Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Invisible Mayor

The Indianapolis Monthly's Michael Rubino delivers a New Year's present to Mayor Greg Ballard in the form of a critical analysis of his performance in office after two years. I suspect Ballard won't find it a fun read. Rubino's story opens with an event where Ballard is upstaged by the Colts' mascot, Blue, at a charitable event in Riverside Park:

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.

“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.
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.

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.


Paul K. Ogden said...

I find it odd that a Republican "insider" would talk about the Mayor getting re-elected but then would not want to be identified. You're right that the person is clueless. A person can be tarnished in office so badly that no amount of campaign cash can make that tarnish go away. Ballard is well on his way to being that tarnished elected official.

Flipper said...

Gary and Paul , Why do both of you continue to bash the mayor? You both worked on his campaign as I did and when you didn't get a a legal job on the 25th floor you turned against him. Greg has reduced crime and balanced a budget and Bart and Sweet Pea are no longer running this city. I enjoy reading your blogs, but I wish you both would say something positive about our city and the mayor once in awhile. happy New Year to all of you. flipper

Blog Admin said...

Very good read, Gary. Looks like you contributed a lot to the article.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Flipper, The fact is that I never applied for a job with the Ballard administration and didn't expect one. Would I have liked to serve on a board in an unpaid capacity like the CIB where I could have done a hell of a lot of good. You bet I did. Your memory is very selective. As I recall, you were the first one to start bashing Ballard when he told you that you wouldn't be driving him to Chicago to the Indiana Society party after you had already gone out and rented a tux. You were the one who spilled the beans on Ballard's conversation with Joe Loftus and Bob Grand on the ride to the Bush event for Sodrel--the one where you said they told Ballard how things were going to be done. I don't know what has changed from your standpoint, but you are singing a much different song than you were a couple of years ago about this time.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks, Indy Student.

M Theory said...

Paul, I thought the same thing. And we proved last election that it is not all about money.

Ballard should have heeded my suggestion to defect from the Republican party after he was elected and then stand up and be his own man.

interestedparty said...

What's the story about the rude luncheon guest in Denver?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Ballard complained about the catered lunch, got up and left and went to McDonald's for his lunch.

Blog Admin said...

Flipper's post is interesting.

Balancing a budget is meaningless for two reasons: It's constitutionally required AND municipal corporations are seperate budgets that CAN go in debt according to a State Supreme Court ruling. If we just factored in the CIB's supposed debt alone (47 million), it'd throw the entire city budget off even with the "rainy day fund."

Even in the city budget, many games can be played. Look at the grant that was factored in to pay for 50 new police cars that not only the city was denied, but didn't have a chance to get it.

As for reducing crime, I'm a believer in that there are certain things that are mostly beyond the control of those heading the Executive Branch. Are homicides down this year? Yes. I've also read that home invasions are UP.

But what Flipper should really be asking him/herself is why do you support a mayor who broke a central campaign promise of no new taxes? He has lobbied for taxes increased in alcohol, hotel, car rentals, supported two increases in water rates, and wants to increase various city fees (a fancy word for taxes). He hasn't seen a tax he wouldn't support, and he claimed he'd do his job "without taking more of your money."

Paul K. Ogden said...


You really think our criticism has to do with our not getting some plum job or contract instead of Ballard's horrendous performance in office? You have the mistaken view that criticism must be driven by some financial self-interest rather than the fact Ballard has broken virtually every campaign promises and betrayed the very people who helped put him in office.

The sad fact is that there isn't much good to say about Ballard. He has been a complete disaster. You suggest a "balanced budget." Like that's some accomplishment. By law, all muni budgets have to be balanced!! And what good is it if you end the Democratic insiders and conflicts of interest running the city to replace it with Republicans who do the same thing? Where is the ethics reform this adminstration promised? The 25th Floor is run by a bunch of people trying to profit as much as they can off of their positions.

The only way things are going to change is if people, especially Republicans, are willing to speak out and say this is not acceptable. Our party deserves better. Just suffering in silence gets us nowhere.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I don't agree about the defection. As I've pointed out many times, for better or worse it's a two party system. Ballard never would have won running as a Libertarian.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Rubino is a very gifted wordsmith. Beyond the article being about Ballard, it was very artful and a pleasure to read. Thanks for the link.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I would agree it's a good, substantive article. I don't agree with the general thrust that the status quo in this city was great.

The elite country club types have been running the city for a long time and its been mostly to profit themselves not to make the city a better place. What is disappointing to me is not that Ballard has changed directions from the long time Indy tradition of insiders using government to make themselves wealthy..rather it's that he has continued it with a gusto, albeit less competence.

M Theory said...

Paul...I didn't suggest that he run as a Libertarian. I suggested that he defect after he won!

And I'm fed up with this false left/right paradigm that does not work for us, but for the insiders.

Our country is in a rut and it is getting deeper everyday.

dcrutch said...

Amen to HFFT. I'll know we're finally getting away from the rotational "insiders",cyclically taking their turn seizing the booty, when we have a local muckraker who rakes both ways like Welsh, Ogden, or Donahy (sp?) appointed to the CIB.
THAT, I'd like to see.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Ballard had his chance to remake the CIB and he failed miserably. He appointed another group of insiders who will be in the pocket of the downtown elites who will continue to spend endlessly to give our taxpayer dollars to the billionaire sports team owners and a handful of downtown hotels. There are no second chances for Ballard as far as I'm concerned. The sooner his ass is kicked out of office, the better.

dcrutch said...

Yeah, but when you look at the collective corruption from both parties across all levels of goverment, the bar's gotten lower and lower. I didn't think anybody could be a worse President than Clinton- then we got Bush. How could he be topped for ineptitude? (or so I thought) Well.....wrong again.
I believe we can realistically imagine somebody even more beholden to one of the downtown law firms getting elected Mayor. Maybe that's not a dealbreaker in overall merit- but if you don't like insider influence....

Sean Shepard said...

Part of the problem with boards like the CIB is that, indeed, they get stocked full of "movers and shakers" and people who have established reputations or "perceived credentials" just by having been close to government, the legal system or political party activities.

What is REALLY needed on these boards, are some regular people with spines who will hold the "movers and shakers" accountable and not be enamored with them.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Dcrutch says:

"I believe we can realistically imagine somebody even more beholden to one of the downtown law firms getting elected Mayor."

I think most people will tell you the influence of Barnes & Thornburg with the current administration is the most extreme example ever of a law firm dominating a Mayor's office. It didn't have to be that way. Ballard didn't owe B&T anything for his election yet he completely gave away the store.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Bingo, SS is dead on the mark of his analysis. The last thing the CIB needs is more well-connected "movers and shakers."

Gary R. Welsh said...

Sean, Ann Lathrop is now the CIB's president. The media has completely ignored the fact that she has a job with Crowe Horwath that is entirely tied to the government sector. She was hired as a Republican to get government contracts for the accounting firm as her primary job responsibility. She worked for ACS before joining Crowe, the same firm that has done a disasterous job at privatizing welfare services in Indiana at a huge cost to taxpayers. Nobody is asking Ann Lathrop to disclose her list of potential conflicts of interest. The public only knew about Bob Grand and his relationship with the Simons because this blog exposed it and forced the hand of the Indianapolis Star; otherwise, it would have gone unreported. Lathrop's conflicts could be every bit as troublesome as Grand's but we may never be told about them.

Barnard said...

Paul, This is an interesting thread. I agree with many of your points. I'm curious though if you can give me an example of how these insiders create personal wealth from running the city? I'm not being critical, just curious.