Andy Ginther’s Anti-State of the City Address, March 2023
Harvey J Graff

There are both very few and many take-aways from Andy Ginther’s non-State of the City fantasy  tale on Tuesday, March 21. Three stand out:

First, Ginther cannot possibly live in the city of Columbus. He knows so little about it. But we do know that he inhabits, at least in his imagination and bank book, a ragged small broken, undistinguished patch that I renamed Colemanville. In fact, Ginther grew up in far north Columbus, not far from the Worthington border. He now lives in The Knolls, west of 315, close to closer to Upper Arlington.

Colemanville is an unenfranchised, undefined area bounded by several highways and the environmentally challenged Scioto River. It is the bought-and-sold preserve of Urban Empeor for Life Michael Coleman, Ginther’s keeper; Coleman’s unelected Downtown Development Corporation; and The Columbus Partnership whose leaders live outside the city they dominate. They all claim, misleadingly, to be “non-profit.” It is undemocratic, authoritarian capitalism, an unelected unrepresentative government for the few by the fewer. This is the historical practice of the Columbus Way.

Some days, Colemanville and the rest of Columbus sit in the state of Ohio; many days they do not, in the minds of the elected and unelected profiteers. When it comes to metropolitan control, gun safety, or non-support of public schools, for example, the City of Columbus forgets its geo-political location. In other ways, Columbus’ right wing undemocratic Democrats fit well.

Second, Ginther presents a radically distorted pseudo-high production but low content campaign pitch. It in no way meets the requirements of the annual State of the  City address. In that, he clearly violates ethics and perhaps also either or both City and campaign finance laws. Of course, we all know that the City has abolished ethics and honesty—check with its fraudulent anti-ethics office and officer, as well as the operations of major divisions—just as Council with the advice and consent of the City Attorney’s office, recently abolished the First Amendment rights of civilian review board members.

Third, Ginther clearly presumes that the residents of Columbus know little or nothing about the city or the inactions and actions of City Government. He assumes that popular ignorance exceeds the demonstrable ignorance of City Council and the mayor himself. This is one of Columbus City Hall’ aspects of genuine uniqueness. This is the effect of the combined irresponsibility of the City Communication program and Columbus media.

Taking two steps farther, not surprisingly, almost nothing of any importance in Ginther’s prepared but virtually replayed presentation is true or accurate. Bill Bush’s immediate report in the Columbus Dispatch noted this with respect to crime and police in particular (“Ginther ‘State of the City’ focus: Crime, housing, city services,” Mar. 22, 2023).

Joe Motil’s response went much further. In sharp contrast, Motil addressed the actual city, its unmissable problems, and the documented failures of Ginther and his undemocratic regime.

The mayor—and in particular his staff who lack middle school arithmetics and are weak in Standard English expression—make factual, mathematical, logical, and grammatical errors at every turn. This is astonishing given that the video was prepared and not presented live in front of a human audience as the other candidate for mayor, Joe Motil, did outside City Hall.

Ginther begins with a dishonest, immediately refutable campaign slogan: “The state of our city is strong and getting stronger with each passing day…. I want Columbus to be the best community in the country, and I want everyone—everyone—in our city to share in our success.” He does not define the cliché “community.” He makes no effort to define “success,” and presents neither arguments nor evidence at any point to demonstrate that “the state of our city is strong and getting stronger.’ In fact, when reviewed critically and in actual context, his major examples argue against this assertion. None of his policies show a mayor who actually “wants everyone…to share…”

Ginther only succeeds in confirming that his administration only pretends to lead and not govern with unusually weak slogans, and  no developed policies with programs, defined goals, timetables, and measures of accountability.

No one is ever responsible or accountable. That is not the Columbus Way. Using public authority and funds for the benefit of the private few continues to dominate. It distracts from the physical city and the diverse, unequal peoples of a city approaching one million population with mid-19th century unrepresentative undemocratic city council. Democracy and representation are nowhere in Ginther’s vocabulary or thought processes.

Columbus is a decaying, broken physical, dirty, and unsanitary city. Every visitor immediately notes that. It is unsafe. It is unequal with nationally high levels of poverty by race, ethnicity, and age, including maternal and infant mortality. It is riven with food and health deserts. It undermines its own limited physical attractions with unregulated private development. Ginther says nothing about the real Columbus or the lived experiences of a high proportion of its residents.

Ginther begins by distorting the facts of unsafe and unpoliced Columbus. There is no Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy as an applied set of practices. It is only a slogan like all other anti-crime and public safely claims in a city unsafe at any speed.

Pointing to a one year decline in homicides of a grand total of 140 from 2021 to 2022 as 33%— “the largest-single percentage drop among the 20 largest cities in the country” —insults the public as well as the families and friends of the victims. Numbers (Ns) and percentages are confused purposefully. The N is tiny. Change over one year does not constitute a statistical or meaningful change. Moreover, Ginther fails to state that the 2022 total remains one-third higher than the 2018 and 2019 numbers. To whom does this mayor think he is speaking? Not the people of the city.

The lies continue with “This is due in no small part to improved community-police relationships,” referring only to crime tips. In fact, the Columbus Police Department become increasingly uncommunicative with residents each year. Mayor: ask the people. We will tell you.

Ginther only deepens his dishonesty: “Here’s what else we’ve been doing: First and foremost, we’re getting more officers on the streets.” That is blatantly false. CPD remains deeply understaffed in large part because of his own pay-offs of $200,000 each to 100 officers with absolutely no controls or accountability. Many excellent officers fled the failing department.

Ginther’s never explained action weakened an already short-handed forces with limited leadership, poor training, and unacceptable communications. He literally threw away millions of irreplaceable dollars. Even if all of CPD’s goals were met—and they never are—the force would only be a few percent larger than prior to 2020 when it was already too small for the city’s needs.

Neither Ginther nor his no longer s new Chief or Assistant Chief say a word about 80 percent of the officers residing outside the city and often unfamiliar with the areas they purport to serve. Little concrete is stated about training, supervision, leadership, or communication.  911 and Nonemergency employees report worsening connections. Officers in the field readily admit to major problems at all level. Residents encounter officers who do not know the law or the city.

Nor does Ginther address Columbus’ nationally high standing in police shootings of unarmed young Black men. The city awaits clarification of CPD officers’ high-fiving the terrorist Proud Boys in their permitted intimidation of an annual church event. At the same time, CPD counter-intuitively and contradictorily reactivates its notorious anti-gang, with an inappropriate head, just as such units are abolished across the US. Not one word is said about CPD’s use of force policies and officer actions.

With no details, Ginther drones on a series of disconnected slogans and trite names of so-called initiatives. The are all copy-cats from other, more responsible cities—never with acknowledgement, never with developed and implemented programs, timetables, and modes of accountability. Never.

Especially glaring is the absence of serious discussion of non-police responses to problems that are only worsened by the appearance of armed officers and, even more, responsible gun buy-back programs that work in city after city across the nation. I for one have proposed that to councilors for years with links to evidence. Evidence and knowledge are not part of the Columbus Way.

Given that the Civilian Police Review Board’s scope and authority remain undefined, one of its founding members was denied his First Amendment rights and removed, and its founding head is leaving, I am very surprised to find it mentioned at all.

No, Ginther: you cannot continue repeating imitatively “Racism is a public health crisis. Gun violence is a public health crisis….” Never with a footnote. And on other occasions, “I will do all that it takes… spend whatever is needed,” but do no more than lie and repeat more empty slogans.

Ginther next turns to “Affordability.” Of course, he is never specific. He defines nothing in a broad array of distinct matters, each of which demands distinctions and details. He repeats  by implication the gross misrepresentations of his “Director of Development” Michael Stevens, who has no substantival background in development.

In his Opinion—not news--“City hold developers liable for incentives” (Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 12, 2022), Stevens played feint and dodge, and evaded all direct issues in pretending any success for the mayor’s and city council’s favorite broken bow and arrow of funding private interests and fake non-profits while destroying public services in direct exchange. No direct evidence accompanied Stevens’ rambles. His arithmetic illogic rivals the City’s worst.

For his part, Ginther skates back and forth between Columbus of which he claims to be the mayor and “Central Ohio as region.” This slight of hand is no more than an effort to absolve himself from any direct responsibility for Columbus’ demonstrated crisis of affordable housing. This is admitted by everyone but him. He implicitly casts blame on the incorporated, almost all historically segregated suburban and exurban areas who were economically and politically strong enough to resist Columbus’ annexation efforts. (See Kevin Cox, Boomtown Columbus: Ohio’s Sunbelt City and How Developers Got Their Way. Ohio State University Press, 2021). Why does he never ask: where are The Columbus Partners in New Albany, Bexley, Worthington, etc.?

Ginther refers to the creation of 27,000 jobs since he first took office. That is a self-indicting small number for almost two full terms. He tosses unrelated figures and dollars around with no connections. In the least, he does not know the difference between correlation and causation.

At every turn, he implies no more than excuses for the city’s failures over almost eight years. Ginther’s mentor, the city’s first and only Black mayor, it must be stated, did ever less in more terms in office.

Most importantly, Ginther completely camouflages his administration’s nearly complete dependence on directly and indirectly funding private developers to supply urgently needed affordable housing. He and his “team” take great pains to hide from the public that hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements and tax incentive districts—even to a public university like Ohio State for a non-existent “innovation district” of one and a half buildings under construction—directly undermine all public services on which all the people of Columbus—especially the have-nots--depend every day of the week.

Not only are these “affordability measures” little more than the Columbus Way of the public enriching the private. With no measures of accountability and either tiny or no required number sof actually affordable rental and for-purchase housing, Columbus operates a public welfare program for the haves rather than those in real need. This is socialism for the private interest, a radical inversion and perversion of interests and responsibilities. It never trickles down. Not even the University of Chicago economists any longer believe that. But Ginther and his now minority-majority City Council do. It is 2023, women and men.

Ginther misrepresents the uses of zoning in the development of Columbus past and present. On one hand, Columbus’ Zoning Code, rooted in its antiquated and anachronistic 1910s City Charter, was never adequate. Nor was it often followed.

The City in conjunction with private property developers and landlords and Ohio State substantially destroyed the historic University District and Weinland Park by all but automatically granting zoning variances in contradiction to the laws. This was nowhere necessary but money changed hands above and below the tables. Ginther cannot claim to respect “neighborhoods,” as defined in any recognizable way, as a long-term City Councilor and two-term mayor.

This pattern holds not only for the UD and Weinland Park but also the Franklinton, Linden, the Hilltop, parks of Victorian Village, Clintonville, and historic Old Town East. Columbus is substantially a city against its own neighborhoods. Glance at the conflicting maps and definitions on City websites and what are fraudulently called “area commissions” and “districts.”

Of course, the mayor grossly misrepresents the city’s giveaways to The Crew for their stadium and the status and nondevelopment of the team’s former home at Mapfre Stadium. This is corruption.

The mayor’s imaging of an unnamed “explosion in new development” in Colemanville only underscores his neglect of the city as a whole, its diverse peoples, and his commitment to private interests. Despite the objection of its own Department of Parks and Recreation, City Council approves poorly designed, environmentally damaging development on the banks of the Scioto River while enacting nothing significant other than a not to be enforced lowering of the speed limit downtown. It participates in the environmental assault on the Metro Parks.

Ginther’s reference to his own wife as “First Lady Shannon Ginther” in 2023 all but takes my breath away. This a middling large city. Have we learned so little from a succession of “women’s movements” for a century?

Tellingly, Ginther ends rather than begins with “city services,” confirming his own and council’s lack of knowledge and appreciation of the core of a functioning city.

Columbus is a failing city because of the direct relationship of its commitment to the private over the public, and the underdevelopment and underfunding of city services. This include the police department, the dramatically under supported and under-performing public schools (which the state of Ohio would abolish if it could), refuse and trash collection, maintenance of streets and sidewalks, zoning enforcement, health and sanitation, parks and recreation, in the least. The Division of Public Services functions as Private Services, with its director under investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Why does Ginther not see the physical conditions of the city? Does he never look out his windows? City public schools are poorly managed and radically uneven in how well they serve different areas with different populations. They rank poorly on state measure.

Columbus is filthy because Refuse is under-funded and under-staffed. Refuse and Zoning laws are not enforced. Buildings collapse. Individuals without resources lose their homes. Neighborhoods decay. Mayor and city council do not care.

Revealingly, but the mayor’s major attention, goes to recycling once per week rather than the present every other week. Consider these facts. First, weekly pick-up makes sense in some but not all areas of the city. Two, it is not the most serious cause of pollution. Three, recycling is not a city service but contracted with the private Rumpke Corporation. Despite under-performing, it holds a monopoly by blocking all other from building plants.

But Rumpke is a major campaign contribution. The circle of the Columbus Way is once again squared. The mayor and council know where their bread is buttered. They do not care about the peoples’.

Ginther’s comments on a small scattering of neighborhoods reinforces the obvious sense of his ignorance and neglect, and how little city funding flows (“kicking in”) to areas in need. This is no more than slogan-based pandering to the electorate on the basis of racial identities, as in Envision Hilltop (not Re-envision?) .

No, Ginther. Your government is not “a beacon that points people toward their highest aspirations,” whatever that awkward construction might mean. Your government has not and does not “empower us to improve our own lives, to be our best selves, so that we may be safe and successful in all that we do.” That is a fundamental misunderstanding of “government” itself.

Meaningful, responsible government for all the people requires representation, responsibility, knowledge, honesty, fairness, inclusion, and equality. That is missing from your rhetoric and lexicon, and from the Columbus Way.

Harvey J. Graff’s Columbus Past and Present References

“Columbus City Government is Undemocratic and Disorganized: It’s 2021 and we need a revolution in this city,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 20, 2021

“Columbus searches for its Downtown with historical, urbanist, and developers’ blinders,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Dec. 22, 2021

“Columbus, Ohio, searches to be a city: The myth of the Columbus Way,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 9, 2022

“Is Columbus really a City?” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Apr. 7, 2022

“Columbus isn’t Cowtown or Silicon Valley Heartland; It’s the lawless wild-wild-Midwest,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, April 20, 2022

“How Columbus, Ohio State University, and major developers destroyed a historic neighborhood,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Part One, Apr. 26, 2022

“How Columbus, Ohio State University, and major developers destroyed a historic neighborhood,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Part Two, Apr. 29, 2022

“How Columbus, Ohio State University, and major developers destroyed a historic neighborhood—A continuing legacy,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, May 2, 2022

“Franklinton, 1797-2022 and Columbus’ Contradictions, Part 1,” Columbus Free Press, June 5, 2022

“Franklinton, 1797-2022 and Columbus’ Contradictions, Part 2,” Columbus Free Press, June 9, 2022

“How the Harvard Business School and the Columbus Way attempt to enrich each other: Lessons in the promiscuous relationships between Columbus’ private interests and an elite university’s profiteering,” with Bob Eckhart, Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 12, 2022

“The Columbus Way versus the rights of residents, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 21, 2022

“The Columbus Way versus the rights of residents, Part Two, Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 24, 2022

“The Columbus Way versus the rights of residents, Part Three,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 27, 2022

“The Columbus Way versus the rights of residents, Part Four,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 30, 2022

“Remaking the City of Columbus for the 21st or is it the 20th century?” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, July 5, 2022

“My ongoing struggles for responsibility from the City of Columbus,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, July 12, 2022

“Is Columbus the corruption capital of a corrupt state? Mismanagement, no management, and corruption in the 2020s,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, July17, 2022

“Mr. Mayor and City Council: May I introduce you to the city of Columbus? Beyond the Short North and the Scioto River Bank, there is a diverse complicated city,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, July 31, 2022

“Still searching for Downtown: ‘Ideas considered for Downtown plan,’” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 14, 2022

“You can’t sue City Hall, can you? But we should educate the public and use the ballot box: That’s the American Way, not the Columbus Way,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 21, 2022

“Why won’t Columbus, Ohio, grow up?” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Oct. 22, 2022

“Abandoned by my elected and unelected officials (unless I pay to play): The Columbus Way, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Oct. 30, 2022

“Abandoned by my elected and unelected officials (unless I pay to play): The Columbus Way, Part Two,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 2, 2022

“The City that breaks its laws has a police force that refuses to enforce the city’s laws: The           Columbus Way, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 13, 2022

“The City that breaks its laws has a police force that refuses to enforce the city’s laws: The           Columbus Way, Part Two,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 16. 2022

Andy Ginther as Columbus, Ohio’s very own shabby 21st century limitation of New York          City’s 1860-1870s Boss Tweed,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 19, 2022  

“Columbus’ anachronistic, private interest-dominated ‘area commissions’ and ‘neighborhood             organizations’ must go,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Dec. 3, 2022

“The plague city: Daily life in Columbus, Ohio,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Dec.       17, 2022

“Columbus mayor election campaign, 2023,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 1, 2023

“Columbus, Ohio: Rude and Crude: The little big city that refuses to represent. serve, or

            respect its publics, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 15, 2022

“Columbus, Ohio: Rude and Crude: The little big city that refuses to represent. serve, or

            respect its publics, Part Two,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 19, 2023

“A city versus its neighborhoods: Columbus, Ohio,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan.

            25, 2023

“Unsafe at any speed: The unsafe city—from mayor to city council to CPD,” Busting

            Myths, Columbus Free Press, Feb. 16, 2023

J’accuse: The City of Columbus Division of Public (aka Private) Service,” Busting Myths,

            Columbus Free Press, Mar. 3, 2023

“Columbus’ right wing Democrats vs. the city’s publics,” Busting Myths,

            Columbus Free Press, Mar. 8, 2023

“The Columbus City Council and City Attorney’s Office the First Amendment on March 6,

            2023,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 10, 2023


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. “Reconstructing the new ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress.