Opinion and Forefront

MAHERN: This is not the Ballard who originally ran for public office

March 2, 2013

MahernQuestion: Mayor Greg Ballard, who was elected to a second term in November 2011, has said in recent interviews that he has not closed the door to seeking a third term. Should he run for a third term?

Answer: The prudence of a third term for Mayor Greg Ballard requires the question: Which Greg Ballard?

Of course, only one person is the current mayor. But re-examining Ballard’s original candidacy and subsequent five years shows a stark transformation from reform candidate to consummate political insider.

In 2007, candidate Ballard railed against what he perceived as misplaced priorities, decried what he saw as low transparency and accountability, and shunned the clubby nature of Indianapolis politics. He advocated for local property taxpayers’ protections, repeal of the 65-percent income tax increase, and public safety to be Job One.

While running for city council that year, I participated in a forum with Ballard. Although I’m a Democrat, the plain-spoken candidate did impress me. He openly eschewed the usual luxury trapping of the political establishment. He was an everyman.

After winning the 2007 election, Ballard wasted no time in turning from breath-of-fresh-air candidate into typical big wig. Mayor Ballard’s priorities bore no resemblance to his campaign promises. He didn’t repeal the tax increase despite having a Republican-controlled council. He used $90 million in scarce property-tax dollars to subsidize the downtown luxury hotel, shops and apartment complex now known as CityWay. He gave away $33.5 million in property taxes to the Indiana Pacers.

After Ballard seized control of the Metropolitan Police Department in January 2008, the scandals involving officers continued unabated. Sadly, it took the notorious Officer David Bisard tragedy and almost three years before any reforms.

Candidate Ballard repeatedly referenced his Indianapolis roots, but Mayor Ballard became traveler-in-chief, having now gone on some eight so-called global trade missions, which he says should not be judged on the utter lack of jobs they produced.

Mayor Ballard has accepted free memberships to Highland and Woodstock country clubs.

Ballard’s second term continues no differently. Last year, he secretly gave his top lieutenants 20-percent to 30-percent pay hikes. He continues generous giveaways of scarce property taxes for more luxury apartments and a high-end grocery store. Even $10 million more to the Pacers.

His original campaign pledge to protect property taxpayers long faded from his memory, Ballard now wants to eliminate a long-standing homestead property tax credit. Doing so would simultaneously hand both a new annual $8 million bill to Marion County homeowners and a $5 million annual loss to Marion County schools, public transportation, public libraries and public health agencies.

Today, we have more than 100 fewer IMPD officers than in 2006. Ballard’s proposed 2013 budget included no police recruit class, yet he stalled efforts for the CIB to start paying for city-provided public safety services out of its $65 million surplus.

Indeed, there are two versions of Greg Ballard: outspoken reform candidate and status quo politician. I believe he should run for a third term, to give voters one more chance to judge which is the real Greg Ballard. By 2015, Indianapolis is going to need a real reform mayor with better priorities.•

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Mahern, a Democrat, represents District 16 on the City-County Council. Comment to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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