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As many citizens of undemocratic, unrepresentative, anti-public, and corrupt Columbus now know, the city faces a “Democratic” primary election on May 2, 2023 and a general election on November 7. As of this writing, two candidates have declared, the incumbent Democratic machine—but no democratic—candidate Andy Ginther, and a true democrat Joe Motil.

I write for the first day of 2023 to propose for discussion and perhaps debate, a new era of democracy for the city built on filth and lack of affordable food and housing, unsanitary conditions, broken streets and sidewalks, homelessness, campus neighborhood safety and stability, dominance of special interests, grift and corruption; and the expansion of democracy, public services, respect for residents and taxpayers, and a city rebuilt for the 21st century.

For discussion and debate, I propose:

Researching, criticizing, debating openly, reimagining, and then remaking Columbus

I. Bring Columbus into the 20th and 21st centuries

II. Promote democratic reforms beginning with a truly representative city council, elected by districts, not at-large, citywide

III. Reorganize city government

  • Hire highly qualified, non-partisan professional city manager
  • Review and reorganize all departments beginning with Communications and 311 Complaint phone line
  • Public safety, public services, humanity, equality, and mutual respect moved to the forefront
  • Promote proven expertise in all positions; professional qualifications reviewed by formal search committees conducting publicized searches
  • Require internal and external coordination and cooperation
  • Hire and follow professional city/urban planners and traffic engineers

IV. Promote honesty, integrity, and transparency

  • Including respectful relationships with the public, all residents—everyone associated with city government must be a genuine public servant in qualifications and conduct, not unqualified, partisan hangers-on with no conception of the publics they are paid to serve
  • Meaningful and enforced city code of conduct and ethics
  • Professional annual reviews for all employees
  • Public accountability in all dimensions

V. End rampant corruption

  • Guard rigorously against conflicts of interest that now dominate
  • Enforce all ethics requirements
  • Require complete, detailed and notarized reports on all city employees—especially the mayor, city councilors, department heads—financial relationships with any individuals or organization, private and public, who have relationships with the City

VI. End domination of special interests, aka The Columbus Way

VII. Limit for at least 5-10 years the influence and financial relationships between former mayor, councilors, department heads

VIII. Primary attention to the physical city, public schools, public safety, health and sanitation, affordable housing, the environment, climate healthy public transit, and opportunity for all replace private under the table dealings for special interests and dishonest, self-promoting and self-profiting neglect

IX. Create a city of the people, for the people—all the people

  • Serve the cities’ publics, beginning with the physical city

X. Rebuild broken police, zoning and building enforcement, refuge, sanitation and public health

XI. Begin by installing new proven leadership who report regularly to City Council and the publics

  • Re-establish citizen review boards with executive power, chosen by and reporting to the public

XI. Rebuild the physical city while preserving the physical environment

  • Protect the environment and reduce climate change in all possible ways

XII. Reconstruct and reform Public (aka Private) Services to serve the city itself

XIII. End hand-outs (grants and contracts, tax abatements, TIFs, etc.) without developed programs, timetables, budgets, measures of accountability, and public reporting

XIV. Shift from give-a-ways to private and pseudo-public interests to funding adequately public schools, police, trash collection and sanitation, inspection, and action


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.