Appointed Athens council members respond to being called “tokenized” political pawns by council candidate

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — An independent running for Athens City Council called out two members of the council Monday night, saying they’re being used by the Democratic Party to sideline more progressive voices.

Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
In a three-minute prepared statement, Damon Krane addressed the council’s two newest members, Ben Ziff and Micah McCarey, and said they were appointed to the council as a gesture toward more inclusion but that the real goal was to co-opt them. 

Ziff and McCarey were both appointed to the council by the Democratic Party to fill vacant seats. Ziff and McCarey are both young and both renters, and McCarey is Black and gay. Krane implied that those were in large part the reasons the two were appointed as he told them they were both victims of tokenism.

McCarey bristled at this characterization, telling WOUB it only adds more stress to qualified people of color.

“I have enough (stress) that I don’t need to entertain anyone’s concern that I’m a token,” he said. “The contributions over my new two-year term will demonstrate just how valuable diversity is, and I’m working to make sure I’m not the last.”

McCarey and Ziff are both now running for election to the seats they occupy.

Krane said that Ziff and McCarey are more politically aligned with him and other more progressive voices in the community, but are now allying themselves with the more mainstream Democrats.

Krane mentioned a recent Republican luncheon at which Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, a Democrat, criticized both Ziff and McCarey as too liberal, according to a story by the Athens News, which was based on a leaked recording.

“Are you guys going to continue to allow yourselves to be tokenized and weaponized against the communities you claim to represent?” Krane said. “Are you going to throw our people under the bus in exchange for your own seat at the table?”

Watch Krane deliver his prepared remarks at the Oct. 19 Athens City Council meeting:

When it comes to his political affiliations, McCarey said he just wants to serve Athens through the Democratic Party.

“I’m grateful to have the backing of the Democratic Party,” he said. “I’m even more grateful to find opportunities to help our community thrive and want to be of service to everyone regardless of political party.”

Ziff told WOUB that he supports Krane’s right to speak his mind.

“I have no problem ever with someone telling me or calling me out in that setting,” he said. “That doesn’t bother me at all and that’s just part of the job.” 

Ziff said he is more troubled by comments Patterson made at the Republican luncheon, in particular his reference to another independent council candidate, Iris Virjee, not by name but by her occupation.

“My main disappointment has been referring to Iris as a bartender,” said Ziff, who is a manager at Donkey Coffee.

“That’s what I hope to bring and continue to bring after this election is someone who sticks up for the service industry, because we’re traditionally an underrepresented group in that world,” he said.

Ziff said he plans to meet with Patterson in the next couple of days to discuss the recent events.