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Damon Krane (I) discusses Mayor Patterson's campaign donations from landlords and elite businesses in a mayoral debate held at Athens Public Library on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2019.

Independent candidates influence city government despite not holding office

Damon Krane, Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday all agree that their candidacies have had a significant influence on the decisions their incumbent opponents made since they started running for office.

Certain issues, especially rental housing and dishonest landlord practices, have shaped the race for Athens mayor and the Athens City Council at-large seats. Those conversations have largely been driven by the three far-left challengers. 

City Democrats spent much of their campaigns speaking on infrastructure and environmental issues within the city and only ever addressed rental housing issues when the three independents brought it up at debates, Council meetings or when the incumbents were directly pressed by voters.

Krane and Hamrick said the lack of independents in city government causes city government to be less democratic and less receptive to ideas outside of the liberal mainstream. That begs the question: Would rental housing have been a focal point of the city of Athens’ local elections without the candidacies and activism of those three independents?

All three candidates said it depends on whether they are able to organize a voice among the citizens of Athens and bring consistent conversation on the issues with or without holding elected office. Since their campaigns began, City Council has responded and passed legislation related to rental housing, but continued progress might depend on if the candidates' activism continues and grows after the election.

In September, an ordinance was passed by City Council which increased penalties on absentee landlords who allow their properties to fall into disrepair and contribute to urban blight. Hamrick, Monday and Krane believe that this ordinance, while a step in the right direction, is not enough and would not have even happened without their candidacies and activism.

“They would do nothing at all if Damon (Krane) and I weren’t running, and we have forced them to do something,” Hamrick said. “I count that as a victory.”

Their candidacies are what kickstarted the conversation around seeking stricter enforcement of city code, providing rent control and increasing code office staffing. This was largely done through “Operation Slumlord Smackdown,” which was co-authored by Hamrick and Krane and supported by Monday.

“I am happy to see that (City Council) is acknowledging it. Even if it is lip service, it is evidence they are listening and have a responsibility to react to people,” Monday said.

Hamrick identifies as a Socialist and is a member of the Athens Revolutionary Socialists, or ARS. Krane is a member of the Southeast Ohio Democratic Socialists of America, and Monday is a regular attendee of Athens City Council meetings and chooses to run as an independent without a label.

Krane said his activism will definitely continue whether he gets elected or not, but having the decision-making power and influence of the mayor’s office would help give his platform a larger voice and more influence.

“My approach to activism has always been just trying to make the most of every opportunity for positive change, and I think that community organizing created different opportunities than running for office does,” Krane said.

Hamrick also said her activism through ARS will continue, but a City Council seat is not enough to make changes. She said it depends fully on whether tenants and workers in Athens can organize into unions and fight for changes.

There was a previous attempt to organize a tenants union in Athens, but it was not able to gain traction and make a significant impact, Hamrick said. Hamrick wants to start again and organize a new one from the ground up with ARS.

“I’m interested in building a tenants union before we declare a tenants union and going slowly, carefully and step by step,” Hamrick said.


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