Coleman and Todd – 2 Very Different Views of City

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This year will be the first time Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman will seek re-election and have an opponent. Coleman and G-O-P opponent Bill Todd meet for their mayoral date today.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman was elected in 1999. Four years later he won an uncontested race. This November will be the first time Coleman will have an opponent,Republican Bill Todd,54.

Todd, who has lived and worked in Columbus for about 30 years, says his college-age sons inspired him to run for mayor. He says he wants to create a community they’ll want to return to after they graduate. But Todd says that is not likely to happen if Coleman stays in office. He says the Coleman administration runs from “pillar to post.”

“Whether it’s downtown development or neighborhood development there doesn’t seem to be a set of goals and benchmarks that you want to achieve as you’re moving forward to get to a desired result.” Says Todd.

Todd adds the mayor’s projects are not conducive to a successful neighborhood. “That’s something that I’d like to bring to city hall is sort of that rigorous business oriented planning process that every good business goes through and government here has seem to lost its way on.”

Coleman claims many successful projects since he took office in 1999: a new police academy; various crime projects like the summer strike forces and anti-gang initiatives; as well as neighborhood redevelopment like the King-Lincoln district and Old Town East. His most recent endeavor is the taking over of the failing City Center Mall. But Coleman says his efforts are moving Columbus toward its bicentennial and what he says will be the first year of the city’s renaissance.

“We need to focus on recreation and parks. That means we need to focus on fighting crime and making our neighborhoods safer. That means we need to continue to increase the number of jobs in our community and expand business opportunity so people can work. That means that we have to make our neighborhoods stronger in any way we can, and utilize every strategy we can.” Says Coleman.

Public safety is a theme in both candidates’ campaigns. And both candidates are selective in their choice of crime statistics. Coleman points out that the F-B-I’s most recent crime statistics show overall violent crimes and property crimes are down in Columbus. But Todd highlights that rape increased 13 percent in 2006, and there were 20 percent more arsons. Todd says the number of new police officers does not reflect the city’s growth in both area and population.

“I think we have to look at it as a multi-factorial problem. I mean it’s not just a matter of putting more policemen and firemen on the street. We have to do that and I don’t think we need a commission or task force to do that. We need an effective safety director charged with an adequate recruiting budget and the responsibility of getting those people in the door.” Says Todd.

Columbus is set to lose about 400 police officers over the next four years due to retirement. And Todd criticizes Coleman for not bring prepared to accommodate the expected loss. But Coleman says there has been planning. He says the city expects to hire more than 100 officers this year. And Coleman adds the public safety budget has increased since he entered office.

“When I took over as mayor in 1999 the total budget for police, fire and safety was about 60 percent. It is now 71 percent. So, frankly, we have increased the budget.” Says Coleman. Another issue on many minds is education. Even though the mayor has no power over the schools, Bill Todd has made it his number one issue. Last month, Todd filed a lawsuit on behalf of five Columbus residents against Columbus City Schools and the Ohio Department of Education. He says the state and local systems have allowed huge disparities in per pupil spending. Todd says if he’s elected mayor he will let voters decide whether the city should take over Columbus City Schools.

“Is that the right solution for Columbus? I think it’s one that needs to be looked at very thoroughly. And I do think that voters should have a right to look at the issue and make that decision as to whether it’s the right system for the 21st century. Just because we’ve done something since the 19th century doesn’t mean we should do it today.” Says Todd.

But Coleman disagrees with Todd’s take over idea. Coleman says a practical partnership between the city and the school system is the way to go.

“Partnerships when they work, let’s keep the partnership working. And mayoral takeover and I’ve seen some of them that work and some of them that have failed, mayoral takeover without a plan, without discussing what you do once you take over, frankly, is a political gimmick.” Says Coleman.

Mandie Trimble, WOSU News .

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