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Columbus City Council Race Enters Last Days

As election day nears, Columbus City Council candidates are criss-crossing the city in search of votes. Four democratic incumbents, four challengers, and a write-in seek four seats on council. Much of the discussion and debate among candidates centers on jobs and crime.

During a recent forum at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Stewart Avenue on the city's near east side, incumbents cited statistics and city-funded crime fighting programs to help convince voters of their commitments to public safety. Council president Mike Mentel cited federal statistics to make his case.

"If you go to Department of Justice statistics, it shows the Columbus violent crime rate is down. Our homicide rate:down, our aggravated robbery rate:down. All of the violent crimes are down and those are facts." Says Mentel.

But, challengers Larry Thomas and Paul Bingle offer more personal arguments to make their case that crime remains a problem in Columbus despite efforts by the current city council to combat it.

"My next door neighbor, whose home was broken into the other night, couldn't care less about some statistic from a year or two ago. They are concerned, the perception is that crime is needing more attention than its getting." Says Bingle.

"All the statistics in the world that we bring up here ain't going to make you feel any safer. The crime is out of control. People have been in office a longtime and that issue has been ignored." Adds Larry Thomas

Challenger Jim O'Grady says he gets a street-level view of crime through direct contact with police officers.

"I've talked to the police officers because I work with them everyday. And one thing I hear from them continuously is we need more officers on the streets. A presence on the street helps deter crime. We want criminals to see the police out there so that they're not committing crimes." Says O'Grady.

Candidate Bill Brownson questions why crime-fighting programs targeted at specific neighborhoods are funded only during certain months of the year.

"If the strike force is such a great idea in the summer why is it not a twelve month program. If its a priority we need to find a way to make it just that, a priority, and fund it year round. And that's council's job. Council's job is to approve the spending of money and hold the administration accountable for results." Says Brownson.

Hearcel Craig is working to retain his seat on council after being appointed in April. He says he'll focus on public safety if elected to a full term.

"Its not a question of whether we're talking about whether or not its safe and those that might cite statistics. And we really know what they are. If anybody is hurt, thats a serious, its a serious issue." Says Craig.

Incumbents Charleta Tavares and Andrew Ginther suggest that more citizen involvment is key to making the city's neighborhoods safe.

"We have community liasion officers assigned to work specifically with neighborhood groups, through-out the city of Columbus to better communicate on issues and hotspots and trouble in different parts of the community. That has worked exceptionally well." Says Ginther. "There is always more to do and we can't lay the burden on our law enforcement officers alone. All of us have a responsibility as residents to work with each other, to be the eyes and ears of our neighborhood with our block watches." Says Tavares.

The eight-way race for four council seats will be decided next Tuesday by city voters. The top four vote-getters will win a new four year term.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News