Impressions of a candiadate...why they love to hate Bart

Dateline: Fri 26 Oct 2007

When I was getting ready to move to Indianapolis from Evansville in 1978, I asked my city editor, Tom Ryder at the Evansville Press, what the capital was like.

Always serious, with a tendency to terseness, his face took on a gloomy cast. "Indianapolis is a very closed city," he said. What? What does that mean? "It's very tight, very tightly run, very closed," he said.

Was that the Evansville pocket mentality talking? Or did his comment simply signal his own allegiance: Catholic, Democrat, working-class, common man background?

No. Indianapolis was a very closed city, politically speaking, for 30 years or so, when Republicans ruled with an iron hand and deals were brokered at the Columbia Club or John Mutz' Brown County cabin. Was this necessarily bad? No -- it was efficient. But it was, unquestionably, closed. As in: blacks, women, Libertarians, petty bourgeois -- bite your tongues.

That's why Bart Peterson's bid for the job as mayor in 1999 was greeted by so many with anticipation. Peterson, to be sure, had certain Republican qualities: he came from money, and he had worked for Evan Bayh when Bayh was governor. Bayh, as most Democrats will tell it, also had a strong R bent, perhaps a necessary camouflage in the Hoosier state: he was frugal.

But Peterson seemed to be his own man, and more importantly, he had a sharp young shaper, Mike O'Connor, at his side. Together those two guys canvassed Indy, stumping, shaking hands, getting deals done. For the first time in 30 years, the Dems had a sense they had a winner.

So they did, but Peterson started to fall short quickly after his election. I personally disliked his glamor-boy attack on video games in arcades; it stank of censorship and pandering to conservatives in the worst sense. He seemed, also, to be NOT a big picture guy, although in fairness, he kept the momentum going for key development -- Fall Creek, Downtown -- and he started charter schools (which may prove to be part of his undoing).

But his biggest misstep came in his relations with police. How could a Democrat blow it so badly? When the Indianapolis Police Department needed a contract, and demanded more and better, he froze out the FOP leadership. He refused to play ball. He failed in the art of compromise. He created a stalemate that went on for more than a year and still festers. He made enemies not in high places but among the rank-and-file -- the very people who should have had his back.

The rap on him today is that his friends are bigwigs and richies -- developers, the Simons, that crowd. But I personally think he lost it when he screwed over the police. The blog indyundercover has done an excellent job of nailing his failures on controlling the rise in crime and his failure to address ethical concerns. His inability to remove himself from City-County Council Prez Monroe Gary may bring down the whole Dem family.

But one thing you have to give the guy credit for: he woke the sleeping giant. Indy No Place, which had about as much political heat as a tepid cup of weak tea, has come red-hot alive. People care about the issues. They care who has the juice and who is squirting it.

As Martha says, "that's a good thing."

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