Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, praised Sandy Springs as a model for “Uber-izing”—or privatizing—government during a Feb. 23 campaign stop at City Hall.
At its founding a decade ago, Sandy Springs made national headlines for using private contractors to run most city departments and services. Kasich repeatedly likened the city to the driver-hiring app Uber, which has up-ended the traditional taxi industry, and questioned Mayor Rusty Paul and Councilman Tibby DeJulio about how it works.
“What I like about what they’re doing here is, they’ve really Uber-ized the government,” Kasich said. “Government at every level, Tibby, has to be Uber-ized.”
Kasich drew a crowd of hundreds who made it inside Sandy Springs City Hall and hundreds more who were left waiting outside. He decided to speak briefly to the people stuck outside before appearing at the main town hall event. In that speech, Kasich, who is trailing in the polls, said that while he thinks becoming president is his life’s purpose intended by God, “maybe it’s a different goal. Maybe it’s raising the bar.”
At the town hall event indoors, the crowd–and a gaggle of local and national political journalists–waited while the Rolling Stones played on loudspeakers and a giant clock showing the national debt spun numbers on a stage. Mayor Paul, who endorsed Kasich last year, introduced the candidate. Most of the Sandy Springs City Council attended except for Councilman Gabriel Sterling, who has used social media to declare his strong support of rival GOP candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
In the town hall, Kasich addressed topics ranging from the importance of Israel as a key ally to labeling genetically modified foods. But he returned repeatedly to Sandy Springs’ privatization and compared it to his role in achieving a balanced federal budget as an Ohio congressman in the 1990s.
The crowd applauded when Paul said the city only directly employs eight people, not counting police officers. “Folks, this is really important,” Kasich said. “People are afraid in the establishment—they’ve always been afraid of me…If you’re in the establishment, you can’t go privatize an entire city because they think you’re a crackpot.”
Kasich envisions privatizing everything from prisons to some Veterans Affairs medical services to Pentagon bureaucracy, while increasing state-level control of some other functions, such as education. But he said the government should still take care of people with mental illnesses and drug addiction, and provide better opportunity for “our friends in the minority community.”
“I talk about things you would never hear if you went to a thousand Republican rallies…Profit is important, but not at everybody’s expense,” he said.
Kasich also warned Sandy Springs that its privatization successes could disappear. “You gotta be there with a big stick because if you don’t change the culture, you’re gonna be here in 10 years and it’s gonna be a different town,” he said. DeJulio assured him that, a decade on, the city still has a balanced budget. “OK, re-elect the man,” Kasich replied.
After the event, Kasich headed to a private fundraiser expected to generate around $40,000 at Sandy Springs’ Hudson Grille, Paul said in an interview.
Kasich is one of several candidates visiting Georgia in advance of the March 1 presidential primary election. Sandy Springs has offered City Hall for free to any presidential candidate for similar town halls. So far, the only other candidate whose campaign has considered it is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who decided the facility is too small for his needs, city officials said.