City Council diluted the minority vote with their “fake” districts
Adrienne and Remy

For the first time, after more than a century, Columbus will vote for district candidates in November. But as activists have repeatedly argued, there’s nothing district about it. Candidates must live in one of the nine geographically designed districts as each has roughly 100,000 residents. However, the November 7 vote is citywide, and representation will remain “at-large.”

“If it were just my district to win I’d have a huge chance of winning,” said City Council candidate Adrienne Hood who’s running in District 4, which includes large swaths of the Northside, parts of Clintonville, North and South Linden, and also the street where undercover Columbus police shot and killed her son.

Last decade, three citizen-led initiatives sought true districts, also known as wards, through the ballot, but all lost. In 2016, Issue 1 was championed by the group Everyday People For Positive Change. They were soundly defeated by Columbus voters after a $1.1 million corporate-funded ad campaign by City officials.

No doubt “The Columbus Way” was more than alarmed. Because Everyday People For Positive Change had a legitimate reason for true districts: “We’re saying that ‘at-large’ has hurt significant portions of the city by not having adequate representation in the places that need it the most,” said spokesperson David Harewood to WOSU at the time.

Two years later in 2018, Mayor Andy Ginther, Councilmember Shannon Hardin, and other City officials put their own charter amendment on the ballot creating districts and it won. Even though the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund formally rejected the proposal, stating that “under this electoral method, the voting strength of Columbus’ Black community is significantly weakened.”

Affordable housing activist Jonathan Beard of the Eastside, who also co-led Everyday People For Positive Change, believes the 2018 charter amendment was “designed cynically” by Hardin “as a ballot diversion which voters unexpectedly approved”.

“Columbus City Councilmembers should be elected by district, just like in every other big city in America. This fake district model is used only in Reno and Sparks, Nevada and Tucson, Arizona. It is nothing resembling a ‘best practice’ worth emulating,” said Beard. “In fact, when the last [Columbus] charter commission was recommending this, it was being sued under the Voting Rights Act in Tucson, which had caused the Nevada State Legislature to begin drafting new charters for Reno and Sparks.”

Since 1985, 90 percent of Councilmembers were appointed and later won as incumbents. Telling and disturbing is how only one Black candidate, Republican Jennette Bradley, was elected to City Council in recent history (1991).

“This is clearly bullshit, creating the illusion of Black political representation,” says Beard. “Appointing Black candidates to Council so they can run as incumbents with party support and business financial backing.” 

Activist Black candidates for Columbus City Council – or any activist candidate for that matter – seemingly don’t have a chance to ever win. When asked who was the last activist candidate to win a seat on City Council, several sources told us they don’t know. Complicit is the Franklin County Democratic Party, which also hasn’t endorsed or put an activist candidate on their sample ballot in recent  memory, if ever. 

Yet activist candidates continue to try, and Adrienne Hood is the latest, and as mentioned, running in District 4. Also running for District 4 is incumbent Emmanuel Remy, but remember the vote is citywide.

Remy, a realtor by trade, was appointed (not elected) to City Council in 2018. Before this he served as president of the Northland Community Council for six years. According to Beard, in his very first City Council meeting Remy voted to support the current district system. His vote put Hardin’s “fake districts” on the 2018 ballot. 

In District 4 (pictured above) the Black population is 46 percent compared to 33 percent white. Hood, a retired air force Master Sergeant, is “most passionate about public safety, mental healthcare, affordable housing, and public education,” states her campaign website. Remy, as Chair of the Environment Committee, created the Cleaner Columbus Initiative in 2019, to combat litter with help from Scarlet the Litter Cardinal.

Adrienne Hood would appear to most Columbus voters as a lock for District 4. Unfortunately, as sources have told us, she doesn’t have a good chance of winning.

“Councilmember Remy will have party support and unlimited funding from corporate Columbus funneled through the Council president who proposed this unfair and possibly unlawful at-large election method, though — which is a reflection of the corruption of our local democracy,” said Beard.

Beard has suggested in the past if Hood were to not win a seat, she may have a case with the Voter Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. She could win the Black vote in her district while losing the citywide vote.

“The VRA requires that geographically concentrated minorities have a federally protected right to elect candidates of their choosing, without having their votes diluted by the majority,” he said.

But further research by Beard revealed that City Council and City officials may have planned for such an outcome.

“I went to doublecheck the City’s district website and found out that unbelievably, they didn’t draw any majority-minority districts [over 50 percent minority],” said Beard. “So, I’m not sure that is a VRA cause of action. They purposely created districts where Black folk are in the minority – likely to avoid that exact circumstance.”

Hood also believes “all of these decisions were intentionally thought out.”

“The more I learn, the more disgust I have,” she said. “The lengths taken to maintain power are sickening and harmful to the community as a whole. The tragedy is most of the time we are not engaged enough to connect the dots so whatever is said in soundbites becomes bible.”