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January 02, 2009

Rothan, Farrell seek vacant Columbus City Council seats

Columbus--At least two gay and lesbian city residents are seeking appointments to vacant Columbus City Council seats.

The two vacancies occurred when Maryellen O’Shaughnessy was elected Franklin County Clerk of Courts and Governor Ted Strickland appointed Kevin Boyce as state treasurer.

United Way lobbyist Steve Farrell and Stonewall Columbus director Karla Rothan have applied for the two positions.

Council began taking applications in late December, and the remaining five council members will appoint the new members on January 12.

At press time, eight others besides Rothan and Farrell had applied.

Farrell was passed over for an appointment in 2007. That became contentious because, while city officials deny it, the council has for years used vacancy appointments to give voice to under-represented communities. Often the council has cited its commitment to diversity.

The body has also done “like for like” replacements when possible. But when openly lesbian councilor Mary Jo Hudson became Ohio insurance commissioner in early 2007, council broke with that tradition, naming Priscilla Tyson to the post.

Three moths later, Farrell was passed over in favor of Hearcel Craig. Many believe Farrell, who has a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University, was the most qualified applicant and had demonstrated that he had the backing to keep the seat in the next election.

The uproar caused LGBT Democrats to sit out the election that year in protest, and in some cases, to support Republican Bill Brownson, who is gay.

Both Tyson and Craig are still on council.

It is not yet clear how the identity dynamics will shape the current appointment.

However, the Columbus Dispatch is already saying that it could.

“Democrats will pick one of their own, and council members often have chosen someone to fill political and demographic slots,” wrote the paper.

“O’Shaughnessy is the only white woman on the council right now. Boyce’s seat has long been held by black men, including Mayor Michael B. Coleman, former state Sen. Ben Espy, and the first black candidate elected citywide, Dr. John H. Rosemond,” according to the Dispatch.

Rothan has directed Stonewall Columbus since March 2007, after years as one of its volunteer leaders.

Earlier, Rothan ran a rental business and handled public relations for the Central Ohio Area on Aging.

Rothan and Farrell are both Democrats.

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