Michael Coleman, Mayor of Columbus, Ohio

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Michael B Coleman
Mayor of Columbus, Ohio
By Brian Baker

11 February, 2008: In January 2008 Michael B Coleman began his third four year term as mayor of Columbus, Ohio. The first African American to hold the post in the city, Coleman, a Democrat, won his November 2007 election campaign by an impressive 39 points margin over his Republican challenger Bill Todd. Mayor Coleman has been short-listed for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

All the council seats were also won by Democrats, continuing a trend in the city towards that party since Coleman first won in 1999. Previously, Republicans had enjoyed significant in Columbus.

Coleman, who is 53, fought a positive re-election campaign with a strong focus on the two issues which consistently rank highest with Columbus residents, public safety and education. His approach played well with voters across the city’s neighbourhoods and from all backgrounds.

Throughout his eight years at the helm he has balanced fiscal conservatism with innovation and preparing his city for future challenges. In his third term Mayor Coleman must continue to improve performance in key services despite budget pressures and also prepare Columbus for continued population growth.

“Conservative fiscal management is key to keeping Columbus moving forward,” he says. “Despite the impact of national and Ohio recessions, l have balanced eight consecutive budgets that have expanded our divisions of police and fire and protected essential neighborhood services.”

“Over the past eight years we have spent $61 million less than budgeted and that has helped us maintain our triple A Credit Rating from all rating agencies, the highest for America’s 25 biggest cities.”
Achieving that has been testing for several service areas and considerable efficiency improvements have been secured but he has always protected the public safety budget line which includes fire, police, consumer protection and communications technology support services
Michael Coleman says “ Columbus’ Dept of Public Safety was 63 per cent of city budget in 1999 and today it is 71 per cent. That investment is the most important job we do, keeping families and property safe from crimes, accidents and fires. I am proud of our Fire-fighters and Police Officers. Both divisions are nationally accredited and thanks to them we are one of America’s safest big cities.”

“Crime trends have continued to drop since 2000 because of innovative strategies to enhance policing and prevent crime like our Anti-gang Unit and Summer Strike Force.”

Like most mayors in US cities, Coleman must deal with parental concerns about education without having any control over the schools. He addressed this by creating an after-school program called Capital Kids which has won awards for its success in engaging with hard to reach children . He has utilised the city in -house resource by having staff acting as mentors for youngsters.

“ While l have no authority over schools, l believe that a mayor must be a practical partner with parents and teachers,” he says. “We have worked to reduce truancy . Our partnership is working and we’re getting results. Columbus City Schools has gone from academic emergency to continuous improvement with graduation rates up, test scores up and attendance at 93 per cent.”

Columbus is unusual for a mid west city in its fast population growth rate. It is likely to join the world’s burgeoning club of 1 million plus cities within a generation. Most recent estimates from the state government suggest an increase since the 2000 census of over 8 per cent with around 775,000 people now living there. The Greater Columbus area population exceeds 1.6 million.  

Michael Coleman has sought to influence the process through a range of overlapping initiatives. Many followed on from the recommendations of a team he established to specifically think through the 21st century growth issues.

“ We’ve created a series of policy directives to set the stage for fostering dynamic job growth and sustainable neighbourhoods. In many cases the toughest challenge will be funding the growth while protecting the quality of life in existing neighbourhoods.”

Partnering with private sector investors in delivering the infrastructure to new neighbourhoods is an important element as are a package of sustainable development incentives and initiatives. He launched Get Green Columbus in 2005 and there have been some encouraging early wins.

Strategic level policy is critical for green advance and Michael Coleman worked last year successfully to get the Central Ohio regions leaders agree and commit to a ten point plan called Central Ohio Green Pact.

Another innovation has been creating Greenview Estates, an award winning affordable inner-city neighbourhood re-development in partnership with private and not for profit investors and agencies which is intended to be an exemplar for new building in the city which includes green components in every dwelling.

Mayor Coleman introduced a 10 year Downtown Strategic Development Plan in 2002. Incentives for office and residential re-location and development have helped stimulate over $1 billion of private capital investment since then and there is a busy pipeline of schemes due for delivery in the next three years. In recent years Columbus has attracted over 3,000 new health care jobs to add to its strength in higher education, finance and insurance.

The city helped the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation buy the Lazarus Building, a recently closed department store, and partner with developer Georgetown Group to create a mixed use building with 1 million sq ft of office space which has secured a LEED gold certification from the US Green Building Council. It has added a further 1800 jobs to the downtown area and stimulated the development of a new River South residential district around it.

Although the downtown population has not grown as quickly as in some US cities it is now approaching 6,000 and over 4,000 new units will have been completed between 2000 and 2009. A linear riverside park is planned for completion by 2010 and Michael Coleman is leading an effort to re-introduce streetcars to promote connectivity between the different parts of the 2.2 sq mile downtown and to re-organise the streetscape to enhance attractiveness to pedestrians. The city has around 8,000 full-time employees and a combined revenue and capital budget of $1.5 billion a year.

Michael Coleman endorsed Barack Obama for the Democrat presidential nomination in 2007, re-igniting a conflict between prominent black mayors and legislative politicians in Ohio and Governor Ted Strickland and other leading state Democrats who are backing Hillary Clinton. Strickland has been suggested as a possible running mate for Clinton if she wins the nomination.

In 2005 Coleman was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for the gubernatorial contest but Strickland eventually secured it after several large donors and trades unions switched to him. It was six months before Coleman and his allies endorsed Strickland's eventually successful campaign.

The mayor was prominent at Obama's February 2008 rally in Columbus. He says " I believe Senator Obama stands ready to shake up the national system and unite Americans behind important goals."

Before becoming mayor Michael Coleman was with Ohio law practice Schottonstein, Zox & Dunn for 15 years. For the last 7 of these he was also a city council member. During his time at SZD Michael Coleman achieved another first, becoming the company’s first African American partner.

He joined the firm in 1984 after spending some time working for the Ohio Attorney General and later for one of the city council members. He had begun his career as a law intern for Jimmy Carter’s administration in 1978.

Educated at Toledo, Cincinnatti and Dayton Mr Coleman has been married to Frankie for 25 years and has 3 children

World Mayor 2023