Monday, September 17, 2012

Brian Mahern and His Challenge to the Both Parties' Support of Corporate Welfare

This Sunday the Indianapolis Star published an article on Councilor Brian Mahern and his uncle Ed Mahern, who now heads the Metropolitan Development Commission.  The thrust of the article is that the Maherns are wielding more and more influence and much of that is in opposition to the Mayor Ballard's pro-downtown development agenda.

Anyone who has been around Indianapolis any length of time is familiar with the Mahern surname.  In addition to Brian and Ed Mahern, Ed's son (and Brian's cousin) Dane Mahern served a couple terms on the Council before being defeated in 2011.  Also, Louis Mahern, Brian's father, served as state senator from Indianapolis.

Councilor Brian Mahern
During the summer of 2007, Republican mayoral candidate Greg Ballard's star ascended. as Mayor Ballard's fell.  Ballard campaigned as a populist, someone who would end the downtown-centric philosophy of the Peterson administration (and previous Republican administrations) and put neighborhoods and taxpayers first.  He even seemed cognizant of the schism in local Republican Party between the populist/conservative wing of the party, of which he was a part, and the smaller GOP establishment wing who had long controlled Marion County GOP politics.  On Election Night, Ballard claimed his election brought an end to "country club Republican politics" in Marion County.

Ballard was allowed to campaign as a different type of Republican and argue for a change in course in the City's priorities because, frankly, the GOP establishment, i.e. those country club Republicans that have long run the party, didn't think he had a chance to win until the very end.

Election Night was the last anyone ever saw of the populist/conservative Ballard.  Witnesses at the victory celebration saw Marion County GOP insiders corner the Mayor on Election Night.  A few days later driving to Southern Indiana to Southern Indiana, Ballard was in the back seat between two Republican attorney insiders who were trying to persuade the mayor-elect they should run things in his new administration.   Although on the outside during the election, the GOP establishment types immediately seized control of the Ballard transition team and have run the Ballard administration ever since.  Not only did Ballard not bring an end to country club Republican politics in Marion County, he has taken it to new heights during his administration.

Democrats, who found themselves in the minority on the council following the 2007 election, failed to attack Ballard where he was most vulnerable - the populist/conservative issues Ballard was elected on but quickly abandoned.  Then with the Council Democrats failing to lay the groundwork for 2011 mayoral campaign, the Democrats nominated a candidate, Melina Kennedy who failed to attack Ballard on things like the 50 year parking meter deal, the giveaway of the taxpayer-funded Broad Ripple Parking Garage, the $33.5 million gift of property taxes to the Pacers, the lavish junkets Ballard was taking with the dubious claim of economic development, etc.

Upon reflection, Kennedy's failure to address those issues should not have been surprising.  Indianapolis politics is dominated by a group of business, legal and political insiders who have long profited off of taxpayer subsidies, regardless of party.  Kennedy, a former candidate for Marion County Prosecutor who came from a big law firm that benefited from the status quo, wasn't willing to win the election if the cost of victory was to challenge the Indianapolis elite who runs things.  Some might say she was, and still is, part of that elite.

A Democratic mayoral candidate who is willing to say that we need to change direction, that we need to stop subsidizing downtown developers and instead put that money toward school, parks, libraries, public safety, and the neighborhoods, would have enormous appeal to not only Democrats but also to fiscally conservative Republicans who are sick of City leaders' love affair with corporate welfare and the giveaway of our tax dollars to downtown developers.  The trouble Carmel has with its TIF districts and the debt those districts have wrought in the name of development, is the future of Indianapolis.  For anyone who has read bloggers Pat Andrews' numerous stories exposing the problems with Indianapolis' TIF districts and compare it to the budget shortfall, some might say the City's long time practice of misplaced priorities are the proverbial chickens starting to come home to roost.

Enter the picture Councilor Brian Mahern.   For those of us fiscal conservatives unhappy with the constant giveaway of our tax dollars by Indianapolis Mayors to private developers, Mahern, even though a Democrat, is a breath of fresh air, someone who appears willing to take on the downtown establishment that has long controlled Indianapolis politics regardless of which party has the Mayor's office.  His most recent venture is challenging the out-of-control TIFs which have become a drain on funding municipal services.  Worse for conservatives is that the expansion of TIFs inevitably leads to budget shortfalls and more taxes.

Mahern is acting as a responsible steward of our tax dollars, something we conservatives should applaud.  I hope the Democrats nominate him for Indianapolis Mayor in 2015. I likewise hope Republicans nominate someone who will commit to stopping the corporate welfare policies of this administration and previous administrations.  Being a Republican does not mean giving our tax dollars to private developers.  It means responsibly funding services like public safety and cutting taxes whenever possible. 

I have no doubt the popularity in a general election of a mayoral candidate's message that emphasized neighborhoods and a need to reset the City's priorities away from the wishes of politically-connected developers and toward the provision of basic services.  The problem though Mahern and such a fiscally-responsible Republican mayoral candidate face is getting the nomination of their respective parties with a message that challenges the status quo.   Although small in numbers, the city's business and legal power brokers exercise inordinate influence in the nomination process, helped out in no small part by the local parties "slating" candidates, a process in which the county chairmen pick over 80% of the people who get to vote on such endorsements.

I still do not  believe the parties will nominate someone like Mahern who challenges the City's longtime practice of increased public subsidies for downtown private developers in favor of concentrating on neighborhoods, funding basic services, and keeping taxes low.  I can always hope though.

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