Worst of Columbus 2021

What goes up must come down

Alive staff
A still-uncorrected CPD social media post about the bus named Buttercup

Worst politician(s): The Republican slate running to replace Sen. Rob Portman

Sure, there are plenty of active politicians we could have chosen, but the slate of Republicans currently running to replace Portman feels uniquely deserving at this moment. This is particularly true of frontrunners Josh Mandel and J.D. Vance, who have been engaged in a months-long social media campaign to out-flank one another on the far right, their messaging focused almost entirely on enraging Twitter liberals rather than engaging with substantive policy issues. Mandel, for his part, has auditioned as a statue, repeatedly tweeted that “there are only two genders” and railed that “they” were “trying to destroy America” when it was announced that Superman’s teenage son would be depicted as bisexual in an upcoming comic book. Not to be outdone, Vance, the Hillbilly Elegy author turned venture capitalist and Peter Thiel-funded political candidate, has played footsie with fascism, dismissed Indigenous Peoples’ Day as “a fake holiday” and continually endorsed and celebrated vaccine and mask mandate deniers. In April, we took a stab at predicting how the online campaign would unfold between these two and, honestly, we might not have taken the satire far enough. If you’re asking yourself why this campaign matters, or why we’re taking the time to call it out, it’s because in our increasingly red state, whoever emerges from this will be the odds-on favorite to become the next senator from Ohio. This isn’t giving oxygen to political outliers; it’s calling out the shallowness and depravity of the frontrunners. -Andy Downing

The new Short North ‘live music mecca’

In September, Chris Corso’s One Hospitality opened new concept Standard Live, which took over the space previously occupied by the Short North Food Hall (and its controversial signage). This sister location of Standard Hall was “designed to embody the energy and entertainment stylings of Nashville, Tennessee,” though it seems the only part of Nashville that One Hospitality knows about is the kitschy Lower Broadway strip. So far Standard Live mostly features karaoke nights and cover bands, which is fine, I guess, if you’re looking for beer buckets, neon cocktails and radio jams. But the hospitality group told Columbus Underground it’s hoping that Standard Live, alongside neighbors like Skully’s, Fours on High, Bristol Republic and Goody Boy (?), will be a live music mecca. We’re, um, not holding our breath. (Adding insult to injury is the fact that Standard Hall’s building was once home to Little Brother’s, an actual live music mecca from the late ’90s into the mid-2000s.) For an area with far greater potential as a live music destination, check out the Old North strip that Ace of Cups, Spacebar and Dirty Dungarees call home. -Joel Oliphint  

The FirstEnergy bribery scandal

Seems bad?

Racial discrimination at Equitas Health

Earlier this month, Erica Thompson of the Columbus Dispatch reported on what former Equitas Health workers described as the “disrespectful, degrading and dehumanizing treatment” of Black employees, including one instance where a white supervisor is alleged to have relocated a Black employee’s desk to a closet as punishment. In the days following the blockbuster report, community organizers expressed solidarity with workers of color, and Equitas responded with a statement attributed to CEO Bill Hardy that read, in part, “Equitas Health acknowledges the impact white supremacy culture and structural racism has on the BIPOC community, members of historically minoritized communities in America and in the workplace.” The company also announced it would post a position for a chief people and culture officer, in addition to launching an independent investigation into its culture. These moves had little impact on the uproar, though, and on Oct. 16 Hardy resigned from his position, effective immediately. "We are at a juncture that requires both the board and senior leadership to take a deep and introspective look at where we are — and who we are — to ensure we have the right leaders in place to continue to fulfill our important mission," Sam Rinehart, chairman of the Equitas board of trustees, wrote in an internal email. Then, on Oct. 21, Equitas named a new interim CEO, Robert S. Copeland, writing in a press release that “the Board is confident Robert’s unique perspectives and trusted relationships will help Equitas Health navigate the current challenges.” -AD

Columbus police’s social media scare tactics over a bus named Buttercup

On June 1, 2020, the Columbus Division of Police posted on Facebook about a multicolored school bus that officers stopped “for obstruction of traffic.” “There was a suspicion of supplying riot equipment to rioters. Detectives followed up with a vehicle search today and found numerous items: bats, rocks, meat cleavers, axes, clubs and other projectiles.” But the situation proved to be far different from the Antifa bogeyman narrative implied by CPD. The modified bus (known as a “skoolie”) was home to hippies Reese Digati and her partner, who dabble in circus arts and nicknamed the bus Buttercup. The DIY RV served as a makeshift resource center and medic station during the 2020 racial justice protests. The hatchet was for the wood stove, the knives for cooking. The rocks were healing crystals. The clubs were for juggling. The incorrectly cited traffic violation was later dismissed, but CPD’s misleading social media post has had real-life consequences for Digati, who told Alive that people were “making comments about how they wanted to burn down the bus and hang the driver.” Yet the original CPD post remains untouched, closing with the words, “Charges are pending as the investigation continues.” -JO

The redistricting process

Twice Ohioans have voted in favor of legislators making the state’s redistricting process fair, transparent and politically impartial, yet the Republican-led legislature has all but brushed aside these concerns in working through the process this year, missing deadlines, plotting maps in secret and, finally, presenting new Ohio house and senate districts that might actually be more gerrymandered than their predecessors. Maybe a third statewide vote will be the charm? -AD

The new Ohio license plate

Let’s start with the most glaring error: The airplane flying the “birthplace of aviation” banner at the top of the design is traveling backwards. (Update: They flipped it.) Then there’s the lush wheat field (or is it amber waves of grain?), which might be pretty, we guess, but isn’t really representative of the state, which exports more soybeans, corn and hay than wheat. Then there’s the airplane passing over a cityscape, which graphically turns us into a flyover state, a designation at which folks here rightly bristle. Ohio: where graphic design is our passion. -AD

The CPD helicopter joyride

While the Columbus Division of Police has definitely done far worse in recent years, there’s just something so compellingly stupid about this instance, where a chopper pilot, apparently bored between duties, flew a pattern that spelled out “CPD” in the sky above a Southeast Columbus neighborhood. It was so unnecessary and wasteful and dumb, drawing unneeded attention to a department that has rightly earned its fair share of criticism with its actions of late. The "joyride," as it was described on Twitter at the time by Columbus City Council president pro tempore Elizabeth Brown, left the councilmember “beyond frustrated” in light of a bill she had proposed in 2020 to decrease the size of the city's five-helicopter fleet by one. (The measure was eventually tabled after CPD argued all of the helicopters were essential, which officers absolutely proved with their actions here.) -AD

Columbus’ growing restaurant graveyard

The list of restaurants shuttered by the ongoing challenges of operating amid the coronavirus pandemic is long and growing: G. Michael’s Bistro, Ambrose & Eve, Cosecha Cocina, Blunch, Plantain Cafe, M at Miranova and on and on. Catie Randazzo, who co-founded Ambrose & Eve with Matthew Heaggans, said some of the restaurant's struggles preceded COVID, but the arrival of the virus “changed the ballgame,” particularly in light of the eatery’s familial approach that centered around communal dining. Indeed, even the restaurants currently being hailed as success stories, such as the New York Times-lauded Chapman’s Eat Market, have struggled immensely with the economics of this era, where the notoriously thin profit margins upon which restaurants have traditionally been built are being obliterated by rising product costs and a long-overdue wage reckoning. BJ Lieberman of Chapman’s said the restaurant lost $100,000 during the six months it operated in 2020. For that reason, the city’s chefs and restaurateurs have talked about this as a pivotal moment in dining, one in which consumers need to be better educated about the industry’s challenges and how to best navigate them (expect higher menu prices, for one). The alternative, which is already beginning to unfold, looks far uglier for the city’s food scene. -AD

The Columbus ties to the Capitol riots

It’s probably no surprise that in a city this size, the Jan. 6 Capitol building insurrection in Washington, D.C., would have included some Columbus citizens. Still, to see reports of indictments against Central Ohio folks is, well, the worst. One thing locals might not have expected, however, was for a board member of the Ohio Arts Council to later speak out in favor of the insurrection, which is precisely what Susan Allan Block of Toledo did on Facebook. “No Peace! No Unity! No Concession! No legitimacy to a stolen election!" Block wrote in a post in which she also called Vice President Kamala Harris “a whore.” Block later resigned from her post. -JO

Gov. Mike DeWine’s pandemic “pass”

There was a brief moment early in the pandemic when Gov. Mike DeWine, following the counsel of Dr. Amy Acton, then the director of the Ohio Department of Health, appeared as though he might follow the science and show other Republican governors how to lead in the midst of a pandemic. And then Open Ohio protesters started banging on the door of the Statehouse like zombies in a George A. Romero film and everything changed. Soon, Acton was gone, and DeWine was acting powerless in the face of a Republican legislature that voted to put limits on his coronavirus powers. So what were we left with? DeWine calling press conferences to feebly state his belief that students should wear masks when returning to school, couched in the admission that he wouldn’t be taking any steps to mandate such. The buck stops… somewhere, we guess. Likely with the anti-masker banging on the Statehouse door and screaming about how Fauci is magnetizing everyone via the vaccine. -AD