Big city, big problems, little city, same problems

Dateline: Sun 04 Nov 2007

As interesting as the Indy races are, the mayoral heat in Greencastle in Putnam County is every bit as fascinating. The Dems are represented by the well-funded Sue Murray, a social worker with 25 years experience and a number of years devoted to public service. The R's have put forth Steve Butts, owner of Steve's Wrecking Service.

Greencastle's two-term incumbent, Mayor Nancy Michael, or Mayor Nancy as she is known, is a Democrat who apparently has pissed off some folks: see, it comes with the territory. The most obvious issue is jobs, as it is everywhere. Greencastle has seen some plant closings, small retail failures and a struggle for economic survival on the town square -- welcome to small-town America. The other rap on Mayor Nancy is that she has opposed (some) development. We've got Wal-Mart -- welcome home! -- and not much else. Under her leadership, supposedly, it's been difficult for some projects to get a green light.

Ah, but that is just the surface chatter.

This summer, the Greencastle City-County Council passed, after much noisy but too-short debate, a smoking ban affecting all businesses in the college town except for the "big animal clubs" -- private establishments such as the Moose, Elks, Legion, VFW, etc.

The anti-smoking wave is moving west; Plainfield had earlier on passed a similar measure. So "progressive" Greencastle, home to DePauw University, had better get with the program. The tobacco-free alliance folks at the state and county levels worked with the League of Women Voters, of which I am a member, to spread the word about the effects of second-hand smoke, etc. Problem is, not very many people attended some of those preliminary meetings. As Marion County Dem chairman Mike O'Connor says, the real enemy is complacency.

When the smoking ban vote finally came down to the wire in a council meeting this past summer, the word was out. Smokers and small-government workers showed up in large numbers in a furious last-minute attempt to turn the tide. Some spoke eloquently against the ban; others simply spoke. At any rate, it passed, with the already-stated exception -- private clubs are exempt. But the fire was not out over smoking: the smoldering embers remained.

From that, and out of frustration with the current mayor -- hello, sound familiar -- emerged the GOP candidacy of Mr. Butts, who owns Steve's Wrecker Service in Greencastle. He is a Vietnam veteran and a good old boy in the best sense: he seems to be a nice man. Case in point: when I sent him an e-mail about his candidacy, he sent me a personal note back.

But nice guys finish -- well, well see. I've listened to the mayoral debate held at DePauw University, where council candidates also squared off. While I thought at first that Butts might be a breath of fresh air, even tho he is a smoker, I came away far more impressed with Sue Murray. She has poise, she appears to have good connections and she's well-spoken. Not that it matters what I think just like in Indy, I can't vote in Greencastle. I'm a county gal.

The fascinating part has been this: Murray has the big fat war chest. Butts has come out of nowhere, with backing, it seems from an alliance of business and community leaders who think Greencastle is in a stall. If yard signs count, there is plenty of momentum behind Butts. During candidate forums, the Rs repeatedly said they opposed the smoking ban on the grounds that they do not want government dictating to business how to run business's affairs. That theme may play well at the polls, altho it does not resonate with the "progressive" element in the city (the university folks).

Butts has run on a campaign of "If you like the current administration, don't vote for me. If you are concerned about the future of Greencastle and want to see change, I'm your guy" He has portrayed Murray as part of the status quo. It seems to be working, altho Murray has recently shot back in her own campaign ads, pointing out the number of businesses that have opened, as others closed. She also points to the fact that her husband David Murray, a former Eli Lilly man, runs the College Choice business on the Square.

Still, she may have a hard time getting elected. Maybe it is less about the parties and more about the Bush-in-the-White-House factor. Trite as it sounds, people want change. That makes it a tough year for incumbents.

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