The Anti-democratic Columbus Way
Joe Motil and Andy GInther

With no recognizable history or identity of its own, the Columbus anti-democratic Democratic machine—funded by Republican private interests who live outside the city that they have commanded for much of its history—are rooted in deep currents of U.S. history. Earlier this year, I compared “mayor” in name only Andy Ginther unfavorably to infamous mid-19th century New York City’s Boss Tweed. Tweed did much more for his city than Ginther can imagine.

As a life-long resident of major cities and recognized authority on cities and their histories, I must place Ginther and his anti-publics City Council and division heads in long- and short-term context.

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, many major cities were dominated by corrupt, dishonest, self-serving Democratic machine politicians. Comparisons with loosely defined “mafia” and “mobs” were not completely imaginary. There were associations and parallels.

The Pittsburgh of my youth was controlled by mayor Davy Lawrence. Philadelphia, Detroit, New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, among many others, had their parallels in lawbreaking, corrupt, dishonest self-serving machines.

At age 18 in 1967, I moved from Pittsburgh to Evanston, Illinois for college—a few miles from Richard Daley’s Chicago. Like the George Floyd peaceful protesters in Columbus in June 2020, I was attacked and gassed in the streets of downtown Chicago by the Chicago PD for peacefully protesting for civil rights (with a young Jesse Jackson) and against the Vietnam War. There were no civilian or City government controls on police brutality. No one in the City establishment accepted responsibility.

Although far from perfect, my intervening years in Toronto, Dallas, and San Antonio differed. Columbus in recent years and certainly increasingly over the last 15-20 years is much closer to anti-public, dishonest, corrupt urban politics of the 1950s and 1960s than Texas cities in the last three decades of the 20th century.

There are two major differences in cities political reforms to which I will return. First is that the so-called legitimate daily media had a measure of independence and self-initiative in those cities at those times. Over time, as with Boss Tweed in 19th century New York City, they exposed the lies and illegalities of city government corruption, dishonesty, and failure.

It took time, but they persevered. Unlike today, they were not bought and paid for by threats and intimation, dissuaded by lies and secrecy, and paid off with advertising and in the case of network TV stations illegitimately rewarded with quite likely illegal no-bid advertising dollars.

Local media were also locally owned and managed, not controlled by out-of-town large corporate for-profit at all costs to journalistic traditions and ethics. And independent investigative reporting was taught in schools of journalism, encouraged by editors and directors, and rewarded.

Those days are gone.

Secondly, city governments corruption was also brought down by at least temporary broad-based coalitions of different interests, identity, and community groups. As far as I can determine that was never an active or strong Columbus tradition, but its absence is exceptionally glaring today.

What does it signify that Columbus has a “minority-majority” City Council? Almost exclusively, they rose to their at-large, elected seats by sponsored selection and mobility through party and City ranks. None actually represent a part of the city’s social or geographic plural communities. None. The closest they come are the frequent “this, that, or another day”:  In one park or another about which city residents are uncontrollably spammed with repetitive messages, often with errors. City of Columbus Communications—about which city councilors and staff joke—is part of the problem. No one in City Hall has interest in repairing it, or streets, sidewalks, or lack of integrity.

Nor do any councilors have relevant education or practical knowledge about cities. Nor are any of them independent of the controlling private interests. None communicates with independent residents and voters. Public service, including common courtesy, let alone honesty and integrity are alien to the Columbus Way. Conflict of interest is its middle name.

“Mayor,” City Council, and their unknowledgeable “spokespeople” unanimously joined in perpetuating the outright lie that adding two new “districts” with councilors required to reside—at least officially—in at least one of the now nine—is “more democratic” than seven districts.

The simple inescapable truth, which local media are unable to understand is: all nine are still elected at large. Not one councilor has an actual constituency to whom they are directly responsible and directly accountable. Not one…

The city, with the active and tacit support of all those who benefit from it, is in active, historically unprecedented collusion to mislead the publics who they claim to “represent” but to whom they remain unaccountable. They accept pay and other perks from those residents and taxpayers. Did no one in City government or the media learn the history of the American Revolution: “no taxation without representation”? Apparently not.

The inescapable bottom line is that these City Councilors would not be elected in the way that they are if they actually had to represent voters and residents in their own districts and be directly accountable. This is precisely why they will always mislead the voters with false, distorted referenda and misrepresentation. These Democrats epitomize anti-democracy.

Among the many proofs of the inedible pudding: 1) only one councilor had to move to remain eligible for re-election; 2) only one member left council, for a position in waiting. She was replaced with an “old boy” (technical term); 3) the fake “new” council races are almost totally unopposed.

The electorate and most of the media are confused as much as they are misled. That is the Columbus Way of not governing.

Only in 21st century Columbus can the deceitful, dishonest election campaigns of 2023 take place with little commentary from either the daily media or major self-described but in fact anti-public institutions and associations. Or City Attorney or State Attorney General. Why, to take just one example, will no one sponsor a forum or debate for the contested mayor’s race?

Consider the intolerable, unethical, and sometimes illegal electioneering of “mayor” in name only, lifelong politician, and former-mayor Michael Coleman’s puppy Andy Ginther. With a war-chest reportedly of at least $1.2 million primarily from private interest groups and the developers who regularly reward mayor, council, and division heads very well for direct and indirect City endorsement of their projects including funding for often anti-public developments, never with any degree of accountability.

Scandal-ridden careerist Andy—from time on School Board to Council or Mayor—has no record to defend. He is afraid to meet his legitimate democratic and Democratic challenger Joe Motil (with a campaign fund of less than $15,000) not only in “debate” but simply standing side by side to answer questions.

The reasons why are many:

  1. With no record and programs to promote, Andy spams residents with duplicative copies of dishonest mailers that are no more than illegitimate attack ads on Motil. Neither Andy nor his publicly paid City staff and his incompetent consultants and public relations—fake opinion pollsters has accomplishments or programs to promote.

He/they dishonestly misquote Motil out of context. Even the Columbus Dispatch more or less admitted this. It is not only illegitimate but it shows a complete lack of both schooling and ethics on the part of the “mayor” and those he commissions. Yet Andy claims a degree from a tiny college in Indiana as well as high school graduation.

  1. Andy’s PR pollsters also mislead and distort with false and misleading questions aimed to hurt his challenger much more than promote the incumbent.
  2. Andy also disrespectfully spams the residents of Columbus with multiple telephone calls throughout the day. My household alone received at least four calls, despite both of us asking to be taken off all calling and mailing lists. The callers could barely speak. Along with other campaign actions, Andy repeatedly violates accepted ethics standards and quite likely state and federal laws. His campaign has no respect for the people of Columbus.
  3. The campaign itself is paper thin as well as false, dishonest, and disrespectful to the city’s multiple publics, and at complete odds with Columbus reality.

Of the major pitches—all too thin—to call them campaign planks, consider:

  1. “Neighborhoods, neighborhoods, neighborhoods”: Neither Andy nor any other councilors show familiarity with the city personally or in fact-based familiarity. Examine their records. See where they make their rare physical appearances. The sites are few. None respond to residents’ request to visit and observe specific areas.
  2. Andy and his council and even more his Division of Public (i.e., Private) Service especially Zoning Enforcement, Streets and Sidewalks, Parking, Parks and Recreation, Refuse and Trash Collection, and the failing, still-under-staffed and Chief in hiding Columbus Department of Police together actively harm almost all actually defined and fictional “neighborhoods” of the city.

The exceptions are the developer dominated Short North, which is not an arts district but a bar, restaurant, and empty storefront area with more and more overpriced inappropriately designed apartment buildings. I add, only in part, the “villages” or urban refuges Victorian and German. Note the names in a city with no documented history.

  1. Actively declining by both collusion and neglect are not only my own University District, but even more The Hilltop, Linden, Franklinton and Weinland Park (about which I have written in these pages), South and West sides, much of truly historic Columbus east of so-called “downtown.”

It is no accident that both visitors and residents join in constantly calling attention to the broken streets and sidewalks, dirt and trash, and lack of traffic control. And unregulated rental scooters—unlike any other city in the U.S.  (and OSU unlike any other campus).

  1. Second to the undocumented and distorted “Neighborhoods…” is “Safe(r) Columbus” or some such poor phrase lacking in factual foundation, specific programs with budgets, timetables, reporting, and measures of accountability.

Columbus is among the least safe large US cities on all measures. Its still leaderless police force—despite new chief and assistant chiefs unfamiliar with Columbus—has not recovered from Andy’s $20 million indiscriminate and unregulated excessive retirement buyouts for 200 experienced officers. Many were among the Columbus Police Department’s best, driven out by lack of leadership, communication, and standards. Andy does nothing to reduce the power of the most obstructionist chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police in the U.S. Why does the public see the vice president of that semi-union affiliate much more often than the actual Chief of Police?

  1. At the same time, unethically and potentially illegally, one of Andy’s campaign mailers features a photograph of Chief Elaine Bryant standing just behind the “mayor,” implying approval and endorsement. That is illegitimate and should be investigated. But not in Columbus or Ohio!
  2. Third is Andy’s equally ignorant whining about youth and schools. Every one of his tax abatements and tax-exempt or return zones substantially weakens the failing Columbus City Schools. Public Services does not coordinate any actual work or neglect with either public schools or youth programs. After-school programs are not coordinated or interrelated to other youth, education, or public safety programs.
  3. Coordination, cooperation, and communication—as well as basic public services—are alien to the Columbus Way. Only weak, empty, and misleading slogans flow… not responsible, accountable actions.

Need anyone ask: why does Andy, who boasts of his own attendance in the Columbus Schools, send his daughter to a private school? We don’t have to guess, do we?

  1. Fourth, in misleading campaign nonsense is “mental and addiction care and services,” and inseparably, as Joe Motil’s campaign constantly reminded us, poverty, homelessness, and their correlates. Andy and Council and the radically disorganized and disconnected city departments cannot add one and one to get two, let alone interrelate any city programs, departments, or services.

If Andy actually had genuine humane concern with either or both mental illness and addiction, he would acknowledge and assist his foster sister who suffers from both and who reaches out across the city. Yet Andy boasts of his “many” foster siblings.

  1. That is why no progress can be made on public safety, youth and education, physical city, equality and equity, hunger and health care, homelessness, affordable housing, mental health and addiction, and the physical city, among other critical elements. Totals of evictions and city “sweeps” of homeless settlements rank about the highest in the U.S. “Zoning in”—actually “Zoning out or up”—is another fraudulent pick to private developers.
  2. Yet none of this is ever admitted. No local media will investigate directly and seriously. It is really not difficult. The local evidence is before all of our eyes. Comparative national data are accessible to all (except those with no Wi-Fi connections, among whom both Columbus and Ohio rank high).
  3. The City either or both will not admit any of these mounting failures or is actively hiding them. City Council Chief of Staff Mb (or Michael Brown, with a degree in journalism and a background in tourism) will not tell the truth. Neither will Michael Stephens, “director of development,” who uncontrollably confuses Ns and percentages, and lies about both results and measurable impacts of City handouts to private interest groups. He specializes in distraction, irrelevance, and nonresponsiveness.
  4.  At base is another fundamental fact of Columbus’ unacknowledged exceptionality: the pronounced lack of relevant expertise from “mayor” to council across all ranks of city staff. Not only is there little communication and no coordination, but no one is ever in charge or responsible. It shows on almost every corner.
  5.  Columbus refuses to hire a qualified city manager. I have spoken to councilors who ask immediately: “oh, what’s that?” That is, city-office holders. No other U.S. city of comparable size lacks a central administrator, a qualified director of design or traffic engineer. None. This unaccountable failing shows on almost every street corner. Look up and out, not in!
  6.  Andy—actually his office staff, speaking for him at his direction—had the blatant dishonesty to ask for a raise for the “mayor” in name only because Columbus does not have a city manager.

That should give every resident pause. Andy has no qualifications to hold the office for which he is paid, let alone…. At the same time, he reports net worth of  at least $5 million. He certainly did not amass that fortune on his school board, council, or mayor’s salaries.

  1. Among the endless unwritten rules of the City of Columbus is never a complete concrete program or set of programs, with budget, timetable, and specific modes of assessment and accountability. Accountability is anathema to the Columbus Way. It would make campaigns like Andy’s past and present one impossible.

Also running for re-election and spamming my area with false claims, no concrete programs, and paper thin slogans is Upper Arlington realtor Emmanuel Remy. In a mass mailing in his support , Democratic Party promoted Remy has the gall to proclaim “Moving Columbus Forward.” Of course, he makes no efforts to state what or how. He cannot.

He has “priorities,” no achievements or programs. Chair of Council public safety and cleaner city committees, his “priorities” do not align with his responsibilities. If he is known at all, it is for his “Litter League” of a very small number of volunteers who very rarely pick up—or is it actually litter—trash from a few public areas. He touts this on questionable no-bid TV advertisements especially on Channel 4.

My greatest concern about the unqualified and unknowledgeable—and nonresponsive—private realtor is that his campaign mailer includes this alarming statement: “Paid for by the Ohio REALTORS Political Advocacy Fund ( and not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.”

I find no information in public sources about the private interest group’s “political advisory fund.” Are they registered? Who, specifically, funds their activities? What do they mean by “not authorized by…”? Can Remy not be aware and in some ways complicit? It can be no accident that one of his council opponents is a Somali-American realtor.

Who authorized ’s the Ohio Realtors Political Advocacy Fund’s access to my home address and to solicit me in support of one rare candidate who is opposed? Who indeed? How is “authorized” defined?

I will write nothing about Remy’s TV ad featuring his wife’s endorsement. Other, that is, to say: it is not 1955.

The anti-publics, undemocratic “mayor” and city councilors can only remain in office by cheating, lying, and stealing. That is—as we all know, except the Columbus media, who are very much central to the problems—The Columbus Way.

References and evidence: see my Columbus Free Press essay since summer 2021.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History, inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies, and Academy Professor, Ohio State University. Author of many books, most recently he published Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies (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.