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.