Mayor Michael Coleman: Leading Columbus into the 21st Century; the First African-American Mayor in the Ohio City Is Turning Things Around

By Foston, Nikitta | Ebony, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Mayor Michael Coleman: Leading Columbus into the 21st Century; the First African-American Mayor in the Ohio City Is Turning Things Around


Foston, Nikitta, Ebony


TWO words by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall changed the direction of Mayor Michael Coleman s life. The first African-American mayor of Columbus, Ohio, and the city's first Democratic mayor in more than 30 years, was still in college when he met the late Supreme Court Justice, whom he proudly told that he was planning to earn a law degree.

"So what?" asked Justice Marshall. "What are you going to do with it?"

At that point, Coleman realized that the true measure of life is not determined by who or what you are, but rather by what you do to help other people. Now, as the mayor of the nation's 15th largest city and what some call "the No. 1 place for Black families," Coleman is bringing unprecedented growth, power and respect to Columbus.

With more than 1.4 million people, of whom 25 percent are Black, Columbus is ranked as the second hottest job market in the nation. It is the city with the seventh highest rate of entrepreneurial growth in the nation, the fourth best college town in the nation and the 19th most affordable place to buy a home.

Columbus, boasting a lower unemployment rate than the state or the nation, is moving ahead and breaking records, with Mayor Coleman poised confidently at the helm. But how did the city become one of the nation's most talked-about areas, seemingly overnight?

"By focusing on `quality of life' issues and addressing them head-on," says Coleman, a 48-year-old married father of three who took office on January 1, 2000. "Issues like housing, great neighborhoods, education, home ownership, job creation, the cost of living and health care are our focal points.

"We are focused on rebuilding the inner-city and making our neighborhoods great because our neighborhoods are our lifeblood," he continues. "It's where we live, where we sleep, where we raise our children, where we are educated, and oftentimes, where we work. I have a multidimensional strategy to lift up this city, and it involves all these things. I have a road map, and hopefully I'm inspiring others to walk that same path."

Coleman indeed has been inspirational, but getting to the point of shaping Columbus to reflect his vision hasn't come without difficulty and some twists and turns that weren't on his road map. In October 2001, during the height of his political ascension as mayor, an accidental fire reduced his home to rubble. Although his wife and children escaped unharmed, it was a period of challenge that the mayor will not soon forget. "We lost almost everything we own," he says. "It was a challenge to me both personally and professionally. While leading a city in the aggressive manner that I've tried to lead, I was without anything. But the citizens of Columbus helped me and my family through that. They came to our aid, comfort and assistance."

After planning and consultation with family and contractors, the home was rebuilt from the ground up. "We're back in the house, back on solid ground, and I'm thinking about our future, and the future of Columbus," the mayor says. …

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