Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Memory Lane for D Activists and Godfather Fans: Mayor's Race and Thoughts of the "Good Old Days?"

I suppose since many Republicans are plotting the ouster of their incumbent mayor, I should be grateful my current struggle is limited to not wanting to disappoint my friends.

In my informal polling of precinct committee people in Indianapolis, none of the most widely-touted Democratic contenders for Mayor - Jose Evans, Joe Hogsett, Melinda Kennedy, Kip Tew, or Brian Williams - are gaining "knock out blow" momentum. Most precinct folk are "watching," not "buying." Republicans will contend this is because even Democrats don't believe those in the field are electable. I think there's something simpler at play for many -- friendship.

Things were easier for Democrats in the Evan Bayh "golden finger" era. Following his election as Governor, Evan Bayh was the party. He would say "Pam Carter for AG" and "Stan Jones for Superintendent of Public Instruction," and all others stepped down quietly or went down noisily. Anybody not think former Court Clerk Dwayne Brown's career was toast (even before his foot fetish scandal) when he waged an aborted convention fight against Pam Carter (and, by extension, Ann Delaney) in 1992?

Was this approach heavy-handed? Absolutely. But did it preserve party unity? Absolutely. Evan Bayh said Joe Hogsett takes my place for Secretary of State, and there it was. A united party helped Joe keep the S0S office in 1990.

All Democrats aligned in unity behind Governor Bayh's golden children. Other candidates would make noise, then get stabled. They would make nice with the Governor, and their supporters would fall back into the fold. Up to this year, the greatest interparty "clash" Evan Bayh has had was with Frank O'Bannon, whom he made his Lieutenant Governor.

When Governor O'Bannon took the reigns, the same model prevailed. If you sought an office, you had to go through Room 206. (Yes, it was like going to see the Godfather to ask for your own family). Sure, the Governor might not tell you himself, but people like Bill Moreau and Tom New made sure you got the message. (No, they didn't put horse heads in your bed).

Fast forward two decades, and Don Corleone has left the building. There is nobody who will "make the peace," so we have a world where friends run against the friends of friends.

Joe Hogsett was literally the first man I met in politics, and I like to think we've been friends since. While his political record might not show it, Joe is one of the most gifted politicians of this generation. He simply waded into a few Republican tsunami years.

I met Brian Williams shortly thereafter when we worked together in Governor Bayh's Office and at the Indiana Democratic Party. I liked Brian because he was soft-spoken. I learned this wasn't because he wasn't passionate about his ideas. He just put substance over bluster, which explains why he cranks out ideas like a machine for the IBJ.

I knew of Kip Tew prior to 1996, but that was the year I got to work around him daily. Kip was a tenacious political fighter for Frank O'Bannon. The way he and Steve Bella hunted down information on the Goldsmith administration was a thing of beauty. Kip has always been "mavericky," too, which helped him earn my respect, even though he has irritated some folks during his career. (More power to you, my brother!)

I met Melina back in 1992 when I was working with Pam Carter. I liked her instantly, and she's done nothing to make me second-guess that assessment. She is one of the most genuine people I know, and I always enjoy talking with her. Nobody can say she doesn't know how this city runs.

I've known Jose Evans for the shortest period of time, but his mentor, former IDP chair Robin Winston, is one of the most underrated political talents in Indiana, and that alone puts Jose in good stead with me. I see Jose shrewdly and skillfully elevating his profile. Also, Jose and I share an abiding love of positive hip hop music, which has nothing to do with running a city, but everything to do with signaling that our next generation of leaders is standing on a real short horizon, folks. Watch this man.

In short, this is a formidable field...and I have to pick just one?

This is when politics gets "real." Assuming you have the cajones to say it directly, you now have to look a friend (or four or five of them) in the eye and say, "I am sorry. Nothing personal. This is just business." This is what Democratic politics now demands, and it's not pleasant. (Certain members of Congress are still catching hell from their own party over who they favored for President in 2008, and you know who you are, Baron Hill.)

In 2010, Democrats also have two extremely well-credentialed and personable men - Tom McKenna and Vop Osili - vying for Secretary of State. In 2012, we'll have at least three Democratic candidates for Governor, and I expect this list to grow before it shrinks.

Sorry, but people who are jumping early into any of these races have either worked for one of the candidates or are looking to get "bumped off"....a lot of Christmas card lists. Most activists are hoping if they wait long enough, they'll get the return of the "Corleone influence." They are like Tessio when he's about to get wacked, asking Tom Hagen:

"Tom, can you get me off the hook....for old times sake?"

And our party's leaders all say in unison: "Can't do it, Sally."

(For a profile of the current D mayoral field, check out this article from the IBJ).

Coming soon....."Memory Lane Part II: Where are Our Corleones?"



Jon E. Easter said...

Excellent job Chris. Well done.

Anonymous said...

You failed to mention Evan Bayh and his choice for president after his own short lived failed bid. That lingers on.

Anonymous said...

Jose has delusions of grandure. He is MIA when it comes to constituent services.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I don't know what Republican would tell you those prospective candidates are not "electable." Of course they are electable. Ballard is very unpopular within his own Repubican Party. Unless Ballard has some draw among Democratic-leaning voters I don't know about, he doesn't have much of a chance to win re-election...that is if he can get through his own primary in 2011.

Anonymous said...

I believe that it would be a mistake to under-estimate Ballard. Being an incumbent is a big advantage. If you add to that that he hasnt really screwed up yet makes his chances decent. Marion is D-leaning county but people dont always throw someone out because of party affiliation - that person must deserve (in the eyes of the public) to be thrown out.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 7:59: Ballard hasn't screwed up? Are you kidding me. I'd be hard pressed to find things he's done right during his going on two years in office.