Damon Krane

Damon Krane has been involved in politics since age 16, starting in high school with a public access magazine Free Head. Since then, Krane has worked in grassroots politics against Ohio University administration, bigotry, and war, and in favor of student journalism, labor organizing, and tenant’s rights. It is this last issue which is the greatest in Athens, Ohio. Krane is now running for mayor of Athens.

Athens is a deeply divided city. 80% of residents live in rental housing while all city officeholders own homes, and several are landlords themselves. 80% of residents are under the age of 45, while all but one officeholder are over 45. According to an October 2, 2016 article in Athens News by Conor Morris, 30% of Athens County residents live in poverty, the top 20% of household incomes is 6.9 times greater than that of the bottom 20%, and women in Athens County earn a median income of $15,496, just over half of the average for men.

Athens is quite literally ruled by landlords. According to Krane, two members of city council are landlords, as well as the municipal court judge, and John Warton, voted worst landlord by readers of the Athens News from 2006 to 2008 (until the position was removed from the paper), is a major donor of the current mayor, Steve Patterson. Patterson backed the city’s affordable housing committee, chaired by councilmember and landlord, Sarah Grace. The plan involves subsidizing the building of new homes valued between $125,000 and $250,000—much higher than the current median of $169,000. Patterson also backed new legislation which counts each day that each individual code violation goes uncorrected as a complete and separate offense, for which a landlord is to be fined $100 and given a minor misdemeanor, with higher punishment for serial offenders. The problem with this last piece, though, as Krane explained, is that the city’s law director, Lisa Eliason, treats any number of violations of the housing code as one simple violation. As Krane put it, “How do you increase penalties for multiple violations when the law director doesn’t think they ever exist in any context?” Krane and his political allies running for city council, Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday have endorse a housing program called Operation: Slumlord Smackdown

Aside from the daily problems that arise from inadequate enforcement of the housing code (there are only four housing inspectors for the city’s roughly 5,680 rental units), such as high energy costs to heat poorly-insulated homes and breathing black mold growing on the walls, are larger failures such as the Carriage Hill Apartments fire on February 26, 2017, just under a month after an inspection found defective smoke detectors and out-of-date fire extinguishers. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed by the fire.

Ohio University holds a significant position in the city. It is the city’s largest employer and the reason why the vast majority of its population even lives there. It was as a student at OU that Krane first got involved in Athens politics, starting InterActivist in 2003, which covered local social justice and progressive organizing. Krane spoke of the mass arrests of the Baker 70 in February of 2017, who were protesting President Trump’s immigration ban, in which the university worked together with the Athens Police Department and Highway Patrol. Much of city government, according to Krane, come out of the administration of OU, and Mayor Patterson was a psychology professor before transitioning to politics, for instance.

In the Summer of this year, Patterson’s government attempted to drop Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers when it was time to renew the contract with the unionized nonprofit which had been serving Athens for seven years. This attempt at union busting ultimately failed when employees went public and in a city council meeting which followed, the people of Athens challenged the move. The city backed down, citing clerical errors in their contract-bidding process and agreeing to keep on AHRC.

Krane, Hamrick, Monday face a nearly all-Democrat incumbent government. In the view of Krane, “Everybody’s a Democrat [in Athens], even the Republicans.” The same Democratic law director who reduces charges against landlords, Lisa Eliason, prosecuted the anti-Trump Baker 70. The coalition between Democrats and Republicans can be seen across the city. Krane pointed out that the chairman of the Athens County Republican Party, Pete Couladis, has “not one, but two ‘Re-Elect Patterson’ signs in his front lawn.” Krane drew a picture of one-party, landlord rule in the City of Athens, where most officeholders run unopposed, and where “the city is really run by its affluent minority for the benefit of its affluent minority.”