What the Columbus City Council candidates think
Columbus City Hall

How do some of the candidates for Columbus City Council stand on some of the most contentious issues in our city? The Columbus Free Press contacted all ten Columbus City Council candidates on the May 5, 2015 primary ballot and asked for their positions on three key issues of concern to our editorial board. Only half of the candidates responded.

  The three incumbent Democrats – Zack Klein, Melissa Mills and Jaiza Page – did not respond. State Representative Michael Stinziano was the only Democratic Party-endorsed candidate that sent in his answers. Of the three Republican-endorsed candidates – John Rush, Dimitrius Stanley, and Besmira Sharrah – only Rush responded to our questions. All three candidates who are not endorsed by the two major parties responded to our questionnaire: Will Petrik, Ibrahim Sow, and Kiwan Lawson. Petrik is endorsed by the Franklin County Green Party.

A ward system

  The first question the Free Press asked was: Where do you stand on incorporating a ward system into the Columbus City Council structure and do you support any ward representation?

  All seven City Council members are elected at large and none represent specific areas of the city. Critics of an at large system charge that while the downtown, German Village, Short North and Clintonville areas all receive city resources, other areas populated by poor and minority residents like South Linden, the South side, the Hilltop, Franklinton and Near East area are ignored and allowed to decay.
  Petrik was the only candidate supporting the addition of district representation to City Council.

  His answer was: “Among the 50 largest U.S. cites, Columbus is the only one with no district representation. I support a city council with a mix of at-large and district representation, with a majority elected from districts, so neighborhoods have more of a voice in the conversation about the future of Columbus and citizens have a clear representative to connect with and hold accountable.”
  Lawson, Stinziano and Sow favored “examining” the question. Lawson stated, “I believe we should examine incorporating a district-ward system so that all communities will have equal and equitable representation in City Hall. If the people are demanding that we should have a district-ward system, which uniquely benefits all of Columbus, it is our responsibility to see it through.” Stinziano wrote: “Unlike Chicago (which has a ward system), Columbus City Council works well. My mind is open about whether a ward system would improve life here.”
  Most major cities have a combination of an at large and ward system. While Chicago has a ward system and no at large, Detroit, that was forced into bankruptcy, has an all at large system like Columbus.

  Sow pledged to “…work to enhance and improve the system of Neighborhood Associations, broadening their responsibility and increasing their accountability.” He noted that, “I do support a continuing conversation regarding the implementation of a ward system to improve representation to the people at City Hall.”
  The only candidate rejecting consideration of a ward system was Rush. He stated, “We have a strong network of Area Commissions and Civic Associations. I would focus on strengthening these entities, empowering them with more authority in their respective communities. A city our size needs a City Council that understands its role of supporting neighborhoods from the bottom up not the top down.”

A Civilian Review Board of the Columbus police

  The Free Press reported that in 2012 Columbus had the second highest per capita police shootings in the country and those number remained comparatively high in 2013. Currently the Columbus Police Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) oversees police misconduct and excessive use of force. The Free Press asked the candidates: Do you favor a Civilian Review Board to oversee police misconduct and excessive use of force?

  Three candidates – Petrik, Lawson, and Rush – are for a Civilian Review Board of the police. Stinziano would consider its creation after community forums and Sow was opposed.

  Petrik stated, “We need to be more intentional about building trust between communities and the police and we need to make sure all of our neighborhoods are safe. I support establishing an independent civilian review board with subpoena authority to oversee police misconduct and excessive use of force.”
  Lawson, who has actively participated in drawing up a model Civilian Review Board, explained his view: “I believe Columbus elected officials should seriously examine the specifics and critically analyze the data of incorporating a community review board unique to Columbus. This community review board will serve as one method for the community to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct and excessive force.”
  Both Petrik and Lawson attended the April 15 press conference at City Council, when the model Civilian Review Board ordinance petition was certified by the Columbus City Clerk, kicking off the signature drive.

  Rush wrote: “Yes, I believe it is important to ensure we have structures of accountability and transparency. I would ensure we structure such a review board in a way that reflects our democratic ideals. We would work together to ensure it is structured, organized and empowered to be effective.”
  Stinziano said, “I support Council’s efforts engaging our community and the police in community forums and listening to residents’ concerns so we can assure superior police service in our community and decide whether they need or want a Civilian Review Board.” Anticipating a victory this fall, he declined to sign the Civilian Review Board petition, telling the Free Press “I’m going to have to vote on this on Council.”
  While Sow noted that, “Abuse of power will not be a trend in Columbus,” he wrote, “Should a complaint against the police come from a civilian, the case must be reviewed by both the County Prosecutor and state Office of Criminal Justice Services. Self-policing isn't oversight and internal review can widen the mistrust with the people.”


A Community Bill of Rights

  All five respondents endorsed the Columbus Community Bill of Rights. This is a current citizen charter amendment campaign that would establish clean air and water as a basic right and allows citizens to sue polluters that are violating these rights.
  As Sow put it, “Things such as clean air, water and the like are basic welfare guaranteed by the constitution.”

  Stinziano was equally direct: “I support 'The Columbus Community Bill of Rights' that establishes clean air and water as a basic right within our community and allows citizens to sue, when appropriate, polluters that are violating these rights.”
  Both Rush and Petrik echoed the strong support. Petrik wrote: “I support the Columbus Community Bill of Rights. I believe in our unalienable rights for pure water, clean air and safe soil in the City of Columbus. This initiative will give Columbus residents local control to protect our water, air and soil from toxic substances.”
  Rush explained, “I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of the 'The Columbus Community Bill of Rights' and believe we have a moral obligation to protect our environment. The political and the economic are always at the service of the social!”
  Lawson concurred as well, responding: “I believe we all must be held responsible for the activity, which persists in our communities.”

  At a candidate’s forum, all ten candidates attended to answer questions on other city-related topics. On the subject of workforce development, Rush repeatedly stressed a need for “social innovation and enterprise to employ people” such as former felons, the underemployed and the unemployed. Mills emphasized getting “to the root of the cause” of unemployment and poverty.
  Petrik stated that at the heart of poverty are low wages. He insisted that a $13 minimum wage would go a long way to eradicating underemployment, and is a much less expensive solution than social programs. Klein offered that poverty could be tackled through “a sense of partnership” among the city’s leading institutions.
  All of the candidates endorsed better public transportation and some were more explicit on the need for light rail. Stanley stated that creating a light rail system could “produce 300 jobs” and Lawson suggested that the rails might be elevated as people movers are in Detroit, Chicago and Disney World. Mills stressed safe biking initiatives.
  The issue that got the most audience applause was Petrik’s support for city-issued municipal IDs. These would benefit the immigrant and migrant community, so they can do business, set up bank accounts and verify their residency.
  The major issue Sharrah introduced was putting an end to human trafficking and Page mentioned her work as a city attorney enforcing codes in blighted neighborhoods.  
  Eight of the ten candidates will emerge from the May 5 primary but each voter may vote for up to four candidates at the polling booth. Voters can maximize their choice by not voting for all four, but targeting their vote on one person. Four candidates will earn seats on Council at the general election.

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