Friday, July 18, 2008

O'Connor's Mayoral Mishaps

Say you are managing an incumbent mayor's campaign. You have a staggering financial advantage, and you're running against a guy who can't get a return phone call from his own party leaders. What does conventional wisdom tell you to do?

Ignore the man. Don't appear anywhere with him. Don't debate him. Don't say his name because it will give him free press he can't get on his own. Don't respond to anything he does. Don't even acknowledge his existence, if at all possible.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that it's worthless for incumbents in "tsunami years." Every so often, a wave of outrage revs its head, and voters descend upon their elected officials with vengeance. On the national scene, it happened after Watergate, with Reagan in 1980, and with Gingrich in 1994 (though it flipped back with Clinton in 1996).

In Indianapolis, 2007 was definitely a tsunami year. O'Connor should have thrown the text-book for re-election out the window early on. Anybody that drove the city could see it. Almost as a lark, I started trolling property tax protests, and I immediately saw that this was no fringe group, like the Freemen affiliates who are always trying to invalidate our elected officials based on their failure to sign oaths.

These protests had young and old, black and white, liberal and conservative, blue collar and white collar, gay and straight, and most importantly angry and more angry. After one rally, I remember driving back telling myself, "The Governor is toast!"

I said this because the Mayor of Indianapolis has no real control over property taxes. That's a Governor's fix to make. I know this because the Governor can't stop telling me how he "fixed" property taxes. As an aside, Quicken tells me I'm paying more in sales tax than I'm saving in property taxes, so I sure hope Governor Daniels doesn't fix anything else. If I asked him to fix the creaky knob on my bedroom door, I might come away with no door or bedroom furniture.

But I digress. Given the intensity of the property tax protests, a great commercial would have shown Mayor Peterson opening up his property tax bill, yelling an expletive, and telling everybody to grab their pitchforks because, "I'm a taxpayer just like you, and I'm not going to stand for this! TO THE STATEHOUSE!"

Instead, soooomebody signed off on an ad that had the Mayor saying how we would "work together" to solve the city's problems. In other words, he took ownership of a catastrophe...ON FILM. THEN THEY SHOWED IT TO PEOPLE! There was no frothing at the mouth Mayor. There was just nice guy Bart, the coalition builder. And in the back room, a decision was made to NOT say anything about the Governor for fear that he would get interested in the Indianapolis mayoral race and put money into it. This thinking, quite frankly, was perplexing, which is my polite way of saying "batshizzle insane."

Mitch Daniels hardly acknowledged Greg Ballard as a candidate until after his victory. Daniels had NO interest in putting money in the race because he did not believe, under any circumstances, it could be won (which is another way of saying Daniels read the tea leaves as poorly as did O'Connor).

Ballard then goes out and gets the most succinct and deadly yard sign in political history: "Had Enough?" Of what? It didn't matter. Whatever evil irked you at the moment is what you used to fill in the blank with your mind. Were you a police officer angry about consolidation? Ballard was talking to you. Were you angry at the way the Mayor was silent on Monroe Gray's behavior? Ballard was talking to you. Were you upset that you were shut out of a city-county council meeting packed with the Mayor's supporters? How about the trash that got left on the curb the week before? All of it was Ballard talking to you while not really saying anything concretely.

The entire Ballard campaign was "fresh-roasted coffee." Doesn't that sound delicious? Mmm hmmmm. But nobody knows how "fresh-roasted coffee" is made. We just envision in our minds what we THINK it means, and our imaginations are always more appetizing than reality.

I called a higher up in the Peterson camp (not O'Connor), and I told them two-and-a-half months out that they would lose. Boy, did that make me unpopular, and I got a hearty laugh when I said they needed to attack Ballard immediately.

You see, when you have a tsunami election, you can only survive by diverting the wave because it will crash down somewhere. And if you're running against a nobody, voters go into that booth looking at two options: you or not you. By not engaging Ballard and forcing him to expose himself as a guy who had no real plan early on, Peterson turned his campaign into a referendum election that he could not win. Peterson needed to legitimize Ballard by going at him and building up the strawman that he could then set fire to by exposing Ballard as being unready, a condition that doesn't seem to have improved six months into the job.

Instead, the Peterson camp did nothing but continued to run ads that they knew from their focus groups wouldn't work. Why any manager would sign off on spending money to continue to produce a broken product is beyond me. Only after all hope was lost, did Peterson go negative, and the late hour made him come across as supremely desperate.

Here's the interesting part. I had several friends who are Democrats who voted for Ballard. Then they heard him talk after his election, and they called me and said, "Ooops!" That was maddening. Had Peterson advanced the engagement between voter and Ballard, Peterson might have survived.

But why would O'Connor do something like that? The Mayor wasn't in trouble.


...Peterson and O'Connor's Monroe Gray Doctrine...

...the long-awaited race test..... Pam Carter got it right in 1992




Anonymous said...

Thanks for acknowledging something few Dems will-the effect of Monroe Gray on that election. As someone who walked door to door campaigning for Democrats that election, I heard his name a lot, and I was never in his district. We lost several close CCC seats that should have gone to the more qualified Democratic candidate (not the at-large candidates, some of whom should have been quietly dumped due either to their pending criminal matters or blantant, tacky, and repugnant influence peddling on behalf of their spouse). A quiet reshuffling in the early summer would have done so much.

Ah, what might have been.

Anonymous said...

A great and accurate assessment. It was a tough year for an incumbent mayor but did not have to be a losing year. But when you have O'Connor and others who smugly believe that they have it in the bag.....they had 2 or 3 million dollars leftover.....they also failed to listen or communication with party workers who tried to tell them that there was a problem....they have no one to blame but themselves. Strangely I know several people who have told me that they voted for Ballard but would not have if they thought that there was a chance that Bart would lose......

Jon E. Easter said...

Again, a very very good play-by-play of what happened.

I walked into a Ward Chair meeting at County Party HQ a few months before the 2007 General Election ready to run my own mayor out on a rail. I'd been hearing all the hype, and I'd been feeling a little bit ignored down here in Decatur Twp. Within 20 minutes, Mayor Peterson had skillfully redirected my angst at the Governor and the formerly Republican-controlled House. He did so with stats, numbers, and solid reasoning. He is so skilled at doing this. We never saw that at all in the campaign.

There were several of us in the room something to the effect..."Mayor Peterson you have to get this message to the masses." I personally mentioned You Tube to him as well as other channels. Of course, I'm just a Decatur Township Ward Chair.

I like Mayor Peterson, and I believe the city as a whole was a much better place after eight years of Mayor Peterson. Had I been running the campaign (hindsight is always 20/20), you would have seen the Mayor making his own case more. Taking us into neighborhoods that had been revitalized, showing us how the sewers and storm water drains had been improved, and taking us places like the jail to show us how it had improved under a Anderson/Peterson leadership scheme.

Instead, IPOPA, you are correct. We got a traditional campaign that would have worked any year but last year. No one in leadership positions realized what was going on.

Then, you had the Council. It's sad every time I see the group convene and Rozelle Boyd isn't there, but Monroe Gray is. At least Joanne Sanders hung on.

Jon E. Easter said...

I will also add that I think Rozelle Boyd was hurt by the Anti "King Ro" signs the Republicans had up. I just think people thought Rozelle was King Ro.

Well, we move forward and we move on. I'd love to see Kathy Davis run for Mayor in three years. She's sharp as a tack and has both public and governmental management experience. She understands the budget. I think we'll have a slew of great candidates in '11.

Anonymous said...

Who in the party allowed Conley to actually put "King Ro" on the ballot? That was a major screwup. Several independants I knew said they knew he was wrong for the job with a name like that.

Jon E. Easter said...

I believe "King Ro" is Lonnell Conley's professional stage name. He was a radio DJ and music exec prior to his public service. Nice fellow everytime I've been around him, but probably the wrong nickname for 2007.

guy77money said...

Bart was an idoit! Ok I said it, he never once came out and asked for people to vote for him! His campaign was sinking and he didn't grab control! That is not a leader in my book. He listened to his people, he shouldn't have found one person with balls to do what needed to be done. Good riddance Bart go back to France and visit all of your friends ;)

guy77money said...

opps - should have instead of shouldn't

Anonymous said...

Jon, I was at that same meeting and agree with you 100%. Bart did an excellent job of explaining the property tax situation and most left feeling good. The ward chairs had many good suggestions but O´Connor ignored everything because he knows more than everyone else. The only thing worse were the staff members there from Beth White´s office who treated the ward chairs like they were retarded or crazy. As much as I hated losing the mayor´s office and as much good as I think Bart did for the city. O´connor, Beth White et al got what they deserved.

Monroe Gray, Ron Gibson and King Ro all added to the problems of sleaze.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I was at that same meeting and agree with you 100%. Bart did an excellent job of explaining the property tax situation and most left feeling good. The ward chairs had many good suggestions but O´Connor ignored everything because he knows more than everyone else. The only thing worse were the staff members there from Beth White´s office who treated the ward chairs like they were retarded or crazy. As much as I hated losing the mayor´s office and as much good as I think Bart did for the city. O´connor, Beth White et al got what they deserved.

Monroe Gray, Ron Gibson and King Ro all added to the problems of sleaze.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this post. I feel quite complimented by some things you've said in light of the property tax protests.

I organized the 4th of July protest, the statewide Indiana Tea Parties, and the protest that Peterson locked the people out of the city council meeting. I made sure we got our message to a smattering of everyone in town via lots of phone calls, press releases, and flyers.

A lot of people think the protests were just a bunch of hopping mad rich people in Meridian wasn't. However, because our base was born out of Meridian Kessler (my own backyard) and we staged the protests there, it was effective in getting attention of the lawmakers and the media who probably never saw people who live in mansions take to the streets.

My entire goal last summer was to keep citizen anger in the news every week, pressure property tax legislation, and to network every person that wanted Bart Peterson voted out of office to work together in a coordinated effort.

You might be right about Mitch Daniels being toast, I don't know. Time will tell. I do know that his property tax relief plan is going to screw the taxpayer in the long run and the media and sheeple are falling for it. Most Hoosiers have no idea what the Constitution says about property tax in Indiana.

I plan to "throw my vote away" and vote for Andy Horning because he's the only candidate who understands that the job of the governor is to govern government.

Andy Horning is also the only candidate that knows the Indiana Constitution and will vow to uphold it. Our constitution is written to protect us (the people) from the politicians.

This blog is smart, and while I don't always agree, I like reading it. You aren't a normal democrat with partisan blinders. Heck,I wouldn't be surprised if you are a Libertarian and don't know it yet.

Have you taken the world's smallest political quiz?