Candidates’ pledges keeps the campaign rhetoric flowing

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Melina Kennedy, the Democrat taking on Mayor Greg Ballard in the November election, has made some campaign promises of her own. And some in Ballard’s camp have questioned whether she’ll be able to bring those to fruition.

Among the pledges highlighted in a campaign commercial: “holding schools accountable so that every child is reading at grade level by third grade.”

Kennedy said she will do that by investing in early childhood education. She proposes channeling $8 million per year for 10 years from the city’s sale of its water and sewer utilities to beef up literacy initiatives in preschool programs, and awarding money for tuition so families can pay for preschool.

Kennedy said there’s a gap in early childhood education, and expanding access will make a difference in future educational outcomes.

“The data is clear on that,” she said.

In addition, Kennedy said in a campaign mail piece that she would “recruit and retain the most effective teachers to every one of Marion County’s public schools.”

But Ballard’s campaign team questioned how she could meet those objectives, since the mayor doesn’t have direct oversight of all Indianapolis public schools.

“She has made these promises [without] explanation as to how it will happen,” said Molly Deuberry, a spokeswoman for Ballard’s campaign. “They seem unrealistic.”

Jon Mills, a spokesman for Kennedy, said the campaign planned to partner with and support groups such as Teach for America that focus on bringing high-quality teachers into schools. He said the talk of limited mayoral influence on education—something Ballard discovered after making similar promises when he was a candidate four years ago—has stymied progress on the issue.

“When people are saying the mayor can’t do this or that on education, our position is, that’s precisely the problem,” Mills said.

Kennedy also has pledged to put 100 more police officers on the street without raising taxes. She would fund half of those by using utility-sale money for the city’s crime-prevention grants, freeing up $2 million per year. She said she would find more money by better managing grants, making personnel and contract cuts in the Department of Public Safety, and instituting a fuel surcharge for officers with take-home police cars.

She also plans to do a thorough review of the existing police force, reassigning officers in some administrative positions.

Deuberry questioned using what she said was a one-time funding source to cover an ongoing expense. But Mills said funds from the utility sale would be invested in an endowment to generate additional revenue for future use.•

—Francesca Jarosz

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