Former Athens City Council At-Large incumbent Pat McGee was defeated in the Nov. 5 election. McGee, a champion of students’ rights, was the only non-Democrat on City Council.
The loss of McGee is a serious blow to representation on Athens City Council. With McGee out, there is no longer a counterpoint to many of the Democrats on the council. McGee was the rare representative who truly believed in fighting for what’s right but also didn’t want to spend frivolously doing it.
McGee retired from Center for Student Legal Services in the spring of 2019, a position that earned him the moniker “set ‘em free McGee.” He has had that nickname since the 1980s because of his incredible success as a public defender.
His work with CSLS provided a legal check on the university’s power over the student body. His most notable case came when 70 students were infamously arrested during a protest in Baker. But it wasn’t just CSLS that made him such an important figure to students.
Despite leaving CSLS, McGee still had plans to continue his work on the City Council well into his retirement. He was an invaluable resource to the student senate. Off-Campus Affairs Commissioner Adam Boesinger, who works to fight for the rights of students living off-campus, describes McGee in an email as, “an approachable figure who is always willing to provide guidance on Off-Campus (Commission’s) ideas.” Boesinger acknowledges they don’t always agree on everything, but “he is a man who will never give up fighting for the good of students.”
That is exactly what Athens needs from a public servant. The Democrats on council have worked to fight for the right thing at most times, but because of Athens’ de facto one-party system, an outside perspective is necessary.
Problems that went largely ignored by the city government were brought to attention by McGee. Recently, he advocated against an increase in towing fees that were supported by other council members. Policies like those serve corporate interests in the city and actively hurt local residents.
More importantly, he was in favor of putting more power in the hands of tenants, who are largely students, and limiting the expansive powers of landlords around the city. With McGee out and the massive losses the Socialists took, it’s hard to see who sides with renters.
Hopefully, McGee can still maintain his presence in the community and serve as a catalyst for student interest outside the government. Regardless of what comes next, it’s apparent the election was a major setback for diverse views in local government.
It’s important to consider that while local parties and national parties have parallels, there are also serious differences. Many Democrats would see a fully democratic government as a good thing, but on a smaller scale diverse ideas are crucial to success. Without McGee, those ideas will be completely absent from Athens.
Noah Wright is a junior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.