The List: Debating the Columbus Person of the Year for 2019

Andy Downing
Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther speaks during a press conference

Time magazine recently announced its most recent Person of the Year (take a deserved bow, Greta Thunberg). In that spirit, we’re taking a look at the people we’d highlight if a Columbus-centric version of the honor existed.

Maybe next year but probably not

Mayor Andrew Ginther

It’s a shame that the Coen Brothers already claimed “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” because the title would be a fitting choice for the Ginther biopic, should one ever be made (it won’t). Most recently, a Dispatch report on the gulf between the MLS stadium deals inked by Columbus and Austin included this line: “Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther would not agree to be interviewed about the disparities in the two agreements.” This follows the mayor walking away from a question about specific plans to address problems along Sullivant Ave., which he labeled a “top priority” following a Dispatch investigation. Frankly, even if awarded this honor, we have a hard time imagining that he’d actually show himself to receive it.

Les Wexner

The billionaire founder and CEO of L Brands is undeniably one of the most powerful residents in the city (it seems this website is one of the few things not named after him… for now). But Wexner’s still somewhat mysterious connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — a relationship thrust under the microscope this year, and which Columbus Monthly editor Dave Ghose explored in great detail — is absolutely disqualifying. In spite of the negative attention, the businessman remains an imposing enough figure locally that virtually no one with any power would discuss the Wexner-Epstein connection on-record with Ghose. (And you already know where Ginther landed in that exchange.)

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The runners-up

Zerqa Abid

We first met Abid reporting on Wedgewood Village on the West Side in 2018, and she has continued to impress with her doggedness, her dedication and her care for folks living in a part of the city that is often overlooked in the halls of power. It’s why she was named winner of Everyday Heroes earlier this year.

Rev. John Edgar

Like Abid, Edgar, a pastor and humanitarian, focuses his energy on an overlooked part of the city, serving as founding pastor of the Methodist Church for All People on the South Side for more than 15 years, in addition to his role as the executive director of the affiliated Community Development for All People.

Simone Biles

The Columbus-born Olympic gymnast is among the greatest champions ever produced by the city, winning an all-around World Artistic Gymnastics Championship for the fifth time in 2019, which can be added to a count of 30 combined Olympic and World Championship medals — good for third all-time.

Saeed Jones

The author and Kirkus Prize winner helped put Columbus on the map yet again (you can check, we’re there!) and has become one of the city’s biggest boosters on Twitter and elsewhere.

Maggie Smith

The poet, who has been writing about her divorce with uncommon candor, has become a self-help beacon for many with her daily Twitter affirmations.

The finalists

Nina West

Yes, Nina West tends to make these kinds of lists with jarring regularity. But it’s for good reason — particularly this year. In addition to raising massive sums for charity, West also appeared on the latest season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” finishing in sixth place and winning Miss Congeniality. More than a good-natured presence, though, West recounted being terrorized by college classmates due to her sexuality, reliving the experience onscreen with the type of candor that can open hearts and minds. That’s power.

Tom Spurgeon

We lost a legend with the November death of the writer and critic, whose relocation to Columbus helped cement the city as a comics destination. We’re going to keep it brief here, but stay tuned to read more on Spurgeon this Friday.

Hanif Abdurraqib

A celebrated author, diehard Timberwolves fan and sneaker fanatic, Columbus native Abdurraqib, an occasional contributor to Alive, is a longstanding local treasure. This despite having some questionable food takes (I’ll continue to rep for cucumbers both here and elsewhere). This year, he earned a National Book Award nod for Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, a critical essay and extended love letter to the pioneering hip-hop group, in addition to releasing his most recent poetry collection, A Fortune for Your Disaster. Throughout, Abdurraqib continued to pay it forward, donating nearly 100 supply-stuffed backpacks to students at underserved local schools and using his Twitter muscle to raise money and needed attention for myriad overlooked local causes.

The women who spoke up against Actual Brewing founder Fred Lee

In the course of reporting on allegations of sexual assault against Actual Brewing founder Fred Lee, eight women stepped up to speak on-record with Alive, describing unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault and harassment by Lee. Even in the #MeToo era, where these conversations have been given added weight and attention, the decision to speak out publicly was undoubtedly a difficult one. But it was also impactful (Actual has since been shuttered and liquidated), and remains deserving of admiration.

Visit us on Twitter, find our Columbus Person of the Year poll and vote for your top choice.