The Ballard Rules/Taking back the city

Dateline: Wed 07 Nov 2007

I'm sure I'm not the only one today who is ordering a copy of "The Ballard Rules: Small Unit Leadership," which gets a five-star review on Amazon.com. For $15 -- or as low as $10.17 used -- you'll get a peek into the headset of new mayor-elect of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, a Marine, businessman, coach, Indy native, husband and father.

Or, for cheap, you could just visit his blog to get the answer to the burning question, "Who is Greg Ballard?" -- www.gregballardformayor.com

Or, even more entertaining, you might buy a ticket for the upcoming Marine Corps Ball, the 232nd anniversary, to be celebrated this Saturday Nov. 10 at the Downtown Hyatt Regency. Will mayor-elect/Lt. Col. Ballard be there? Susan Guyett of the Star, at attention: here's your photo op or chance to pick up some scuttlebutt. Goodness knows, the Star needs to snudge up a bit to the city's next CEO.

This, then, is what it is to indulge in political post mortem. We are scrambling for explanations. We are trying to connect the dots, locate where the bodies have been buried and peer into the future.

Besides learning more about Greg Ballard, we want an answer for what went wrong within the well-heeled, well-publicized, hardworking campaign of two-term Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, a party star. How did Ballard, a nobody poster boy for a red state (Republican, career Marine AND a Catholic, with no stain of politics on his resume) come from ground zero to muscle the leadership of the nation's 12th largest city -- the one that had "gone Democrat"? How did the Dems lose the momentum they had eight years ago?

One word, for starters: crime. OK, two words -- crime AND cops.

First, the police. I've never understood why Peterson allowed it to happen, but early on in his administration, he and chief adviser Mike O'Connor got into a pissing match with the city's police and the FOP over contract negotiations. The ice was never broken, despite changes in FOP leadership. If anything, the Dems socked it to the police whenever they could. And vice versa.

Four years ago, the FOP endorsed Republcan Greg Jordan for mayor. The results were noted by Jim Shella, political commentator for WISH TV 8, in a Sept. 7, 2007, post: "...the FOP got handed some bad contracts and a police merger by their political enemy Mayor Bart Peterson." A double hit. Very nice. Shella, by the way, predicted a win for Peterson, which shows that to report is not always to understand.

The costly police merger, fraught as it was with logistical problems, and deeply resented by most police, only made the existing wounds fester. Instead of creating pride in a combined city/county force, Indianapolis Police Department officers got the shaft as Sheriff Frank Anderson, a Democrat, took care of his cronies in Marion County and appeared unresponsive to the IPD rank-and-file. Already-difficult police work became even more challenging as runs took much longer; citizens suffered.

Then there's the crime, which brings up the classic chicken/egg story: which came first, the problems with the cops or the turmoil on the streets? Doesn't matter. No doubt its a collusion/collision of both forces.

Nor does the answer matter to those affected by crime. Victims, police, and residents of beset neighborhoods do not care what "the national trends" say -- they don't care that Indy is simply part of a bigger picture. That argument does not play out on the city's blocks, when blood is being spilled.

Crime is personal. If you've ever had a purse snatched or a car broken into or been assaulted, you can relate. So the rising crime wave created a rising tide of very dissatisfied Indy residents. For those living in marginal neighborhoods, the cracked and crumbling sidewalk became symbolic. Nobody cares. Forgotten people. Peterson, the rap went, only pays attention to his rich developer friends. The Simons copped a break; how about the people in Irvington?

Then came the tax crisis. I happen to believe Indiana has been undertaxed for a long time; we were overdue for a correction. We also all know that rising property taxes are not the mayor's fault. Unfortunately, his administration didn't offer any reasonable solution or, frankly, much empathy. His idea? He wanted to borrow more money -- absurd.

Plus there was a terrific disconnect among Dems themselves, which showed a lack of empathy. Peterson supporter and Star op/ed columnist Dan Carpenter happens to be both a very nice and humble man. But sometimes his 1960s ideology gets in his way, as it did when he wrote about the tax revolt he witnessed in his Northside neighborhood of Butler-Tarkington and nearby Meridian-Kessler. In something unprecedented in Indy, hundreds of distraught residents put up yard signs: "Home for sale due to unfair taxation." It was a genuine revolution.

The Peterson people could have been more in tune with those unhappy, frustrated, frightened residents. Carpenter implied that his neighbors are simply whining richies living off the backs of the poor. In fact, they are part of the city's core, middle-class homeowners trying to keep older homes intact, educate children and enjoy city life. If you lose those folks to Carmel, Indy is history.

Another factor, both in Peterson's loss and Ballard's ascension, has been the blogs, or "that noise". Some, like indyundercover and Indiana Minority Report, were born out of frustration with the mayor's policies and/or efforts to elect new leaders. Gary Welsh's Advance Indiana in particular hammered away hard, exposing corruption and calling for change. Others that stayed in the game were Digital Farmer, (great videos), the incomparable Indiana Barrister, Polis Politics, Circle City Pundit, the Hoosierpundit, etc. etc. etc. At times, I wished some of the more liberal blogs had addressed some of the stories out there -- City County Council president Monroe Gray's ethical issues, for instance. Their silence also compounded the frustration.

Oh, yes, Monroe Gray. My buddy Pete Miesel believes Gray, more than any other factor, brought down the mighty Peterson camp. Says Miesel:

"...the Star did run that story about Monroe Gray's potential ghost employment just before Bart's polls turned south. Gray spiking his own ethics investigation looked really bad, and I'm sure the swing voters that normally would have gone Peterson saw that as the final straw."

So there it is: the old perfect storm. Too bad for all the great Dems who have selflessly worked to make Indy better, but that's life in politics and the big city. And has been noted before, there's a revolving door between the city's political leaders and the top law firms.

As for Ballard, the Star's Matt Tully called his campaign a joke 10 weeks before the election. Talk about being out of touch. Tully knocked Ballard for spending time "hunkered down at the State Fair, mixing with pig farmers from Posey County."

Alas, the Star, with its rich resources, never got it. The paper, which is already irrelevant, too often sat on the sidelines regarding Ballard and instead shamelessly carried the water for Peterson, with some exceptions: reporting by Mary Beth Schneider and Brenden O'Shaughnessy.

I personally really think what did the Dems in was their last-minute decision to run campaign ads, quoting that fawning endorsement of Peterson from the Star. Good god and gag me with a rag.

Concluded Tully, in his "Ballard's campaign is a joke" column: "After months of tax increases and Democratic flaps, this city is filled with angry voters looking for choices. Ballard has done nothing to connect with the people of Indianapolis.

"But, hey, I hear he's huge in Posey County."

Yep, smarty. And he's pretty big in Marion County now, too.

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