Worst of Columbus 2020

Andy Downing, Joel Oliphint and Erica Thompson
Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther speaks during the 2020 State of the City address at West High School on Feb. 13.

Worst Politician: Mayor Andrew Ginther 

It would have been easy for us to select yet another one of Ohio’s Trump-enabling Republican sycophants this year (take a bow, Rob Portman), but it’s becoming tougher not to turn the spotlight on Columbus’ Democratic mayor, a man of such robust political courage that he’s never met a controversial issue he couldn’t address with an oatmeal-bland, heavily market-tested, ineffectual statement. In February, for example, when two protesters were dragged from the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Breakfast and arrested after interrupting the mayor's speech, Gintherwrote in part on Twitter, “The conversation should not focus on this single protest, but on the truth that unites us and our shared obligation to close the divide between communities of color and the police,” which is a lot of words that add up to nothing. (In the same Twitter thread, the mayor also expressed support for the right to protest, yet charges against the pair have not been dropped by the city.)

Beyond that, in the last year Ginther's supposed desire to hire a “change agent” to help reform the Columbus Division of Police proved to be yet another empty claim (see below), and he leads a city that has become overly fond of extending developers tax abatements that place further burden on an already suffering public school system (also see below). Then there’s the, um, creative math the mayor originally used when he informed the public about its investment in the Crew’s new, under-construction Downtown stadium. (Ginther initially said the city would commit only $50 million to construction, a figure thatDispatch reporting has now pegged at around $100 million; again, see below.)

Of Ginther, one Facebook critic wrote, “Mayor Ginther isn’t a person; he’s just three development corporations in a trench coat,” which is funny, of course, but also possibly true. —Andy Downing

The police chief search

For the first time ever, the city looked outside of the Columbus Division of Police to search for a new police chief. It wasn’t easy. The FOP and the city went to arbitration to change the job description allowing external candidates to apply. But after embattled former Chief Kim Jacobs retired, Mayor Ginther repeatedly said he wanted to hire a change agent. He touted the search advisory committee’s range of law enforcement and community leaders and the engagement of thousands of residents through public forums.

Nearly 40 people applied, and by the end of October 2019, the pool of applicants was narrowed to a group of five that included Interim Chief Thomas Quinlan. In November, only two candidates remained: Quinlan and Perry Tarrant, a former assistant chief for the Seattle Police Department. An insider and an outsider. An officer who joined Columbus police in 1989 and was in a position of power while the division came under fire for all manner of controversies, most recently the dissolution of a vice unit that was under investigation by the FBI. Or, a former assistant chief with experience working at police departments in two different states.

And whom did the city hire? The insider, of course. Joel Oliphint

Stonewall Columbus’ apology to the Black Pride 4 

In October, Stonewall Columbus finallyissued an apology to the Black Pride 4 protesters whoblocked the 2017 Pride parade to raise awareness “about the violence against and erasure of black and brown queer and trans people.” Stonewall acknowledged its failure to support the group and condemned the actions of Columbus police who forcefully arrested the protesters. The two-year time span between the parade and Stonewall’s apology is even more insulting when you consider all of the events that took place in that window: the resignation of Stonewall’s Pride and program coordinator; the retirementof its executive director; the conviction and sentencing of the Black Pride 4; thelaunch of “Community Pride as a counter to Stonewall Pride; the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were effective due in part to the work of activists of color; and therelease of a study that found a “significant disparity of use of force against minority residents” by CPD. So, when Kendall Denton, one of the Black Pride 4, declared, “Apology not accepted,” can you really blame him? Erica Thompson 

The Crew Stadium deal 

This isn’t a knock on the folks who launched the grassroots #SaveTheCrew movement and, against all odds, actually managed tosave the Crew. Butsports stadium deals are a universally bad investment for cities, and the more details that surface about the Crew’s new Downtown digs, the more it seems as if the populace was sold a bill of goods. While it wasinitially reported that Columbus City Council had approved $50 million toward the construction of the new Downtown stadium, theDispatch later pegged the amountsomewhere around $100 million. And that’sbefore records surfaced tying the Crew's land deal to Nationwide Arena, long a sore subject for many in Columbus.

Maybe the only good thing that can be said about the deal is that it didn’t also somehow involve Campus Partners, which would have tried to cram 37 Paneras and a blandly inoffensive Mexican chain eatery into the stadium's new mixed-use lower concourse.—AD

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Mike Davis

For years, Mike Davis was the smiley chief meteorologist for WBNS-TV (Channel 10). Then, in October, Davis’ significantly less smiley mug shot began circulating after he wasindicted on four felony accounts related to possession of child pornography. In late January, Davispleaded guilty to all four charges. According to theDispatch, “The Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received reports from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Aug. 26 that they had traced nearly 16,000 images of child pornography to a central Ohio email address. Detectives confirmed that the email account belonged to Davis.” 

It really doesn’t get much worse than that. —JO

Columbus City Schools’ lack of air conditioning 

According to Gov. Mike DeWine, Columbus schools may be closed for the rest of the year in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But returning to normal life in the fall also means some students in Columbus City Schools will continue to learn in classrooms that lack air conditioning. Though the school district pledged to install more A/C units as part of its five-year “Operation: Fix It” plan,13 schools were left off the list. Many argue that the issue could be fixed if funding were managed more efficiently, especially as money is being spent on board members’ travel expenses, and while tax abatements for developers continue to be approved. Adults argue on social media about the severity of the situation from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes and offices, but students are speaking up about their lived experiences. “Sweat runs down your face,” former Columbus Alternative High School senior Brandon Simmonstold WOSU last year. “It gets in your eyes. Your eyes start to burn and your skin is sticking to the desk. And it makes it very difficult to concentrate and focus on learning. … I can’t remember a year when someone hasn’t had some type of heat stroke and had to seek medical attention from an ambulance.” ET 

Short North Food Hall’s aborted dress code

For years now, the Short North has been a place where only a certain demographic could afford to live (replacing the Bollinger Tower senior housing development with a high-end hotel was probably the final blow). That context made Short North Food Hall’scontroversial dress code even more exasperating. Prohibiting items like baggy clothes, grills, “drug-related clothing” and raised hoodies was racially charged and discriminatory and did not bode well for a neighborhood alreadyassociated with racism. Though the restaurant’s parent company, Corso Ventures, eventually apologized and touted its “very diverse” group of employees, one has to wonder: If you have such a diverse staff, why didn’t anyone flag the clearly problematic dress code before it was posted?—ET

The Trolley Barn deal

It started out as good news. A developer planned to convert an abandoned, blighted-but-historic trolley barn near Franklin Park (1600 Oak St.) into a multi-use development that could benefit the surrounding neighborhood. But like so much new development in Columbus, eventually, there’s a catch. In this case, yet anothertax subsidy: A newly created Downtown redevelopment district will divert 70 percent of the Trolley Barn project’s property taxes, ostensibly to support some kind of farmer’s market. Last year,Alive columnistScott Woods did the math on this arrangement: “The city is taxing the development $80,000 a year toward schools for the first 15 years, but taking 70 percent of that money and funneling it back through a committee that gets to decide how to reinvest the $56,000 they just snatched. So schools end up with $24,000 per year from a development that, again, will generate millions of dollars.” It’s so disheartening to see a project with so much promise again excise the people and institutions that could most benefit from it. —JO

ComFest 2019

ComFest, the yearly “party with a purpose,” had a rocky 2019 by any standard. First, in the weeks leading up to the fest, organizers pulled two bands from the lineup, Weed Demon and Unchipped, stating thatthe move was made at the behest of its insurance provider and never providing further detail about how or why these two bands were circled for attention.

The decision somehow looked worse after a pair from fascist groupthe Proud Boys volunteered at the event, sporting red Proud Boy T-shirts and the controversy-courting organization’s trademark black and gold hats while working for a time amid the tie-dyed throng.

As with past controversies, such as a lingering (and since corrected) disconnect with the hip-hop community andissues with artist censorship, these more recent dust-ups reflect a need for organizers to adopt a more open-book approach with both the media and the community instead of holding closed-door committee meetings and withholding comment, an approach that tends to generate more questions and leaves a lingering stink. AD

The Les Wexner/Jeffrey Epstein connection

In agreat Columbus Monthly feature detailing the deep ties between L Brands founder and CEO Les Wexner and the late, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, writer (andMonthly editor) Dave Ghose detailed his struggles trying to get anyone of influence in the city to speak on record. Andthere’s a lot to unpack in the relationship between the two, which Wexner, who recently stepped down as CEO of L Brands, has obviously been less than keen to discuss himself.

The many, still-unanswered questions that have circled with increasing frequency since Epstein’s death — What did Wexner ever see in Epstein? How could he have so misread his character? What did he know about his crimes and when? — are nothing new, either.“It’s a weird relationship,” said a Wall Street worker familiar with Epstein in a 2002New York magazine profile. “It’s just not typical for someone of such enormous wealth (Wexner) to all of a sudden give his money to some guy most people have never heard of (Epstein).” AD

Demolition of black art

Two important pieces of black public art were destroyed within months of each other in 2019. The first included murals painted by Jeff Abraxas on the building at North Garfield and East Long in King-Lincoln. Devastated by the erasure of culture and history, many black artists visited the site, somesalvaging pieces from the rubble. Next came the demolition of a Downtown warehouse that featured a mural representation of Aminah Robinson’s “A Street Called Home” done by CCAD students. The demolition was intended to make way for a $20 million garage for State Auto, plans for whichmight not move forward now. Robinson’s painting depicts African American life on the city’s Near East Side. The parallel between the destruction of black art and the historic wreckage of black neighborhoods is not lost here. —ET

The Smart Columbus Linden LEAP shuttle

Last year, our Worst of Columbus included the sad self-driving shuttles that parked in front of the Veterans Memorial and Museum and uselessly looped around the Scioto Mile. Since then, the city tried another driverless shuttle funded by the SMART Columbus grant, this time in Linden — a neighborhood that could certainly benefit from better transportation options. Then, on Feb. 20, the Linden LEAP shuttlelurched to a stop unexpectedly, throwing rider Taquana Lawson to the floor. Soon after the incident, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration suspended passenger service for the LEAP and all other battery-powered EasyMile shuttles. A spokesman for the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents COTA bus drivers, succinctly summed up the whole thing in an emailed statement to theDispatch: “Columbus needs more mass transit with professional bus operators — not part-time attendants with joysticks.” —JO

The hostile architecture outside of the Alive offices

Maybe this isn’t on the same scale as some of the other things on this list, but when the owners of the surface lot next door toAlive’s Broad Street offices ripped the tops off two low, concrete walls last year and replaced them with concrete slabs inlaid with jagged flagstone to discourage the panhandlers who frequent the high-traffic area, it struck this writer as cruel. Things like this should make all of us pause and question the kind of city we want this to be: One that remains open and accessible to all? Or one that places added burden on those already struggling to stay afloat? Here in Columbus, the answer isn't always attractive, which is precisely what could be said of the new wall. AD