Adrienne Hood has long felt a call to service.
This internal drive, which she described as existing on an almost cellular level, led the Columbus native to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1994, beginning a 26-year career in the military that ended with her retirement from the Air Force reserves on Christmas Day 2020. And yet, Hood initially resisted the idea of running for political office, hesitant to place her family on public display and wary that critics would attempt to paint her as anti-police in light of the social justice work she took up , Henry Green, in June 2016.
“And, no, I’m actually pro-accountability, which is needed,” said Hood, who in December , challenging incumbent Emmanuel Remy to represent District 4 in the November election. “I know [this campaign] is challenging for my kids, especially when their brother is portrayed as something he’s not, and what that does to them emotionally. We have conversations, like, ‘Listen, not everybody is going to want me there.’ … But I definitely feel like this is what God has placed on my heart at this time. And I’m not saying he’s called me here because I’m going to win. But I do think he has called me to a place of being a disruptor. And not in the way some people might think, where I’m out to make chaos. But in a good way. It’s past time to do more for the members of our community.”
Seated in the kitchen of her North Side home, which currently serves as a de facto campaign headquarters, Hood readily acknowledged that she’s facing an uphill battle, pitted against an establishment-backed Democrat in Remy and a new districting system that goes into effect for the November election, the design of which could have more far-reaching consequences.
In previous elections, the seven City Council members were chosen at-large and could reside anywhere in Columbus. Approved by voters in 2018, the new system divides the city into nine districts, each of which will receive one seat on an expanded City Council.
While candidates must live in their district, voters citywide are able to cast ballots in all nine races, meaning a scenario exists in which a candidate could win their home district and still lose the vote. For Hood, this means upsetting Remy in District 4 wouldn’t be enough to secure a seat; she also needs to pull in more votes citywide than the well-funded incumbent, who enters into the contest with the full support and backing of local Democratic Party leadership.
“I know they have the money, but I still say the currency is with the people. And relationships are what I do have,” Hood said. “I’ve done work on all sides of town, and I’ve built relationships on all sides of town. And I need to lean on those relationships now to put up the best fight I can.”
Niyah Walters, in-house counsel for Columbus City Council, said the new district system was developed as a means of giving a greater voice to residents from all areas of the city rather than allowing multiple council members to live clustered in one neighborhood.
“The voters still vote on [council members] at-large, and citizens will still have access to all of the members regardless of where they live,” said Walters, who also led the Council Residential Districting Commission. “But they will also have a member who lives right in their neighborhood and who is more acutely aware of the intimate issues being faced by them. … You know where the potholes are. You know where the streetlights are out. You know all of the different things that come with living in a neighborhood.”
By preserving the at-large vote, proponents of the new system hope to introduce greater geographic representation while avoiding some of the pitfalls that can develop in a more traditional district system. In these, critics argue, representatives can sometimes run their wards like fiefdoms, motivated by how their actions benefit those living within these boundaries rather than thinking about the city more holistically. The current system also eliminates issues related to gerrymandering, since every district remains privy to a citywide vote no matter how it’s carved out on the map.
Others argued that this hybrid system introduces little more than the veneer of change while creating conditions that could leave some residents feeling more disillusioned by the political process.
“It feels to me like theater as opposed to real reform,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio. “It certainly doesn’t do anything to address money in politics, or some of the problems with the [City Council] appointment process. … It’s creating this kind of elaborate facade, right? We’re going to see how it plays out, and it isn’t necessarily terrible. What’s not great, though, is something being pitched as a reform when it isn’t, because at some point that discourages citizen participation.”
Hood is no stranger to fighting against entrenched systems, having worked tirelessly to bring about police reform in the months and years that followed her son’s 2016 death, these gradual victories evident in everything from the operational review of the Columbus Division of Police in 2019 to the 2021 .
“There was so much fighting to do: fighting his case, fighting for people to see him as a human being,” . “Everything about it has been a fight on some scale.”
To this day, Henry remains a motivating presence for Hood, his image beaming from a pair of posters that hang on the walls in the kitchen and the family room of her North Side home – the two spots where she tends to post up to take Zoom meetings or make campaign fundraising calls.
The would-be councilwoman said she draws similar strength from the memory of her mother, an ironworker who absorbed countless abuses at the hands of her white coworkers and never defected from the work at hand, continually forging ahead against indescribable pushback. “She was the first certified Black female ironworker in Ohio, that we know, and I remember how cruel they were to her,” Hood said, recalling one time when a coworker defecated in her mother’s lunch pail. “And the next morning she was up like clockwork, telling me, ‘Adrienne, get up and get my sandwiches made.’ And she went right back there, because she was a fighter. She was always a fighter.”
Hood said she inherited this trait from her late mother, tracing its emergence to childhood, where she naturally developed a protector’s instincts as the oldest of seven children. “I don’t think in my life any fight I was in was because of me,” Hood said. “It was always me protecting someone – my sisters, my cousins.”
With this City Council run, Hood has similarly positioned herself as the person ready to give voice to those who have traditionally had less say: the newly single mother struggling to scrape together the rent; the recovering addict building a new life from scratch; the young father working two jobs to support his child.
“I’ll say that she’s going to draw a unique type of voter, and people who might not typically vote, but are now because they see themselves in her,” said Hood’s campaign manager, LaToya Dowdell-Burger. “She has an understanding of what’s going on in the community, which is what compelled her to run, and I think she’s going to be a better voice for all of the people.”
Hood credits this sense of empathy to her own lived experience. As a young woman, she watched her mom struggle with and eventually overcome an addiction to crack cocaine. And when Hood’s husband left her in 2003 (the divorce was finalized two years later), her grandmother moved in, the family sharing a compact house. “And I told my kids, I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but when God restores, we will have more room than we will know what to do with,” said Hood, who delivered on the promise when she purchased her current North Side home in 2008.
Years later, Hood had to work to overcome the death of her son, carving out the needed space to grieve while also standing at the forefront of the local social justice movement, which galvanized around his death. “When you look back in history, Henry was a flashpoint, and I think since then it has kind of become that landmark case in Columbus, where things finally started to change,” family attorney .
“It’s still hard sometimes,” Hood said. “Would I rather still have my son and be minding my business as I was? Absolutely right. But God’s calling doesn’t always come beautifully packaged.”
Indeed, it’s these accumulated aches on which Hood has built her candidacy, saying that these struggles more closely align her with voters whose paths in many ways mirror her own.
“I have lived the life of a single parent. I know what it feels like to be on public assistance. … I know what it feels like to ask how you’re going to afford childcare, and what it’s like when you have more mouths than you have money and you gotta figure out what this grocery list is going to look like,” Hood said. “And it’s these same types of people that live on all sides of town. The same types of people are fighting to get affordable housing. The same types of people are dealing with mental health issues, and questioning public safety.
"All of these life experiences, these are what made me. And so, when all of these policies and proposals are introduced, I feel like that will be my space, and I’ll be the one to ask, ‘What is this going to look like for that single mother? For that single father?’ I can be that voice.”
Six months out from the election, Hood said that time and money remain hurdles to overcome. She still works full-time to keep up with bills, and she has children and grandchildren that require attention (as we talked in mid-April, Hood baked a sweet potato pie for her niece). This means that Hood is often left with just nights and weekends to call potential donors and to travel to public events across the city to meet face-to-face with voters – an exhausting but necessary pace.
And then there’s the reality that her campaign is challenging the Columbus Democratic establishment, creating tensions of which Hood is all too aware. “I’ve had people tell me that they support me, but they can’t on paper, because it might impact future endeavors,” Hood said. “It would be awesome to have those donations and the endorsements, but people don’t want to upset the Democratic Party, and I get it. So, it’s going to take a lot of work in order for us to do what I know can be done.”