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Gay man seeks Columbus council seat
Columbus--City council may appoint its second openly gay member when it fills a vacancy on April 9.
Council began accepting applications on March 26 to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Patsy Thomas, who is leaving to become a Franklin County Municipal Court judge. Among the applicants is Steven Farrell, the current director of public policy for the United Way of Central Ohio.
Thomas, ironically, was first appointed to council over Mary Jo Hudson in 2002 to fill the vacancy left when Jennette Bradley became Ohio’s treasurer. Hudson became the city’s first openly gay member of council two years later when she was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Richard Sensenbrenner.
Hudson was then elected to the seat in 2005, before being tapped by Governor Ted Strickland this year to head the Ohio Department of Insurance.
Columbus city council has traditionally tried to replace members of underserved constituencies with someone who fills the same demographic in order to honor the diversity of city government.
Priscilla Tyson, a heterosexual African-American, replaced Hudson, who is white.
Thomas is also African-American and not lesbian, but LGBT political activists hope council members will find Farrell appropriate to fill the LGBT vacancy left by Hudson.
Farrell, who moved to Columbus from Boston six years ago, has been politically active most of his life and holds a masters degree in public policy from Georgetown University. At age 16, he organized a campaign to oppose a nuclear power plant in Massachusetts.
Most recently, Farrell organized a citizens group in his German Village neighborhood to support 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. That group became the Midtown South for Progress neighborhood organization. He is a 2004 participant in Leadership Columbus.
Farrell also worked to raise money for Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy’s 2006 congressional campaign and worked on Hudson’s campaign. He is a Democratic Party precinct captain.
Farrell said Hudson has been giving him advice and assistance in his council bid.
He also said that if he gets appointed to council he will leave his United Way post in order to run for election to a full term in November.
Columbus City Council has seven members, all elected at large. Currently, all are Democrats.
Farrell also chairs the Franklin County Family and Children First Council’s Community Relations Committee and has developed and evaluted nearly $20 million in grant funded programming for the United Way. Prior to that, he managed an AmeriCorps program.
At press time, there were six applicants for the seat, but generally council gets about 20 to choose from. It is not known whether any other LGBT person will apply.
According to Farrell, the issues he wants to work on in council are dealing with nuisance vacant properties around the city and filling empty commercial strips. He also believes there are more ways the city can help the Columbus schools.
Farrell also has the backing of the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio, and his partner Chad Kessler.
If he is appointed, he would become the sixth openly gay or lesbian person currently on an Ohio city council, joining Joe Santiago in Cleveland, Nickie Antonio in Lakewood, Winifred Weizer in University Heights, Mark Tumeo in Cleveland Heights and Eve Sandberg in Oberlin. Other officeholders include Haskins mayor Kenneth Fallows and Dayton school board member Joe Lacey.