Opinion and Forefront

VANE: Will Democrats ever work with Ballard?

January 21, 2012

Robert VaneThe November election was a mix of stability and change. Greg Ballard personified stability, while the biggest change was the takeover of the City-County Council by the Democrats.

These events have caused the political pundits to ask, “Can Ballard work with a Democratic council?” To me, the more salient question is, “Will the Democrats ever accept the fact that Ballard is mayor?”

During my time in the Mayor’s Office, Ballard frequently demonstrated his willingness to reach out and work with Democrats (then in the minority on the council).

One example is the transfer of the water utility to Citizens Energy. The Democrats were invited to special briefings, received the exact same binders of information the mayor received, and public meetings were held specifically in their districts.

We worked hard to gain their support.

This is in sharp contrast to the Democrats’ attitude toward Ballard.

Beginning on Election Night 2007 and throughout his first term, Ballard was derided as a fluke, a brief interruption of the Democrats’ inexorable march toward complete electoral dominance in Marion County. Ballard was even lampooned on a Democratic website called “Accidental Mayor.”

This lack of respect permeated the mayor’s first term. In conversations I had with Democrats and Democratic elected officials, it was clear Ballard’s historic election meant nothing. They derided his intelligence, sneered at his marriage, and stated clearly that when the voters went to the polls in 2011, the outcome would be different.

Instead, the mayor who has endured the inside-baseball critique for not having a legacy has managed to fashion a formidable one—it’s called winning.

Now it seems some folks are declaring the burden is all on him to move beyond politics to get things done. I believe the exact opposite is true.

Will Marion County Democrats ever realize they’ve been given a unique opportunity to work with the least-political mayor in our city’s history?

If the recent debate on the smoking ban is any indication, the early answer is no.

There has been much discussion on the smoking ban over the past few years—with both the Democrats and the mayor moderating their positions.

The mayor has indicated his willingness to sign a ban with just a few minor exemptions. He also made it clear the ban he proposed is the only ban he would sign. Given all that has happened on this issue over the past few years, the mayor’s proposal was a gift to Democrats.

Instead of unwrapping it, council Democrats decided to act as though the mayor has no say in what becomes law. The Democrats know they cannot override the mayor’s veto on this issue, yet have inexplicably decided to draw a partisan line in the sand.

One question: Why? Will the new group of Democrats, elected for the first time in 2011, decide to be a part of this unproductive wrangling, or will they move beyond the frustration of losing the Mayor’s Office and work with Ballard?

Leaders like new Council President Maggie Lewis, newcomer Vop Osili and the much-respected Mary Moriarty Adams give all of us hope that things will be different here than in our nation’s capital.

We all look to the circus in Washington, D.C., and wonder who in political face paint is going to be the next person to tumble out of the clown car. We don’t want that in Indianapolis and, frankly, we can’t afford that in Indianapolis.

Ballard is perfectly suited, in priorities and outlook, to lead Indianapolis at a time politicians’ esteem with their fellow citizens is lower than at any other time in memory.

It is up to the Democrats to come to the realization that the voters of Indianapolis have heartily endorsed Ballard’s candidacy to lead our city. They will never again have another partner who cares so much about solutions and so very little about getting the credit.•

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Vane, a U.S. Army veteran, has worked for elected Republican officials including Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and currently owns the public relations firm Veteran Strategies. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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