Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crystal Ball Reveals No Drama in 2011 Mayor's Race; Ballard Has No Path to Victory

A few weeks ago I was having breakfast with a well-known Republican party official who has watched a half century of political races unfold in Indiana. He began talking about Mayor Ballard's re-election prospects. "You know he has no chance, don't you?" "Yes, I know," I responded.

There we sat for the next hour or so talking about state and local politics. Regarding the Mayor and Council races both our crystal balls were clear as to the fate of Mayor Ballard and the Council Republicans hold on the majority and the outcome wasn't going to be pleasant.

I've always struggled with understanding why people, even people who are involved in politics, can't better gauge the impact of policies and events on the ultimate verdict at the polls. A couple weeks before the election a friend of mine who had worked on several campaigns told me he thought the Charlie White was probably going to do in his candidacy. I told him that it wouldn't matter because it was going to be a huge Republican year and White would win easily. I also pointed out the distinction between the two candidates names and how that would be tough for the Democrat to overcome. On election day White won all but a handful of counties.

This morning Jon Murray, one of the better writers at the Indianapolis Star, tries his hand at political analysis, gauging what's likely to happen in the 2011 Mayor's Race. While Murray does a good job, I got the impression he was holding back in his analysis.

Folks here's what will happen. Going into the calendar year 2011, Mayor Ballard will have decent approval numbers, probably in the 50s. That problem is that number is fluid, a number that was set during years when he was the only game in town.

If Ballard attracts an opponent in the Republican Primary, which is very possible, that opponent may get 25% or more anti-Ballard protest vote without spending a dime. One thing the newspapers do not get - though Murray hints at it - is how Mayor Ballard has governed completely opposite to everything he campaigned for in 2007. I have never seen so many rank-and-file Republicans detest a GOP elected official than they do with Ballard. It's not enough to overcome the advantages of incumbency, but Ballard's three year affair with the Old Guard, insider Republicans has thoroughly ticked off his populist supporters.

Murray refers to those 2007 supporters as "independents" but most of them are Republicans. Let's not forget that when the Mayor tried to assert his influence with the rank and file Republicans to help Councilor Ryan Vaughn win a state senate seat, the Mayor was rejected by his own party workers who overwhelmingly picked Scott Schneider. That is only the tip of the iceberg as far as how disliked and unrespected Mayor Ballard among GOP party workers.

If Marion County Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy is smart he won't spend a dime on any primary fight. After all the general election will be nothing more than a straight referendum on Ballard's performance in office. Treacy would be smart to instead spend resources in the primary window when voters are paying attention running anti-Ballard ads, driving a wedge between Ballard and Republican fiscal conservatives and populists. Undoubtedly we will see ads pointing to the more than 100 tax and fee increases proposed by Ballard. The Democrats will also point out to Republicans the Mayor's reckless spending and his trail of broken campaign promises.

Even if Treacy can't resist the temptation to get involved in the primary, it is unlikely to matter. Ballard has no issues to run on. Murray points to Ballard's legislative accomplishments - the utilities "sale" to Citizen's, the 50 year parking meter deal, and the $10 million dollar gift to the Pacers. He also points to development deals. Although he doesn't name it, he is undoubtedly referring to things like the North of South proposal coming soon to the Council.

Murray hints about possible problems with Ballard using these legislative accomplishments as political issues. No kidding. The unpopularity of the 50 year ACS parking deal was only dwarfed by the incredible anger the community expressed over the $10 million Ballard gift to the Pacers. Astonishingly Ballard appeared on numerous TV and radio programs promoting the highly unpopular $10 million Pacer gift. Treacy should send Ballard a thank you card for giving him so much footage he can use in negative ads.

The only issue that could be a wash politically is the utilities sale, which might have been 50-50 with the public. But even that is highly unlikely. People who were on the "no" side on that deal are angry about what happened and motivated to vote. The "yes" people are satisfied and have moved on to other issues. I highly doubt that bragging over selling off a city asset is good political strategy.

Of course, the Mayor will point to infrastructure improvements. If a Mayor lets infrastructure slide, then that could be an issue. But to base a campaign on bragging about doing his job pavign road? Well, I've never seen that work. Infrastructure repairs is simply somethign voters expect mayors to do.

Then you have the public safety issues. Embarassing incidents involving IMPD officeers are becoming the stuff of legendl However, you also have Public Safety Director Frank "Call Me Doctor" Straub who appears to be single-handily trying to tear down the administration. Clearly he has character flaws that makes him unsuited for the position. A smart Ballard would cut his losses now and can Straub. Instead the Mayor is stubbornly going to take gaffe-prone Straub into an election year. The Democrats are very appreciative of that, I'm sure.

Once Republicans are so fed up they stay home or go to the polls to vote against Ballard, the Mayor's chance of re-election is over. He needs almost Republicans all going to the polls and about 85% support among Republicans to have any chance in solidly-Democratic Marion County. If I were a Democrat strategist, I'd make alienating Republican support from the Mayor a top priority.

The Democrats will also hit things like the 50 year parking deal and the Pacers $10 million gift. Country to the Marion County GOP Chairman Tom John's comment in the article, the last thing the Mayor wants is a debate over priorities. Do they really think they can justify $10 million to the Pacers while libraries are shortening hours and laying off staff? Do they think they can justify $98 million to Buchman Companies for the North of South development while cutting funding to parks and the bus system.?

I'm sure the Democrats won't hesitate to point out that John is a lobbyist for Buchman and Joe Loftus, counsel to the Mayor, is a lobbyist for ACS which received the 50 year no bid parking contract. Then dial back a year or so and you had the Pacers attorney, Bob Grand, running the CIB which ended up cutting a deal with the Pacers, which it turned out was funded by property taxes, contrary to what the Mayor claimed at the time.

Expect Ballard insider deals and conflicts of interest to be the focus of many anti-Ballard advertisements. Again, it represents a betrayal of principles. Elected with the promise of running a more ethical administration than his predecessors, Ballard has taken insider deals and conflicts of interest to a new level.

Expect also advertisements about Ballard being seduced by the perks of power. Cut to footage of the Mayor on Election Night 2007 talking about ending country club politics in Indiana. Now cut to stories of his country club memberships, his front row seats at Pacer games, his many junkets to exotic locales paid for directly or indirectly with our tax dollars.

Usually with a candidate I can see a path to victory, even if it is a difficult one. Outside of his Democratic opponent getting charged with a felony, Ballard's political career will lose and lose badly come election night. Ballard has spent three years saying and doing things to ensure he won't have a chance at the ballot box in 2011. I truly believe the Mayor, who may be the most politically naive politician ever, has not a clue what he's done. He probably thinks he can campaign successfully on the utilities sale, the parking deal, the gift to the Pacers.

The people around the Mayor - Joe Loftus, Bob Grand, Tom John, Council President Ryan Vaughn, etc. - do know the Mayor's finished politically and that's why they're cashing in now trying to convince the politically naive Mayor to pursue measures that make themselves and their friends lots of money. Expect their proposals to get even more bold in the next few months as they ask the Republican majority to swallow hard and support the Mayor's self-serving agenda. Hopefully Council Republicans will wise up and start distancing themselves from the politically tone deaf Mayor before it's too late for them.

12 comments:

Indy Student said...

That picture you posted of Ballard and Brizzi was also used in a Democrat attack ad posted to Youtube earlier in the year.

Bill said...

Nice post Paul


Im going to do my research on the subject,but..I believe that this will be the biggest winning margin for anyone ever in the Mayors race.

What is your call on the % breakout.

dcrutch said...

Pretty sad when the bright spot is to pray for the Libertarian candidate to appear and gratitude that Matt Tully didn't write the article.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I think Ballard will be in the low 40s, possibly 41%, no higher than 43%. Given how much money he has plus name ID it would be hard for him to fall below 40%. The Republicans councilors shoudl run slightly ahead of him in their districts. Of course they're doing something extemely foolish in tying their fate to his.

Carlos F. Lam said...

Paul, the "problem" with your analysis is that Hoosiers historically reelect their mayors to at least a second term. The mayoral office is much less about ideology (unfortunately) than is a state rep or US Congress race. This mayor has done some foolish things, but he's done a fair share of good (trash pickup, etc). You & Gary objected to the specifics of the water company deal, but most residents trust Citizens; it was an overall plus for the mayor. While you bring up some decent points about conflicts of interests, they're way too complex for the avg voter: people understood Mayor Peterson's COIT increase at a gut level. Right now (& 11 months is a lifetime in politics) I see the mayor beating Melina or Jose 52/48.

Unigov said...

I agree with Lam; another factor though is Melina Kennedy's 'vibe'.

a) She's never won an election but seems ever present in the wings.

b) She's just as much of an insider as Ballard has become.

Couple Melina campaign gaffes:

1) On her "Meet Melina" webpage, the first item calls her "A Daughter and Waitress."

2) Her husband's in Wikipedia, she is not.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Ballard cannot be reelected unless Democrats vote for him. Republicans who don't vote straight party will either stay home or split their vote, primarily because they oppose Ballard's increased taxes and his sweetheart deals for well connected friends.

Democrats don't have much reason to vote for him. Even those who find him personally agreeable, usually object to how he has spent their money.

And as Paul points out over and over again, the County has a Democratic majority.

I don't understand the numbers well enough to pose winning percentages. But, Paul's presentation makes sense to me.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Carlos,

I don't dispute Citizen's would be better than the City at running the utilities. The problem was the sale. Nonetheless, selling off a city asset, even a fake sale, isn't going to be the sort of thing you can run for re-election on. It won't be a voting issue for the pro side, but it will for the anti side.

I'm not sure what Ballard has done differently about trash pickup, but people aren't going to vote for mayor because their trash is picked up. They'll vote against a mayor who screws up trash pick-up.

If you'd do me a favor, Carlos, identify what exactly Ballard is going to run on. He has nothing that I'm aware of that is popular with the public and would make a good issue to use in an election. And things like the Pacer deal and the parking deal are extremely unpopular. You think the public is not going to be mad about Ballard's giving $10 million in our tax dollars to the Pacers?

As far as re-election, here you're talking about a city that is strongly Democrat, that Ballard was able to overcome by nothing less than a fluke in 2007. Those elements are not there...in fact Ballard has raised mmany more taxes and fees than Peterson even thought about raising. That's not playing well with those who supported him in 2007. Go talk to his 2007 campaign workers and ask them how they feel about the Mayor they helped elect. Almost all of them detest the Mayor for selling them out.

Ballard won't be able to hold his own Republican base, much less get enough Democratic-leaning voters to win re-election. Ballard can't hold 85% of his Republican base, he's cooked.

I don't think the conflicts of interest will be the No. 1 issue, but certainly they will be raised. They're not complicated. The Mayor's chief legal advisor works for ACS a company that got a 50 year no bid contract. Pretty easy thing to explain and understand.

Barrying Ballard completely rejecting what he's done in the last three years and going in a more populist direction, he has as much chance of winning re-election as I have of being picked to be the next Pope.

Unigov, it doesn't matter about Melina Kennedy not being a strong candidate. (Like Ballard is a strong candidate and not prone to gaffes - remember Indianapolis' Chinatown?) 2011 will be strictly a referendum on Ballard and that's the Republican's problem.

Indy Student said...

I think Carlos raises some valid points, but that ignores the demographics of Marion County. If Marion County was known for having competitive elections, Ballard would have a chance. But it's recent past hasn't shown that. Democrats swept county wide offices and the 7th Congressional District despite a Republican wave nationwide and at least one of the races, Prosecutor, being well funded with a pretty well known candidate. Vop Osili won the vast majority of SOS votes here, ensuring Democrats will be first on any general election ballot for the next 4 years. We've trended Democrat for POTUS as well and the 7th, while leaving out some portions of Marion County, has a pretty liberal representative in Andre Carson.

The Libertarian Party also showed what happened when Republicans nominate horrible candidates with both their Senate and SOS picks getting 5% of the vote.

So Ballard won't only need the Republican support, but he'll also need to get Libertarian support as well, AND a good chunk of Dems.

I believe Ballard didn't so much win 2007 as Peterson lost. Democrats weren't motivated that year. If 2010 is any indication, they will be this time around.

Paul K. Ogden said...

IS,

You're exactly right. Ballard has to get independent support as well as Demcoratic support. But first he has to have a solid hold on his Republican base. Ballard doesn't ahve that.

To have had a chance, Ballard had to have governed like a new kind of Republican. He didn't do that, choosing instead to embrace country club politics and using government to do favors for insiders.

Unigov said...

Paul, my thought was that people voted Ballard in as a reform candidate, and the biggest thing that will make independents shift to a Democrat is if the Dem is a real reformer. It's not enough that Ballard is a failure, voters need another viable option. Kennedy is not that option.

I liken this to Dan Burton, who clearly has a screw lose, winning the Republican nomination and election every 2 years. That may not be a great comparison but it's the best I can do without coffee !

Indy Student said...

Unigov, and I don't think a lot of Ballard voters will become KEnnedy voters. I think a small portion of them will vote Libertarian with the rest just not voting, or possibly skipping over the Mayor's office.