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The Interview: Allison Russo

Representative / Healthcare Advocate / Mother Born in rural Mississippi and married to a combat veteran, Allison Russo has experienced much of the country as she’s moved from city to suburb, and even occasionally crossed the pond to live overseas. But now, quite intentionally, she’s chosen to live here, in the heart of The Heart [...]
Linda Lee Baird

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Representative / Healthcare Advocate / Mother

Born in rural Mississippi and married to a combat veteran, Allison Russo has experienced much of the country as she’s moved from city to suburb, and even occasionally crossed the pond to live overseas. But now, quite intentionally, she’s chosen to live here, in the heart of The Heart of It All. “At the end of the day, people are pragmatic,” Russo said of Ohio. “I think that is our strength as a state. We have this really strong history of innovation and working hard.”

Now Russo will get the chance to leave her mark on her new home state as a state representative for Ohio House District 24: Upper Arlington, Hilliard, some of northwest Columbus, part of Clintonville, and several of the townships in southwestern Franklin County. But besides representing a geographical area of the state, Russo also represents working moms of young children: a demographic with historically low numbers among the members of the Ohio General Assembly, but a demographic with great economic influence and policy concerns. Not having held office before, Russo funneled her experience as a healthcare policy research director, her involvement in her children’s education, and her engagement in her community to launch her successful campaign.

With her campaign out of the way and her term in office not yet begun, Russo is taking a breather to get back to reading and binge-watching period dramas on Netflix. (You know, what the rest of us call “an evening at home.”) It’s a time for her to reflect on what has gone well, and to speculate what her (and Ohio’s) future may hold.

What made you decide to run?

Allison Russo: Running for office was never part of the plan, even though I’ve always had interest in policy. After the 2016 election. I thought I really needed to re-engage. As I started to become more engaged in what was going on at the state level—certainly what was going on nationally—I realized that there was a real need for people like me who came with some expertise and real-life perspective on many of these issues and how they impact people. This particular seat became open and I decided, well, it’s now or never…. Because of the population growth that we’ve had in Franklin County, the demographics have changed, so you have a lot of young people moving in new suburban areas. You saw districts like mine in this election cycle flip.

“At the end of the day, people are pragmatic, I think that is our strength as a state. We have this really strong history of innovation and working hard.”

Your campaign was very personal, talking about your kids, spouse and career. I’m interested to hear about that choice.

AR: I was very intent on running as myself and being as authentic as possible, because […] one, frankly I didn’t know any different, and two, as a woman, I have many different roles. I’m a mom, I’m a professional, I’m involved in my community. All of that is what made me the candidate that I am. And I think that’s what many women do. We connect with people, and making those connections opens us up to listening to different perspectives. So I just embraced that.

Authenticity and likability seems to be a general problem for women on the campaign trail. What could help?

AR: Part of being authentic was [that] I often had my kids in tow with me while we were knocking on doors and at campaign events. But you’re also very aware that you’re judged by a different set of standards. And it’s not just the physical part of it. It’s how you present yourself. It’s even your experiences because many of us who were women running for the first time, we didn’t have the typical politician experience. It was talking about that, and many times explaining our experiences and justifying why we were just as qualified as someone else who was running.

Is healthcare your passion? Where does that come from?

AR: I originally thought I might go into medicine, but then I studied public health—that’s my background—and kind of fell into the policy after working in public health as an epidemiologist for a couple of years […] I was working on chronic diseases, mostly, and working on some Medicare issues…. When I was in graduate school I did spend several months working with the county health department and we would go and do disease notifications, and it was during the beginning of hepatitis C […] that was really interesting because then you were seeing what keeps people from getting treatment and keeps them in these disease states. So that was a real interesting life experience for me.

You’re an evidence-based policymaker. How do we get people who are science-resistant to consider policies that are grounded in evidence?

AR: That’s tough. Some of it is just informing. There’s a lot that happens in policy that is sausage-making. I think part of that is just having voices at the table that bring some of that [experience] with them. I think it’s unusual for people like me […] who come from kind of these real research, science, evidence-based backgrounds to suddenly be at the table making the policy because usually we’re on the other end of it.

There was a lot said about this being the “Year of the Woman” in elected office. Do you feel like that occurred in Ohio?

AR: You certainly had many more women stepping up to run for these state offices, legislative offices than ever before […] I think that women, when they ran in Ohio, they did as well as men. With the new freshman class […] coming in, we are a 50/50 caucus.

What are some ways folks could get involved without running for office?

AR: Pay attention to what’s happening with your local city council, with your township council, certainly what’s going on at the statehouse. Attend your school board meeting, your city council meeting, a committee a hearing at the statehouse. Anyone can participate in those activities. Once they participate once or twice they realize that, “Hey, there’s opportunity here for me to participate, and to have a voice.” So much of policy that impacts our day to day lives happens at the state level and happens in our local governments, and I think it’s a little bit of a mystery to many people about how that works, so I would like to increase the transparency of the day-to-day happenings at the statehouse.

“Once they participate once or twice they realize that, ‘Hey, there’s opportunity here for me to participate, and to have a voice.’ ”

What are you looking forward to about this role?

AR: Building relationships. I think constituency services is going to be huge for me, and making sure that I stay very connected to the people who are in the district. But also building those relationships with my colleagues both within my caucus and across the aisle. I think people are very hungry for this General Assembly to work together and start to solve some of these big issues that Ohio is facing.

And for anyone who did want to run in 2020, any advice you would put out there?

AR: I would start with talking to people who are in elected office. That’s the very first thing that I started doing. In fact, I’d joke that if I ever write a book about running for office, it probably would be titled, “I Hope You Like Coffee,” because I participated in so many coffee meetings with people who are in elected office.

Allison Russo will be sworn in as State Representative on January 7. Follow her on social media at Russo4Ohio.

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Former OSU player starts career as Columbus Firefighter

614now Staff

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Former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints running back running back Antonio Pittman is trading the pads and helmet of the gridiron for a fire hose and a...different helmet in his new career, according to ABC6.

https://twitter.com/mariawsyx6/status/1228415062051819520?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fabc6onyourside.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2Fformer-ohio-state-nfl-running-back-opens-new-chapter-as-a-columbus-firefighter

Having recently graduated from the Columbus Fire Academy, Pittman is now on his first week on the job at fire station 12 on the city's west side.

A native of Akron, Pittman played for Ohio State from 2004 to 2006, and was part of the number 1 ranked team that defeated number 2 Michigan 42-39 in the "Game of the Century."

Pittman was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire from the NFL following a persistent knee injury.

"My goal was just to play football and honestly, I did that. And the dream was to have a ten-year career and to retire at 32 years old and be off in the sunset and just living comfortably. But you know, plans change and in life, you have to adapt to the change," Pittman told ABC6.

"My goal was to one day give back to a community, a city that's given me so much. A city that changed my whole outlook on life as a kid growing up in Akron."

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The Rest Is History: Couples in Columbus share their stories of falling in love

Mitch Hooper

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Illustration by Sarah Moore

If Hollywood would ever pick up a romantic comedy about a couple falling in love in Columbus, how would it look? Would it be an epic story ending in an intimate proposal on the Scioto Mile, or two strangers bumping into each other at the Varsity Club on game day?

Funny enough, both are very plausible.

This month, we wanted to answer the question: what do love stories in Columbus look like? And what we found is sometimes love stories don’t happen in Columbus; instead they happen because of Columbus. While some folks were high school sweethearts who rekindled the flame, others struck up conversation in countries far away just because they shared the same ZIP code. In part, where you’re from shapes who you are, and for these couples, the capital city holds a special spot in their hearts. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Rachel Grauer and Aaron Guilkey

Aaron and I first met in the early 2000s at Eli Pinney Elementary in Dublin. He was my first boyfriend in fourth grade and broke my heart on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for the young folk). We didn’t speak a word to each other all of high school, thank you high school social hierarchy. I went on to OU and he to OSU. We reconnected after college while on a bar crawl in the Short North and the rest is history. We are getting married September 2020!

Lauren Sheridan and David Tripp

All of this is true: We met at a Clippers baseball game. It was a team outing for work. I worked with his mom and she was setting us up. This story is meant to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Our first o cial date was at 16-Bit, where we would take our engagement pictures over two years later. He lived in Arizona for 10 years before moving back to Columbus in 2016. It’s been fun reintroducing him to the city, especially our food and beer scene. I can’t imagine having these adventures with anyone else.

Misty and Erin Dickinson

We met at Rendezvous Hair Salon, where she is a hairstylist. Then we spent time together at Drauma at the Bluestone, followed by a night out for a Nina West show at Axis complete with dinner at Union and after party drinks at Macs. We were with my friends and I o ered to walk her to her car which had been towed because, well, Columbus. I stayed with her until we finally found her car at 3 a.m. We started hanging out a lot after that while we both swore we were “just friends”! Almost five years later and we are back in Columbus after a two year move to Tampa. We married (twice, but the story will be way over 100 words! Second time at LaNavona), and have a thousand Columbus stories. Columbus is our home. The place we love and always come back to. There is no place like it.

Kellie Anne and Carl Rainey

I moved to Columbus from LA in 2014 and met my now-husband a month after the move. We found out quickly that we were both California sports fans and went on our first date on Halloween. Lakers vs. Clippers was on the TV at the bar, so we made a bet and the loser had to pick up the tab. My Clippers beat his Lakers, so he had to pay up. We’ve been inseparable ever since. We got married March 23, 2019, and I’m so happy to call Columbus my forever home now!

Daniel Custer and Jenny Harris

I met Jenny on a wine cruise in Santorini, Greece. I saw her from across the pier before we boarded and knew I wanted to chat her up—she was gorgeous. She and her friends sat by me on the catamaran and we began telling one another where we were from. When it got to Jenny, she said she was from Columbus. I said, “Where?!” and she said “Grandview!” We spent the rest of the weekend together, along with the past three years.

Brittany and Ethan Monk

We met as employees at Scioto Country Club in UA. He was a broke server and I was a broke student working as a hostess. We spent many holidays away from family but with each other. We are complete opposites that were impossibly attracted to one another. We married and have 2 children. Still opposites—I work in clinical research and he is a musician and stay-at-home dad. We both have made Columbus our home!

Nicole Erdeljac and Andrew Crowell

We spent the day (separately) at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and were hanging out at the Bogey Inn afterwards. He was standing at the bar and I was behind him, waiting to be served. His friend kept accidentally hitting my shoulder while trying to reach over me to get his attention. I was visibly annoyed when he asked me to tap him. But, I did. We spent the rest of the night dancing to the live band and had our first date a week later at the Columbus Arts Fest, once again, dancing to the live sounds of Anderson East. The rest is history!

Tracie Lynn and Adam Douglas Keller

It was one month to the day after my mother had lost her battle to cancer in 2007. It was one of my favorite nights for being out in Columbus—Red, White, and Boom. After my sister’s and my friend’s group persistently encouraged us to go out for fireworks and time with friends, we agreed. We needed something light and fun. What could possibly come of that?

I’ll never forget the moment that I made eye contact with this handsome, tall and smiling man. He had happened to be out with a mutual friend of our group. We made small talk, listened to live bands, and, well—the rest is history. Nearly 13 years later, we now have two great kids, two dogs, and a rich, full life in Columbus. This is the city we met in, and the one we made a life in. I couldn’t ask for a better love story.

Rebecca Scha er and Peter Yeager

We met at Ledo’s, the first bar on our OSU senior bar crawl list. Flash forward 12 hours later at World of Beer, we bumped into each other again and he handed me a raw russet potato with his name and number written on it in Sharpie. Super weird and random but it did the trick. I called him my soul mate to his face that night. Last winter he took me around town. We stopped at both those bars, reminiscing about our time together. He asked me to be his wife in the middle of the same World of Beer where he gave me that first potato, hiding the ring in a large toy Mrs. Potato head. There’s no other way I would have liked the beginning of our story to go.

Victoria and Ryan Metzinger

I met my amazing husband in Columbus on a blind date set up by mutual friends (sounds very 1995, but it was actually 2011). He suggested a casual drink at Grandview Cafe and I upped the ante for dinner at Third & Hollywood. We continued to Spagio and ended at Grandview Cafe and the rest is history! Now, with two beautiful boys, our WiFi network will always be labeled “Third and Hollywood” as an ode to the perfect setting for a first date. We also visit the restaurant every year on our anniversary and it will never lose its luster.

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Arts & Culture

The Interview Issue: Author Saeed Jones

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Saeed Jones has traveled across the country promoting his new memoir and chosen Columbus for his own next chapter.

Author and new Columbus transplant Saeed Jones finally has a break after wrapping up his 16-city tour to promote his new memoir How We Fight for Our Lives. It’s a book that isn’t solely about his past, but is designed as an earnest conversation with readers. The book succeeds Jones’ previous poetry collections and a stint as Executive Editor of Culture at BuzzFeed, and is already receiving numerous honors and highly- publicized acclaim.

“It took a long time to write the book, almost a decade. So, I had a lot of time to think about writing it [being] one thing, but when you publish it, it becomes something different. I tried not to think so much about other people and the audience, but I think I trusted that if I could write to myself sincerely [and] candidly, that would be a bridge for other people,” he said. “It’s like you’re encountering someone when they just had a transformative experience. Something that’s really important for me in my writing is the cost of silence and the ways we silence ourselves. I think it’s powerful—as a writer, with the fortune I’ve had in my career—for people to be like, ‘I’m going through it’, and for me to be one more person who goes, ‘Me too.’”

Though some authors intend to tell their stories later in life, Jones wanted to focus his story on the time period from his upbringing in Texas through his mid-twenties to capture a specific ethos that informed his narrative. Concerned that segments of his life would become deemed irrelevant to readers, he found the immediacy of the news sparked him to publish the book sooner than later. Soon after Jones considered writing in detail about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which shifted the LGBTQ+ conversation, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting occurred.

“Whenever I would get a little hard on myself about the book’s intentions, it felt like America would go, ‘We gotta do this now,’” Jones said. ”Everything’s not perfect but a lot has changed from 1998. [While writing,] I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’ll be a perfect book, but it’s gonna be the book that I want and need now.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After his mother’s passing in 2011, Jones is attentive to their relationship in How We Fight for Our Lives, endearingly dedicating the book to her even after a moment of uncertainty that occurred when he came out. In spite of having a vibrant relationship with his mother, Jones jokes that the two weren’t able to naturally discuss sexuality. Promoting the memoir before Thanksgiving, Jones mentions that some LGBTQ+ readers confided in him about their own awkward conversations with family.

“Sure, it’s important for us to write about clear and present danger, whether that’s police brutality, homophobic or racially-driven violence, [but] I think that it’s also important for us to pay attention to the more subtle hurts that come to define us. Sometimes those hurts are a result of failings; loved ones who just can’t support us because they’re like ‘I don’t get it’ and they kind of give up,” he said. “My mom was working two jobs, so a lot of times she was just tired. She was like, ‘Sorry, we can’t have a heartfelt conversation today, I gotta go to my second job.’ That had an impact on me, and I know that has an impact on a lot of other people in those moments. In any meaningful, long-lasting relationships—certainly family relationships—it is going to be complicated. If you don’t have multiple colors in how you’re thinking about that relationship, the truth is that something is being deadened, something is being intentionally or unintentionally ignored or silenced.”

An avid reader of works by Margaret Atwood and Audre Lorde, Jones recognizes a similar urgency from his memoir through his influence James Baldwin, admitting to reading his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room repeatedly, revisiting it at different points of his life to gain a new perspective. Identifying with different characters each time, Jones focused essentially on Baldwin’s deconstruction of queerness and social dynamics, which intersected American politics with racial identity. “[Baldwin] wasn’t going to pretend that there was this monolithic Blackness. He wasn’t just going to pretend that there weren’t Black men—who he was advocating for in terms of civil rights— who weren’t homophobic. He was like ‘We’re gonna do all this together’” Jones said. “He’s drawing from his background in Christianity, but he’s changed; he’s not practicing his faith in the same way. He [was] just doing a very good job of showing how we’re in flux and that it’s natural and better to embrace that. I feel like that set me up to start paying attention.”

Habitually enthusiastic about settling in Columbus (or what he calls “the promised land”), Jones speaks gleefully about The Great Migration and Ohio boasting essential Black authors—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Woodson, Hanif Abdurraqib and Toni Morrison. While he notes that Black authors have thrived

in Ohio through a formidable writing scene, in How We Fight for Our Lives, Jones touches keenly on the fragility of Black life. Days prior to our conversation marked the one-year anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Julius Tate, who was shot by Columbus police during a sting operation.

“If we’re able to villainize people we have wronged—and Julius was certainly wronged—it eases the rhetoric of brushing the wrong aside,” Jones said. “It happens so often and so much of our culture grooms all of us to move on. I’m not the one to say what justice for Julius and for Black people impacted by that violence looks like, but I would love to hear it. I have no interest in telling people to be quiet. I’m a writer, so I think a lot about editing and revision, and how you polish and the drafts you don’t want people to see. Cities are text, too.”

While Columbus continues to be a work in progress through systematic tensions, Jones is embracing the city’s tangible LGBTQ+ scene after residing in New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco. In support of the Black Queer & Intersectional Collective, he attended the Columbus March for Black Trans Women in November, where he felt a sense of cohesiveness within the city. “I feel like the march was a great example of waking me up—unsurprisingly, it’s easier for cisgender gay men to live and feel embraced here than Black trans women in Columbus,” Jones said. “The stakes are high, but it feels possible. Here it feels like, ‘start reading up, go to that march, talk to people,’ as opposed to ‘here’s the finished story.’”

With a story far from over, Jones reveals that his next life work is to write about joy to balance the scales with his past struggle within How We Fight for Our Lives. Avidly writing about pain and loss, he vows to dabble into more written frameworks outside of his comfort zone. “I feel like I’ve written about myself so damn much, maybe learning to write in other forms—fiction—would be fun. I want to learn more, I feel that’s when I’m most alive, when I’m learning and realizing that I’m learning,” he said. “That’s when I feel fully present as a person, not when I think I know the beginning, middle and end.”

Follow Saeed Jones on Twitter and Instagram at @theferocity.

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