And how. Peterson, a Democrat, has raised $547,836 in the year since he defeated Republican challenger Greg Jordan to earn a second term. Including funds left over from the last election cycle, his total campaign chest currently stands at $1,217,189.
For now, Peterson is more than the frontrunner in the 2007 Indianapolis mayor’s race. According to the Marion County clerk’s office, he’s the only candidate yet on file.
Many had speculated that Peterson, perhaps the Indiana Democrat Party’s best-known figure besides U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, might run for statewide or even national office in the next electoral cycle. But Indiana Democrats will have to keep looking for their next Seabiscuit or Secretariat. That may prove a daunting challenge, said Indiana Legislative Insight Publisher Ed Feigenbaum.
“You look at the remaining field of potential Democratic candidates, it’s not particularly wide or deep,” Feigenbaum said. “To a certain extent, it starts and ends with Bart Peterson.”
The largest new contribution to Peterson’s campaign chest last year came from Michael S. Gouloff, the president and CEO of locally based Schenkel Schultz Architecture, who donated $21,000. Law firm Baker & Daniels had the secondhighest 2004 donation, with $15,000.
Indianapolis-based CSO Architects President James Schellinger gave Peterson his third-highest 2004 contribution, $10,250. Schellinger said he’s been donating money ever since a bipartisan group of local leaders gathered in his home kitchen to explore Peterson’s candidacy in 1999.
Since then, Schellinger’s esteem for Peterson has only increased. He lauded Peterson’s devotion to neighborhood issues, public safety and economic development. He also praised Peterson for taking on large-scale, long-term projects, such as the convention center and Colts stadium expansion, or local government consolidation through “Indianapolis Works.”
“I’m obviously one of his biggest fans,” Schellinger said. “When my son saw one $10,000 contribution, he said, ‘My god, you could have made an investment in your kid’s future!’ I said, ‘I just did.'”
But Marion County Republican Party Chairman Mike Murphy said he sees only wasted time and missed opportunities when he reviews Peterson’s record. Murphy said Peterson’s initiatives have all failed, from banning violent video games to crackdowns on massage parlors. That means his chance to earn statewide or national office was slim, Murphy said.
“I can’t imagine the mayor thinking that he’s ready to take on another office. He’s exhibited absolutely zero leadership in the office he holds,” Murphy said. “Usually you’re awarded with a higher office when you’ve done well. And he hasn’t shown any success.”
Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Treacy hardly blinked at such barbed rhetoric. The Republicans haven’t yet fielded a candidate who can upset the popular Peterson.
“We look forward to expanding our domination of the City-County Council,” Treacy said. “If things proceed like they are, the Republicans are going to have to dig someone up [to run].”
In recent years, Indianapolis has become a Democratic stronghold even as Republicans swept into power at the state level. But Murphy said Republicans will be ready in 2007 to challenge Peterson at the polls.
“We have five or six tremendous candidates for mayor. It’s a little bit early to be pushing any one of them to make a commitment right now,” Murphy said. “But I’m absolutely comfortable with the talent we have right now in the Republican Party.”
Peterson’s daunting early lead may shrink the Republican field more than they expect, Treacy said.
“When you’re continuing fund raising like this, it sends a message for any wouldbe Republican challenger they better be ready to raise several million dollars if they want to take the mayor on and have a serious campaign,” he said.
For now, speculation on possible Republican mayoral candidates centers on statehouse figures such as Sen. Murray Clark, R-Indianapolis; Sen. Teresa Lubbers, RIndianapolis; or Brose McVey, who gave a strong challenge in 2002 to U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, a Democrat.
But until horses step on the track, there’s no sure way to gauge their odds. In the meantime, the Republicans’ strategy will be to halt Peterson’s initiatives in the General Assembly and tar his name wherever possible.
“If the Colts stadium goes down the drain, and Jim Irsay is the grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses … because he’s moving out there, it will certainly reflect poorly on the mayor and his ability to get things done,” Feigenbaum said. “And if Republicans are successful forcing him to raise taxes to fund his pet projects, that will be baggage the mayor will have to defend.”