They seem genuinely thrilled to see some guy sweating his tail off in a cartoon horse outfit. And then the unassuming man steps to the microphone.Rubino interviews a number of local Republicans for his story, including yours truly. Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John recounts an unmemorable first meeting with Ballard in December, 2006 where Ballard first told him that he was planning to run for mayor. Rubino describes how the anti-tax rallies of 2007 transformed Ballard's unlikely win over Mayor Bart Peterson. "At one rally in July, he called for an end to property taxes. “If you don’t cut off the head of the snake,” he said, “it just grows back again.” Ballard had morphed into a populist, promising public safety, tax relief, and an end to “country-club politics.” "Toward the end of the summer, Peterson hurt himself by backing a City-County Council-approved 0.65 percent increase in the Marion County income tax (COIT)," Rubino writes.
“Ladies and Gentleman,” a disembodied voice intones, “please welcome Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.”
Ballard receives polite applause and speaks for a short time—a few words about the wisdom of opening a savings account and his wife’s dedication to financial literacy. He makes another pass by the tables and their tchotchkes, and vanishes. The mayor of the nation’s 14th-largest city has been upstaged by a furry blue horse with googly eyes.
The disappearing act has become all too familiar to political observers of both parties—a fade into the scenery that has emboldened Democrats (already lining up, two years before the 2011 election) and frustrated Ballard’s fellow Republicans. “This is a constant struggle, especially within the administration,” says one GOP insider. “In politics, perception often becomes reality. And the real problem is, you can’t keep doing good if you’re not going to go out there and talk about it. It’s hard to get re-elected that way. I mean, when the tree falls in the woods and no one’s there to see it or hear it, it doesn’t make a noise, right?”
The charge isn’t that he is unfit for office. It’s that the office doesn’t fit him and, in public moments, seems to swallow him whole.
This line in his story sums up how I feel about Ballard: "When it comes to Ballard, Gary Welsh feels like he was sold a bill of goods. Worst part is, the political blogger did some of the marketing for the product he now considers faulty." Rubino goes on to detail my frustration with Ballard. "It wasn’t long after the election, though, before Welsh became disillusioned," he writes. "Ballard kept the Peterson COIT increase in place." "He disclosed on an addendum to his 'statement of economic interest' that he had received free memberships to two exclusive golf courses, a Columbia Club membership, and tickets to city sporting events." "In the year following his election, Ballard raised $1 million, most coming from major local law firms and Marion County’s corporate and private heavy hitters."
Rubino talks about State House denizens' frustrations with Ballard's handling of the CIB financial crisis. A GOP insider told Rubino that there was a deliberate attempt to lower Ballard's profile in the deliberations at the suggestion of a key lawmaker. "True or not, the perception remains that the guy who literally wrote the book on leadership did not demonstrate much publicly," Rubino writes “Decisiveness—the ability to reach timely decisions and to communicate them in a clear, understandable manner,” wrote the mayor in The Ballard Rules. “If you wait too long to announce an important decision, then you will be creating unnecessary uncertainty that may result in unintended consequences.”
Rubino chronicles Ballard's extensive travel itinerary since becoming mayor, not always in a positive light. There's the Ballard pickpocket victim at the NCAA Final Four in Detroit last year. There's the rude luncheon guest during a field trip to Denver to study mass transit. And there's his wife, Winnie, by his side on every trip. Rubino also checks in with one of the Democratic candidates for mayor. Melina Kennedy thinks Ballard lacks vision.
So what is Ballard boasting about as his accomplishments? Balanced budgets, reduce crime and improved performance by the Mayor's Action Center. His biggest initiative is still on the drawing board: a new management plan for the city's water and sewer systems. Rubino cites an unnamed GOP insider as claiming Ballard will run again and win re-election. “And he’ll win because, in truth, Indianapolis doesn’t pay attention to mayoral elections until a few weeks before it’s time to vote. They’ll run ads two weeks before the election, which is what people will remember.” Talk about a clueless insider.
Rubino's article is well worth a read during your spare time this New Year's holiday weekend.