The Dispatch generally does not endorse candidates in local races. It hasn’t happened since 2009, when we endorsed Robert Smith, then seeking his first full term as mayor.
Today, we are breaking that tradition because we believe the June 8 election marks a critical juncture for the city of Columbus.
It is for that reason that we endorse independent Keith Gaskin for mayor in his race against Smith and independent Montrell Coburn.
We believe Gaskin represents a change of course for Columbus, where progress has stalled, if not regressed.
In every aspect of the city where a mayor exerts some degree of influence — from city finances to public safety to infrastructure to growth to maintaining relationships that are important to progress — we find our city in a state of atrophy.
It is abundantly clear to us that if these trends are going to be corrected, new leadership is required.
Despite multiple opportunities, Smith has failed to communicate a plan to address the urgent issues facing the city. Worse, he hasn’t publicly acknowledged them.
By contrast, Gaskin has projected a positive message built on a clear-eyed and well-researched assessment of the issues.
He strives to bring a diverse group of entities into harmony rather than seek to bend others to his will, as is characteristic of the current mayor.
The job requires a mayor who can rebuild relationships strained in recent years — most notably with the Golden Triangle Development LINK and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors. No community our size can expect to flourish without cooperation between its governing entities.
Gaskin doesn’t claim to be an expert on all issues facing the city, but he has vowed to surround himself with people who are. He promises accountability, a trait not found in the current administration.
This is not to ignore Mayor Smith’s lifetime of service to the community — from coach to school administrator to councilman and, for the past 14 years, the city’s first Black mayor, a distinction that will cement a place of honor in the city’s history.
Our choice was not made lightly and, as was the case in 2009 when we endorsed Smith, not based on race. Those who seek to make this a race-based election show little regard for our community. Their tactics are insulting to the very people they seek to influence.
We believe Smith’s role as mayor has run its course. His inability to articulate a clear vision for the city, his lack of communication regarding his apparently serious health issues and the distinct feeling that a vote for Smith is a vote for a status quo in a city that has lost all momentum, leads us to a clear choice.
Finally, we ask voters to consider a question that has applied to elections for many years: Is our city better off than it was four years ago?
We believe the answer is an obvious and unequivocal “NO.”
That is why, on Tuesday, we encourage Columbus voters to choose Keith Gaskin as mayor.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.