Democratic, Republican Columbus Mayoral Candidates Debate

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Former Columbus police sergeant Earl Smith (left) is challenging long-time incumbent Democrat Michael Coleman.(Photo: Smith and Coleman Web sites)
Former Columbus police sergeant Earl Smith (left) is challenging long-time incumbent Democrat Michael Coleman.(Photo: Smith and Coleman Web sites)

The two main candidates for Columbus mayor debated again Thursday. The debate was mostly polite but the candidates parted ways on several key issues.


The two candidates were cordial; Mayor Michael Coleman, the Democratic incumbent stood alongside challenger Earl Smith, a Republican and former Columbus police sergeant.  For about an hour, they fielded questions about the arena deal, jobs, crime, and living downtown.


Coleman, the polished politician, took the questioning in stride assuring his audience that public ownership of Nationwide Arena was the right way to go.  He said the pending deal would preserve 10,000 jobs downtown and prevent the potential for a huge vacancy.


“I have seen big vacant buildings downtown, and one of them was City Center, another one was Lazarus,” Coleman said. “And to imagine, years from now, that the arena would be one of those, this community would be asking us, ‘You had a chance to fix that; why didn’t you?’”


Earl Smith responded that the arena deal was against the will of the people. He said the purchase would be morally reprehensible while Columbus neighborhoods, he said, were falling to pieces.


“Five times voters in Columbus said, ‘Do not take our tax money and spend it on the arena.’  It is utterly undemocratic and I think, frankly, unethical,” Smith said.


When asked about laws regulating guns, Smith shifted the subject.  He said officers who should be out patrolling neighborhoods are instead filling in for civilian staff.


“Across the board they have indicated to me that they are short staffed and worse than that we’re taking our civilian employees out so now police officers are doing clerical work,” Smith said. “The people that are sworn to do law enforcement, the people that you need in your neighborhoods that you need in the investigative units are literally clerking.”


Coleman pointed out that several hundred more police officers have been added to the ranks and that 70 percent of every tax dollar is spent for public safety.  He said that since 2008, 10,000 guns had been removed from the streets of Columbus.  He said that while the population has increased the crime rate in Columbus has declined.  And he reiterated his stance on concealed weapons.


“I do not support concealed weapons in bars,” Coleman said.  “I do not support concealed weapons in our green spaces, in our parks.  And the same people who passed these concealed weapons laws that allow guns – concealed weapons – in bars and restaurants, and in parks where our children play they don’t allow those guns in their own state legislature.”


Smith would not say where he stands on the guns in bars issue, only that he’s open to discussion of the matter.


“Criminals have never hesitated to carry weapons.  That’s why we call them criminals.  They do not follow societal rules, regardless of whether it’s a bar, a park,” Smith said.


The two candidates did show solidarity when asked about how they’d vote on State Issue Two, the referendum on the collective bargaining law.  Both said they would vote “No.”