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Commentary: Good luck to Mayor Ballard

January 7, 2008

Mayor Greg Ballard has less than a week under his belt of taking on a city that is both on a roll and full of challenges.

It's an exciting time to be mayor.

An unknown commodity, Ballard has some big shoes to fill with little experience in government to help him out. (Note to self: That's not necessarily a bad thing.)

Indianapolis has been blessed with strong leadership for the last 40 years, beginning in 1968 with Republican Richard Lugar, followed by Bill Hudnut and Steve Goldsmith, both Republicans who left indelible marks of progress in their wakes.

Enter Democrat Bart Peterson in 2000, and the momentum continued.

These four men have led our city on a trajectory that is unmatched in the country and has taken "Naptown" from a race track in a cornfield to a thriving metropolis.

Perhaps the biggest surprise: Indianapolis has become a convention destination, a fact I don't think most locals fully comprehend. More than anything, that business has been the key to creating our booming downtown, with a bustling mall, multiple hotels and a wide array of restaurants.

A number of elements are falling into place that have the potential to accelerate the growth of that industry in a big way. Ballard will have the good fortune to preside over the opening of the new airport terminal and the construction of a new convention center and conventionheadquarters hotel.

Then there are the Cultural Trail, the new Central Library and Lucas Oil Stadium, all pieces in a puzzle that will continue to morph our city into a cosmopolitan destination with world-class amenities.

And much to Peterson's credit, Indianapolis is now a city that not only embodies a greater appreciation for culture, but also boasts an arts community united in a desire to soar to new heights.

Underlying all this is a local economy that by relative standards is performing pretty darn well.

In these respects, Ballard should feel like a kid in a candy store.

But then there are the problems, the two biggest of which are the property-tax monster and the alarming crime rate-both of which, if left unsolved, could unravel much of the progress our city has made.

The mayor's highest immediate priority should be to harness the momentum for reform created by citizen outcry and the recommendations of the Shepard/Kernan brain trust and Gov. Mitch Daniels and lead the charge for the Legislature to act beyond a Band-Aid fix to property taxes.

On the crime front, is there any doubt a 23-year Marine Corps veteran will be aggressive in finding creative ways to round up the bad guys and to put a system in place that can reverse this troubling trend? I don't think so.

I admit to a little uneasiness as the new kid on the block settles into the big office. I also admit to not even realizing who he was when I sat down at a table with him at a luncheon in mid-September, less than two months before the election.

The first admission is understandable; the second is more or less my bad, although it speaks volumes about the Unknown Commodity factor Ballard brings to the office.

The mayors who preceded Ballard each brought a vision and leadership style to bear on the city and achieved great things. But we-and the new mayor-must not forget that each of their legacies was built on the work of those who preceded them as well as on a cooperative spirit.

Being mayor is not a one-man job. Here's hoping the business community teams up with Ballard as it has with his predecessors to work for progress. And here's hoping Democrats and Republicans work together to address the challenges and fuel more success.

Good luck Mr. Mayor. I wish you the best.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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