Relearning Old Lessons

The election has come and gone, and Republicans and Democrats alike are expressing amazement that a Democrat is the new Mayor in "Republican" Indianapolis. How did it happen, and what does it mean?…

The election has come and gone, and Republicans and Democrats alike are expressing amazement that a Democrat is the new Mayor in "Republican" Indianapolis. How did it happen, and what does it mean?

Well, first of all, while the demographics of the county have certainly shifted, the truth is that there have always been more Democrats than Republicans in Marion County. Republicans won elections because we out-organized and outvoted the Democrats–and because, by and large, we elected very good people who did a good job without excessive partisanship. When Steve Goldsmith ran his first race for Mayor, he had two enormous assets: the immense goodwill generated by his predecessor, Bill Hudnut, and a Republican organization that–while not at its peak–was still one of the best urban party machines in the country. By the time Sue Ann Gilroy ran, Goldsmith had eviscerated the machine and spent the goodwill.

The Gilroy campaign was admittedly an embarrassment. The most significant strategic error, however, was her decision to turn the election into a referendum on Steve Goldsmith and to run on a platform of "continuing the progress of the last eight years."

As Brian Howey has pointed out in The Howey Political Report, Goldsmith is the most polarizing political figure in recent Indiana history. Nor has he been an impressive vote-getter; quite the contrary. He won an anemic victory in his campaign for a second term against Z. Mae Jimison, a poorly funded and uncharismatic challenger. He lost Marion County (and his own precinct) in his bid to be governor, running nearly 20,000 votes behind the Republican candidate for coroner. Polls showed that when Goldsmith’s commercials endorsing Gilroy hit the airwaves, independent voters "headed in droves for Peterson." The whiney negative commercials and disgraceful race baiting efforts that followed simply sealed her fate.

What lessons should my party learn from this campaign? For starters, I’ll suggest four.

    1. People in Indianapolis are hungry for inclusion. They want to be part of the
      process of self-government. They want to be respected as citizens, not condescended to as if they were children. It isn’t just the gay community that has felt marginalized these past eight years; it is anyone who has dared to disagree with the Mayor or cross swords with the increasingly arrogant majority on the City-County Council.

    2. Most citizens want their leaders to do more than just provide services. They want them to build a community, a whole that is larger than its constituent parts, where all people are welcomed as valued members. The most promising theme Gilroy floated was her "City of Respect" initiative; had she followed through with it (and refused to employ the tactics of the last few weeks of the campaign), perhaps 20% of Republican voters wouldn’t have scratched for Peterson.
? 3) Number (2) notwithstanding, citizens do want the administration to pay

attention to basic services, and not just services that show, like street paving. They want public safety personnel (no matter how many there are) to be professional and nonpolitical; they don’t want raw sewage in White River; and they want their calls answered when they call the Mayor’s "Action Center."

    1. People want their leadership to be accountable. They want to be informed, and they want to believe that they are being told the truth about the affairs of their city. They want the city’s business done without cronyism or favoritism.
When a political party’s leadership no longer responds to these basic citizen expectations, that party will lose.

When I first entered politics, some thirty-five years ago, Keith Bulen, John Sweezy, Bill Hudnut and others were fond of noting that good government is good politics. They were right.