In Sunday’s edition of the daily newspaper of the City of Indianapolis, columnist Matthew Tully and Opinion Tim Swarens wrote “two views” about whether Mayor Gregory Ballard should seek a third term. Tully’s side of the dueling columns—big surprise—was “Mayor should pursue another term.”
The opposite view, written by Swarens, would be a delineation, one would infer, of the “down” side of Mayor Ballard’s first seven years as Mayor. Such an inference would have been invalid. Swarens’s position best can be summed up by one sentence, part-way through his piece: “If Ballard were all-in for another four years, I’d be all for it.”
When one’s employer—Gannett, owner of the Indianapolis daily newspaper—receives largesse, as in new corporate headquarters, from the Mayor, one would be inclined to avoid negative statements. Then there is the thin epidermis that coats the body of the ex-Marine mayor. Ballard might become snotty and have a hissy-fit.
The “two views” amounted to one view: how peachy-keen of a mayor Ballard has been. w
Tully’s piece set forth five reasons why Ballard should seek a third term. I will want to address Tully’s first point last.
Tully suggests this City needs strong leadership. I fail to see how Ballard has “led.” He is largely absent, travels abroad for jobs and returns with none, and advocates matters that have little support. His “cricket field” was an embarrassment. His efforts to push the City to fund pre-kindergarten are (1) made either in ignorance of or outright disregard for the mechanisms for funding education in Indianapolis. Here, the State provides funds. If this City were financially “flush,” maybe the idea would have some merit. Ballard tells us, alternately, we are broke and we never have been in such great financial shape. Underneath it all, TIFs increasingly have been used to fund projects. TIFs have screwed up municipal economies where TIFs have been used. Indianapolis will be no exception. Ballard’s relations with the City-County Council is similar to the relations between King Charles I of England and the British Parliament. In fact, Ballard’s “leadership” skills are so strong, he needed the Indiana General Assembly to beef up the powers of the office of the Mayor of Indianapolis and partially gut the powers of the City-County Council. Ballard’s leadership concept amounts to “my way or the highway”—a highway, one would hope, that is not a toll road owned by a bankrupt foreign corporation.
Tully notes a “third campaign would be Ballard’s last” and Ballard “could dismiss the silliness that comes with most campaigns and take the debate to a higher level.” Come on, Matt. You wrote a column about why Ballard should run for a third term, and already you want to put and end to his stay in the office on the 25th Floor. This point amounts to saying a lame-duck politician is better able to focus on the things for which he (or she) was elected. First, that’s not how it works for lame ducks. Second, how has Ballard been distracted from his job by campaigning? He can tell us now “the tough choices we need to make to put the city on a stronger path forward.” Unfortunately, the way Ballard wants to go—glad-handing with the corporate interests that have forced taxes increasingly upward and benefited Ballard campaign donors—is not the best way to go. The tough choices we need to make include paring down gifts to those donors, putting a limit to the looting of the City’s funds by billionaire sports franchise owners, and expansion of programs for infrastructure and public safety. These are not things Mayor Greg likes to do.
“Ballard is a moderate Republican and a reminder of the power of that rare brand of elected official.” I do not think Ballard has an ideology, as such. If someone gets in his way for a plan to build something and spread sugar on the folks who got him where he is, he tries to flatten that person. Councilor Christine Scales—a Republican, by the way, Matt—is someone who stood up to this really nifty, moderate Republican Mayor, and was shoved out of the caucus. Ballard’s administration has been marked by tax increase after tax increase. He ran on the notion he would cut taxes. Not only was he disingenuous in his 2007 campaign in that regard, he has put this City into bad straits financially.
Ballard is “one of a kind.” Some would agree with you on that, Matt, but not for the reasons you cite. He is “truly the average guy who stood up to City Hall and outsmarted every doubter, political expert and obstacle in his way.” Did he outsmart the corporate folks on that nifty parking meter deal, Matt? You know, the one where someone whited-out terms from the Chicago contract and wrote in “Indianapolis”? The contract where we saved a small sum up-front so that the corporation in question could profit for 50 years?
Finally—Tully’s first point, but my last—there “is unfinished business.” That’s the scary part, Matt. Greg Ballard is trying to stage a fire sale of City capital assets before he leaves office. He wants to pay for infrastructure improvements that have a life far less than the life of the bonds that would be used to make those improvements. The problem with that is the funds for the next, inevitable set of improvements will have to be raised while debt still is being retired for the previous improvements. And the example given: “If you don’t think a third term can lead to big things, consider this: It was during Hudnut’s third term that his administration lured the Colts to Indianapolis.” And how has that worked out, Matt? I know the Irsays are happy. We can all commiserate with the woes of the Colts when they lose and cheer when they win, but the City of Indianapolis has given up a lot of money in that deal. For all the money we lost, we probably could have purchased a wide-screen TV for each household in the City, placed that cash back into the City’s economy (we would have insisted the purchases be local), and saved.
Greg Ballard is lousy as a mayor. His administration has been secretive. We still do not know the details of some of the contracts part—the ROC—or future—the proposed Criminal Justice Center.
Of course, when the City’s daily newspaper is almost the organ of the Greg Ballard Fan Club, there is not much that can be said of “two views” about whether Mayor Ballard should seek a third term. The two views really are one.