|Mayor Andrew Ginther
He oversees a city of almost a million population and he is always excited about the job when he wakes up in morning and it remains in his mind before going to bed at night. With a phone call, an assurance and the interview was scheduled. Wednesday, September 13, the New Americans’ “crew” of Deba Uwadiae and Tatjana Bozhinovski met with the number one person of the City of Columbus, Mayor Andrew Ginther, going through several issues that make the City the beautiful bride of the Midwest.
I was born and raised here in Columbus, making me a minority. Over half of the people living here were not born here. This makes our city so well situated to live up to our mantra of being smart and open. We want to welcome the best and the smartest from around the region, the state, the country and the world. I think the fact that the majority of the people that live here weren’t born here gives us a sense of a growing, dynamic city that is on the move and that is becoming more and more international by the day. We just came from Toronto recently, and when you think of where Toronto was in the last 20 or 30years of being a sleepy Canadian town to the fourth largest city in the North America; you couldn’t walk down the street of Toronto without hearing so many different languages. It is truly an international city with incredible culture and arts and food. But truly, thinking about putting Columbus on the map internationally as a great international city is an exciting thing. Think about how quickly we’re going to grow here as a city over the next 15 to 20 years and certainly over the next 30 years. And new Americans have been such an important part of our past and present and our future.
I graduated from Whetstone High School, went to Earlham College, played for the Fighting Quakers. Served on the Franklin County school board for six years, Council for eight and my last four as President. When Mayor Mike Coleman decided to retire, I ran to succeed him in 2015. But I now have the best job in the best city. It is a phenomenon job.
Columbus is evolving and we are progressing. I think we are a very welcoming city. I talked to a lot of people, I am not trying to be disparaging, they’ve been to second and third cities before coming here, they weren’t welcome in some other places and weren’t included in the community in the way we are in Columbus. Let’s be honest, commerce has changed greatly over the last 30 or 40 years. Change is hard. But what makes us so dynamic and such an exciting place to be is that we are embracing change and we are shaping change as we move forward. Change is never easy. There are a lot of people in Columbus who want us to go back to being that calm town of 250,000 people that it was in the 1950s. But now we are a town of nearly a million and we are going to grow and potentially double in the next 30years, the 14th largest city in the country. We are not going back, folks are getting more and more comfortable with our diversity every day.
Transportation is such an incredible part of the Smart Columbus project. I view mobility as the great equalizer in the 21st century. Regardless where you stay in the city, if you have access to good paying job, affordable and high quality child care for your children; access to fresh food and vegetables, having unlimited access to these things, that is when we will really overcome some of the social determinants of health and wellbeing and poverty that are holding people back. Maybe because of where they live or the challenges they face. So Smart Columbus is all about opening up a lot of opportunities to people regardless of where they live in the community. I believe the greatest challenge or challenges of the 21st century is how to use innovation and technology to help people improve their own lives. That is what Smart Columbus is all about. The foundation of it is based on integrating data exchange, so that we can make better use of the mode of transportation that are available today and also planning for the future so that we have probably a dozen places around the city that already have dramatic free-congested traffic.
If we are going to potentially double our size in the next 30years that will be all of central Ohio, and unless we are smart about different modes of transportation. The great part in our Smart Columbus is that it doesn’t put all our eggs in one basket. It is simply a bus or a train or street car, all of the above platform so that we can use everything from autonomous vehicles, autonomous shuttles, and plug it in with our rapid transit system, particularly in Linden to job centers in Easton and Polaris and other places around the community so that we can make sure we are getting people to jobs, opportunities, education, childcare for their kids regardless of where they live.
I am going to Atlanta, Georgia, to talk about Smart Columbus to their regional planning commission. It is a great opportunity. We are going to be the first Smart City intelligent transport system in a big city in the country and also because we are laboratory. We are using best practices to share with other great cities around the country which is exciting and dynamic, especially when you have great partners like American Electric Power, The Ohio State University, Nationwide, Huntington and all others working with us to make this happen. It is pretty exciting.
Superintendent Daniel Good has been an outstanding Superintendent. I think he has helped restored confidence in Columbus City Schools. I think he has really lived up to our community mantra by being smart and open with the expansions that he has made around new Americans and their families that are settling and including and representing the growing diversity of this community. He has been an outstanding Superintendent and a great partner of the City. I worked very closely with him on expanding high quality and improved kindergarten. My vision is to have universal high quality pre-K throughout the City. The school district has been a partner and champion and working with us on that. It has increased by third the number of pre-school openings and opportunities. We opened the Linden pre-K Center. We kicked off with Hilltop. We want to double the number of young people they enrolled with high quality by 2020. Dan has been a very great partner in that work.
I know that folks are always going to agree about contract, negotiations and so forth.
I have a great confidence in our teachers. I have the best teachers of my life in Columbus City schools. They are fantastic teachers. I respect what they do and I value what they do. I know the Board of Education was elected by the voters. I trust their choices. Hope they can continue to move forward and support the teachers and the kids that need to be our top priorities in the community so that they can be successful.
I am blessed with an outstanding Director of Education, Rhonda Johnson. She’s been the President of the Columbus Education Association for at least a decade or two and classroom before that. She is very close to the Board of Education and the Superintendent. We don’t have any control over them. I view my job as being Partner-In-Chief to the Superintendent and to the School District. What can we as a city do to invest in and support things outside the traditional school day? So I think the after school program. We dramatically increased our funding for after school program. The Recreation and Park Department is the largest sponsor of the Summer Meal Project in the State of Ohio. We opened up our Rec centers not just for scheduled camps but places where kids can get access to good nutrition meals. The summer time was also a safe place to play, to congregate and get together. I believe that our goal is to do everything we can. I mentored a young woman last high school session. I didn’t know two weeks to graduation whether she was going to graduate. But because of the amazing teachers, Mrs. Chamberlain in particular, one of the administrators of Whetstone High School, she graduated and she is now enrolled in Columbus State Community College. Not any one person can do everything but all of us can do something. Whether it is by mentoring young people, reading buddies, getting directly involved, working in ESL (English as a Second Language) with our young people in the district. We all have a role to play.
From the bottom-line perspective for us, income tax revenue drives our city. With tax and policy changes at the state and federal levels nearly 80percent of our revenue for our general funds for cost of our fire fighters, public health workers, public service staff, all those folks get paid by income tax revenue. Nearly 80percent of that comes from the people working in different paying jobs. For our economic development in the near term and long term it is going to be in the IOT – Internet of Things and that is going to be our future economic growth and development. I think we can get a lot of international investments into Columbus because we are stable, strong, great American city where it is much more cost efficient to do business. Much more stable environment than sometimes on the coast and in the south. I’ve met with folks from all over the world trying to encourage them to invest and do business here in Columbus. I think there is a real opportunity especially as we continue to progress and evolve around and be more open. More and more international companies are coming to Columbus which I think will help us create jobs as well.
My relationship with the Divisional Police has never been stronger. We have the best Chief of Police, Kimberley Jacobs, in the country and the best divisional police in the country. It is by making yourself transparent, accountable and responsive to the community. That is why I have such regard for the use of body cameras making sure we continue training our officers. We understand that all of us have bias. This is the way we were raised and grew up with, but it is how to deal with that, how to manage that, to do our jobs effectively in a diverse and interactive growing city. Having more diversity inclusion officers, specifically assigned to work with different parts of the community, has been an important issue. I think the safety forces, both police and fire service should reflect the beautiful diversity of this community. How can we figure out new innovative way to get more diversity into the police and fire service? Part of that is that we now have for the first time in our city, a Chief Diversity Officer. The challenges are not just from our workforce diversity side but supplier diversity. We’re making sure not only our workforce is better and represent the diversity of the community but also making sure that small business owners have a fair shot in doing business and providing services in the community. That is a part of the larger goal of becoming the America’s opportunity city, giving all Americans equal opportunities. My vision is we have the largest middle class of any city or size in the country than anywhere else. The economy is working very well for about two third of people that live here. A third of our neighbors has been totally left out of the success story in Columbus. That is inconsistent with our core values and our vision. We can grow the prosperity and make sure that prosperity is shared by families and neighborhoods throughout our city. That is the most important thing a local government or a city government does. That is our top priority. We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to provide outstanding safety services to people throughout our community – diversity inclusion, innovation, using technology in different ways, making sure we are being transparent, accountable and responsive.
I don’t think I will ever have a better job. I absolutely love this job. I get up in the morning excited about going to work. I think about it going to bed at night. I’m thrilled and excited that my wife, Shannon, has stepped up and really taken the Women Commission to an incredibly high profile, influential work, family stability and financial empowerment for women, pay equity, and all that are part of American opportunity city vision because 78 percent of the minimum wage earners in this community are women. So regarding family stability, neighborhood success and strength that is what we have to be tackling – everything from addiction and homelessness that are plaguing women and children and families in this community are such important part of our mission and focus.