Tuesday’s city primary election marked in many ways a finish line as contested Republican races decided party nominees for mayor and all but one seat on the Columbus City Council. Unless Democrats field more candidates through a caucus, the primary will have settled the majority of the general election races, too.
An important next step in the process is to begin mending fences between opposing factions in the local Republican Party.
The Republican primary represented a showdown of two camps, one headed by incumbent Mayor Kristen Brown and the other led by her challenger, city councilman Jim Lienhoop, who emerged Tuesday as the party’s nominee for mayor.
That divide also extended to city council races. First-time council candidates largely aligned with Brown, with the incumbents — all of them victorious Tuesday — supporting Lienhoop.
The roots of the divide run deep, and a serious effort on both sides will be needed to heal wounds.
Frustrations about how the mayor worked with others, her demotion of the parks department director and the resignation of three parks board members fueled some Republicans’ desire to find a candidate within the Republican Party to challenge Brown in the mayoral race. Lienhoop eventually became that person.
Those in the Brown camp felt the current council was frequently blocking the first-term mayor as she was proposing new ideas intended to benefit constituents across the city which elected her by an overwhelming margin nearly four years ago. Council members said they objected to Brown’s approach on budget matters and what they described as a heavy-handed style of running city government.
People’s emotions during the campaign were strong, fueling voter engagement in local politics that has never been more intense, exemplified by letters to the editor published in The Republic. Thirty-six election-related letters filled a total of four wide-open pages in the May 1 and 2 Opinion sections of The Republic.
It will be a challenge for both political factions to find places of common ground and help the GOP — dominant across Bartholomew County — move forward as one.
The healing effort began during Lienhoop’s victory speech Tuesday when he urged supporters in genuine fashion to reach out to Brown’s backers because Columbus is their home, too.
However, others will need to become part of the reconciliation effort, which has left deep bruises from conflicts over the past year.
Republican Party Chairwoman Barb Hackman, who donated to Lienhoop’s campaign but not Brown’s, needs to help facilitate dialogue between the two sides.
Without buy-in across the board, the rift in the local Republican party will linger. Neither the GOP nor the community as a whole would be served well by that.