ABDUL-HAKIM SHABAZZ Commentary: Mayor: Look elsewhere for Indy Works votes

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As another legislative session fades into memories and lawmakers go back to their districts to explain their votes, it’s a good time to offer some advice to Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson. I have always liked Hizzoner and we have had good interaction. I think it’s safe to say we both agree on consolidating government, but we may disagree on method.

I come from the school of thought that says, “Destroy your opponents and parade their heads on spears in the streets so all will fear you!” The mayor takes a more congenial approach. However, in the wake of Indy Works, Part Deux, not passing the Legislature, I think Hizzoner could use a little friendly advice. Hey, Bart, by losing you actually won. Allow me to explain.

Although Peterson didn’t get the fire department consolidation he wanted, he got something more valuable: 45 Republican friends outside of Indianapolis. Many of the lawmakers I spoke to outside the city told me they were sick and tired of the mayor’s coming back and asking for consolidation. However, they seemed more annoyed at their Marion County counterparts who inherently opposed the measure.

Rep. Billy Bright, R-North Vernon, put it best: “I didn’t come here to be an Indianapolis City-County Council member. I came here to be a state representative.” Many behind-the-scene folks admit privately that the big obstacle for consolidation was the Marion County delegation.

Now in all due fairness, the Marion County folks will say they did not oppose consolidation, just the mayor’s plan. Take that for what you will. However, if the mayor decides to ask again for Indy Works in 2007, which I think he will, he might want to court lawmakers outside Marion County.

Speaking of Marion County, Hizzoner made a crucial mistake by blaming the entire Legislature for consolidation’s failing. The true obstructionist in all this was Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis. Young had to redeem himself in the eyes of his Marion County counterparts for his abysmal effort to get Wayne Township Trustee Dan Gammon nominated to the Senate. (If you don’t know the full story, buy me drinks sometime and I’ll give you the scoop.)

My advice to Hizzoner is threefold. First, send Speaker of the House Brian Bosma a thank you card and bottle of wine for getting consolidation as far as it went. Second, work with non-Marion County Republicans to try to pass consolidation next year. Third, use the current consolidation law and chat with Washington Township Trustee Gwen Horth about consolidating the city fire department with Washington Township’s. Horth is not running for re-election and the Township Board has already come out in favor of the proposal. And I’m sure a memorandum of understanding could be put together to protect the taxpayers from a tax increase.

Once those two get started, I don’t see why Lawrence and Perry couldn’t be next-Lawrence, because that’s where the speaker resides, and Perry, because there is a revolution afoot. Get enough people on board and you’ll get your consolidation.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that the township trustees would join together on their own; if they were capable of it, they would have done so already. And here’s an extra incentive: According to the Marion County Treasurer’s Office, the townships are looking at 9-percent to 14-percent losses in their assessed valuations due to the phaseout of the inventory tax and action this legislative session. Seems to me some folks might have no choice but to consolidate.

So my advice to Hizzoner and my other friends in the Mayor’s Office is to drop the blame game and get to work. You have the bully pulpit, the savvy and the consolidation-friendly media to help you get your point out. Now stop reading this brilliant article and get to work.

Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and an attorney. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.

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