrate ex-offenders into society if is elected onto City Council.
“We have the second largest city in terms of returning citizens in our state, and I think strategically the city could do a lot better working with the Department of Corrections to ensure that we are investing appropriately in the training necessary pre-release,” said Rush.
“One of the things I know I would do right out of the gate is…we would put together a team that would do market research…to identify, in the Central Ohio market now and over the next ten years, where are the skilled labor shortages gonna be?” said Rush.
It’s important to know where the labor shortages are, said Rush, so that not only can there be a clear path for returning citizens to gainful employment, but also so that jobs are not being taken away from people who haven’t committed crimes but still don’t have access to employment or employment training programs. Rush also advised that programs such as these need to be careful about implementing vetting processes for placing returning citizens into jobs.
“There are certain types of background that you may have that would disqualify you automatically for a particular market need,” said Rush.
Rush also serves on the board of Freedom a la Cart, a program that helps survivors of human trafficking return to self-sufficiency, and said human trafficking would be another focus of his time on City Council. Rush praised the work of Franklin County’s CATCH Court and Judge Paul Herbert, and encouraged a stronger relationship between the city, county and state on the issue.
“We have within our city a judge that understands restorative justice, that understands the answer for individuals that are brought in to stand in front of him for drug possession or solicitation…are individuals who, for the most part, have been, in the purest sense of the term, a victim,” Rush said of Herbert. “He’s somebody that says, look, rather than just throw that person in jail, we need to get to know their story, we need to come alongside them and help them recover from the abuse that they’ve been experiencing, and we need to equip them to move forward to self-sufficiency.”
Also on Rush’s list of things to accomplish if elected to Council is public transportation, which Rush said needs to improve in order for the city to adequately address poverty and job creation, as well as increased investment and support for early childhood education.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m only about returning citizens, even though that’s a strong passion of mine, or victims of human trafficking even though it’s a strong passion of mine,” said Rush.
Rush has no desire to make a career out of elected office, but added that even though Council is a part-time position, “nothing is part-time for me.” Rush said he believes passion will be the number one improvement he can bring to City Council, as well as the drive to commit to public improvements and get things done.
“That will probably be the biggest hurdle for me, frankly, from a personal standpoint, I have zero patience,” said Rush.
Rush also said that in order to get certain things done, the city might have to push the state legislature to change policies or pieces of legislation, an area where Rush said his affiliation with the Republican Party would be useful.
“A good portion of those Republicans haven’t the slightest idea what life is like in urban America,” said Rush. “They will learn what life is like in urban America. Because the city will have an advocate for them that understands the Republican values, understands what’s important to the Republicans, can speak to Republicans but can also educate them on why certain decisions need to be made that fit their value system at the urban level.”
Rush said he wants the city to behave more like a business rather than a bureaucracy, and try to become leaner, more efficient and use technology as a means of encouraging social innovation and enterprise. He referenced John F. Kennedy’s famous inauguration address; “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
“Principally, that’s exactly the way it should be,” said Rush. “Elected people represent everyone else and they’re facilitators. We’re not doing anything for you, what we’re doing is empowering you to execute on the choices that you’re making and that you want and we’re just helping to create that infrastructure. We’re facilitating, we’re facilitators.”
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