Kayla Merchant Joins the Establishment

An outsider becomes an insider at the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office.

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
Kayla Merchant, spokesperson for Franklin County prosecutor Gary Tyack

The long journey culminated on Nov. 3. After years as an outsider pushing for change, Kayla Merchant had won a huge victory. “We did this, Franklin County. We took over the prosecutor’s office,” she wrote in an early morning Nov. 4 tweet celebrating Gary Tyack’s defeat of incumbent Ron O’Brien. Then Merchant called out several names often heard at protests over the past year. “This is for #henrygreen, #tyreking, #jaronthomas and so many more.” 

Merchant is a longtime progressive activist in Columbus. After getting involved in neighborhood activism on the South Side, she became a leader in the Yes We Can movement, which attempted to elect progressive candidates to the Columbus Board of Education, Columbus City Council and the Franklin County Democratic Party Central Committee. At first, her interests focused more broadly on building political power, but after a friend had an adverse experience with the criminal justice system, Merchant decided to focus on the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, the most powerful law enforcement agency in the county. She approached Tyack about helping out on his campaign, and the former appellate judge enlisted her to lead it, even though she’d never taken on such a high-profile assignment before. 

Now, Merchant is an insider at the prosecutor’s office. As Tyack’s chief spokesperson, she’s part of the bureaucracy that must communicate with a variety of constituencies and interest groups and wrestle with difficult decisions on whether to charge police officers in fatal shootings. That’s resulted in a quieter approach from Merchant (and fewer outspoken tweets). 

But she’s fine with the changes. “I like to be bridge-builder,” she says.