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Mayor Andrew Ginther and challenger Joe Motil talk housing, policing ahead of election

Joe Motil (left) and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (right) are running against each other in the 2023 mayoral election.
Joe Motil (left) and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (right) are running against each other in the 2023 mayoral election.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther is facing former construction safety manager Joe Motil in the November general election for a four-year term as Columbus mayor and the two share many differing policy stances.

Ginther and Motil spoke on WOSU's "All Sides" ahead of their Election Day showdown on Tuesday about policing, housing and their vision for the city.

Motil hopes to unseat Ginther as the incumbent seeks a third term, after Motil's several previous unsuccessful runs for other different local and state offices going back to 1995.

"There are numerous, I would say, tens of thousands of people that are very upset with the way the mayor is running our city. The lack of leadership will continue to be beholden to developers and corporations and such. It's so obvious what's going on in our city and things aren't being addressed properly," Motil said.

The conversation on "All Sides" mostly focused on policing and housing policies.

Ginther said he views his biggest accomplishment as mayor as investing in neighborhoods, particularly Linden and the Hilltop. He said one thing he would have done differently as mayor is how the city responded to Black Lives Matter Protests in 2020, but thinks changes to the police department since then are better meeting the community's expectations.

"The reforms we put in place... I think are all ways that we are going to protect and serve everybody better in the future," Ginther said.

Ginther said that after the city was criticized for police response to protests in 2020, he wants to make sure policing practices move into the 21st century while still properly funding the department. He said there shouldn't be a choice between defunding the police to seek reform and keeping police fully funded.

'We can invest in our officers, continue to add officers and change and reform the division of police at the same time. And we have done that successfully," Ginther said.

Motil said he supports police and wants to fund more investments in youth programs to focus on reducing violence. Despite his support for police, Motil said he wants to hold police accountable when needed.

"I would hold the police department accountable, just as I am holding city officials accountable as well. And they know that," Motil said.

Motil also criticized the mayor for communicating through spokespeople, and proposed finding room in the city budget for anti-violence programs by cutting back on city spokespeople and having department heads directly address the press.

Both candidates were also asked about housing policies and tax abatements for developments as Columbus' population continues to rapidly grow.

Ginther said the city sees success in increasing affordable housing and density even while offering tax abatements for upper income households.

"We're going to grow by a third in the next 30 years. I learned a long time ago, people don't fear change, they fear loss. We need to embrace the growth that's coming and help develop it and build it around our values," Ginther said.

Motil said he wants to get rid of tax abatements for enterprise zones like logistics centers, but thinks the program is otherwise efficient to add affordable housing. He expressed disapproval at giving tax incentives to rich households.

"Nobody who owns a property (worth) 500, 600, 700, $800,000 or a $1 million home on Fair Avenue, or any of the condominiums on Spring Street ... they can afford to pay their fair share of property," Motil said.

Motil said he also wants to increase the hotel and motel tax rate to 25%, add a tax on empty homes and leverage Intel's investment in the area to get the company to help address affordable housing.

"We cannot tax abate our way out of an affordable housing crisis," Motil said.

The full audio of this episode of All Sides can be heard here.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.