Three incumbents on Columbus City Council said they will seek re-election to continue adding to the successes of the city, making it competitive for small businesses and economically and culturally diverse.
But their challengers say the current council structure, which locks good candidates out of the system, needs to be changed.
Incumbents Priscilla Tyson, A. Troy Miller and Eileen Paley will face Republican challengers Greg Lawson and Brian Bainbridge, and independent Nick Schneider, in the Nov. 5 election.
Lawson, 35, said ward representation "would bring a certain level of accountability."
"Money soils the process," said Lawson, a policy analyst for the Buckeye Institute of Public Policy, a free-market think tank.
"It's very difficult to mount a successful campaign. When you make it that way, the cost of entry is pretty prohibitive."
Any such change in the charter must be approved by voters. Critics of the proposal say wards lead to political gridlock and grandstanding.
Tyson, 58, has an "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" attitude about the subject.
She said Columbus is a success story. It's the only major city in Ohio that's growing and has a AAA bond rating, which allows the city to borrow money at a lower interest rate to finance projects.
Tyson, who lives on the East Side, said neighborhoods are represented, either through civic associations or area commissions, which serve in an advisory capacity.
She said her door is always open to constituents.
"We're doing well," said Tyson, who owns an art gallery. "I don't see any reason to change."
Lawson and Bainbridge, both of whom have served on area commissions -- Lawson on Fifth by Northwest and Bainbridge on Greater Hilltop -- think neighborhood groups' concerns are unheeded at City Hall.
"I don't think they're taken seriously," Bainbridge said. "I don't think they've been taken seriously for years."
Bainbridge, of the West Side, said he supports a combination of ward and at-large representation "working together for a common goal."
"I really believe our nation was founded on the representative form of government we take for granted today," said Bainbridge, 37, a real estate agent. "Why are we exempt from that?"
Meanwhile, council has been criticized by some neighborhood leaders over the amount of attention and money it's given to downtown projects, including the Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, at the expense of other areas.
Paley, an attorney in private practice, said if there's a disparity that tips in favor of downtown, it's worth the investment.
Downtown, she said, offers the first impression to visitors who are attending a conference at the Greater Columbus Convention Center or staying at one of the hotels.
And there have been positive developments, she said, including the construction of a new Hilton hotel and announcement of Highpoint on Columbus Commons, a 300-unit apartment complex.
"I won't apologize for that. It makes good economic sense," said Paley, 50, who lives on the Far East Side.
Schneider, 31, said the current council structure was put in place nearly 100 years ago when the city had roughly 100,000 residents. Now the population has grown to nearly 800,000.
Of the 50 largest American cities, only Columbus and Seattle have no district representation, Schneider said.
"It's time for our system to get with the 21st century," he said.
Schneider, a videographer and small-business owner who lives in Clintonville, also leveled pointed criticism against the city for using money from the Hollywood Casino to bailout corporations "for their bad investment" in Nationwide Arena.
Lawson, who lives on the Northwest Side, also advocates repeal of the 0.5-cent income tax increase, passed by voters in 2009, that brought the city's total income tax rate to 2.5 percent.
He admits, however, the chances of this happening are "slim to none."
"Their basic premise is, we've got it, we might as well hold onto it," he said.
Miller, meanwhile, has made small business development "a top priority." For example, Miller's Columbus Kickstart initiative allows local entrepreneurs to compete for free downtown retail space.
"Kickstart also hosted a WidgetPitch contest where local entrepreneurs presented their ideas in front of local investors," said Miller, 47, an independent IT consultant who lives on the East Side.
"Small-business development will continue to be my focus for the next four years," he said.