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Liz Brown Plans to Bring a Fresh Perspective to Columbus City Council

Walker Evans Walker Evans Liz Brown Plans to Bring a Fresh Perspective to Columbus City CouncilPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Columbus is a young city. The median age is 31.5 — nearly six full years younger than the US median of 37.2. A constant influx of new college students, Millennial transplants and young families keeps our city younger than most, and our City Council has grown to be reflective of that. In fact, the entire five-person slate of Democrats running for office this November are all under the age of 40.

Liz Brown, 31, was tapped in August to replace Michelle Mills in this fall’s election and sees the youthfulness of the candidates as a positive indicator for the city.

“I think that’s exciting because we’re all really energetic, and full of fresh perspectives in a city that is growing and young — and those are two great traits to have,” she said. “Of course, you can have those personal traits at any age — it’s not mutually exclusive, but it is a byproduct of where we are in our lives.”

While young, Brown is not without experience in local politics and local government. As the daughter of US Senator of Sherrod Brown, she grew up in a political household in Granville before moving to New York to attend college at Columbia. In between high school and college, Brown participated in the Americorps City Year program, which she says was a definitive part of her transition into adulthood.

“That was an incredible program, and was a formative year of my life,” she said. “It was the first time I saw first hand the intersection between public policy and people’s lives in a way that I could understand as an 18 year old.”

After college, Brown went into journalism and worked at New York Magazine for a year, but decided that she really wanted to pursue her passion in public policy.

“I really do believe that when government is on the side of people, it can do really good things,” she said. “And what I realized while working in a different sector was that I needed to be a lot closer to that goal than I was.”

She returned to Ohio to work in state government and for the state’s democratic party for several years before accepting a position with the City of Columbus as the Downtown Development Manager with the Department of Development. Brown said that her shift from state to local government comes from a desire to be closer to communities.

“I think local government is in many ways community development,” she said. “You are so close to people’s daily lives that you’re affecting them day to day, where at state and federal levels you can be doing great work, but it’s not close to that everyday experience.”

As the Downtown Development Manager, Brown focused primarily on business deals, helping companies to relocate or expand into sites located Downtown and in surrounding areas through income tax incentives that help create additional jobs.

“The income tax incentive is the tool, but the pitch is much broader,” she explained. “The pitch is about why we have a workforce best suited for your company. It’s about the depth and breath of the workforce pipeline in Columbus. Any business looking at their talent pipeline a decade down the road is attracted to a place like Columbus where we have a lot of students.”

Brown said that while the local economy is “not perfect” it is growing and thriving, and a strong emphasis on accommodating the younger workforce will be necessary for the continued growth of the city.

“We’ve got to continue to improve Columbus as a great livable place for for Millennials,” she said. “And to do that, we’ve got to solve the issues of transportation and education. Those are huge economic development necessities, and we’ve got a lot of work to do as a community to thread those needles correctly.”

To that end, Brown has opted to leave the Department of Development to run for Columbus City Council this November. She declined the opportunity to apply for an appointed 96-day seat through the end of the year, instead focusing her efforts on her campaign and sharing her ideas for the future of Columbus.

“You have the ability to articulate a vision for a city when you’re at the Council leadership level, and that’s inspiring to me,” she said. “Economic Development is a critical piece of that, but it’s only one piece, and there’s a lot of work to do in Columbus. The idea of being on Council and being able to do all those things at once is all the more appealing to me.”

While much of the discussion about City Council this summer has revolved around ongoing investigations involving lobbyist bribery scandals, Brown offers herself as a newcomer to City Hall, and wants to keep open conversations with the public at the forefront of her efforts.

“Unfortunately, the integrity of the individuals at Redflex has been concretely proven that it was compromised,” she said. “The fact that the conversation is about that is unfortunate, rather than whether or not red light cameras are right for our community.”

Rather than focusing on past mistakes or ongoing issues, Brown has crafted a three-pillar campaign platform that focuses on job creation, the fight against poverty, and the objective of building safe neighborhoods. She admits that those focus areas are quite broad, but is also willing to focus on much more specific issues within that platform.

“I’ve done a lot of work in my private time advocating for paid family leave policies,” she said. “Only four percent of low wage workers have access to paid leave, and those are the people who need it most. When mothers have access to maternity leave and fathers have access to paternity leave, you see immunization rates go up and infant mortality rates go down — it’s a piece of the puzzle when it comes to fighting poverty.”

A steady climb in poverty rates in Columbus has Brown concerned. She agrees with public sentiment that Columbus is a “tale of two cities” right now, and intends to have frank discussions on those topics in order to come up with better solutions.

“We have to continue to talk about the fact that 30 percent of our kids live in poverty,” she said. “We have to continue to talk about the fact that our infant mortality rate is unacceptable. We have to continue to talk about how our education system is not working for every kid. And if we continue to keep those items as high priorities, then we will get more done.”

Critics of the Coleman administration and the long-time single party City Council focus on the fact that Downtown Columbus has been a high priority for investment from both the public and private sector over the past 15 years while several other neighborhoods have declined during that timeframe. Brown said that focusing on Downtown as an jobs engine is highly important because the income tax base that it generates provides the finances to fund programs all over the city.

“Strategically, we have to champion our Downtown because we need it to make the larger economic development argument,” she said. “That said, the investments that go other neighborhoods should never be put on the backburner. They’ve always got to be front and center too, whether that’s investing in new recreation centers, or making streets safer, or infrastructure upgrades.”

One specific item that Brown says is important for Downtown Columbus is the addition of new mass transit options, pointing out that not only is Columbus the largest city in the US without any kind of rail-based system, but that Downtown commuter solutions will never be fully realized only with parking garage construction.

“If we can provide a solution for commuters, that’s the best way to make rail transportation function at its highest and best use, and if we start there, people are going to buy into it with their hearts and minds, which is very important,” she said. “From there, the next steps will be more logical and a little easier. I wish that John Kasich hadn’t killed the 3C corridor project, because that would have been a catalyst for rail-based transit in Columbus.”

When not campaigning, Brown spends her free time volunteering on various boards and organizations including the Board of Directors at YWCA Columbus, and the Center of Balanced Living, a mental health organization that focuses on eating disorders. She is also on the Board of the Downtown Residents Association, and an avid reader. Brown lives in Victorian Village with her husband Patrick Katzenmeyer, and are currently expecting their first child.

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