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Farrell passed over for council seat
Angry LGBT donors may sit out the next city election
Columbus--City council will use their appointment power to ensure that some under-served constituencies will have seats, but it appears that the LGBT community is not one of them. That is the message heard by some members of the LGBT community as council passed over a highly qualified gay applicant on April 16.
Angered LGBT donors may withhold all support from current council members in the next election.
Columbus city council appointed Hearcel Craig over Steven Farrell, who is gay, to fill the seat vacated by Patsy Thomas when she left to become a Franklin County Municipal Court judge.
The council has for years cited its commitment to diversity when it has used appointments to vacant seats to give voice to under-represented communities. It has also done “like for like” replacements when possible.
Currently, however, council has abandoned that position. Two members--Craig and Priscilla Tyson--have been appointed since Mary Jo Hudson left in January to become director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.
Hudson was council’s first openly lesbian or gay member. Neither Craig nor Tyson, who replaced Hudson, are.
“No one group can lay claim to a council seat,” said council spokesperson John Ivanic. None of the council members would speak to the Gay People’s Chronicle about the appointment.
Columbus city council has seven at-large members. Currently all are Democrats. According to the city’s charter, Craig must stand for election in November. There are challenges from Republicans, so the ability to win election was arguably the most important factor in the council’s decision.
There were 18 applicants. Seven, including both Craig and Farrell, were finalists, interviewed by council.
“We never looked at it as a gay seat,” said Don Geiner, who is the president of the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio and a backer of Farrell. “We see Steve Farrell as the most qualified.”
Geiner and other LGBT Democratic activists held an April 3 event that produced $76,765 in pledges, according to Geiner, and about 50 committed volunteers toward a Farrell campaign.
“We only released $50,000” of this figure to the press, said Geiner. “We didn’t want to embarrass council by releasing the rest.”
Hudson spent $180,000 for her general election victory in 2005. She had been appointed to the seat the year before.
Geiner and Farrell believe the pledges will be there when Farrell runs his next campaign. He will not be able to challenge Craig in November’s general election because the filing deadline to run as a Democrat has passed.
“I’m a good Democrat, and I’m not running as anything other than a Democrat,” said Farrell. He also promised to continue to seek a council seat, but “There’s no way I can get on the ballot at this point unless someone is removed.”
Geiner said he considers this the beginning of Farrell’s campaign for the next general election in 2009, and said LGBT leaders will be meeting over the next few days to discuss strategy. This may include withholding monetary and volunteer support from all council members running this year.
“We’ll sit it out,” said Geiner.
However, “We would rather bring cash to the table to get the team elected,” said Geiner of the four seats up for election in 2007. “Steve Farrell had that cash.”
“At the very least,” said Geiner, “[the Stonewall Democrats] will be revisiting our endorsement process for this year.”
“Since we don’t have a voice, there will be no more fluff promises accepted,” said Geiner. “They tell us they respect diversity. Well, words are great, but if their actions are not worthy, there will be no endorsements.”
Geiner said some substantial LGBT contributors to council races have begun sending members voided checks in protest.
Geiner observed that council has been very committed to its “like for like” appointments and broadening the diversity of council when it wants to. The issue appears to be that they don’t consider LGBT people to be part of it, he said.
Geiner noted that council passed over Todd Porter, a reliable friend to the LGBT community, whom he said is also highly qualified for the post.
Hudson was first passed over for the council seat in 2002 when she applied for the vacancy left when Jennette Bradley became Ohio’s treasurer. Ironically, this seat was filled by Patsy Thomas, whom Farrell sought to replace. Both Bradley and Thomas are African-American women.
At the time, the LGBT community was told that most applicants go up at least twice before being appointed.
This time, neither Farrell nor Craig had ever been considered before, nor have either held an elective office.
Hudson was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Richard Sensenbrenner in 2004. Both are white.
When Hudson left, council appointed Tyson, who is African American and heterosexual. They filled the vacancy left by retiring council president Matt Habash with Andy Guinther. Both are white, non-gay men.
Craig, an African American who is not gay, did not mention the LGBT community in the diversity statement on his application, though he discussed Hispanic, Somali and other immigrant populations as needing representation.
Craig is currently the director of public relations with the Franklin County Clerk of Courts. He holds a masters degree in administration from Central Michigan University. He has been active in Democratic Party politics and civic organizations and is presently pursuing a divinity degree.
Farrell also holds a masters degree in public policy from Georgetown University.
Farrell is a lobbyist for the United Way and has been active in Democratic Party politics and civic organizations.
Both have experience developing programs and managing multi-million dollar budgets.
Farrell said he will continue to build his reputation with the local Democratic Party and seek a council seat again.
Geiner expressed further disappointment in the process council used to make the choice.
“There was no discussion as to why Hearcel Craig was the best candidate and why Steve Farrell wasn’t,” said Geiner.
“The Democrats are always telling the LGBT community if you want an appointment, send us a good applicant,” Geiner said. “We sent them a great applicant.”
The process was also challenged by Republicans alleging that the process violated open meeting laws because the nominees are interviewed by council behind closed doors. They called the most recent appointments of Guinther and Tyson into question.
So, right before Craig was appointed at the April 16 open council meeting, Guinther and Tyson resigned and were immediately re-appointed.
Ivanic said that situation had no bearing on the Craig appointment.
“The members believe they got the best candidate to serve all of Columbus,” Ivanic concluded.