Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Evans Mayoral Bid Curious, But His Water Company Meddling Dead-On

Democratic City-County Councillor, Jose Evans, will file paperwork at 2:30 p.m. today that establishes his "exploratory committee" to run for Mayor of Indianapolis, a move that will surely have people shaking their heads.

With a clearly-established candidate among party faithful in Melina Kennedy, a formidable "outsider" candidate in Brian Williams, and even an African-American candidate in former At-Large City-County Councillor Ron Gibson, one may ask, "What's the play here for Evans?" Is this what iPOPA has dubbed a "Braveheart maneuver" (trying to get concessions from your opponents to force you off the battlefield) or just an effort to elevate profile, as Jim Shella with WISH-TV suggests.

Before Gibson's entry, Evans had a hail mary-type long-shot chance at potentially garnering support for a plurality in an inverted Thomas Carcetti/The Wire scenario. But now that Gibson stepped in, he forces Evans to fight to preserve the segment of voters with no real connection to political folk but who think it's time for Indianapolis to have an African-American mayor.

Also, it's not clear who supports Evans' bid yet, nor will we find out immediately. Evans is not announcing his candidacy like Gibson, who drew at least 50 supporters to a rally; he is only handing over paper for said "exploratory committee," which makes it sound like Jose is two-stepping his way into the race. This late in the game, Evans cannot afford to be coy, and he should expect some political blowback from this effort. To paraphrase sage words once uttered by Democratic Party Chair Ed Treacy, "We need fewer candidates, not more."

But when praise is do, I give it, and here it is.

For months, Evans has been criticizing the Ballard Administration's handling of the water company, and he's been trying to publicly force the Mayor's Office to discuss what plans its has for a sale to Citizens Gas. I've seen at least three separate press releases for such calls that went unheeded and, perhaps in part because council Democrats just assumed Evans was seeking the limelight and going rogue, nobody signed on.

This is not to say none of the D's on the council weren't paying attention. Democratic City-County Council leaders have been working behind the scenes collecting information, believing that the Mayor would let them know before any real progress was made, and last week, the caucus introduced a resolution seeking that the mayor ensure a public process. That resolution was sent to the rules committee by Republicans, and the meeting at which it was to be heard last Tuesday was cancelled.

Now guess what? Democratic blogger Terry Burns reports there is now a "deal" that will be presented to the caucus this evening. The presentation was already made to Republicans on Monday, and I'm told that, but for Citizens and its attorneys, no presentation would have been made at all to Democrats.

There are all kinds of "teachable moments" here for my fellow Democrats, so absorb them:

1. You can't trust anything Mayor Ballard says about "transparency."

2. There's a fine line between paranoia and political astuteness. We like to believe when people say, "I'll let you know," and that's fine. But on this one, Jose Evans fell on the right side on the line. I admire the council resolution, but I can't help but wonder. If the entire caucus had "gone public" to the media, might an enterprising TV reporter have gone to the 25th Floor and asked, "Is city legal and/or an Indianapolis law firm representing Citizens Gas negotiating and/or writing up a purchase agreement as we speak? Doesn't the public have a right to be heard on this?"

3. We should remember to check our human nature, which often lets our feelings about the "who" prevail over our logic surrounding the "what." Even if Evans' critics think he got information wrong or did this for all the wrong reasons, he rightly saw a ram-rod coming.

4. The Ballard administration is ingenius at buying off individual Dems. Now that a deal seems to be a fait accompli, expect it to chisel off individual D councillors by offering a cut of the pie. Hopefully, D councillors will not fall for the siren song and completely fail to recognize potentially catastrophic long-term implications.

5. Finally, remember Luke 12:24: "You cannot serve two masters at the same time. You will hate one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and not care about the other." Every elected official or party with the mind to take advice from an attorney better memorize the attorney's client list because the Rules of Professional Conduct require allegiance to the client's interests to trump any political friendship you think you have.

As two of the Marion County Democratic Party's most prominent advisors and financiers serve with the law firm representing Citizens Gas, the effort to persuade D's to vote in favor might actually be led by my own party's consiglieres, bringing with them, not horse heads in beds, but statements like, "This is going to happen, so you need to get what you can as quickly as you can before there's nothing left."

Ahh, my kingdom for a modicum of Democratic solidarity even when the Mayor deals a bad hand. But, hey, politics isn't pretty, and somebody has to pay for the re-election campaigns.


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