Matt Tully and Erika Smith are the most perceptive-and provocative-commentators at the Indianapolis Star, and I agree with them more often than not. So when I opened Tully’s column this morning, I was inclined to agree with his basic thesis: Indianapolis needs a leader with a bold vision for what the city could become.
What, exactly, is “vision”? I agree that it isn’t the issuance of ten-point plans, or plaintive explanations of good intentions. On the other hand, I think Tully is conflating vision with charisma. Vision, it seems to me, is the ability to articulate a coherent plan to move the city to a clearly identified place–i.e., we might say our vision is to create a city in which residents feel safe, can find employment, inhabit a vibrant arts community, and enjoy public amenities. Vision is evidenced by connecting those “ten-point plans” to each other in service of an overall goal, by showing an understanding of the importance of public transportation, for example, to both quality of life and economic development. As readers of this blog already know, I do not see that vision–or the management skills to achieve a vision–as attributes of our current mayor. (What is Ballard’s vision for Indianapolis after we’ve sold off all our infrastructure, I wonder.)
Bill Hudnut was widely seen as visionary, and I agree with that assessment, but he was also charismatic. Six feet four, with a commanding presence, a gift for public speaking, he could look visionary promoting the “Clean City” initiative. Neither Ballard nor Kennedy is charismatic, but that isn’t the same thing as a lack of vision.
And when we do go to the polls to vote for one of them, we need to take into account not only their stated goals, not only whether we think those goals are reasonable ones, but the likeliness that they have what it takes to achieve them.