Tim Fulton  00:09

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host Tim Fulton. This week. In anticipation of this fall’s election, the confluence cast is endeavoring to introduce Columbus voters to the 12 Council and two mayoral candidates in their own words. Today, Nick Bankston, incumbent candidate for Columbus city council district five discusses what brought him to public service, how he thinks about policy changes and the importance of tax incentives for economic development. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Enjoy the interview. Sitting down here with Columbus city councilman Nick Bankston, who is also candidate for district five of Columbus City Council. Nick, how are you?

Nick Bankston  01:10

I’m good. Thanks for having me, Jim.

Tim Fulton  01:11

Absolutely. Start all these interviews the same way. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brings you to your candidacy or rather your seat?

Nick Bankston  01:19

Yeah, well, first, let me thank you for doing this. And taking the time. I think it’s really important for voters to get to know who they’re voting for and who also is serving them. But yeah, Nick Bankston, I am a son of Columbus born and raised here in the city, Columbus City Schools. I was kid Cassidy elementary arts impact Middle School, off to East High School, which is the best high school in the city. And then, you know, also my college career, ended up getting my BA from Ohio State University, and have dedicated you know, my entire both public and private life to public service. You know, this is a city that shaped me. And so I feel like it is my duty really to give back to it. Also a proud father of Xavier Kamal banks. And he just turned to on July 1, and, of course, my favorite title of all his husband to Habiba Bankston, who’s our executive director of dress for success. And, you know, we love this city, and love serving the city in multiple capacities. And so I’ve worked in different capacities, both on campaign side of politics, the official side working in government, both county government and city government. And, you know, now I currently serve the community at gladden Community House, as President CEO there, where we work every single day to empower families, and to strengthen families through youth development, home, youth development, housing, and family stabilization, and Senior Outreach. So really making an impact on the entire lifecycle. And so for me, it’s really about what it comes down to. This isn’t about politics. For me, it’s personal. And it’s personal, because this is my home. No, I’m raising my son here. And I want to make sure that we are shaping a city that is more equitable, that’s more sustainable, and that’s worthy of his generation. And so often, we look at the challenges that we see in front of us, and think that it’s only the folks that are in here, and now that we have to solve those four, but really is the next generation that we have to be thinking about. So when we think about the issues that we face as a city, housing, crime education, that we have to tackle those, but the decisions that we make today will impact folks 20 and 30 years from now. And so for me, I take that very serious. And I feel like I’m prepared. You know, I want to continue the work that we’ve been doing got elected to City Council back in 2021. So I started in 22. So I’m fresh in instead, you already got to run again. Yeah. And excited about the work right and what we’re doing. And so it is my love for this city. It is my belief that government can make a difference and must serve its people. And my belief that government also is local government. Let me say that is the way that we can make an impact in our communities. And so I’m really excited to sit down with you today. And to just in the chat more about that journey.

Tim Fulton  04:43

Can you talk me through what brought you into service? Like what was it something at East High School? Was it something when you were at Ohio State that sort of brought you into this journey?

Nick Bankston  04:55

Yeah, you know, it’s an interesting pathway. So I come from A family, both blue collar workers and public servants. So my stepmother who raised me worked for job and family services, okay county job filling services, and saw her love for this community. She also started off at before working in Java Feldman serves as an organizer in the near east side. And so seeing her love and passion for the community, as always stuck with me, my dad who literally has worked two jobs his entire life, he worked at Carl Brown IgA, which was on Mount Vernon is no longer there. And then also airborne Express. And so the values of hard work of dedication, or as my dad would say, make sure you get you a job with benefits. You know, stick with me and really guide me, but one thing that they did, is we voted in every election, okay, um, my dad, and back then shows my age a little bit back, then you had to boost and you got to close the curtain and go in, and my dad would take us and we’ll let us push the button, and everything and really instilled in us whether he knew it or not, this duty, the civic duty. Right now, my dad wasn’t the met every community meeting guy or anything like that. But he made it very clear just the importance of voting and how government, you know, plays a role in your life. And so for me, that’s really what guided me. And then I would say, in high school, I had a great mentor, the late Miss Martha Howe, who was my band director. And she instilled in us that everything that we did, we did for three reasons, it was first for God, because He gave you life and gave you the talents. To at that point, because I was in the Marchman, it was for East, okay, or when she was a, that means your community, and then finally, yourself. And so she really imparted in me the importance that we that we are part of something bigger. And then we all have a mark that will leave in this life. And it’s up to us to figure out how we want to do that. And so I would say, you know, that is really what compelled me to think about public service. Now, I will tell you, I said, Oh, that’s great. But I’m gonna go to college because I want to make some money. Okay. And so started off at Ohio Dominican University, actually. And my goal was to be in business management. That was my major. But Ohio Dominican, one of the requirements is that you take philosophy, okay, so I took my first philosophy course, and fell in love what it and I think that is really what propelled me to think about structures and how people think in different perspectives, and how you can value those and how those, you know, shape our, our world really. And so that’s where I ended up moving my major to philosophy. But for me, it’s always been this something down inside of me, that tells you that you don’t get here by yourself. We all have a community center, we all have a teacher, we all have a parent or someone that has propelled us. And so for me, it was something that was always down inside that I believe, because our deep man of faith that God had called me to be like, I don’t think that he gave me this boisterous voice and all these abilities to only go you know, use them for myself.

Tim Fulton  08:35

Talk us through some of the issues you think Columbus faces and how Council and you specifically in your role as a councilman address, those are would address those.

Nick Bankston  08:46

Yeah, you know, I would say there’s one overarching issue that right impacts the other ones that I wanted to talk about. And that’s growth. Okay, now, it is our single biggest opportunity. But it also is our biggest pain point. With growth comes challenges. But also with growth comes great opportunities, and we see it all around us. We’re the fastest growing city in the Midwest, one of the only growing cities in the state. We continue to be an economic juggernaut of this state driving the economy. And all of that is great, but what comes with that is pressure, right? On all the other issues that we see happening, housing, for instance, violent, violent crime and crime. And then I would say the other big piece of that is transportation and education. And so you know, what we have to do in this and how we address those as a council is really looking at how do we think forward about policy changes? Right, there is no initiative per se or just a simple program that is going to get us out of some of these situations that we have to start thinking about policy because we’re not only managing the growth, but the current, but we’re talking about how do we shape a city for a million more people that are going to be here. And so how is this delicate balance of, you know, what we do for our current residents, but also setting the stage for the continued growth that is going to happen. And so when I run around housing, I think it’s really clear. And I’m really proud of the work that me and my colleagues have done around changing our CRA, which is our community reinvestment area policies around affordable housing to ensure that we are having affordable units as we’re building the city, not thinking about it, you know, 10 years ago, like, Oh, we don’t, we don’t have any affordable housing here. But making sure that it is a part of the fabric of every development that goes around the city, if you want a course, any type of incentive from the city. So now if you develop any NCRA area, you want the tax abatement that comes with that in multifamily. It has to have affordable units at 80%, ami and 60% Ami, depending on the parts of the city and in other parts of the cities, 100% Ami and 80% Ami, forgive me AMI, so AMI is the area median income. Okay, so that’s the average income of the city. Okay, well, in our case in a metro area. And so it’s important to have that diversity of mixed because what we’re talking about is building housing for folks that are working. This housing crisis right now is not just impacting folks who are poor residents, right, who don’t have any income. It’s also impacting working folks, that mom, who’s making 50 to $70,000 a year but can’t find not just an affordable place, but a place of quality. So we have to make sure that as we’re developing the city, and we’re trying to keep up with that demand that we have those type of units set aside. One of the other things that I’m really proud of that we’ve done, because when we think about the growth of the city, naturally, the word that comes to mind when folks think about that is gentrification. And how do you manage that, and make sure that our neighborhoods, the fabric of our neighborhoods, the folks that have been there are able to stay there, and that they’re not pushed out, is through making sure that when single family homes are even built, that there’s affordability tied to that, and I’m proud of that because post 2016, there was no affordability requirement for the CRA, right. And before councilmember favors, who chairs our housing committee before her work, this past year, there was no affordability requirement for single family homes. Right. And so that’s where that when I say the policies that we do, set the stage for what happens 20 or 30 years from now, one of the biggest thing that’s always top of mind, I think, for any leader should be safety, and the safety of our residents. And so really, we’re investing in, you know, our young folks making sure that they have what they need an access to opportunities to keep them safe over the summer and out of school time. But also making sure that we’re doing what we can to hold our police officers accountable, to make sure that we have a police force that is really focused on safety, and making sure that that safety is for all residents in the community. And so really proud that we have a police chief who is not who was not a Columbus police officer for the first time in our city’s history, and making some really sweeping changes there. But that that kind of change takes time. But I truly believe that in order for us to tackle our safety issues, we have to be in community again. We have to know our neighbors, we have to get out and love each other again and love each other from humanity standpoint, I think so much of what we see is that we have lost that right. It’s that we don’t appreciate the humaneness, even though we may have differences, even though we may disagree. We’re still a part of the human race. And I think that if we can infuse some of that love back into our culture, and it’s not a Columbus thing is I think a nationwide thing that we’re seeing that will help us in tackling some of this violent crime that we’re seeing. And for me, it’s personal. You know, at 17, I was a victim of gun violence. I was shot at a house party. And that really changed the trajectory of my life. And I was lucky that night and was able to go home, but there were folks that were at that party that didn’t get to go home to their families. And so that sticks with me every single day. And so, in addition to what we do on council, we have to also make sure that we are advocating at different levels where we need to, we know that we have a state legislator that refuses to do anything about guns. So we can do all that We can’t hear the city, we can put money into initiatives, we can have the best trained police force. But the point of the matter is there are too many guns on our streets. And people have access to them too easily. And so that’s really what I think we have to focus on is tackling housing, tackling safety, our transportation system, which we are working on, because it’s not simply about bringing jobs here and the growth that’s going to happen, the question then becomes how do we move folks around our city? How, in an equitable way, in a way, in a dignified way. And so really, we’re focused on Linkous, which is an initiative that is going to bring high capacity, bus rapid transit to the city, which we’re really, really excited about. And so it’s working on those kinds of initiatives, because it’s not simply about how to get to a job, but it’s also about how do you experience the city? How are you able to move around, to go to that doctor’s appointment to go to take your kid to daycare, right. And then last, but not least, education is always top of mind. As you know, the school board is separate from the city. But we consider ourselves a partner to them. And so I think it’s making sure that we’re investing in our, our neighborhoods, and investing in our young folks outside of school, right, the challenges that they face, in their school buildings, right, from 730, to 230. ahsay is what happening from 230 to 730. They carry that with them into the school. And so we have to make sure that we are partnering alongside our district and make sure that our families, because it’s not just about the student, about the family, the whole family, when we talk about education, that they have the resources, opportunities that they need to thrive in our city. And so I think, you know, those are big challenges. But I would tell folks this all the time, I’d rather be dealing with these challenges in a growing city that has, I think, the momentum that has the resources to tackle them than in cities that are struggling, quite frankly. And so growth is the going to be I think the thing that defines who we are moving forward, but we get to define it. And it’s up to us to shape that and to do that. And I believe that I’m experienced, and I believe that there’s a team of us that are really being bold, and how we move the city forward and how we think about the next generation.

Tim Fulton  17:34

Talk me through how you feel about the new district court system.

Nick Bankston  17:40

It’s great. Okay, no, so I guess for folks, so

Tim Fulton  17:44

let’s put out earlier right, you are the you and Lourdes are the two candidates, right, that just one election, and now you’re having to rerun again. Right? So that’s a negative impact to you. Yes. Yeah. objectively. Yeah. Right. But talk about sort of, we’re now going to be represented by folks geographically. How do you feel about how that’s all structured?

Nick Bankston  18:12

Yeah, you know, it is a unique system, and I think to level set, so everyone listening understands that we are, right now we are a council of seven, all that large, meaning that everyone in the city gets to vote for us. We get to live anywhere that we want to in the city. And that has served. I think our community well, but we’re a growing city and things are changing. And I believe that government is evolving organism that it evolves over time. I mean, when we think about what democracy is, it is the great experiment. But it is also an evolution, right? People and how they want to be governed. And I think that is what makes us different, right? It makes democracy one messy, but to unique in a way that it is able to respond and react to the people’s needs. So what we’re going to we will go through that the voters voted on in 2016, I believe it was from your correctly is that we will expand council from seven members to nine. And that’s kind of in line with the city’s population. Right, right at about 900,000 people. So you’d have a one representative for every 100,000 people, right, similar to the same numbers at the Statehouse. So we expand from seven to nine. But we also go to districts. Now what’s unique about our system is we call it districts at large meaning that I have to live in a certain district which is district five on the new site, that’s also the best district in the city. But but you have to live in a certain district, but you’re still voted on by the entire city. And I think that the philosophy around that is one of yes, I want a representative on my side of town that understands my issues intimately, that I know I can point to pick up the phone and call when I do have an issue. But also this thought process of having someone sit on the Dyess and when they make decisions, they’re making decisions for the best of the entire city, I think is the philosophy around that. And I think it’d be messy. I think it’ll be confusing, because when you change anything like this, it’s going to be confusing. But I think that idea of being able to hold all of your elected officials accountable, to be able to have a city that says that we want to think about the, the what’s good for the entire city, not just my small part of town, right? Because I think that that creates a system that, you know, infuses equity into the conversation and that every voice from every side of the city is heard. But also at the end of the day, when we make a decision, it is for the best of the entire city. So it is unique. It is there not many other cities in the country that have this model is especially in our cities our size. Yeah, I think Portland is the only comparable, right? Yeah, yeah. And, and so I think that voters will be confused for a little bit.

Tim Fulton  21:15

There are some candidates that will tell you that we have

Nick Bankston  21:19

to, you know, I think it is one of the things that this was voted on by the voters. And so we have to see how it works. But again, the great thing is, if if we know if we need to tweak it, the voters can do that, right. And we have the ability to do that. And so I’m excited to be representing District five, but I’m more excited to continue to shape and represent all the residents of Columbus. And so I think that, you know, when you think of true district systems, and you think about other cities, we know this is divisive. It is pitting neighborhoods, against neighborhoods, neighbors, against neighbors, right. And then folks making decisions that necessarily you that may impact your side of the town that you don’t get to have a say in who that person is, or or even changing, who represents you. So it is unique. And I think that is something that we’ll see will hopefully serve the people of Columbus, I believe that the idea of thinking about the best interest of the entire city is always should be top of mind. For anyone,

Tim Fulton  22:29

do you think and I asked up to this point. I’ve only interviewed one other currently seated council member. And I asked him this, do you think that this new district system will affect constituent services at all?

Nick Bankston  22:45

No, you don’t know. And the reason why I say that is because again, we’re still elected at large. Right. When we get to council, you still are assigned committees. Right? And so we’re still not we won’t just necessarily represent a geography, we’ll still have committees that and work that we oversee and that we are responsible for. Right. So right now I chair economic development, small minority business and technology. Right, I’ll continue to have departments and committees in addition to also being the voice for district five.

Tim Fulton  23:18

Gotcha. last big question, what’s the value proposition you bring to your candidacy? Basically, why should people vote for you?

Nick Bankston  23:27

Yeah, you know, for me, I think it’s about experience. And it is, we are in a city and unprecedented time, unprecedented growth and unprecedented opportunities before us. And I think at the helm, we need folks who are ready to govern folks that are ready and committed to the city. You know, my vision, and why I ran the first time is still my why and centered. It was about accountability. Accessibility and trust, is about being accountable to the people of Columbus, and making sure that city hall in my office in particular is accessible to everyone. And also about restoring trust in our in our government. And this is not about a city hall or a city thing is about all of our institutions. And I think that we have to continue to always work towards that. And that’s what I’m still centered on and continue to do. And so for me, it is about experience. It’s about being ready to lead. It is about seizing this opportunity that we have, because we can’t take our foot off the gas. The growth is here, changes here. And I think if we don’t have folks who are ready to lead and don’t have the experience, that that could be very catastrophic for our city. And additionally, I think for me, my value proposition is what I said at the top of this is personal for me, this is my home and I really want to ensure that is more sustainable, that’s more equitable for Xavier’s generation, thinking about things generationally, to meet this moment, we have to have big bold solutions. Right. And that requires to be able to navigate government to be able to understand constituencies concerns and to govern for everyone, regardless, so for those that vote for me, and for those that don’t vote for me, and I think that’s what I’m committed to big, bold things like, and continuing the work that we have done already in economic development. For instance, we know a bait, tax incentives are really hot button issue, under tough under my leadership we have changed is if you want any type of tax incentives from the city for jobs, right, for jobs that we create, the minimum wage has to be $20 an hour now, before that, it was 15 and $20 an hour, you know, puts us at a place where I think we’re still competitive, but you know, who we are competing with, when we talk about these economic opportunities. It’s not Chicago, it’s not New York, right? It’s our neighbors, right in Grove City, are right here in the region. And so our tax base, and how we fund the city is through income tax. And so making sure that we as we attract business to the region, because we know the region is hot, I want those jobs and those opportunities to be for my people here in the city of Columbus. And I want that tax revenue to be here in the city of Columbus, we continue to do great things like have recreation centers, and have some of the best firefighters right in the country, right to be able to fund those, those city services that make our city so great. And so making, but also at the same time, I believe in our people, that if we invest in them, that they are our greatest asset. And so for me making sure that folks are getting paid what they deserve 20 bucks an hour, but also in that in order for you to see receive any incentive from the city, you have to provide health care, you have to provide some type of retirement, right, because we believe that the quality of life for our residents matters, right. And that happens through policy. Now not every job that comes to the city gets an incentive. And we’re taking a stance to say that if you’re going to receive any type of incentive from the city, you got to pay $20 an hour in small minority business, I want to continue to build on the work that we’re doing there, I’m really excited about some of the initiatives that I have championed and funded, particularly around our minority businesses. And so right now we have something that I’ve invested in and expanded called the urban the urban business connection, which is a partnership between the Columbus Urban League, and our Columbus chamber. It is expanded now to 100. When I inherited it was 30. It was a pilot, there was 30 businesses, it was great. But now there’s 100, black owned businesses that have membership to the chamber, but also expanded services, like marketing, HR support technical assistance. And what’s beautiful about that is there’s so many stories of businesses that expanded or opened up a new location, right or now have a new client base, there’s one individual who makes the sauces, his sauce has now been picked up by a major retailer, right. And it’s about creating those access points. And those opportunity points for people that have not had been left behind. All right. And so when we talk about small business, that is a way for us to create generational wealth for folks, and to make sure that it’s sustainable. And so Willie, what we’re focused on in small and minority business is sustainability. You know, I tell folks all the time, I love going to ribbon cuttings, right, it’s probably one of the best parts of the job, right? Because nobody asked me any hard questions. You just smile, you cut a ribbon. Everybody loves you that day, right. But what breaks my heart is a year later, if that business’s doors close, we’ve done them a disservice. And so we have to continue to invest and build an ecosystem that small businesses are able to thrive and sustain in our city, right? It’s not just enough just for us to have a great atmosphere to people who can start a business, I want them to be able to sustain that business. Additionally, in the small and minority business piece, we’re working on a downtown marketplace that I’m really excited about. So this would create a suite of incentives and funding to get minority and women owned businesses in downtown. I believe that downtown Columbus is going to come back. I believe that we’re having more residents move down here and that it is the heart of the city. But if it comes back it has to reflect the diversity of our community. All right. And so we have to make sure that we remove those hurdles and those barriers to being in downtown and doing business, particularly again for minority and women owned businesses to have been left out in many cases. And so we’re going to be rolling that out later this year. We have the funding I’m secured, we have all of our pieces lined up now. So I’m excited about that. And what it will do is provide initial tenant improvement dollars to those small businesses. That is to help get the rents lower. So technically tenant, tenant improvements, basically are monies put into the build out of their space. Right, that is going to be capital dollars that we have set aside for that. The second part of it, which is great is going to be master leasing, and rental guarantee. So what this will do is allow us to work with one master lessor who would work with the downtown property owners, and they would negotiate the leases on behalf of those small businesses. In addition to that, what we were proposing what will happen is in year one, that small business will only pay 50% of the lease, the city will do the other 50. And your two, they’ll pay 70% of the least the city will pay 30. And then a year three, they’ll pay 90%, or at least a year, and the city will pay 10%. And the idea behind that is to really get folks that chance to ramp up to build a clientele to be able to be successful. And so by year four, they’re able to be a flourishing business and be able to take over that entire lease. And then last but not least, because we heard this loud and clear from folks is making sure they had the wraparound and technical assistance necessary through all three years. And so really excited about our partners that are coming on there that will help these businesses with everything from marketing to, to tech support to HR, to legal support, because many times when businesses close, they don’t necessarily close to the bad product. They close it many times because they don’t have all the ancillary and the back office things situated. And so we want to make sure that they are set up for success, and that they are going to be sustainable as well. And then last but not least building on our work in technology. I think it is really critically important when I talk about access, accountability and trust, one of the ways that you access the city is through its website. And in last year’s budget, we secured money to overhaul the entire city website. And I’m really excited because it will be rolling out this year, the new website will be and that is just let me see may seem small to some folks. But it’s huge. It’s a huge way you should when you go to our website, you should be able to navigate easily, should be able to get in contact with your officials very easily. Right. And the website that we had it served us well. I will say I remember the website that was before this. So it’s not as bad. But the new website will do just that. But also, we’ve been working on things around the digital divide. And I really want to make sure that we continue to build on that this idea of making sure that we connect every resident Believe it or not in the 14th largest city in America, there are still folks that don’t have access to high speed internet. And they’re particularly our low income residents. So we want to make sure that we are utilizing the city’s infrastructure and backbone for fiber, to not just deliver broadband to houses, but to make sure they have high speed internet, Internet now is a utility. It is like water, it’s like electricity. I mean, if you don’t have access to it, then you are missing out on a big part in being able to even operate in this economy. So we want to make sure that no one gets left behind. And so I want to build on that work. So that’s my value proposition is that we have been doing work for a year and six months now. And I want to continue to build on that work, and continue to strengthen our economy so that everyone sees themselves in it, and to make sure that we have small businesses that are sustainable, and to make sure that we have access to broadband so that the next generation is prepared and ready for what is coming. That is the type of community that we have to build that everyone sees themselves in the prosperity of our city. We are a growing city, we I believe are one of the best cities. But if everyone doesn’t feel that, then we are not the Columbus that we want to be. And that is Columbus where everyone shares. And so that’s my vision, I think continuing to build upon that is really what I want to continue to do. And that’s why I’m running for re election. But more importantly, I run for re election because of that little boy, I want to make sure that he has a city that he can be proud of when he grows up.

Tim Fulton  34:32

I end every interview with two simple questions with short answers. What do you think Columbus is doing? Well, and what do you think Columbus is doing? Not so well,

Nick Bankston  34:44

man. So that’s a hard one. I think what Columbus is what we’re doing well is having the tough conversations. Okay. I think when we think about things like housing, policing, these are not easy conversations, and there is no silver bullet to it. So I think what we have done well is that we have set a stage and a table, where all people get to have that discussion, whether they be community, everyday residents, corporate leaders, elected leaders to really tackle the big issues that we have.

Tim Fulton  35:30

And what are we not doing so? Well,

Nick Bankston  35:32

I think what we have to work on is moving with speed. Okay, it’s not enough just to have the conversation. We’re now at a place where we have to make action and take action on some of these things. And so I think we’re blessed again, to be in a community that folks are having those conversations, but we have the studies. We know what needs to be done. And now we have to go do it.

Tim Fulton  35:57

Nick, thanks for your time. Absolutely. Thanks for listening to the confidence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com Please rate subscribe, share this episode of The confluence cast with your friends, family, contacts, enemies, your favorite elected official. If you’re interested in sponsoring the confluence cast get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson. Our producer is filmed Cogley, I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.