Close up of white man's face with brown hair and blue button down shirt and tie in front of a flag, his eyebrows a bit raised

Columbus Monthly’sDecember 2017 issue has an article about former city attorney Richard Pfeiffer, who retired that month after holding the job since 2003. The magazine portrays him as having beliefs similar to what supporters of reform have been saying about the city government. Three of his most significant views are discussed here.    

Campaign finance reform

The article says Pfeiffer is “wary of . . . the big money flooding into elections.” It quotes him: “People don’t give you all that money because they think you’re an intellectual, that you’re going to give good judgment. They want you to do something.”

The article also states he “frequently mentions his discomfort with the increasingly blurred lines of campaign finance and corruption.”   

Supporters of campaign finance reform in Columbus have been concerned about the large amounts of money in local elections and the desire of big donors to want something, which they often get. Another troubling situation is the inability of local candidates to have their messages heard by the public unless they’re backed by big money.

The 2016 Democratic Party National Platform summarizes the problems: "Big money is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans.” The platform says one remedy is “to amplify the voices of the American people through a small donor matching public financing system."

Because their national party’s platform and former city attorney recognize serious problems with money in politics, the all-Democratic Columbus City Council should address the issue.

Public access television

After Columbus ended public access TV in about 2002, city officials have declined to reinstate it, saying citizens can reach the public through the Internet. The article says Pfeiffer, however, “favors . . . TV ads to social media presence.”

The article also reports that Pfeiffer’s first political race “taught him a valuable lesson about the power of television. “ Concerning TV’s sway, Pfeiffer said: “They’ve got to like you in the living room.”

Additionally, the article says Pfeiffer’s son “runs a community TV station near Boston.” The station, SCTV, provides public access programming in Scituate, Massachusetts. Its website says SCTV is “television about you, . . . for you, . . . by you.” The website explains that part of the station’s mission is to “Assist interested citizens to become fluent in cablecast production to enrich the quality and variety of SCTV programming for the community.”

With Pfeiffer considering TV such an important medium of mass communication and with his son running a public access TV station, he should understand how valuable public access TV would be for Columbus residents. It would enable them to share their views in the living rooms of many in Central Ohio and “enrich the quality and variety” of local television. And it would allow political candidates to be on TV without funding from wealthy special interests wanting favors from government.

Those benefits would be far more than worth the minuscule percentage of the city’s budget needed for public access TV. 

One-party government at City Hall

The article states: “Pfeiffer sees the value of dissent in the two-party system, and . . . he’s also concerned by the Democrat-only City Hall, of which he’s a member.” It quotes him: “One-party government’s not good. I’m a Democrat and I like our city, but . . . you need more public debate that justifies why you’re doing things before you do it.”

The problem of one-party government could be corrected by district representation on Columbus City Council, as advocates for such representation have been saying. Minority party candidates for council have almost no chance of being elected citywide. But they would have a good shot at election in a district where their party is a significant percentage of the electorate. While minority party members would ask questions and provide debate at meetings, council would still be controlled by Democrats because Columbus is, overall, overwhelmingly Democratic.

Those very results are seen where Pfeiffer will reside during retirement: Charlotte. A thriving city with a population similar in size to Columbus, Charlotte has an eleven-member city council consisting of four members elected citywide (all Democrats) and seven elected from districts (five Democrats and two Republicans).  One of Charlotte’s Democratic district representatives told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012: “On our council the district reps are much more connected to the citizens. Anyone who says having district reps in a large city is not better for the community, well, they just don’t want to give up their power.”

Under the current political makeup of Columbus, the problem of one-party government at City Hall is unlikely to be fixed other than by adding district representation to city council.


The Columbus Monthly article is worth reading for its revelations about Pfeiffer. In light of the magazine’s description of his views and the respect he has in the city government, Columbus City Council should address at least the issues of campaign finance reform, public access TV and one-party government at City Hall.

Joe Sommer is a Columbus attorney and activist who is retired from Ohio’s state government.


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