No one expected Greg Ballard to beat two-term incumbent Bart Peterson in the 2007 mayoral election. When he did, there was plenty of angst—even within his own party—about how the political newcomer would do. More than two years into his term, there’s a growing body of evidence that he’s more than up to the task. He’s fallen into some of the same traps his predecessors did, but he’s also shown a creative flair and a pragmatic streak the city needs.
Exhibit A is the proposal to sell the city’s waterworks and sewer system to Citizens Energy, the public trust that operates the city’s gas utility. The $1.9 billion deal would leave the city with $425 million to invest in streets, sidewalks and other vital infrastructure in dire need of attention.
The deal is still being vetted, and there are those who believe the rate hikes that are coming whether or not the deal is approved will be higher than the mayor is saying. But from a governance perspective, we’re more comfortable having Citizens call the shots than a group of city bureaucrats. And no one who opposes the deal has mentioned where the infrastructure money would come from otherwise.
Other issues that have been swirling around the mayor’s office recently include:
• Monument Circle. Closing it to car traffic in August to assess the feasibility of making it a permanent pedestrian plaza represents some movement on a topic that has been discussed for decades. We don’t know if eliminating cars is a good idea and neither does the mayor, but he’s willing to try it and consider the results.
• Indiana Pacers. All indications are that the administration, via the Capital Improvement Board, is heading down the same path Ballard’s predecessors have traveled: spend millions to avoid losing a sports franchise to another city. As satisfying as it might be to let the Pacers walk, being saddled with Conseco Fieldhouse and more than 41 open event dates wouldn’t be a good result.
• Georgia Street. The city announced May 4 a $12.5 million overhaul of the three-block stretch that connects the fieldhouse and the newly expanded Indiana Convention Center. What’s lost in all the howling about misplaced priorities is the fact the money isn’t available for other purposes. It’s federal transportation money, and the city is wisely using it to further enhance our readiness to host the Super Bowl and to lure conventions and tourists and the dollars they bring here.
• Library closings. Blame the library system’s red ink on state-imposed property tax caps. The mayor didn’t impose the caps and doesn’t run the library system, but he’s smart enough to ride to the rescue, at least temporarily, of the six branches that were in danger of closing. In the meantime, the mayor’s team is working to find a long-term solution to the library system’s financial troubles.
The mayor still has blind spots, including his stubborn and misguided refusal to support a citywide smoking ban. But his willingness to listen and propose solutions on other fronts signals that Ballard’s term won’t become a gap in the city’s decades-long run of effective leadership.•
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