Coleman’s Tenure

Today Michael Coleman steps down as the Mayor of Columbus, Ohio.  He will be replaced by Andrew Ginther.

Coleman, a Democrat, was the Mayor of Columbus for 16 years.  In his farewell speech today, Coleman said, simply, “I did my best.”  And then, evoking the kind of sports metaphor that the home of Ohio State football appreciates, he said:  “I left it all on the field.  I dreamed what Columbus could be and worked hard to achieve it.”

full_28Coleman believes that he is leaving Columbus in better shape than it was when he took office, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.  The city’s budget is in good shape.  Its economy largely avoided the ravages of the recession.  Its neighborhoods have been a focal point of Coleman’s tenure, and they have benefitted from his attention.  Its downtown area has been revitalized, and it has some very cool areas — like the Short North and the Arena District — that visitors rave about.  While other cities in the Midwest have shriveled, Columbus continues to grow.  And Coleman’s tenure has been blessedly untainted by any significant political scandal.

During the time Kish and I have lived here, Columbus has had mayors of both political parties, but all of them — Republican or Democrat — share one common characteristic:  an ability to get along with everyone, and move the city forward.  This lack of partisanship has served Columbus well, and Coleman epitomized it.  At one point he toyed with the idea of running for Governor, but fortunately for Columbus he decided to stay her and keep the city moving in the right direction.

Michael Coleman will be missed.

Voting For The Mayor

I’ve worked in Columbus for 30 years, but I’ve never had a chance to vote for the Mayor of Columbus — until now.

Columbus is one of those communities where the central city is ringed by suburbs.  Our houses have been in the ‘burbs, rather than the city of Columbus itself, and when it comes to local government in central Ohio you vote where you sleep.  As a result, although for three decades I’ve spent most of my waking workday hours toiling away in downtown Columbus, paid Columbus income taxes, and enjoyed city activities and contributed to city coffers in countless ways, I’ve never cast a ballot for the Mayor and City Council members whose decisions have directly affected my daily activities.  Our move to German Village, which is in the city of Columbus, changed all that.

As I’ve noted before, Columbus is a reflexively non-partisan place, so it’s not surprising Columbus would have a non-partisan approach to electing a mayor.  The four candidates, from both political parties, have had four debates and will face off in a non-partisan primary on May 5, and the two top vote-getters will advance to the general election.  The candidates include current City Council president Andrew Ginther, who is seen as the favorite, Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, Terry Boyd, former President of the Columbus School Board and the only Republican in the race, and James Ragland, the development director at the Cristo Rey high school.

As a voter and now a Columbus resident, what do I care about?  Mostly, it’s continuing the culture and trajectory set by current Mayor Michael Coleman and his predecessors.  I want the city to stay a low-key, friendly, collaborative place that welcomes everyone regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation.  I want more downtown development, and I’d like to see the wave spread to other neighborhoods, like Franklinton and the near east side.  I support tax policies, increasing school quality, and approaches to policing and physical security designed to reverse suburban sprawl and encourage businesses and people to locate in the city and its neighborhoods.  And I want to maintain the focus on spurring the things that are causing Columbus to be recognized nationally as a cool place to live — things like more and improved parks, community events and cultural activities, lots of good restaurants and places to spend an evening, and interesting and affordable neighborhoods where people are rehabbing and restoring old buildings rather than tearing them down.  Whether the mayoral candidates support legalized marijuana, which was a topic at one of the recent debates, is very far down my list of issues of importance.

In the period between now and the May 5 election I’ll be studying the candidates and their positions on issues of importance to me.  I’m excited about my first opportunity to vote for the mayor of Columbus, and I want my decision to be an educated one.

Can The Country Be More Like . . . Columbus?

Last night voters in many states ousted Democratic Senators, turning control over the upper chamber of Congress to Republicans.  Republicans added to their majority in the House of Representatives, giving them the largest edge since World War II.  It’s another recent “wave” election where the country seems to want to abruptly change course.

What is the country looking for, exactly?  Could it be . . . Columbus, Ohio?

IMG_3506Not the city itself, of course, which can be found by anyone with MapQuest.  No, it’s how the city works, and specifically its politics.  Because Columbus epitomizes the kind of let’s-work-together attitude that public opinion surveys routinely say is what American voters want from the federal government.

Columbus has a tradition of moderate, long-serving mayors of both political parties; the current mayor, Democrat Michael Coleman, has been in office since 2000.  For years, and irrespective of political party, the mayor and city council have pursued a pro-growth agenda that has seen Columbus grow and prosper while other cities in the Midwest has struggled and shrunk.  During the last 30 years, great neighborhoods have been rehabbed and developed, downtown housing has started to boom, new businesses have thrived, and the city has developed a strong national reputation as a diverse, gay-friendly place where just about anyone is welcomed and can succeed on their own merits.  For all of these reasons, people who live in Columbus are justifiably proud of the city’s direction.

Through it all, Columbus politics has been marked by a brisk efficiency that seems to emphasize getting things done above petty political differences.  Decisions are made using the three “cs” — cooperation, consultation, and consensus — and residents can’t even remember the last time there was a pitched political battle between the two parties.  There haven’t been awful scandals, and whether it is because the moderate approach is so ingrained, or because it is the heartland and therefore politeness is still viewed as a virtue, you don’t hear bomb-throwing comments or mean descriptions of political opponents.

I’m not saying Columbus is perfect, because of course it isn’t.  But Columbus does seem to be able to get things done where the federal government cannot.  It might be useful for President Obama and congressional leaders to spend some time here in Ohio’s capital city, not to give the standard quick fundraising speech but to see if they can actually learn something practical about how to end the poisonous atmosphere in Washington, D.C. and work together to move the country forward.