by David M. Butler

The Interview: Jaiza Page

Talk with Jaiza Page for any amount of time and she’s bound to mention where was born on more than one occasion.

Good old Linden.

We’re not talking about the part of Linden people are trying to rebrand as East Clintonville either, she grew up a few blocks south of Linden Park, off of Republic and Ontario. But Jaiza had a strong family. Mom worked for the Department of Commerce for nearly 30 years, while dad was a professional boxer who won Olympic Gold as a welterweight back in 1984. He’s still working for the Department of Job and Family services.

With two parents involved in the business of building up people and their communities, Jaiza took an early interest in the law. At the tender age of 8, it was a movie about a boy going through the divorce of his parents that served as the biggest inspiration, but, through work,her mother knew a lot of people in the legal profession, so she picked up a lot by osmosis.

Jaiza worked hard, earned scholarships, and fulfilled her dream of becoming an attorney. After graduating from Columbus School for Girls, she did her undergraduate work at Georgetown, and came back to Columbus to earn her law degree from Ohio State. Upon graduating and passing the bar, she went to work as an assistant city attorney, where her dreams were actually coming true. She was helping people through the law. By leveraging the minutiae of zoning, of which Jaiza is a self-professed nerd, she was able to help make neighborhoods safer by closing down problematic properties, and aggressively dealing with criminal enterprises. Her success is evident if you look at the improvements in the quality of life on the part of the East and South sides of town that comprised the zone to which she was assigned.

Things were going well. Jaiza had a good job, making good money, and she was making a difference. Then, one day toward the end of 2014, she decided to make a drastic change by applying for an open city council seat.

Days before this article, she announced she would be seeking a judge seat in 2018, giving us the perfect time to sit down with one of the city’s rising political stars.

Now that you have been on City Council for three years, has it lived up to your expectations, or has it been a disappointment in some ways?
It’s lived up to my expectations. I definitely get frustrated with the time it takes for us to get some things done, but a lot of that is just how government functions. I think City Council has a great amount of potential to do a lot of great things in our city. Being a problem solver, you have the resources to make a call, or propose a change that can make a difference. It’s amazing.

As somebody who grew up in Linden, do you feel our city government is doing enough to support that neighborhood and neighborhoods like it?

I think that there is, now, a focus on Linden and neighborhoods that are in need. I can definitely understand people’s frustration—that it’s taking too long to address their needs. I still have grandparents that live in Linden, and my other grandparents live by Fifth and Cassady. They live in the neighborhoods where you see the vacant and abandoned houses, and the drug houses, and the people walking up and down the street without jobs. I believe that there is a focus on these communities, and a focus to make sure that those residents are participating and feeling the same growth that the rest of our city has.

Are residents in some of these neighborhoods justified to feel that the city is too eager to hand out tax breaks to developers for downtown projects when just as fraction of that money applied in those neighborhoods would yield bigger returns, or are people not seeing the big picture?

I think it’s a mix of both. This is from a city perspective—it’s our responsibility to help everyone understand the bigger picture and how these tax abatements are helping not just that one area but the city as a whole, so that’s an educational piece, but then we have to do more to increase private investment into all of our neighborhoods. When there are some areas where you see that constantly, for instance, if you live in Linden and your just a few blocks from High Street where you see all of this development you start to ask, “Why isn’t this here? Why isn’t this on Aberdeen? Or Weber, or Hudson?” So we need to work with our neighborhoods and the private investors to help understand those areas, and work with them to find those champions.

Thirty years ago a lot of cities actually subscribed to the concept of economic segregation, theorizing that by concentrating poor people into certain areas is was easier to consolidate services to help them. At times it seems like Columbus is doing that. Is City Council aware of this perception, and is anything being done to address it?

I chair our housing committee and work very closely with the Department of Development, and we’re working hard to make sure that our neighborhoods are mixed income. It’s difficult with housing vouchers and increasing rents because private owners no longer have to accept those vouchers, but it is very important for all of us working in the affordable housing space to ensure that our neighborhoods are mixed income because it’s a stronger neighborhood. In the next year I want to hone in and do some pushing with our affordable housing alliance in educating our community on the needs, because there are so many residents who are spending 50 percent of their income just on housing. As our city develops we can’t leave people behind. I’m personally very passionate about that. I see the effects of concentrated poverty. I grew up in Linden, and now I live in a neighborhood near Livingston and Hamilton, and there’s a distressed neighborhood just across from there. I see the effect it has on everybody. We need to make sure that people have safe and affordable housing, but also that our neighborhoods are strong.

So, with all that said, you’ve recently announced that you’re pursuing a judgeship in the coming year. What do you feel you can do as a judge that you can’t accomplish on the City Council?

I love the law. I’m a lawyer, and I believe that the law is the one equalizer in our society. Your race doesn’t matter, your gender doesn’t matter, it’s the law. Now, I know that there have been instances, particularly nationally, where you might have two people who did the same thing, but because they look differently, one got a different sentence than the other one. For me, I have that perspective as a minority. Not only do I understand the law from the legal side of things, but I’ve had family on both sides of the law, so by bringing all of that together I think I would be a great judge, and an addition to the bench. That would allow me to impact our community in a different way than I do on Council. Those judicial decisions don’t just impact that individual, but families on both sides, and also the community. I believe that I can continue to serve the community as a judge.

You mentioned that the law doesn’t discriminate, but the people who impose the law sometimes do, and that’s a problem we see playing out everyday. What can you do differently from other judges?

I think my experiences can help enhance the public’s confidence in our system. More and more it seems like people are losing faith in our legal system, and I want to help rebuild the public’s trust in our legal system through work done in the courtroom.

What are three things Columbus needs to do better?

Make sure that all of our neighborhoods are experiencing the same growth and development. It’s unfortunate we keep hearing the same names, and the growth might not be the same but everybody should experience some of the growth. I’m happy with Mayor Ginther’s focus on ‘Neighborhoods, Neighborhoods, Neighborhoods,’ but it’s something that we definitely need to improve on. The second thing, I’d say, is that we need to do a better job of understanding each neighborhood’s uniqueness, and hone in on that. I don’t know how to define the boundaries of what’s a neighborhood, but once you understand the people and their needs, you can serve them better. I don’t like the idea of this big area overlay, where something that might work in one  place might not work in another. Lastly, our police are doing good things, but we need to have a better relationship between our communities and our police. Some of that will take a lot of time, but there are things that have to happen now. I’m the oldest of nine kids and five of my siblings are African-American males. You don’t want to think everyday that something bad can happen to them because of the way they look, or they’re in a certain neighborhood, or they have a hoodie on. Those are changes we need to see immediately that can have a long term impact.  As city leaders we’ve got to help forge that relationship, but there’s a lot of tension right now.

We have some work to do. It’s hard because some people need to take some hits, but it’s got to change. I know next year there’s going to be a push for officers to get out of their cars more. We just have to build a positive relationship between the police and the community. There are some officers that do that, and do it well.