Young black woman smiling on the left, tall white man smiling in the middle and older white man pointing at the camera standing in front of a brick wall

Columbus is a city where an authoritarian Democratic Party machine holds firm control over all city politics, backed by the checkbooks of their suburban millionaire and billionaire allies, like Les Wexner and Ron Pizzuti. The Republican Party is pretty much a nonentity. Green Party candidates have tried to take on the machine as a third party without luck so far.

But the grassroots organization Yes We Can came forward to challenge the Democratic Party from within the party structure. Yes We Can has displayed some visible successes – placing members on the Franklin County Democratic Party Central Committee and having five candidates win the nonpartisan primary this year to proceed to the general election: Jasmine Ayers and Will Petrik for Council and Erin Upchurch, Amy Harkins and Abby Vaile for School Board.

Candidate Petrik explains his position:

“Despite all we’ve accomplished, Columbus is still a tale of two cities. One Columbus thrives with access to good jobs and opportunities. The other Columbus has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. Columbus ranks in the top five in the nation in economic segregation among major metro areas. We also have major disparities in housing and employment opportunities. The drug crisis is gripping many of our neighborhoods, and too many children and families don’t feel safe in their own homes. This inequity impacts our schools, our neighborhoods and our economy, even as the city continues to grow.

Major developers and corporate CEOs are profiting from the new growth, while many residents are left to wonder if the benefits of the “opportunity city” will reach their neighborhoods. For example, the city announced a deal earlier this year to give away $68 million in tax breaks to a wealthy developer in Easton. As a result, Columbus City Schools are expected to lose roughly $46 million over the next 37 years. The tax burden to support our schools will be passed on to working families and small businesses.

I’m running for City Council because I believe all of us deserve to benefit from the growth of our city. Columbus can be a city with great schools and affordable housing, as well as vibrant arts and culture. We can be a city that prioritizes development that’s inclusive and beneficial to small businesses and residents in every neighborhood. Columbus can be a city where all of us can feel safe, make a decent wage, pay for the basics, and be proud of where we live.”
How Yes We Can prospers with their “inside strategy” will tell us a lot about the effectiveness of their organizing efforts, whether or not the community is ready for them, and how badly the status quo Dems will react. An election of any one of the five Yes We Can candidates will pose a monumental threat to the new high-tech 21st century Tammany Hall that runs Columbus.

The machine is dedicated to totally destroying or compromising its opposition. The Central Ohio Young Black Democrats broke rank and initially endorsed Yes We Can candidate Jasmine Ayers over the machine’s candidate Mitchell Brown. Former city Safety Director Brown’s primary function now is to apologize and explain away illegal police behavior, which he does with enthusiasm. The Democratic Party leadership pressured the Young Black Dems to unendorse Ayers, leading to four resignations from their executive committee. The organization removed their endorsements of all candidates.

The Franklin County Democratic Party seems incapable of reforming itself. It is based on a pay-to-play system reliant on large capitalist donors and a culture that squashes dissenting votes and opinions. City Council in particular, prides itself on every single deal done in advance, with every vote 7-0. The School Board race should have been far more heated since the Board gave away a $15 million tax break to Pizzuti. How a so-called “Democratic” party steals money from poor urban schoolchildren to enrich the wealthiest people in the areas beyond puzzling bordering on evil.

In a nonpartisan election, Yes We Can candidates are fighting hard, campaigning vigorously and gaining lots of support. Former Cleveland Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich came into town on Sunday, October 29 to support and endorse the Yes We Can candidates. Kucinich, the most maverick of Dems who voted to impeach Clinton and voted against the Iraq War, represents the progressive populist Midwest tradition that was long ago vanquished by the Franklin County Democratic Party corrupt ward heelers.

Kucinich reminded the activists at the campaign headquarters that he had taken on a similar corrupt machine in Cleveland to become one of the nation’s youngest mayors. “You are serving people, not the interest groups,” he said. He thanked Yes We Can candidates for fighting against “tax abatements and tax giveaways to the rich.” Kucinich also told the crowd to “not only vote yes on Issue 2, but to vote ‘hell yes’” on that “critical issue.” He led the audience in a chant on three key issues: “Affordable housing,” “Improving public education” and “Improving relationships with police.” The crowd shouted “Yes We Can” after each phrase.

Shaun King, a national well-known Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality activist, endorses Yes We Can. He stated: “Grassroots organizers are galvanizing thousands to get out and vote in the upcoming local election. From the East side to the West side, from the North side to the South side… people in Columbus are rising up!”

Following the election there will be heavy scrutiny of Yes We Can’s vote totals and perhaps also an analysis on whether the inside electoral strategy may dampen progressive movement politics in Columbus. With the Democratic Party all locked up and cozy with local robber barons, the capitol city has primarily been known for its street heat and the axiom “democracy is in the streets.” If any of the Yes We Can candidates win, the pressures on them to compromise and coddle the richest of the rich will begin.

Columbus’ International Socialist Organization (ISO) questions the singular reliance on the insider strategy. Rachel Reiser writes: “…the Democratic Party leadership of Columbus has been able to cough up a pathetic-at-best response to the city’s many crises.” The ISO’s position is that, “Election campaigns are a tool the Left can use to represent the voice of the movement and promote progressive ideas in a public arena,” but “In contrast to ignoring political differences via a ‘diversity of tactics’ approach, we believe building a true united front necessarily involves engaging in debates about strategy, so the movement can be as unified and effective as possible in its struggles. We need sober analysis and frank discussion about what it will take to truly build power and win the demands we desperately need.”

Joe Motil
Another alternative option for City Council is Joe Motil, a write-in candidate. Motil’s top issue is affordable housing – he’s the “city’s number one outspoken critic of City Council’s current tax abatement policies.” He’s also an advocate for a Civilian Review Board of the Columbus Police. He’s on record in favor of city charter revisions that create council districts and challenge the power of the Democratic Party machine. Motil isn’t simply a candidate, he’s also a well-known community activist.

Bernie Sanders says vote YES on Issue 2
Issue Two – the Drug Price Relief Act – continues to baffle and vex voters. After reading what some pharmacists and doctors think, it appears a “yes” vote is best for the state. The big pharmaceutical companies are running scared that if it passes, they would lose money. That’s why they spent so much doing negative ads. Not only does Bernie Sanders endorse and support a YES vote on Issue 2 – so do Dennis Kucinich and Max Cleland.

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