Opinion and Politics and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Political gridlock unwelcome here

November 12, 2011

Now that roughly 30 percent of the city’s registered voters have determined who will lead the city the next four years, we have some advice for Mayor Greg Ballard and the newly elected City-County Council: Keep your victory in perspective.

We’ve all seen on the national level how divided government can turn disastrous. When one side or the other overestimates its mandate and won’t give an inch, governing is replaced with gridlock.

We are cautiously optimistic that won’t happen here. Mayor Ballard, unlike too many politicians, doesn’t adhere to a rigid party orthodoxy. He’s shown a willingness to listen—and learn. Most objective observers of his first term in office agree that he grew into the role and is motivated primarily by his desire to improve the city. That’s why he won.

The City-County Council, with its 29 moving parts, isn’t so easy to gauge. The Democrats, who will take over control of the Council with a 16-13 majority, are in the driver’s seat for just the second time in the four decades since city and county governments were combined. It’s the biggest majority the Democrats have enjoyed, but it’s still a slim one. It won’t last if stalemate leads to inaction. The new majority can avoid that by listening to their constituents, not local party bosses.

An early test of the willingness of the mayor and council to work together—to compromise—should come early next year over revisions to the city’s smoking ordinance.

The law, implemented in 2006, needs to be strengthened to include almost all establishments. A stronger ordinance would be in the best interest of public health, would level the playing field for bars and restaurants, and would prevent the city from becoming further isolated as a bastion of smoking. Most of the country’s major cities—and many smaller ones right here in Indiana—have stronger laws protecting workers and patrons from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

Democrats have, in general, been proponents of a stronger law. Ballard has seemed to wish the issue would simply go away, but he’s hinted recently that he’s willing to accept a stronger law—provided it exempts veterans’ halls.

We’re counting on Democrats to test the mayor’s resolve at the earliest opportunity. The council should offer and pass an ordinance that offers the narrowest of exemptions and the mayor should sign it.

If the mayor won’t accept such an ordinance, or if the Democrats won’t tolerate a single exemption, the city will continue to fall further behind in public health, and its backwardness on the issue will become even more apparent to the outside world.

We’ll also have a warning sign that we’re missing the collaborative spirit that’s going to be necessary to move the city ahead on issues such as mass transit and neighborhood revitalization.

We hope that day doesn’t come. Spirited debate is to be expected come Jan. 1. But in the end, Ballard and the Democrats must work together. In local politics, at least, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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