The anointed one, personally blessed by the presumed Mayor-for-life Michael Coleman, Andy Ginther, found the going tough as he faced his three opponents at an inner city forum on January 29, 2015.
More than one hundred residents, mostly black, gathered at the Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church on Columbus’ east side to hear the four potential mayoral candidates answer questions about the state of the city.
The four men who have announced their bid to replace Michael Coleman this year are:

  • Andrew Ginther, Columbus City Council President (D)

  • Terry Boyd, endorsed Republican candidate, former Columbus School Board president and Franklin University Professor (R)

  • Zach Scott, Franklin County Sheriff (D)

  • James Ragland, former Columbus City Council staffer for Charleta Tavares, now Catholic High School Development Director (D)

The key issue the crowd and the church’s pastor, the Reverend Michael D. Reeves, wanted addressed was the question: Why is there economic apartheid in Columbus – with the downtown looking pristine and the black neighborhoods continuing to deteriorate? Rev. Reeves told the candidates that he did not care what party they belonged to, or the color of their skin – he just wanted answers.

(14 pt) Why is there so much poverty in Columbus’ inner city?

Rev. Reeves specifically inquired how the four mayoral candidates were going to bring “minority jobs” to the impoverished areas of the city.
Ginther began by touting the city’s “triple-A bond ratings” and proclaiming himself “a proud Democrat” who is “looking forward to nominating the first female President in Columbus.” He took credit for an initiative seeking to cut the infant mortality rate in half in the inner city.
Ragland questioned why there were not high-paying jobs on “the Hilltop, in Linden, on the east side outside these doors” and stressed that his administration would focus on jobs and education “inside 270.” Ragland received enthusiastic applause when he stated that we need “jobs for our folks” and promised to convene the faith-based community and push to hire ex-offenders.
Scott described a “legacy of neglect” in the inner city, citing 6,000 blighted homes, higher “infant mortality rates and 22 percent poverty. One-third can’t put food on the table and a roof over their head.” Scott noted that Columbus does “great at banking, insurance and educational systems” but it has not translated to jobs. He mentioned the disconnect between the creation of “twenty thousand new jobs, but the poverty rate is up locally.” Scott argued that the key to reducing poverty was “education, job skills and rebuilding infrastructure in the blighted neighborhoods.”
Boyd stressed a need for education and vocational training to match workers to the modern economy. “We need to train and retool” the population, Boyd said. He went further by saying we need “a community improvement district that would lower or eliminate taxes to allow people to create and own their own jobs.” He stressed that “we need entrepreneurs.”

(14 pt) On cops and black lives mattering

Highly visible black killings by police and Free Press reports showing that the Columbus Division of Police has recently rated as high as second in the nation in police shootings drove the next line of questioning.

(12 pt) Police body cameras

Wen ahenhen asked whether police should wear body cameras, all four candidates indicated their openness to the idea.
Ginther pointed out that there were both “privacy and public records issues” that had to be worked out regarding the cameras.
Scott emphasized that the next mayor would have to work with the unions on the issue. He claims that most policemen support the use of body cameras.
Ragland went so far as to suggest that if a police officer turned off his body camera during a shooting he should immediately be indicted and go to a jury trial.

(12 pt) Police and the community

All four agreed to the creation of civilian review board of the police.
Scott offered that there is a need to return to face-to-face relationships between police and youth in the community arguing that programs like the Police Athletic League (PAL) that existed 30 years ago worked to establish trust.
Boyd insisted that the “community wants minority officers hired” and that he is in favor of a community review board. He also argued that there’s a conflict of interest when the county prosecutor is allowed to seek the indictment of the police he works with every day. Boyd supports an “independent prosecutor.”
Ragland agreed with the need for more minorities hired as officers and further suggested that newly hired police be provided assistance in housing options so they could “live in the neighborhoods” they are hired to police. “I am supportive of a civilian police review board. I believe in best practices from around the country,” he said.
Ginther began by saying “I’m very proud of the Columbus Division of Police,” but conceded that policing “can be improved.” He was the most hesitant on the civilian review board issue, saying he would “consider it,” but only if “that’s what the public wants.”

(14 pt) Public access television

One of the most contentious issues was the return of public access cable television to the community. The City of Columbus spends an estimated $750,000 each year on its government access channel, GTC-3 or CTV but does not offer public access TV except for a rolling bulletin board. Critics like Jonathan Beard have called CTV “a propaganda station.” The channel frequently programs ribbon cuttings by the Mayor, Ginther, and Council members in regular programs.
However, under Ginther’s control, TV cameras are turned off during live Council meetings when non-agenda items are discussed by community speakers. Ginther told the forum that community television went away during the “recession” because city couldn’t afford to fund it. Assuming he is talking about the recession of 2008 he is mistaken, because the massive defunding of the public access organization happened in 2002.
Boyd argued that public access should exist to create transparency and educate people.
Ragland remarked, “Bring it back! The public deserves an opportunity to express themselves.”
Scott agreed: “It should be brought back,” he stated. He directly questioned Ginther’s claim that funding a public access organization would be too costly.

(14 pt) Other community concerns

In a blockbuster revelation, Boyd went public with the fact that Battelle, an institution directly linked to the intelligence community and the CIA, will be starting a high school on the Franklin University campus. Boyd said he favors STEM technology – science, technology, engineering and math. Ragland countered by adding an “A” to that curriculum for “arts” – making the acronym “STEAM.”
Ragland directly attacked Ginther by stating that he believed citizen’s groups should get a “fair shot” when they gather enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot. “There should be no opposition from the Mayor or the Council. Citizens should be allowed to vote,” he said.
Under the Coleman-Ginther administration, the city has resorted to a variety of tactics to keep citizen initiatives off the ballot. Perhaps most famously, one initiative was kept off the ballot because it was submitted to the City Auditor, as allowed under state law, claiming the charter requires it to be sent to the City Clerk. But then turned down the same initiative when submitted to the City Clerk, arguing it should have been turned in to the City Auditor according to state law.
One of the issues left out of the forum was a citizen’s initiative previously blocked by Ginther which would put Columbus in line with the other 50 largest cities in the U.S. by electing some Columbus Council members by districts or wards, instead of all seven elected at large. Both Ragland and Scott are on the record favoring a “blended system” that combines at large and district representation. Beard of the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government said that Boyd signed on as well. Ginther remains the lone holdout for an at-large system, easily dominated by big money.
The Columbus Dispatch recently made a big deal out of Boyd’s claim that the Columbus Partnership is pledging $2 million to Ginther. The Partnership’s President and CEO, Alex Fischer, said the organization was not contributing in the primary election. Boyd admitted his figure was speculation, but a few days later, Ginther’s campaign report from 2014 came in documenting that he had raised $1.25 million. Both Both Boyd and Ragland did not file because they had not raised any campaign funds. Scott came in with $194,000.
Ginther’s single largest contributor came from Mayor Michael Coleman’s campaign fund -- $100,000. Columbus’ only billionaire, the Limited’s CEO Les Wexner and his wife, donated $30,000. The Pizzuti family benefited from City Council’s $250,000 bailout of the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena as an investor. They rewarded Ginther with a $25,000 check. Another $25,000 check came from the Columbus Firefighters Union.

(14 pt) The public schools scandal

Finally, another significant issue ignored at the forum was Ginther’s and Boyd’s roles when they served on the Columbus School Board during the early stages of the school system’s data scandal. Boyd served as Board President in 2004 while Ginther served as Chairman of the controversial Audit Committee. During Ginther’s tenure, the Committee received two emails from whistleblowers warning of the illegal grade and attendance alterations – one directly warned of “data cleansing” under the “authority of CIO Steve Tankovich.”
Ginther told the Dispatch that he acted on the tips and instituted an internal audit. The public record reflects that the school Auditor Tina Abdella, who was leading the investigation into the scandal, was forced out under Ginther at the request of Superintendent Gene Harris, who recently pleaded no contest to dereliction of duty.
Whether the initiative for district representation or the School Board scandal will emerge to scuttle Ginther’s mayoral aspirations as the anointed one or not, Reverend Reeves has his own take: “The inner city’s still a mess.”