David Harewood

I’ve had four encounters with Columbus City Council President Shannon G. Hardin since the beginning of the summer.

The first three happened in early June: the executive committee of the Columbus Coalition for Rent Control, of which I’m a member, met with him and Councilmember Shayla D. Favor, Chair of the Housing, Public Health, and Criminal Justice committees on City Council. We had a meeting to discuss whether our petition and their “Housing For All” legislative package had any overlap.

The second was at the panel discussion and “Town Hall” event meant to introduce an educational campaign about said legislation.

After the “Town Hall” – a dog-and-pony show during which three people from the committee were allowed to pose questions to a panel of bureaucrats and an elected official who had nothing to do with the legislation – Council President Hardin asked me what I thought of the proposed legislation.

“It looks like a good framework,” I said, adding, “But – ”

“But it needs to have some teeth,” interjected Hardin. He followed that up by saying, “Thank you for everything you do. Keep holding us accountable – I mean it.”

Later that day I ran into him at a Kroger on the Near East Side. We mutually chuckled about the chance encounter. 

The Columbus Dispatch’s recent stories about the ongoing struggles the houseless continue to endure under this City government’s leadership are to be commended, as is their even-handed coverage of the conflicts that have arisen around the fate of FIRST Collective-operated Camp Shameless in the near east side.

One issue I have with the Dispatch is that our city officials are allowed to make blanket statements without proper factual correction. 

The Mayor’s Director of Development, Michael Stevens, for instance, asserts, “(Ginther’s) department has collaborated with FIRST Collective on possible solutions.”

It must be stated that these “collaborations” with Mayor Ginther mostly consisted of empty gestures of concern in private meetings followed by public threats against us and lies to justify them to the public. (The porta-johns and dumpsters at the edge of the camp have been funded by private donors, not the City as suggested in previous reports.)

Stevens feigned disappointment that we would “resort to political theater” is as disingenuous as it is a convenient sound byte for the moderate base in this city to promote more of the dehumanization and NIMBYism promoted in order to continue to build luxury high-rises and displace economically challenged individuals across the city.

This Sunday, Councilmember Favor offered protesters in front of her home conversation and water, if not direct solutions. Hardin, after a brief conversation with protestors that he “didn’t do business like this,” walked into his house and called the police. Klein, who wasn’t even home, let his neighbors do that for him.

Until yesterday, Hardin had remained mum on this issue. His decision to have protestors arrested rather than commit to a single demand or proposal is indicative of the endemic problems in the way this city operates.

While Favor’s office had been ostensibly involved in negotiations about how best to help the 14 residents at the camp, I mentioned in my last column for this publication that she’d put the onus on the initial eviction on the City Attorney’s office, with whom she’d been employed before being appointed to City Council.

Stevens’ characterization of the direct action at these city leaders’ homes is as “political theater” is as inane and intellectually insulting as it is insidious, though given the way this city tends to operate, unsurprising.

I imagine that the “political theater” of these actions strikes our political leaders as tasteless. But the tastelessness of the City employing a company with a name like the “Environmental Remediation Contractor,” sounding vaguely what George Orwell’s “1984’s Airstrip One” might create for Big Brother’s benefit, so to execute camp sweeps at a rate of upwards of $25,000 per sweep – which is more than any of the residents of those camps are able to earn per year – hardly represents the paragon of ethical operation, either. 

There’s another bit of “political theater” that, in a longer view, should offend Stevens more, except that he’s employed by officials who’ve benefited from the same: Hardin, whose mother was a key aide to long-time mayor Michael Coleman, was preceded in his presidency by Mr. Klein, who was preceded in that seat by Andrew Ginther – our Mayor.

It’s widely accepted the Mayor’s office is Hardin’s for the taking the moment that Mr. Ginther decides not to run for re-election. Mr. Hardin is after all widely known to be Mr. Coleman’s protege; he’s also known to have even better political instincts than his mentor.

That succession is hardly as entertaining as live streams or sound bytes from a bunch of activists staging protests; but while the incidents that Stevens characterizes as “political theater” could be deemed as an uncouth and inappropriate one-act, the state of our city government is closer to a Greek tragedy cycle.

The problem with Greek tragedies is that no one has had the attention span to pay attention to them for a few hundred years. People watch sketches on their TikToks every day. 

Hardin might acknowledge that any legislation his body poses has “teeth,” but ultimately he’s still beholden to the corrupt system that groomed him. Until he’s willing to fundamentally change that system, he’ll always be subject to it. He can never lead it into the transformation he knows it needs.

Without this “political theater,” Camp Shameless would be just another example of the collateral damage of the corporate-centric “Columbus Way” that governs this city.

With it, at least we have on record that the leader of City Council and the City Attorney – for whom, incidentally, the other member of Council targeted by this latest action was targeted – are more concerned with upholding the institutions that helped them to gain power rather than aid those most in need.  

Without this “political theater,” we can’t begin to hold any out-of-touch official accountable. With it, at least we can irritate them and the public enough to engage in a meaningful dialogue.