A few words after the election about what was really won
A couple of weeks ago this column confronted Mayor Ginther’s unopposed bid for reelection with a satirical platform designed to point out several longstanding issues in the city. I composed it because no one should run unopposed in a city with the number and range of issues Columbus has to resolve, even if that opposition is absurd.
This week’s column is the slightly edited text of a concession speech I gave in an online video as the results rolled in on Tuesday night.
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Thank you all for coming out today at the end of a long election day and casting your write-in votes for me as mayor of Columbus.
Some of you put in a lot of work since I wrote a satirical column fake-announcing my non-campaign a mere two and a half weeks ago. I saw many of you making memes and posting things. And it was my pleasure to engage my constituents, be they voters or not, on the issues I presented in that Columbus Alive column. Heady political fare, such as firing the entire school board and starting over from scratch, segregating the Short North from the rest of the city, requiring doctor notes for City Council members who skip out of meetings once the public starts talking, and an embargo on the planting of any more Mikey’s Late Night Slice pizza joints within a mile of downtown. (I like the pizza just fine, especially when I’m senseless, but come on, son. That’s a lot of the same pizza in the same 2-mile radius.)
In any event, I wish to deliver a heartfelt thank you to all of my supporters, the readers of Columbus Alive, the awesome activist community of all angles and levels of shade, and, of course, the citizens of Columbus. I was honored to have been held up by so many of you as an alternative to Mayor Ginther.
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I congratulate Mayor Ginther for an election won, if not hard fought, or frankly, fought at all. I certainly cannot congratulate my opponent for a race well run, since, as an unopposed candidate, he never left the starting gate.
The salary for a Columbus mayor hits somewhere around $180,000. Not gonna lie: That would have been a serious bump in pay for me. But anybody who runs for the money is not really a mayor, not a representative of the people, and while they may occasionally hit on something that helps their citizens, they are driven by other agendas. When you can be hired out by the highest bidder, you aren’t even a people’s representative. You’re a mercenary. So congratulations, Mercenary Ginther. Here is to another four years of special interests lobbying, tax abatements and the further rise of affordable housing costs.
Contrary to the wack campaign commercial the current administration put out this past week, it is not, in fact, easy to criticize a power system from the sidelines. It certainly isn’t easier than sitting back and cutting roll-over deals with billion dollar corporations over lunch. Criticizing makes you unpopular, gets you uninvited to things, makes little to no money and almost always operates in the minority sector of support. Because drama is bad for business, messy is bad for business, and Columbus ain’t but so big. So being a critic isn’t exactly a cakewalk. I imagine it is easily twice as hard as cutting ribbons on tax-abated properties for a living.
Finally, a word to those who feel as if a vote for me was a bad thing, a wasted thing or in some fashion a harmful thing. For those who saw all of this activity for write-in votes and poo-pooed people’s passion as some trifling affair with politics, I have this to say: The only throwaway vote is the one that is not cast.
If you think all of these votes and attention and the photos and social media sharing isn't opposition, then you are sorely mistaken. At the risk of sounding Orwellian, all of that activity is noticed. All of your votes are being counted. The question is: counted toward what? But be very clear: The city is aware of your vote. It is aware of where your vote went and where it did not. In a way, not voting for the mayor, whether it's for me or someone else or not at all, exposes certain math. The machine of the city is well aware of how many people are registered to vote, how many people showed up to use that vote, how many of those voters voted for someone or didn't. Votes do not disappear into the ether.
The only vote that doesn't count is the one that didn't happen.
We live in a time when your data — your priceless data, your very expensive and important data — is being shopped around to the highest bidder at all times, and that's just when you click on an ad for a pair of shoes. What do you think the value of your vote is in an election? I promise you it is extremely high. There is no waste when it comes to data.
This all started as a bit of satire in my weekly Columbus Alive column. I filed no paperwork, paid no registration fees, no lobbying, no kissing of babies, no backroom deals. I wrote 800 words, published them and moved on to the next thing. Y’all — people — did the rest. While this "campaign" may be a bit of a goof, for a brief window of time, many of us got engaged with our civic responsibilities in a refreshing and enlightening way after years of not caring. Some of us found other awesome candidates to support in the process. Some of us who have been disenfranchised found a reason to hit a button this year because of this effort. So while I was not technically running for mayor (because if I were running for real, you would definitely know) I was hoping to engage people beyond reading a column. I always hope that what I write will get someone to do just a little bit more than read and chuckle, to make a change in their corner of the city in order to improve their life or someone else’s life.
More, it is important that people see how little it takes to get in the game. Someone who really wants to step up and do the work of great change in this city can look at just this meager two-and-a-half-week non-campaign and note how the old ways of doing things have cracks in them. If I can generate some degree of notable engagement with zero dollars, time and public appearances — just running on a record of values (not even real ideas; values) — and an insistence that we can do better as a city, then imagine what a real campaign could do that opts out of playing by the same old playbook. Maybe you don’t have to capitulate or give in or change your tune or show your teeth or sell people out. Maybe you can enter a race, exercise genuine conviction and make a difference in someone’s life that isn’t your own, in some substantial way.
I am only able to say this to you now because I believe in people and people believe in me. It is a beautiful thing to have people believe in you as you are, not what you sell. It is a beautiful thing to have people support you for what you convince them they can do for themselves, not what they think you can do for them. It is a beautiful thing to be free and real and have that beauty reciprocated and held up as a communal value.
This wasn’t even a race I was looking for or trying to win, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we stepped up, as a community, and made a real statement. Six percent of votes coming in as write-ins (over 5,000 votes) is more than anyone can find on record against a Columbus mayor in the last 30 years, opposed or not. That’s a serious statement about how much faith people have in the system, and that’s an effort that was barely galvanized. We didn’t drill into what I got right or wrong. We focused on what we could all agree is a problem and we did something about it. We didn’t give the machine what it wanted today. I didn’t win this election, but I won part of my city back. It is a wonderful feeling to be supported across so many intersections and communities for saying right and just things.
The other side of the table can’t make that claim today. All they can claim is a job. Me? I get to claim a community. Thank you, Columbus.