The Other Columbus: When keeping Columbus politics real goes wrong

Scott Woods
City Hall

Social media is rarely a politician’s friend, which is why they usually leave the dirty work of maintaining such platforms to anonymous staffers. So long as the message is consistent and on brand, most politicians are oblivious to what’s being done in their name on the internet.

Apparently, no one sent that manual to the offices of Columbus lawmakers.

In a recent fit of Keeping It Real Gone Wrong, Mayor Ginther’s Senior Policy Adviser, Bryan Clark, came off of the top of the ropes, posting a pointed public Facebook rant in response to a Columbus Underground feature about the current efforts by grassroots political organization #RepYourBlock2020 to install loads of new representatives to the Central Committee of the Franklin County Democratic Party.

The group’s candidates have largely been recruited at the neighborhood level, with the hope of creating a fresh pipeline to service the vested interests of citizens where they live, while reclaiming despondent voters. Considering Columbus’ political penchant for insulation and City Council seat shuffling, it’s no wonder that someone from the mayor’s office might take issue with any effort to dismantle such control.  

Without getting in the weeds, I wanted to point out the way that Clark’s statement described grassroots efforts. He is concerned that voters might be misled by these candidates, using lots of unnecessary quotation marks in an attempt to discredit things that are exactly as he describes them. He puts quotes around “movement,” as if that isn’t exactly what this campaign is. He puts quotes on “boots on the ground” and “volunteers,” as if volunteers aren’t out knocking on doors. He name-checks organizations such as the Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America, Yes We Can and Morgan Harper. He name-checks Bernie Sanders, as if Sanders isn’t one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination. He charges Central Committee candidates with the crime of not having lived in Columbus long, as if they were some kind of anchor voter, which is an interesting charge for a city that actively seeks to absorb 10,000 new residents annually.

Clark’s is a particularly wild-eyed strain of criticism. The whole effort has the air of desperation and left me wondering where I had seen such energy before. And then it came to me: Republicans.

The Columbus political machine may have disenfranchised Republican candidates to the point that they don’t bother running for local offices of note anymore, but the things they value are still quite present in the mainstream Democratic agenda. The controlling Democratic bloc of Columbus is pro-police to the detriment of citizen safety, pro-big business, pro-gentrification, anti-education and has never seen a backroom deal it didn’t like. It ignores citizens unless they run for office, at which point the machine maneuvers to discredit them as zealots and anarchists who wish to — get this — amplify the democratic process with progressive issues. 

I’ve scarcely seen a better case for do or die on behalf of the status quo, which makes hit jobs like these from people like Clark, and in an earlier and since-deleted public Facebook post directed toward Yes We Can, City Council Chief of Staff Michael Brown, even more insidious.

Looking at the numbers, they don’t really need to resort to this kind of engagement. They could do what they always do — ignore people — and probably turn out OK. But they don’t just want voters to go a certain direction. They have a city to sell, and it’s harder to do that when people who live in it are making a bunch of noise about not being able to fully participate in the determination of its future.

Heaven forbid any new blood spill over the wall.