Homegrown councilwoman wants to keep city strong
Unlike most political candidates who hope to bring about change, Westerville City Councilwoman Jenifer French said she got involved in city politics three years ago to preserve the hometown she treasures.
"Because I grew up in Westerville and because I knew we would remain in Westerville, I knew I wanted to be involved in Westerville and in the city. It's important to me to have a say in how things go," French said.
"Westerville's such a wonderful place, honestly, I didn't want to be on City Council to change anything. I just wanted to make sure that Westerville continued on the path of excellence that it's on.
"Most people go to a certain office because they think things need changed. I don't think you find that a lot here. People want to be involved in something that's great."
French, 39, is running for her first full term on council. She was appointed to her current seat in January 2011 after former Councilwoman Anne Gonzales left council to join the state legislature.
French is joined in the election for council by incumbents Kathy Cocuzzi, Mike Heyeck and Larry Jenkins, and challenger Doug Rankin.
French is a Westerville native and a graduate of Westerville North High School.
She studied criminal justice at Ohio State University before earning her law degree in California.
French returned to Westerville in 2006, with husband, Mike. The couple has three young children: 9-year-old Hutson, 6-year-old Parker and 21/2-year-old Kennedy.
She works as a litigator, mostly handling insurance-defense cases.
French first got involved in city government by joining the Recreation Advisory Board, which she sat on for a year and a half before running for council.
"At that time, I had Hutson and Parker, and they were younger. We were using the parks and recreation facilities and the programming so often that I just really wanted to be involved in that aspect of the city because that's what I was most familiar with," French said.
She said she became interested serving on council during the 2010 election, when she said she knew there would be a vacancy if Gonzales were elected to the Statehouse.
"When that happened, then I started thinking about the seat. I knew there was a possibility it would be vacant, and it was something I wanted to do," French said.
She was selected unanimously to fill the vacancy by the remaining council members in 2011.
If elected to keep her seat, she said she would like to see the city continue to focus on economic development to keep businesses moving to and expanding within the city, and she said she would like to see elements of the Uptown Plan, which is under development by city staff, implemented.
"There are areas of Westerville, vacant office buildings, vacant retail buildings, that we need to fill. It's important to bring the businesses here because people need the businesses and for the tax base," French said. "There's so much potential in Uptown Westerville. We have the Uptown Plan, and it's time to start working toward implementing."
French said the knowledge she's gained in her first three years on council, during which she's sat on the Parks Foundation Board, the board for the Division of Fire and the board that oversees the joint economic development zone with Blendon Township, will help her move forward and continue to serve.
"I've learned so much about how the city works and city services," French said. "All of these are positive things because the more you learn about Westerville, the more you get a grasp on how great it is and how well it's run."