Mayor Patterson can still surprise me

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By Damon Krane
October 14, 2021
Athens Messenger (Athens, Ohio) 
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By Damon Krane

There’s nothing surprising about the vitriol and lies Athens Mayor Steve Patterson directed at me this week. Nor is there anything surprising about Patterson allying himself with Trump’s people to try to defeat local progressive independents, despite the fact (or rather because of it) that we independents have endorsed many of the same policies as all four of this year’s new Democratic city candidates — Democrats who the mayor’s right-wing allies denounce in the same breath they denounce us. The mayor has always managed to put on a passable act for liberals when he needs to, but I’ve known the real Steve Patterson for too long to be surprised.

Steve Patterson is the former psychology professor who forged his tenure application, then turned to politics after he got caught. He’s the mayor who lied about code enforcement records to deny the existence of rental housing problems when I ran against him in 2019. And he didn’t just lie about those records once, but over and over again for five months until the Athens News finally called him out on it.

Patterson is the mayor who — along with his allies on Council, Sarah Grace and Chris Fahl — touted the city-subsidized construction of new quarter-million dollar homes at University Estates as an “affordable housing” initiative, then used a short-lived lumber price bubble as an excuse to make the homes even less affordable.

He’s the mayor who — once more assisted by Councilmember Grace — purchased the city’s $91,000 racial equity course from his own organization, The National League of Cities REAL Council, to which Patterson was appointed while in the midst of brokering the purchase. (Note: The mayor’s blatant self-serving conflict of interest notwithstanding, the even bigger problem with the course is that it’s as empty a performative gesture as it is an expensive one. Given that Patterson and his allies still refuse to conduct the racial equity review of city operations that Council promised 16 months ago, the course can’t be directed at solving any specific problems and its effectiveness can’t be measured, which makes the $91,000 course no more valuable than a PBS documentary on racism city employees could have watched for free, and which reveals the course to be more about covering up systemic racism than correcting it.)

Patterson is also the mayor who pushed Council to eliminate any opportunity for public comment on the REAL course’s purchase in order to conceal all of the above, just as, more recently, he tried to eliminate opportunity for public comment and oversight by Council in his rushed hiring of his family friend and wife’s co-worker as the city’s new Arts Parks and Recreation Director. (And yes, yet again Councilmember Grace assisted the mayor in both cases.)

But all that said, I’ll give Mayor Patterson credit for one thing. He might be a consummate liar and walking assortment of ethics violations. He might lie about me and call me names. But at least the mayor can be troubled to remember my name!

That’s far more respect than he’s shown to City Council candidate Iris Virjee — the young, working class, woman of color with a degree in urban planning and a history of community organizing work, who Patterson joined with Republicans Tuesday in denigrating as merely “a girl” and “a bartender,” whose name Patterson said he couldn’t even remember while the Republicans present struggled to pronounce it.

How’s that for another sign of city leaders’ commitment to diversity and inclusion? The mayor and a bunch of other affluent old white men bonding over the sheer casualness of their shared sexism and classism. Just when I thought my opinion of Patterson couldn’t be any lower, the mayor showed he can still surprise me.

If all this still isn’t enough, what exactly would it take for Athens Dems to finally wise up and dump the mayor and his allies? Our community deserves so much better.

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