Tag Archives: Greg Ballard

Ballard’s Brand of Socialism

This morning, Matt Tully criticized Melina Kennedy’s campaign for recent, negative ads. Essentially, he said that she had already demonstrated that she was the superior candidate, and that the ads were beneath her–that Ballard, whatever his deficiencies, is a decent guy and didn’t deserve the negative characterizations.

I agree with Tully about negative ads, which are never nuanced arguments about policy. I don’t watch much live television, and thanks to TIVO, rarely watch campaign ads, but I’ve seen distasteful stuff from both campaigns, and we all know why: they work. That’s not an endorsement of the tactic, just a recognition of reality.

And the reality that the Kennedy campaign has not–and probably cannot–address is that, yes, Ballard is a decent guy, but so clueless that he is not really running the city. From what my remaining friends in the GOP tell me, soon after his surprising election, the “usual suspects” swooped in to “help” the neophyte and not-so-incidentally help themselves at taxpayer expense.

I’ve written before about the parking meter fiasco that enriched ACS (a company closely tied to the Mayor’s closest advisers), and I won’t belabor that fifty-year giveaway again (although from my point of view, it is reason enough to vote for Melina Kennedy).

I haven’t previously examined the equally scandalous deal struck for the parking garage in Broad Ripple. As Paul Ogden has amply documented, this is yet another example of what I’ve come to call “Ballard socialism.” The basic story is that taxpayers are paying to build a garage that the city then simply gives to the developer. We pay 6.35 million for a facility that will be owned 100% by Keystone Development (where Paul Okeson, former Deputy Mayor in the Ballard Administration, now works). The developer gets 100% of the parking revenues and 100% of the rent from the commercial space.

As Ogden points out, there is no requirement that the developer put a single penny into this deal.

Why do I call this “Ballard socialism”? Socialism is a term that simply means spreading the cost–we share costs of such services as police and fire protection among all of us, via taxes; we pool the costs of automobile accidents via insurance. But in the Ballard Administration, as a disillusioned Republican friend of mine recently complained, we turn this time-honored approach on its head. We socialize the risk–but we privatize the profits.

I am perfectly willing to believe that Greg Ballard does not understand the details of these sweetheart contracts. But he’s the Mayor, and it is not unfair to hold him responsible for the actions of his administration–actions that will cost the city dearly in an era of diminishing resources.

Cynics will say that city government has always operated to benefit political insiders, and it’s true that people who know people always have an edge. But I’ve lived in Indianapolis my whole adult life; I’ve been involved in both Republican and Democratic politics since I was twenty, and I have never seen anything on this scale. Whether it’s corruption or ineptitude, we need to clean house.










Why I Watch HGTV

I can’t watch regular TV anymore. It drives me crazy.

This morning was as good an example as any. My husband flipped on ‘Face the Nation’ just as Paul Ryan was telling David Gregory–with a straight face–that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and President Obama are “dividing Americans.” He made a great show of sadness at this clearly unwarranted state of affairs, while I had to be physically restrained from throwing something at the screen. I changed the channel as David Gregory was suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps the GOPs insistence on protecting their wealthy base at all costs while refusing to pass anything the administration suggested (even, he should have added, when the proposal had originally been theirs) might also be considered “divisive.”

It wasn’t a half-hour later that a Ballard commercial aired. The spot showed “citizens” (females–have you noticed that all Ballard’s attack ads feature women doing the negative messaging?) criticizing Melina Kennedy (no relation!) for tax increases that occurred when she was deputy mayor, and saying that property taxes have been lower under Mayor Ballard. The fact that property taxes are raised and lowered by the state legislature hasn’t kept Ballard from benefitting from them–he won election in the first place by blaming Bart Peterson for taxes that were levied primarily by the legislature. He obviously assumes that people aren’t any better informed about who does what than they were four years ago, and he can get away with claiming credit for something he had nothing to do with.

Two brazen lies within the space of an hour, and I was ready to see a kitchen remodeled or a yard crashed. I may not approve of those cherry cabinets–I may not like the fire pit installed in the patio–but I do enjoy the lack of mendacity, hypocrisy and self-importance. And after all, if the designers screw up the bathroom, it doesn’t affect my life.

When Congressmen sell the Republic to the highest bidders while ignoring the critical problems faced by so many Americans, it does affect me. When Mayors take credit for all manner of things that are either untrue (crime is down) or unwise (selling city assets to political cronies) or that they had nothing to do with (lower property taxes), it gives me ulcers.

I wonder where House-Hunters International will film next….

A Clear Choice

Yesterday, the Indianapolis Star did profiles of the candidates for Mayor, and focused on their respective “visions.” It was easy to agree with Melina Kennedy’s priorities–education, economic development and public safety–but in fairness, despite successful performance as Deputy Mayor charged with economic development in the Peterson Administration, she hasn’t been responsible for public safety or education. That’s an inescapable element of elections–voters have to decide which candidate is most likely to fulfill such pledges. Ballard promised to reduce crime when he ran four years ago, and despite his insistence that being a Marine was preparation for combating crime and managing the complexities of a 21st Century urban metropolis, has been unable to do so.

Let me be honest: there is no way I would vote for Mayor Ballard in November. His manifest lack of background for the job, and his subsequent dependence upon the political insiders who have actually run the city,  determined my vote before I ever knew who would run against him. And I am very impressed with Kennedy–who, I will remind everyone, is NO RELATION. But if I had any inclination to rethink my evaluation of this Mayor, his response to the Star yesterday would have killed it.

Here is the Mayor’s defense of his performance. “After three years in office, Ballard, 56, has faced frequent criticism from Democrats and others that he has lacked a coherent vision. He says they aren’t paying enough attention. He points to efforts to regain control of the city Police Department, privatize parking meters, rein in city and county spending and commit public money to private development projects. And his sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities kick-started his RebuildIndy infrastructure project with $425 million in proceeds.”

Let’s deconstruct that response. He has “made an effort” to regain control of the Police Department. That effort has been visibly, embarrassingly unsuccessful. The FOP endorsed his opponent, backing a Democrat for the first time in 50 years. More importantly, crime–despite some creative statistical spin by the Administration–is up. Worse still, the increase is most notable in the “violent” category. Most significant for the Mayor’s political prospects, people in Indianapolis feel less safe than they did four years ago.

Ballard also cited efforts to reign in spending. He had no choice; the ill-conceived property tax caps made it imperative. Those tax caps are choking cities throughout Indiana, forcing cuts to important services. Incredibly, in the very next sentence following that boast about his efforts to reduce spending, he lists as an “accomplishment” that he committed public money to private development projects. (Not to mention, sports teams and venues.)

Can we spell tone-deaf?

But what REALLY pissed me off was the Mayor’s evidently pride in his decision to privatize water and sewer services and parking meters. I’ve written a lot about these wrongheaded transactions, especially the 50-year giveaway of parking revenue the city desperately needs, and some of the ethical concerns surrounding it. But I’ll just quote a good friend of mine–a very successful businessman, civic leader and long-time Republican: You don’t sell capital assets to fund operations. Businesses that do so are soon bankrupt.

If Ballard’s list of “accomplishments” is indicative of his “vision,” we’d better be sure to elect Melina Kennedy.

The Value of Pontificating

I’ve been scanning the local news I missed during the past month, and duly noted coverage of a recent speech by Melina Kennedy on education. Kennedy (no relation–honest!) has focused her mayoral campaign on public safety, education and economic development, and has been delivering substantive proposals on those and related issues.

In her education speech, she criticized Greg Ballard for a lack of leadership in education, pointing out that he has done little other than continue the charter school initiative begun by Mayor Peterson. Asked for his response to the criticism, Ballard said that just because he hadn’t been “pontificating” about the subject didn’t mean he hadn’t been engaged.


The biggest problem faced by educators today isn’t whether a school is public or private. It isn’t whether reading instruction is via phonics or “whole word” methodology. It isn’t even discipline. The biggest problem is cultural: Americans today do not value education. If we do not change the culture, nothing else we do is going to work. And let me be VERY clear: I am not talking about the regrettable tendency of some inner-city black students to label peers getting good grades as “acting white.” I am talking about the broader American disdain for expertise of any sort–the widespread attitude that intellectuals are “elitists” to be scorned.

There is a long history of anti-intellectualism in this country, and it has clearly been on the ascendance for the past decade or more. The mere fact that anyone takes political figures like Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann or Mike Pence seriously ought to be evidence enough that the American electorate prioritizes celebrity and pandering over substance. A terrifying percentage of the American public rejects science–whether the subject is global climate change or even something as basic and settled as evolution. Stephen Colbert has captured our current culture brilliantly in his riffs explaining why he elevates his “gut” over the exercise of reason.

This is the culture we need to change, and we cannot and will not change it unless those we elect make it their business to “pontificate” about the importance of education. Real leadership requires political figures who are willing to elevate the value of knowledge and expertise–who are willing to remind citizens that this country was a product of the Enlightenment, a philosophy that prioritized reason, evidence and intellect.

A Mayor who fails to use the bully pulpit on behalf of those values is not “pontificating.” S/he is leading.

Harder than It Looks

This morning, an acquaintance told me he’d recently been on the downtown Canal, and immediately thought of this post, in which I had bemoaned the city’s neglect of this important urban amenity. He was appalled–as we all should be.

That brief conversation made me ponder the current state of affairs in Indianapolis, and the importance–and difficulty–of civic leadership.

When Greg Ballard ran for Mayor, he talked a lot about leadership. Why, he’d written a (self-published) book about it! If elected, he would reduce crime, put more police on the streets, and reduce the budget. How hard could it be?

Reality is so messy and disappointing. It turns out that managing a city is significantly more complicated than giving orders to subordinates in a military unit. Not only do you have to deal with people elected to the City-County Council, who don’t think their job is to carry out your orders, you have to understand the inter-relationships of municipal issues and departments, and budget for a variety of services that are required by law or political necessity and constrained by reduced revenues. When Ballard ran, he displayed the sort of hubris that motivates citizens to write letters to the editor expressing amazement that elected officials can’t seem to grasp how simple the answer to climate change, gas prices, public safety, or the national debt really is. Americans tend to be ambivalent about credentials: we want our doctor or lawyer or CPA to be well-trained, but we think any well-meaning citizen has what it takes to run a city.

So three-and-a-half years later, we have a higher crime rate, fewer police on the streets, and no reduction in municipal expenditures. We are fixing streets and sidewalks with dollars “borrowed” from future utilities ratepayers, and we’ve sold off our parking meters for fifty years, presumably because the city is incapable of managing that infrastructure. Important civic assets like the Canal are falling into disrepair, and Indianapolis’ once-sterling reputation as a City that Works has become a punch line.

I think Ballard is beginning to realize that running a city is harder than it looks.