Q&A with City Council Candidate Liliana Rivera Baiman
Since 2016, Yes We Can has promoted a progressive platform in the City of Columbus. The group says it represents working families, and is pushing policies for more affordable housing, $15 minimum wage, and implementing a ward system, among other issues.
The group is currently endorsing three Columbus City Council candidates for the upcoming election on November 5: Joe Motil, Tiffany White, and Liliana Rivera Baiman. It also endorses a Columbus City School Board candidate, Kim Mason.
On her own, Rivera Baiman has been endorsed by The Matriots, the Franklin County Green Party, the Working Families Party, and just recently the Ohio American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest Columbus city workers’ union.
AFSCME’s Power in Action, a collaborative political program between AFSCME Ohio Council 8 and AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184, made the endorsement. The program represents over 7,000 state, city, municipal, university, hospital, and nonprofit union workers and retirees.
Rivera Baiman is a career labor organizer and social justice advocate, and was born in a small village in Mexico.
“I grew up in a co-op,” she says. “We had some support [from the] federal government, but for the most part people were on their own and kind of helped one another to survive.”
Her family later immigrated to Texas, where she would eventually attend the University of Houston.
Along with her husband, Rivera Baiman moved to Columbus in 2011. The two and their son currently live on the South Side in Merion Village.
In an interview with CU, Rivera Baiman discusses her platform, the economic policies driving her campaign, and if progressive politics has a place in Columbus.
TM: I’ll start with the generic – why are you running for City Council?
LRB: As mentioned, I am a working mom, and an immigrant, and a union organizer. I come from a working family. My mom’s a custodian and my dad’s a construction worker. I looked around here in Columbus and I realized there’s a lot of working families like the one I came from. And they need a voice on Council. They need someone who understands what it’s like to not be able to pay the rent, or have food on the table, or face deportation. And I wanted to be that voice for working families. So I decided to run for City Council.
TM: What do you see missing on City Council?
LRB: I see, well the first thing I see is that voice, a true representation of the community. And I also see a lack of understanding and communication with communities that are marginalized and minorities in Columbus. We have a large refugee community, immigrant community, LGTBQ, Trans, Queer youth, and a lot of really poor working families. I feel there’s not been enough communication or work with those communities to develop policies or initiatives to support them.
TM: We as a city are seeing a lot of progressives run in this coming election, with Morgan Harper and Yes We Can. But the state as a whole has moved to the right. Do you feel like Columbus is truly ready for a progressive in leadership?
LRB: I think that it’s a matter of time. It’s gonna happen. People want to see someone that’s real, that they can relate to, that doesn’t come from a family of politicians, or that says, “Well I’m a Democrat” or “I’m a Republican.” I think people are ready for it. And I think even people that don’t necessarily consider themselves progressives, or “real” progressive, understand that working families are being left behind. Just a few blocks from here there’s a large conservative population, but they’re living in poverty. And they see the same issues that people that would vote for me are seeing. And they want someone that’s going to help solve those things. So I do think that time is going to come. Whether it’s this year or our next election, or with Morgan or the people that come after. ‘Cause I think there’s going to be a lot of folks that come after this election that are gonna run on that same platform, as Progressives.
TM: And what about the more establishment Democrats? Do you feel like people are ready to move even more left?
LRB: I do. I think the people that are currently there, they’ve done some good. Everyone says Columbus is a really progressive city. And I think with a lot of the social issues, we’ve done great. We have a huge pride event every year. We are very friendly towards refugees. But I think with the economic issues, the establishment Democrats could move more to the left and start thinking outside the box of the typical policies or the feel-good initiatives that are passed. And start taking the same approach they took with the LGTBQ community or the refugee community or immigrant community, and apply that to creating $15 an hour jobs everywhere. Providing real affordable housing, reliable public transportation that doesn’t leave working people without a bus service because they work the night shift. So I think we’re there with the social issues, we gotta get there with the economic issues.
TM: What are the economic policies that you feel that Columbus would benefit from?
LRB: Raising the wage. A lot of cities have raised the wage to $15 an hour—I don’t think $15 is enough, but it’s a start. The union I used to work for was one of the unions that started Fight for $15.
We’ve seen businesses in Columbus like Nationwide Children’s and Ohio Health implement the $15. But when I talk to people in other industries, or even in some government jobs, they’re not making $15 an hour. And if we’re able to raise wages—I know people say you can’t throw money at an issue and fix it, but from a person who grew up with nothing, and has the privilege now to have a roof over her head and have some stability, sometimes throwing money does fix a lot of things. If people could make a living wage, they would have the opportunity to work one job, one good job, with health insurance and time paid off. It leads people to have time with their families, to know what’s going on with the kids at school, to use services like the parks, to be healthy. It’s a holistic approach.
We’ve had a lot of companies that come into town and get a lot of abatements. They get the 100%, 15-year abatements. And in the past, until people really started bringing it up—like the teacher’s union, and Yes We Can, and some of the more progressive groups—the community didn’t get anything in return from those abatements. I think one of the things that we should have been asking years ago for is the $15 an hour paid parental leave, real affordable and accessible health insurance, and paid time off. If you’re gonna come function in our city, you have to pay that to everyone. Not just the people that are in your offices or your corporate headquarters; the custodians, the maintenance workers, the people that take care of your building, they have to make $15 an hour as well. And I think that’s something that City Council could push more on. There are still jobs, like I said, that are some of our biggest employers, like Ohio State Medical Center, and they pay their PCAs $12 an hour. That’s not enough for someone to make a living and take care of their kids.
TM: Why should people be looking at [Yes We Can]? And why should they vote for you specifically?
LRB: I am you. A lot of the people out there, I am just like you. And I know what it’s like to not have the support that you need to get ahead.
With that in mind, they should know that no matter what happens, no matter what comes up, I will always ask, what are we doing to make things better for working families? How is this policy going to affect working families? Are we gaining for working families? That will always be my question. Whether I’m on Council for one year or I’m on Council for 10 years. If you want to see someone that comes from the community, that has organized and knocked on doors for 13 or 14 years of her life, has worked with marginalized groups, then I’m your candidate. I feel very relatable, approachable, and I am not here to benefit developers. I’m not funded by corporations. I’m funded by 450 people right now that have contributed to my campaign. And those are the people I’m accountable to, and will be accountable to in the future.
TM: Do you have anything to add?
LRB: I think the only thing that I always add when I talk to people, is we need more people that are everyday people to run. And it’s not easy, but we’re hoping that with our campaign, we can help lay the groundwork to have more women, more young people, more mothers, and working families run for office. That’s my goal. Whether I win or not, I want the next election cycle to have five or six everyday, progressive people running. That, to me, would be more successful than if I even won a seat on Council.