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Opinion: Let’s Give Every Community a Voice in Columbus

Will Petrik Will Petrik Opinion: Let’s Give Every Community a Voice in ColumbusPhoto by Walker Evans.
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There is a cloud of corruption lingering over Columbus. It’s time to take concrete steps to clean up our city and put power back in the hands of everyday people.

It is clear that democracy is broken at the state and national level and big money is running the show. The same is true at the city level in Columbus. We, the people, are not being heard. Our communities and neighborhoods have been ignored for too long.

Columbus City Council has become closed to everyone except political insiders and professionals. Everyone currently sitting on City Council was appointed by a small group of people from previous City Councils. Outside of getting appointed, it’s nearly impossible to gain a seat at the table. Money and political connections, rather than a fair, democratic system, determine who represents us on city council.

I ran for City Council as an outsider earlier this year. I ran because I was committed to a vision of Columbus as a city of possibilities for all and I wanted to fight for concrete changes to improve people’s lives. I asked political operatives how much money I needed to raise to run a credible race city-wide. I was told that if I didn’t raise $100,000, I wouldn’t have a chance in Columbus.

Democracy is supposed to represent the will of the people. Yet, how many active neighborhood leaders from Linden, the South Side, the Hilltop, or Northland have the ability to raise that kind of money? Should their voices and perspectives be excluded because they can’t pay to play?

There are leaders with innovative ideas from every neighborhood who need to have a say in the future of our city. There is so much creative capital in Columbus that could lead to new solutions, but too many new ideas aren’t being heard or discussed. Our local democracy does not allow for competition or a true marketplace of ideas.

It’s time for a change in Columbus.

It’s time for an open and inclusive political process. More voices and more diversity on city council will lead to more ideas and more innovation. More seats at the table will also strengthen the city’s connection to the hopes, fears, and concerns of different neighborhoods across Columbus.

I support a new initiative called Represent Columbus to transform our democracy and make our city more responsive to people and communities (rather than big donors and corporate CEOs).

Represent Columbus is a citizen-led initiative to change the game. It’s a city charter amendment that will reduce the number of at-large city council seats to three and create ten districts (with possible increase in districts as the population of the city increases).

Imagine a map of Columbus where Linden, the South Side, Hilltop, Franklinton, Clintonville, Linden, Near East, Downtown and Campus each elected a council member who could be responsive to the individual concerns of each specific neighborhood.

Imagine being able to pick up the phone and call your council representative with an issue and get it addressed in a timely fashion. Imagine being able to vote your representative out if they’re not addressing the needs of your neighborhood or district.

A mix of at-large and district representation will lead to more accountability and more meaningful representation. Rather than just focus on downtown developers and wealthy campaign donors, council members would have to consider the neighborhoods they represent and the issues within their community.

Smaller districts (each with roughly 85,000 people rather than 850,000 in all of Columbus) will also allow for more new leaders to emerge. It will be easier for candidates to connect with voters in their area and make campaigns more affordable. Seattle recently switched to a district system, and a record 47 candidates ran in Seattle’s primary election this year. As a result, Seattle voters have more choices and a broader marketplace of ideas. More competition in Columbus would lead to more innovation and a stronger city.

Columbus could be a city of possibilities for all. We are one of the most educated cities in the nation and we could do so much more to address poverty, challenges in our schools, inequality, and infant mortality in all of our neighborhoods. We could be a city that has a seat at the table for leaders from different backgrounds and from all different parts of the city.

Let’s transform our democracy to give every community a voice, fight corruption in Columbus, and bring accountability back to city government.

For more information visit www.representcolumb.us.

Will Petrik
Outreach Director for Represent Columbus

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