Commentary: All the signs of an upset were there

December 3, 2007

I recently had a post-election conversation with a good friend who is a staunch supporter of Mayor Bart Peterson. We were talking about the two-term incumbent's loss to the little-known challenger, Greg Ballard.

My friend told me, "Abdul, I never thought Bart Peterson would lose."

My response: "Neither did he and that's why he did."

I am amazed at how many people were shocked at what happened less than a month ago, because, if you paid attention, you saw it coming.

The first indicator that this was not going to be a normal election was back in the May primary. We had just started to hit the tip of the property-tax iceberg, but many citizens were still upset about crime and there was a general malaise that the city was stagnant and had its priorities wrong.

My evidence: Look at the May primary results. There were 38,585 votes cast for mayor. Out of that, Peterson received only 18,794, or just over 48.7 percent of the total vote. That means a majority of the voters wanted someone else to be mayor. Granted, they were all split among Greg Ballard and a bunch of footnotes in electoral history, but more than half the people wanted someone else. That should have been the first sign to anyone paying attention that the incumbent was vulnerable.

The second indicator was a lot more obvious: this summer's property-tax crisis and subsequent taxpayer revolt. It sunk in for me that something was afoot when more than 1,000 people showed up on a Sunday morning on Monument Circle on a very hot day, all wearing black and mad as hell. There was no real preprotest publicity; it was word-of-mouth and the Internet that spread the news. When you can get more than 1,000 people to show up on a Sunday and it's not a sporting event or religious service, that should be another wake-up call.

The third, fourth and fifth indicators were tied together: the 65-percent income-tax increase for public safety, the mayor's political ads, and Council President Monroe Gray.

My sources tell me the mayor honestly believed the tax increase was the right thing to do. It might have been the right thing, but the timing could not have been worse. To raise income taxes on the heels of the largest property-tax increase was the biggest blunder since Custer decided to go over the hill to fight the Indians. Add in campaign commercials that appealed only to the mayor's base and not the general public, plus the ethically challenged and council president the mayor would never publicly denounce, and you can see how this all makes sense.

Another indicator that the election was not going the way of the mayor: He never took his opponent seriously. Had it been any other Republican (Carl Brizzi, Susan Brooks, Ike Randolph), Peterson would not have run the race he did. No candidate goes negative toward the end and mentions his opponent's name (whom no one is supposed to know) unless the race is a lot closer than it looks.

Another factor that contributed to Ballard's win was the fact that Marion County Republicans chose not to run candidates in several Democratic Council districts, thereby suppressing voter turnout.

The final insult to injury was the Democratic straight-ticket crossover vote. Democrats outvoted Republicans straight ticket 50 percent to 48 percent, but Ballard won 50 percent to 47 percent. So enough folks who wanted someone else as mayor were willing to switch over and vote for Ballard. And, ironically, the numbers were there all the time in the May primary. All you had to do was pay attention.



Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and of counsel at the law firm of Lewis & Wilkins. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by email at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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