John Rush Wants to Build Cross-Party Relationships at City Hall
John Rush is running for Columbus City Council this fall as a Republican candidate. But he says that his views on local politics are not clearly defined by traditional party lines.
“I like to think of myself as a Republicrat,” he said during an interview with Columbus Underground earlier this week. “I’m twenty-five percent Republican, twenty-five percent Democrat, and fifty percent Independent. If I ran as an independent, there’s no way I would have a fighting chance, but I do feel that I’m someone who can build bridges between the Republicans and Democrats in Columbus.”
Rush speaks most passionately about social justice and social enterprise, explaining how City Council can play a stronger role in coming up with solutions to societal problems through an entrepreneurial approach. His experience as the founder and CEO of CleanTurn, a job placement company for individuals who were formerly incarcerated, gives him a wide variety of expertise on the matter.
“The issues related to workforce re-entry and human trafficking are huge economic dividers in our city,” said Rush. “To be ranked second in economic disparity in the country is a challenge we have to think through and work through. How can we be preventive through vocational training, dealing with addiction, and making sure that when individuals are released from prison, they’re adequately equipped with the skills to keep them employed.”
Rush noted that these focus areas are not typically partisan issues, but points out that there can sometime be a divide across party lines when it comes to awareness and approach.
“Historically, the Democratic party has been more keenly aware of the social services space,” he said. “But everyone needs to realize there’s a significant cost to things like keeping someone in prison — around $30,000 per person per year in our state. The impact that has on a local community is easy to measure, especially when parents are incarcerated and absent from raising their children.”
In addition to providing enhanced social service programs, Rush explained that creating better opportunities for social enterprise is the real key to long-term sustainable success when dealing with these types of issues.
“How can we leverage a business for social good while being less dependent on subsidies,” he asks. “Taking that principle of doing more with less, that’s something I’d love to be able to do at City Hall. We need to encourage a greater ecosystem for social enterprises — having businesses tied to a cause is great thing.”
Rush likes to point to Freedom a la Cart — of which he serves on the board of directors — as a prime example of a social enterprise that works well by creating a viable business model rather than relying entirely on grants and subsidies.
“There, we’ve been able to push our box lunches and catering menu and leverage the market’s purchasing power,” he explained. “That allows the dollars that Freedom a la Cart would have received from donations or government programs to be allocated to other needs in the community.”
With a track record of success in the business world, there’s a question of whether or not those types of private-sector ideals can be applied within the world of local or state government where additional layers of bureaucracy and politicking may get in the way. Rush says that wouldn’t be a problem.
“The idealist in me says no, but we would have to step back and look across the board at how we can do things more efficiently as a city government,” he said. “For example, how could the Department of Building and Zoning Services allow for more efficient permitting processes. We would look for the bottlenecks and iron them out. There will be hurdles, but I think creating efficiencies would be welcomed. The cool thing about our city is that we’re growing and there’s an increased population of young creative people who want to see things done efficiently and effectively. To me, that’s exciting.”
In the big picture, Rush sees the actualized version of his vision turning Columbus into what he describes as a “Silicon Valley of Social Enterprise”.
“I can imagine a destination where innovation takes place — where people can come in and talk about their business ideas that have a social return on investment, and can get help in developing earned-income strategies,” he stated. “Groups like the Tony Wells Foundation or The Columbus Foundation could provide startup capital, and we can take what currently exists in Columbus and help get them up to scale. A lot of this doesn’t have to come out of City Hall. We need to empower the entrepreneurial spirit by providing resources and letting go.”
Within City Hall, Rush is a proponent of the idea of a ward-based City Council that includes a mix of neighborhood representation and at-large Councilmembers.
“I lived in Chicago for a decade, so I know there are pros and cons to that format,” he said. “But I think there’s a significant number of residents that would love to see better district representation, so whatever the cons are to the system, let’s work through them.”
Rush says that ward or district representation would better serve neighborhoods like Linden and The Hilltop, which he points out as examples of areas that have not gotten the attention that the South Side, Weinland Park or Franklinton have received in recent years.
“I think to the city’s credit, it’s moving in the right direction,” said Rush. “We came out of a huge recession, so that fact that we’re not worse off is quite impressive. Part of the plan moving forward is to have better communication and transparency, so that if you live in a neighborhood that you feel is neglected, you will have more proactive ways to communicate and engage the neighborhood.”
Outside of neighborhood and resident interaction, Rush says that the same principles of conversation could be better applied when the City of Columbus is looking to collaborate with Franklin County, neighboring suburban communities, or even with state government.
“One of the reasons I’m running as a Republican is so that I can be a good bridge builder between the city and a state, which can play a key role in urban issues that the city can’t quite put their arms around,” he said. “As a liaison, I can build that bridge so that the city can get what we need to execute our vision effectively. Case in point, we want to convert Fourth Street from one way to two way, but that’s a state highway decision. Maybe there’s a way to better negotiate that if we had a republican at City Council who’s able to build those relationships with state government.”
Between now and election day, Rush said that he has multiple events, door-to-door campaigns and other social engagements to help with this campaign efforts. His key events will each tackle a social issue ranging from the economic divide to human trafficking to regional transportation.
“The goal is get some diverse cross-party dialogue going,” he said. “Sometimes we have to start small with finding something in common, like a shared principle. And you can only find that when you have legitimate, robust and healthy dialogue.”
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