Q&A: City Council Candidate Tom Sussi
Former television investigative reporter Tom Sussi will be on the ballot Tuesday as a candidate for Columbus City Council.
Sussi was a television reporter for over 30 years, most recently for WSYX ABC6 and WCMH NBC4.
The Flint, Michigan native grew up in a single-parent home with three siblings and was the first person on both sides of his family to graduate college. He studied criminal justice and broadcast journalism at Michigan State. He started working in print before moving to radio and later broadcast journalism, where he would spend three decades in markets in Flint, Detriot, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Orlando and eventually Columbus, after his wife’s job brought them here.
He left TV, he said, because the industry became too “politicized” and “corporatized.” He became a private investigator for personal injury and criminal defense attorneys in town and, in 2020, Sussi started the news blog The Sussi Report.
Sussi moved to Columbus 12 years ago and currently lives in Italian Village.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Columbus Underground: What are your main priorities in running for council?
Tom Sussi: So as a reporter I spent most of my career as a consumer advocate and investigative reporter. I exposed bad businesses, I exposed crooked contractors, I exposed bad police, I exposed bad public officials, I was the watchdog for the public. And that is what I will do at City Hall. Everything that I will do will be based on what is best for the citizens. You will have a reporter on city council, keeping an eye on government, and now more than ever we need watchdogs in government. You can’t trust the government. And that’s my foremost priority, is just to be there for the people and to be their eyes and ears.
Secondly, this is an administration, for the most part, that has not supported its police department. It has done everything in its power to undermine, control and demonize a profession. Now, to clarify, nobody wants to see bad police working. That’s a given. Nobody wants to see innocent people being assaulted or killed by a police officer, that’s a given. Anybody with half a brain can figure that out. But what this administration has done, unfairly, is use a couple of really heartbreaking examples of bad law enforcement to demonize the entire department. We’ve had two police shootings in Columbus with Columbus officers. There have been a few outside of Columbus, but you had the Andre Hill [shooting], you had the young lady with a knife, meanwhile, you’ve had almost 400 homicides in the past two years and over 1,500 felonious assaults, and we can’t ignore it. Law and order is the foundation of any civilized society. I mean if you don’t have law and order, you have the anarchy, you have lawlessness, and we’re in that direction. I’m all for police reform. We keep hearing this phrase from city council and Mayor Ginther about reimagining public safety. I don’t know what that means. I think we need judicial reform, I think we need prosecutorial reform, I think we need reform with politicians. I think we need to reimagine, as a whole, how to be better people and get along in society. Let’s reimagine being better human beings. Let’s reimagine raising good, healthy children. Cause that’s really the foundation. I mean, this country is in trouble.
CU: In your campaign, you talk about being a dissenting voice for City Hall. Can you talk to me a little bit more about why you feel that’s important?
TS: It took me a while to understand the background, the terrain, the history of politics here at Columbus. But what I discovered is, you have one party [that] has been in control of the political climate here for more than two decades. They march to the same beat, everything is rubber-stamped. To their credit, this political machine I call them, is very united. They know how to win, they know how to stay in power, and they have ruled Columbus for the past couple of decades. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a communist, a tea party. It’s not healthy to have one party, one voice, for the most part, in charge of any government. It’s not good governing, it’s not democracy. So I feel there has to be a voice of dissensions, somebody that raises their hand and questions things once in a while. It’s not happening with this administration. It’s not the best interest of the people so much at all, it’s the best interest of the party, the best interest of their political careers, the best interest of the fat cats and the big businesses that bankroll their campaigns. I mean, that’s not healthy.
I’m not a Republican, I’m not a Democrat, I consider myself independent. Though I am endorsed by the Republican Party, I haven’t pledged to any party. I have never given a dime to a political party. I spent my whole career in journalism as a reporter, and I distanced myself from the political game. I think you have to. And I’m an odd bird, I’ll admit that. I mean, what am I doing running for election for any office? I just believe that it’s just not healthy, good government to have one voice, one group of people calling all the shots for everyone. You need representation. And I don’t think we’re being represented to the degree we have to.
CU: What would you want to do differently from what’s being offered by council today?
TS: First of all, You need somebody on city council that’s going to have an open mind. Right now there’s really nobody representing law and order and supports this police department. I mean, I’ve never seen an administration and a city council that has worked so hard not to support the police department. We get the reform, I get that part, but I mean, there is just no support for the police department on that city council. And secondly, there has been deals going on in that administration that needs to be called out. For example, the Christopher Columbus statue somehow got tied into the George Floyd [murder]. It had nothing to do with a statue of Christopher Columbus, but yet the mayor declared the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue an emergency. And what that does, you bypass the bidding process on city council. So he was able to give an $85,000 contract to remove that statue to a company that contributes to both his political campaign and Shannon Hardin’s political campaign. $85,000. In comparison, it costs Columbus State Community College less than $30,000 to remove its statue, which is larger. We spent more than $600,000 investigating a couple of dozen complaints filed against Columbus police officers last year during the riots. I’m not talking about should we investigate those complaints—absolutely. But $615,000 paid to a law firm that has contributed to political campaigns? That’s a little fishy to me. [Editor’s Note: Sussi says he has filed several public records requests with the city regarding these matters and CU has not independently verified these claims.]
They love to talk about equity and affordable housing. Coming from a guy who lived in a two-bedroom house and one bath, I want affordable housing. I want equity. I don’t know what it’s like to be Black, but I know what it’s like to be poor, and there is no equity when you’re poor. You have no voice when you’re poor, so I understand that. But I drive through Linden and drive through the Hilltop and Franklinton, West Side, South Side. And I’m wondering where is the equity. You get dope houses, abandoned houses, trash is not being picked up in the alleyways, prostitutes— people’s daughters, wives, girlfriends, walking the streets hopped up on drugs—drug dealers making deals on the streets. That’s not equity.
And if we’re going to tackle affordable housing. We’ve got to get some jobs in here that pay people enough money so they can afford housing. There’s no opportunities for blue-collar workers to make any money here. I mean, where’s the industry? We got Amazon, a couple of little small plants. I mean we need some major industry here besides the Nationwides of the world. I mean, there’s dope houses and abandoned houses just sitting there, why not develop some kind of a task force with major contractors in town, like Habitat for Humanity, and rehab these houses. Not on the taxpayers’ dime, but people who just want to help.
CU: Anything you want to add?
TS: The only reason I am running is to represent the people. That’s what I did and that’s what I do as a reporter. I’m not a politician. And I really want to help this community. I really want to represent the people. And I have noticed on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, I have never seen so many sleazy, shady people in all my life, snake oil salesmen, riverboat gamblers. Everything they do is to gain power within a party, gain power in their political careers. I’ve seen this going on on the campaign trail, not just the Democrats but Republicans, politicians are sad, dangerous people. Because they don’t have your interest first. It’s about keeping power. Republicans are just as bad as the Democrats. These two parties to the extreme, I haven’t seen a lot of people working for the betterment of mankind and working for the betterment of the country and or the city. They just have their own agendas, and I’m not that guy.
For more information, visit sussionyourside.com.