Not content with enforcing crippling stay-at-home mandates on public venues, Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce has declared racism a public health crisis. Thanks to the apathy of the voting public in the Buckeye State, his divide and conquer rhetoric is likely to go unanswered.
The State of Ohio is reopening as the coronavirus pandemic winds down, however one of our veteran politicians apparently doesn’t feel that the past two months have tormented the residents of our state hard enough. Kevin Boyce is a member of the Franklin County Commission, the governing board of Ohio’s most populous county and home to the state capital, Columbus. Today he declared racism to be a “public health crisis” in the county. In doing so, he unwittingly showed that he only reads statistics according to the black and white categories to the total exclusion of the other populations. Perhaps he is part of the reason that his “crisis” exists.
The announcement is made on the backdrop of a real public health debate in Ohio, one that has given Mike DeWine the highest approval of any state governor, despite criticism by business owners and parents of school children over continuing closures. At this writing 1,720 Ohioans are listed as having died from the virus, ranking 13th in the nation. Ohio is the seventh most populous US state. For DeWine the key to his popularity has been his in-between approach of imposing looser lockdowns than those in New York and Michigan, while also appearing to break with the Trump administration due to media reports inflating differences between the White House and Columbus. Ohio was one of the first states to lock down, but DeWine has been more amenable to reopening than counterparts like Gavin Newsom and Gretchen Whitmer. More than any other governor, he has played the GOP and Democrats against each other successfully.
But Franklin County’s declaration has nothing to do with the virus. According to a statement Boyce released to ABC News:
“Racism has been a pandemic long before the current coronavirus pandemic. Our declaration today is important, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been apparent for a long time. COVID-19 has highlighted the health divide between black and white Ohioans, however, and I hope that it can be the catalyst we need to reform the whole health system so that it works for all of us equally.”
For those living in Ohio this might seem like a strange declaration. The state as a whole has an average life expectancy of 77.8 years for all residents. For black residents the number is lower at 73.9 years, for whites slightly higher at 78.1. However, the rates for Hispanics (85.3) and Asians (87.0) are far above either of them. Likewise, Franklin County has a black life expectancy of 74.5 years with 77.4 years for whites, 88.5 for Hispanics. Therefore, while there is a gap in health outcomes within Franklin County, it is actually a whole year narrower than in the state at large. At less than three years, Franklin’s gap is less than Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties, where the state’s other major metro areas Cincinnati and Columbus respectively are located. Lucas County, home of the decaying industrial town of Toledo, has a black life expectancy of 72.8 years. Likewise in Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, black residents have an average life expectancy 72.3 years. The worst county with a large metropolis was Mahoning County, home to Youngstown, where blacks have a life expectancy of only 70.7 years, more than six years less than a white resident. No word yet on whether their Democratic county leaders plan to declare racism a public health crisis.
Furthermore according to US Census data, Franklin County’s Asian and Hispanic populations each make up 5.7% of the total residents, meaning that Boyce is ignoring more than one in ten residents in order to salt the wound of black-white divisions.
As of this writing 193 residents of Franklin County have died of coronavirus according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Here again the county is much less of a hot spot than one might think. In Mahoning County, with a population one sixth the size of Franklin’s, there have been 156 deaths. Lucas County, with a population one third that of Franklin’s, has had 209 deaths. Of the three largest counties, Hamilton-Franklin-Cuyahoga, it has had the worst infection and death rate, but only by small handfuls in each column.
This is hardly the basis on which to highlight the county as being under a crisis. But Boyce’s fellow commissioner John O’Grady disagrees:
“Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our residents. Our community’s success depends on all Franklin County residents being able to share in it, but right now we have a system that is resulting in different outcomes for people based on the color of their skin. That’s not acceptable.”
O’Grady, who is white, apparently is content with cooperating in smearing his home town’s name just for the sake of headlines. Frankly, I’m disappointed, and it is beneath a Columbus public official. That’s what we do in Cleveland.
So who is the fake culprit?
The declaration of a public health crisis in the county is especially conspicuous as Columbus has long been considered to be so “average” that it is the “test market of the USA”. At the turn of the millennium this Midwestern city elected its first black mayor, Michael Coleman, who was reelected three times before retiring in 2016. In 2014 Ohio State University, the largest public land grant university in the country, chose Dr. Michael Drake as its first black president. OSU is also the largest employer in Columbus and Franklin County, and the fourth largest in Ohio.
As for the county’s political structure, Boyce sits along with two other Democrats on the three person county commission. Before that he was a Columbus councilman (2000-09) and appointed Ohio State Treasurer (2009-10) when incumbent Richard Cordray was elected attorney general of the state. He lost the election for that position in 2010 during the Tea Party wave to Republican Josh Mandel. In 2012 he was back in government, elected to the state House of Representatives, before seeking and winning election to the county commission in 2016. One of the controversies that hurt Boyce’s bid for treasurer was the fact that KeyBank, a major regional bank located in Cleveland, received a contract to process payments for the state and within one week held a political fundraiser for Boyce. The county has voted for Democrats in every presidential election since 1992, and is represented in Congress by another black Democrat, Rep. Joyce Beatty of the 3rd district.
The questions that should be posed to Commissioner Boyce are these:
- As someone who has served at the city, county, and state level of government since he was 28 years old, how come he chose this moment to declare racism a public health crisis?
- Where has he and the black leadership of the county been?
- And finally, why is it that he’s so concerned about the health discrepancies between blacks and whites, but could care less about the much wider gaps between both of them and Hispanics and Asians?