Welcome to Columbus sign

Writing about, and at present attempting to live in Ohio and Columbus is a daily challenge. It is not for the progressive, civil libertarian, fainted-hearted, sanitarian, diverse community members, or the unsteady walker or driver. As my wife and I ponder how much longer we can remain in radically right-wing Ohio and broken, dirty, corrupt, and mismanaged Columbus, I turn to humor.

Both Ohio and Columbus may rival other states and cities in these achievements despite today’s competition from many names and many lies of Congress-person Santos et al., many ballots of Kevin-athon McCarthy, mis-reader of children’s literature Ted Cruz, and know no rights-know no history Ron DeSantis (aka DeSatan).

Immediately following his election to the US Senate, I first offered to trade Senator (it pains me to type that title) J.D. Vance to three friends in Texas, for Ted Cruz. Cruz makes me laugh, Vance does not. They all turned me down cold.

Then I offered our newbie to friends in Florida for Marco Rubio. Without hesitation, they refused as well. We are stuck, Ohio. A six year sentence, at least.

Also at the federal level, when the Columbus branch of the failing and corrupt Louis DeJoy-ful Post Office deigns to deliver my 1st and 2nd class mail as required by the Postal Code, it brings a smile to my face. Although City Council, Reps. Balderson and Beatty, and former Senate Portman all refuse to voice any concern,

Sherrod Brown’s office filed two formal complaints on my behalf. From a regional inspector, I learned that Columbus’ USPS is one of the worst 4-5 in the entire nation. Although required to deliver mail 6 days/week, my neighborhood substation does not. But it delivers Amazon and FedEx (in which DeJoy is a major investor) as well as USPS packages, 24/7. They also do not regularly sort mail or deliver packages. All of that is against the law. But they do not care.

At the level of the now most corrupt state in the dis-united Union, Gov. Mike DeW(h)ine’s inaugural address celebrating the “greatness” of Ohio today revealed what I have long wondered: our Governor clearly does not live in Ohio. He lives in his imagination while paying Intel at least $3 billion to lead his re-election campaign.

On Thurs., Jan. 27, DeWine announced his new campaign to radically cut state administrative regulations to promote business and remove protections for the state’s residents. And he wonders about the exodus of young people from his imaginary state. Is he the Wizard of O-H-I-O with his anti-arts and corporate board member Lieutenant Governor?

Also on the statewide humor list is the self-renamed Attorney General Yo Yost as he rechristened himself in his 2022 reelection campaign ads. But when will the AG who claims a law degree actually read the U.S. and state constitutions and respect human rights? Certainly not while he’s double-dipping in pension plans. If not technically illegal, it’s quite a look for Ohio’s chief law enforcement officer.

Descending to the broken city of Columbus with no history or identity, “his dis-honor,” the mayor naturally leads the local roster. While continuing to bluster with repetitive always empty slogans about crime and public safety and affordable housing while giving away hundred of millions of dollars with no accountability to his supports in Michael Coleman-ville, where do I see his name most often?

How many of you guessed it? Appropriately on the side of City of Columbus garage trucks. Is that Columbus’ own version of unrhyming poetic injustice? Yes!

Almost as humorous is the City as a whole’s complete inability to do 6th grade arithmetic. From crime to affordable housing to budgets to any measure of accountability, the mayor, director of development, Zoning Enforcement, Public Service, and the police department,= cannot tell a number (or N) from a percentage, have never heard of numerators and denominators, let alone change over time or statistical significance.

It is no wonder that they refuse to invest in city public schools. They don’t want 10-year-olds to catch their arithmetic or grammatical or reading errors.

This may also help us understand how and why City Communications is unable to communicate but can only spam subscribers with the same muddled, contentless non-communications sometimes as many as 4-5 times. Complaining to the new coordinator led her immediately to unsubscribe me which I did not request or desire. My complaint against that action was dismissed without explanation or investigation—of course.

When I recently commented on City Comms to two councilors, one immediately replied “everybody knows that.” When I asked: why is nothing done, he was silent.

My latest award for irrelevant, self-promoting and grand-standing, and unknowledgeable action by a city councilor goes to newbie Lourdes Barroso de la Padilla, who also refuses to correspond or speak with her pseudo-constituent me. (I write “pseudo” because in our anachronistic unrepresentative city council, I am supposedly the constituent of all 7—and soon to be 9—councilors. In other words, I have NO representative.)

Barroso de la Padilla “hosted” (not held) a public hearing on “Reducing Downtown Speed Limit” to 25 mph on Tues, Jan. 31, This is ludicrous. Setting speed limits is not a city council matter. There is absolutely no need for a “public hearing.” Except….

But she follows the lead of the continuing unelected mayor of Coleman-ville, former mayor Michael Coleman and his successor’s keeper. Head of the fake non-profit, profiteering and lobbying Columbus Downtown Development organization, Coleman insists on two-way streets for his downtown where there is barely adequate space for one-way streets.

Furthermore, Barroso de la Padilla ignores the many city areas whose residents for years urgently ask for reduction of speed limits in their neighborhoods. There are serious safety concerns throughout the city.

Along with council, the Columbus Police Department (CPD), and Public Service, she ignores that the broken city streets are like racetracks and that CPD does almost no traffic patrolling. Council represents downtown and private interests, not neighborhoods and their publics. This is the Columbus Way. It is not funny.

This is the novice councilor who blurted out last fall that “art unites,” as she sat with a few hundred feet of two boxed statutes of Christopher Columbus belonging to the City and one publicly displayed statute at the State House. Council has no idea about what to do with them. What city does this councilor inhabit in her mind and in body?

Of course, she is only imitating her colleagues in pointless public meetings, displays, and slogans. The bottom line is that the City of Columbus, following the lead of mayor and council, can only substitute  inadequate, inappropriate, and meaningless slogans for urban policy. Knowing little about Columbus and nothing about cities, this is how they spend their time, while they follow their Chief of Staff’s orders not to communicate with certain citizens.

The slogans are often humorous. The realities which they fail to meet are not, whether crime and safety, cleanliness, housing, homelessness, inequality, “democratic” and representative city government.

The humorous parallels extend to councilors’ self-promoting voluntary, very occasional one hour clean-up of city yards and parks instead of investing tax dollars in sufficient trash collection. This is one among countless contradictions where the joke is on all of us. We can laugh all the way to the garbage bin and the latest tax abatement.

Buildings falling down and tenants removed for plumbing failures may strike some as humorous. Actual Zoning Inspection and Enforcement would stop them. That is, if any one in authority cares. Of that, there is no sign.

I can’t decide if it’s funny—or not--that while hiding his badge from my sight, a Columbus Police officer told me this fall: “It’s reasonable behavior to break the law on an OSU football weekend.” But it is not funny that many CPD officers, and Zoning Enforcement inspectors do not know the laws that they are paid to enforce.

I end with my own University District once a significant historic neighborhood. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the middle of the third week of the semester with the thermometer reading barely 30 degrees, the nearby NorthSteppe fraternity boys’ multiple dwelling escape from modest frat house regulation, unsupervised rental properties erupted, breaking more laws than we homeowners can count.

One house’s banner announces inexplicably, “Wednesday night is for the girls,” not acknowledging that it is also the “Greeks’ rush” period. Hordes of scantily clothed drunken 19–26-year-olds consumed illegal free beer under illegal temporary structures without permits.

NorthSteppe Reality doesn’t care, nor does Zoning Enforcement, OSU Student and Greek Life, slogan-spewing but no law enforcing joint OSU-CPD patrol and “Buckeye Block non-Watchers” who are blind to almost all legal offenses. It’s an old game: “show but don’t tell” or take action. The Columbus and the OSU Way.

Among the nearby homeowners, there were 10-12 calls to CPD over more than four hours with several officers “talking” to the lawbreakers but taking no action or issuing citations. Finally, after 11 p.m., two officers stopped the noise on Indianola Ave. Not surprisingly, violation of the noise ordnances almost immediately recommenced around the corner on E. 19th Ave. We called CPD again but fell asleep without seeing any response.

When will OSU publicize its required no-credit, no attendance, no textbook course on illegal parking and ignoring speed limits, stop signs, and crosswalks? Everyone passes.

With no humor, I end with OSU’s two-year tardy response to Collin’s Law enacted by the state of Ohio to prevent fraternity and sorority hazing offenses after the death of a Bowling Green University undergraduate. OSU instituted a brief online video with no checks on participation only in January 2023. Rape in dorms and frat houses gets no comment.

Such is public safety at OSU and across Columbus. This is not humorous. These are matter of life and death.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, he writes about a variety of contemporary and historical topics for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Academe Blog, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current, Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2022. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming.