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Columbus City Council Races Enter Homestretch

In two weeks, Columbus voters will decide two separate races for city council. Eight candidates are vying for four full terms on council while two other candidates seek voter approval for a partial two-year term. In that race, appointed Democrat Priscilla Tyson is trying to hold off Republican challenger Heidi Samuel.

At a recent candidate forum nearly all council candidates identified jobs and safety as two of the top issues in their campaigns. The city of Columbus has a budget of more than $600,000,000. Most of it is spent on public safety. Candidate Heidi Samuel told a candidates forum at Corpus Chisti Catholic Church on Stewart Avenue that the police force is short-staffed by 400 officers. She says she'd earmark revenue from two specific sources to fund more police.

"I've pointed out a couple of funding streams, the estate tax being one and the E-M-S billing. I want those directly earmarked to public safety until we make up that shortage. So, again we have got to address the public safety issue now because if we don't those who can afford to go are going to move out leaving those most vulnerable to the conditions of poverty stuck here in the middle. Said Samuel.

Democrat Priscilla Tyson says the city's police ranks will rise to 1,900 officers by the end of this year. And she told the forum audience that safety is now the top priority at city hall.

"Columbus is the 15th largest city in this country and we are one of the safest cities in this country. We have continued to lower our crime rate year after year. There are many things that we are already doing. However there is one area, every Thursday, police officers meet and determine where there happens to be, where crime happens to be a problem from one week to the next and we re-allocate our officers to be able to go to those areas." Says Tyson.

Tyson and Samuel also outlined their differences on the question of jobs and economic development. Samuel says the city should pay more attention to existing small businesses in neighborhood commercial strips. She says safety, or lack of safety, plays a critical role in whether the businesses survive.

"When they're challenged with safety, with deterioration of corridors, with customers not feeling safe, we lose them." Says Samuel.

Tyson says the city should continue its policy of offering tax incentives when necessary either to preserve existing jobs or to attract new workers.

"I would help them by helping them to retain jobs by continuing to give them tax incentives to grow our economy." Says Tyson.

Priscilla Tyson was appointed to city council last spring to take a seat vacated when Mary Jo Hudson joined Governor Strickland's Cabinet. Tyson is currently head of the council's Parks and Recreation Committee. Samuel is the former president of Eastmoor Civic Association. The winner in this two-way race will serve the next two years on council.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.