In today’s Indianapolis Star, Matt Tully provides a balanced perspective on Mike O’Connor’s term as chair of the Marion County Democratic Party. Many want to hang O'Connor in effigy. In every venture, be it athletics, business, or politics, the “leader of the team” often gets too much criticism or credit for what is essentially a team game.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mike O’Connor is an affable fellow, who I’ve always liked personally. I have no interest in hearing people tear him for things he could not control. Once you’ve been a campaign manager, you know that the role does not convey the ability to make a candidate do something uncomfortable to him or her. But having said this, O’Connor was involved in several disastrous tactical decisions that spanned two campaigns.
First, he made a horrific call by signing off on the Melina Kennedy’s candidacy for Marion County prosecutor. As IPOPA stated previously, Kennedy was handicapped by a complete lack of prosecutorial experience.
Let’s be clear on something. The Marion County Prosecutor is mostly a manager. Unlike in smaller counties where the prosecutor actually tries cases, in Marion County, the prosecutor recruits talent, sets office policies, administers a budget, helps coordinate anti-crime policy for the city, and occasionally plays Jack McCoy on a lay-down trial so he can say, “I put (insert heartless killer’s name here) on death row” in a TV commercial in the next election cycle.
But the public can’t be sold on this idea; voters expect a trial lawyer. And without criminal law experience, Kennedy could not counter the preconceived notion, held still even by many women, that women are “soft on crime.”
Moreover, Republicans have an elephant as their mascot for a reason. They remember everything. In 1996, when Jeff Modisett was elected Attorney General over out-going Attorney General Steve Carter, we attacked Carter for never having prosecuted a case. “Not One.” That was the name of the ad put together by Christopher Klose, our campaign’s political consultant(and a guy O’Connor knew well from their mutual work with Joe Hogsett years earlier).
In candor, I can say I do not know an Attorney General who HAS personally prosecuted a case of any type, and yet, Carter’s lack of experience helped us defeat him. How surprising would it be that Republicans were lying in wait for Democrats to put up somebody without experience in a job where it would acyually matter. Not surprisingly, Brizzi’s attack ads basically mimicked “Not One.” We set the table for Republicans by selecting Kennedy as our candidate.
In addition, if you can get any Democrats to speak candidly, many will comment on Melina’s lack of “physical presence.” Ms. Kennedy came across as a confident speaker, but that confidence was somewhat belied by her physical bearing, which struck me as mousy at times. Also, the photographs on her billboard actually made her look somewhat sickly. I would have reworked those and had her work on posture and presence.
But the coup de grace that really doomed Kennedy was….say it together everyone – GANG AMNESTY!” I’ll never forget reading Kennedy’s plan a few days after it was released and getting to that dreaded proposal. I called a high-ranking Democrat in Mayor Peterson’s administration and said, “We just lost the prosecutor’s race.” I knew Republicans would find and exploit this proposal.
It could have been the single greatest law enforcement strategy in history, but it wouldn’t matter. “Amnesty” means ONLY forgiveness in the public mind. Mitch Daniels engineered taxpayer amnesty, and everybody loved him for it. It brought in tons of money, just like Kennedy’s plan might have arguably given law enforcement tons of leads. But Daniels wasn’t a woman running for prosecutor, and nobody finds people who skirt paying state taxes terrifying enough to make bad Sean Penn movies (Colors) about them.
I don’t understand how that proposal saw daylight. In every campaign, there has to be somebody (usually the manager) whose job is to be the “(excrement) catcher.” That person’s critical function is to make sure nothing idiotic leaves the building. If that person is doing his/her job, every statement and proposal is subjected to a mental review process during which “the catcher” attempts to figure out how the other side can turn the idea on its head. On gang amnesty, somebody fell down on the job, and when they did, Melina Kennedy couldn’t get up.
As Jon Easter properly noted in a comment on this blog, Brizzi and the Republican Party put heavy bank into this race and outspent Kennedy because it was (at least then) thought to be the setting sun for the R’s. Easter is right, but TV ads don’t move numbers without something compelling to say. We wrote their script.
Still to come…
…O’Connor’s Mayoral Mishaps
…How Pam Carter Got It Right in 1992
…The Great News for Melina Kennedy
…Who Looks Good as Your Next Prosecutor
…An intriguing experiment to help you determine whether you hate black people as much as George Bush