Columbus Mayor Coleman succeeding at the job he loves

The Columbus Dispatch – December 18, 2005

65% approve of the way Michael B. Coleman is handling his job as mayor

76% think he has the honesty and integrity to serve as mayor

52% likely would have voted for him for governor if he had continued to run

62% are likely to vote for him to serve another term as mayor

61% rate the current pace of growth in Columbus as “about right”

72% say Columbus is heading in the right direction

The poll

The telephone poll of 400 registered Columbus voters was conducted Dec. 7 through Monday. The results were weighted slightly to reflect the demographics of Columbus voters.

The response rate for the poll was 42 percent.

The survey has a margin of sampling error of 5 percentage points, meaning as many as 70 percent or as few as 60 percent of respondents approve of the job Coleman is doing.

Source:  Saperstein Associates

The mayor has said it a lot recently: He loves his job.

And a poll of Columbus voters shows that Michael B. Coleman’s constituents like the way he does it.

In his sixth year as mayor of Columbus, and after enduring a host of personal challenges, including his son’s hazardous tour of duty in Iraq, his wife’s drunken-driving arrest and the end of his run for governor, Coleman remains popular.

His approval rating is 65 percent, according to the results of a telephone poll Saperstein Associates of Columbus conducted for The Dispatch.

And 72 percent say Columbus is headed in the right direction.

“I look out. My street’s clean. My garbage is picked up. He hasn’t said very much about new taxes,” said James Worley, 62, a West Side warehouse worker.

Of those polled, 62 percent said they are likely to vote for Coleman if he runs for re-election.

“That’s pretty damn good,” said Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political-science professor. “If you’ve got an incumbent in that atmosphere, that’s going to be really hard to beat.”

Especially when 76 percent said Coleman has the honesty and integrity to serve as mayor.

“He’s human. So many of them are not real,” said Gina Point, a 41-year-old janitor who was impressed with how Coleman handled himself when he dropped out of the governor’s race, saying he wanted to focus on his family and leading the city.

“So much of what he said he’s was going to do he’s backed up.”

Coleman said Friday that he tries to do what’s right, not what will win him approval in a poll.

“I do love the city. I really do,” he said. “It’s something that’s part of me, part of me as much as my own blood.”

The poll shows that the community supports Coleman and is compassionate, holding neither his wife’s arrest nor his decision to leave the governor’s race against him, pollster Martin Saperstein said.

“It doesn’t seem to me this experience damaged him,” he said.

Coleman’s political opponents, of course, hope his decision to end his bid for governor will haunt him.

“It certainly did not advance his career to abandon something he professed weeks before to be fully committed to,” Franklin County Republican Chairman Doug Preisse said.

Coleman’s future success could be tied to how he handles an issue over which the city government has no direct control — education.

Respondents were asked to choose the most important among six issues, including crime and safety. Education topped the list with 39 percent saying it’s the most important issue facing the city.

That includes Edward Connell, a 60-year-old postal truck driver who has lived off of Noe-Bixby Road on the East Side for 26 years. He said Coleman has to be more involved with the schools.

“He’s part of the problem if there aren’t changes made,” said Connell, whose children went to Columbus schools.

Coleman deserves kudos for hiring an education coordinator, said Cindy Kozel, 35, but she’d like him to do more with the schools.

“Some of the schools look like they are falling apart. I keep thinking: ‘Where are we investing our money?’ ” said Kozel, of the East Side. “I see kids in horrible situations, and the way to get out of them is education.”

Coleman said he’s taken a lead in pushing for better schools and a better environment for students.

He created an after-school program shortly after coming into office in 2000 that served 2,500 students this year.

Coleman also campaigned for a Columbus schools bond issue in 2002 to replace 26 schools and renovate 12 others. He has built sidewalks near elementary schools. His pay-as-we-grow program would help pay for new schools in growing areas of the city.

And he’s part of an effort by Ohio mayors considering a ballot issue next year to overhaul school funding in Ohio.

“My philosophy is working in partnership,” Coleman said, “not dictating to a school system with an elected board.”

Since taking office, his accomplishments have included balancing the city’s budget without laying off police and firefighters as other Ohio cities have done.

He also has promoted the creation of Downtown housing. According to the Downtown Development Resource Center, 1,110 units have been completed since Jan. 1, 2002, with another 2,486 in the works.

And he continues to work with other government and civic leaders on a development plan that would help protect the Big Darby Creek in fast-growing western Franklin County.

In general, those polled seem pleased with city services, though less so with street maintenance and snow removal than with trash pickup, and fire and police protection.

Interestingly, respondents reached before snow started falling on Dec. 8 rated snow removal slightly worse than those reached during snowfall that weekend, when crews actually were on the streets.

Fred Frech, of the Near East Side, was sad to hear Coleman’s announcement that he had dropped out of the governor’s race.

“I think he really tries to move Columbus along,” said Frech, 62. “I think he would have carried that in moving the state along.”

The city is not without problems, he said.

Thieves have stolen his car four times in the past year, Frech said, and he has had trouble getting police to respond.

Coleman should focus on ensuring that officers are more involved and putting more of them on the streets, he said.

Frech said he would vote for Coleman again because he tries to attack issues and is honest.

Jan MacKay, of the North Side, also wants to see more police. MacKay, a 73-year-old who works at the St. Matthias School kitchen, said she doesn’t walk after dark in her neighborhood near Cooke Road, where she has lived for more than 40 years.

Of those polled, 27 percent don’t like the job Coleman’s doing.

That includes West Sider Tim Besse, 51. He said he never was impressed with Coleman. His opinion worsened after the mayor’s wife was arrested for drunken driving in October.

“As someone who is supposed to be in charge of the police department, what’s the first thing they do? Attack (police),” Besse said.

Frankie L. Coleman’s defense attorneys questioned whether a Bexley police officer was certified to conduct her Breathalyzer test. A judge let the test stand as evidence.

Most respondents — 67 percent — said Mrs. Coleman’s case has nothing to do with how they view the mayor.

By the 2007 election, Coleman will have been the city’s top administrator for eight years.

Looking that far ahead, Preisse, the county Republican chairman, thinks he probably can come up with ammunition to mount a campaign against Coleman. But the trick might be finding a candidate willing to take on a popular incumbent mayor.

“It’s still a challenge to attract a Republican to run in the city of Columbus,” Preisse said.