2014 Columbus Mayoral Race: Tomlinson vs. Baker -- again?

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comJune 13, 2013 

Almost a year and a half before the 2014 elections, former mayoral candidate Zeph Baker is giving "strong consideration" to again challenging Mayor Teresa Tomlinson for her office, he said Thursday.

For her part, Tomlinson has long said she wants to serve two terms, and nothing has changed those plans, she said Thursday.

Baker said he thinks Tomlinson has not managed the city well in her two-and-a-half years in office, that the city has gone from a strong financial position to a weak one under her leadership and that recent proposed cuts to public safety were the wrong way to try to save money.

"You see where three years ago our mayor spoke about how financially strong our city was, in response to the (Daily Beast) article about Columbus being the 'brokest city,'" Baker said. "Now just a year before elections, she's shown where we've gone from financially strong to being very weak, even to the point that we have threats of massive layoffs."

Baker also questioned the mayor's budget decisions concerning public safety, specifically how the 2009 Local Option Sales Tax funds have been used.

"That LOST was specifically to resource public safety and also a permanent tax to make sure we have infrastructure in place for future growth," he said. "It's disturbing to see that public safety is not resourced. They're asking not just to freeze hiring, but talking about losing personnel."

Tomlinson said she is proud of her accomplishments and intends to campaign on them. She said they include:

• Reforming problem departments at the Muscogee County Prison, the Columbus Civic Center and the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department by bringing in more professional leadership.

• Reducing copper theft by 47 percent by creating the Copper Theft Task Force.

• Dramatically reducing the number of animals euthanized and increasing the number adopted at the Animal Care and Control Department.

• Reforming the city's employee pension plan in a way that will save taxpayers $25 million over 15 years.

• Opening the city's first employee health care clinic, which she hopes will save taxpayers a million dollars a year.

"We've gotten some things straightened out with the budget, and we're going to continue to do that," Tomlinson said. "Once types of things such as getting Wade Street demolished, closing down the Majestic, sort of taking care of the fires that prevent you from moving forward are accomplished, then I think you've cleared the deck of your hurdles and you're able to move forward with some things we want to do, such as some serious reinvestment in blighted areas."

Tomlinson said millage abatements offered in Urban Service Districts should help attract private investors to the blighted areas.

Baker accused Tomlinson of governing with an eye toward re-election, which weakens her leadership, he said. Tomlinson said, far from operating her office in a re-election mode, she has and will continue to tackle tough issues. She points to her ongoing campaign to convince people to support her sunset plan to eliminate the property tax assessment freeze as proof of that.

"One thing I will never do is hide my hand. I'm a candid person, so there's no way I was going to run for a second term without making it very clear that (the sunset proposal) is one of the things we need to talk about," Tomlinson said. "And I think I have a valid solution for community discussion."

Baker, 36, is program director at Spirit Filled Ministries. A graduate of Carver High, he holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Columbus State University.

Tomlinson, 48, holds dual bachelor's degrees in government and economics from Sweet Briar College in Virginia and a law degree from Emory University. She was a partner at Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison and Norwood before taking a leave of absence to establish and run Midtown Inc., then run for mayor.

Tomlinson defeated Baker in a 2010 runoff 68-32 percent to become the city's first female mayor.

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