Friday, August 14, 2015

ON THE AVENUES: It’s time to purge two-party politics and tie the community together.

ON THE AVENUES: It’s time to purge two-party politics and tie the community together.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

I’m running for mayor of New Albany as an independent candidate in order to provide voters with a choice.

It’s as simple as that.

It is my core conviction that locally, we have a two-party system standing for very little in terms of coherent platform principle, apart from doing whatever is necessary to preserve its shared monopoly of power.

Republicans have the county, Democrats the city, and while professing an inability to speak on behalf of Republicans by virtue of not being one, I can truthfully say that as a lifelong left leaner who is liberal, progressive and entirely unembarrassed about it, the upper echelons of the Floyd County Democratic Party have become completely unglued. They may say things vaguely in keeping with their professed affiliation, but actions (and inactions) always speak louder than mere words.

It took them three months to comprehend and approve a street piano. ‘Nuff said, except there is far, far more.

Again and again during Jeff Gahan’s term, I’ve waited for this self-described Democrat to do something remotely democratic, to illustrate an open and public understanding of his party’s core concepts as they pertain to the legacy of leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson, of the New Deal, and the Great Society, and to pay them more than periodic lip service.

But Gahan has been a profound, crushing disappointment, seemingly viewing himself first and foremost as a celebrity, a concert promoter and a theme park operator, perhaps an amalgam of Elvis, PT Barnum and Walt Disney, seeking to buy affection by incessantly pointing to the many nice things he’s purchased on credit, to be paid by the grandchildren of his current fans.

Sound bites and catch phrases always are substituted for substance. Surrounded by a closely knit group of self-interested handlers, Gahan babbles about the “business of residency,” “ripple effects,” and “where you should be,” showing nary a hint that he comprehends to any appreciable degree the ongoing, degraded condition of large tracts of urban space comprising his imagined Magic Kingdom.

Obviously Gahan venerates Louisville’s mayor, Greg Fischer, whose shameless glorification of crony capitalism and corporate welfare handouts rival those of Ronald Reagan. If it’s not big and expensive enough to warrant a self-congratulatory plaque, it’s not worthy of a moment’s consideration. At least Fischer has the panache to play a rock star on television.

Meanwhile, Gahan fancies himself a Democrat.

What has he done to address the first fundamental need, as opposed to his laundry list of TIF-bond-funded wants?

What has Gahan’s City Hall done for the people in New Albany who need help the most?

Has Gahan exhibited the slightest indication that he knows these people even exist, apart from offering them bread and circuses?

It would not surprise me at all for a Republican to govern in this fashion, and therein lies a basic truth: Gahan has behaved in so thoroughly a Republican way that if you are a Democrat, and genuinely believe in the principles espoused by the Democratic Party nationwide, then the only candidate in this race who can be relied upon to govern as a Democrat, democratically, is the Independent.

That would be me, and to repeat, I’m running for mayor of New Albany as an independent candidate in order to provide voters with a choice. Otherwise, we have none … especially if you’re a Democrat.

As a city, we cannot afford four more years of Jeff Gahan, but the rot is considerably deeper than fiscal, and those tens of millions of dollars in bonded debt he has accumulated during his sole term.

From the inception of this blog in 2004 to the present day, the Democratic Party machine has remained pre-eminent, with Gahan himself burrowed deeply within the apparatus, and yet almost everything positive accomplished during this time has come in spite of the party machine, not because of it. It is exhausting to wrestle progress from the cold, dead hands of big fish in small ponds, and yet each step of the way, it’s been the default mechanism in New Albany.

Many of us are sick of this, and it must change.

I truly believe there are alternatives to the same tired civic rituals, practiced by the usual underachieving political suspects, and which come down to three priorities. If aggressively implemented, I contend they can tie this community together and help New Albany achieve its potential.


Last week I promised to elaborate on ten “bullet point” Baylor for Mayor platform planks, but after much thought, I’ve decided to stop at seven. They’re inter-related, which points to something else of importance: When government acts, it should try whenever possible to multi-task and connect its actions and aims to best achieve multiple positive results. Doing so is the best use of money and time, and it doesn’t take a business person to know it. You do it in your own homes and workplaces.

City Hall can do it, too.

Honesty in government
This is job one. Jeff Gahan’s City Hall has been the least transparent in recent memory, and the consequences have been crippling. Daily information has been safeguarded like crown jewels, and far too many decisions have been taken by appointed boards, rather than elected officials. Public input has been rendered inert, either by calculated infrequency (the aquatic center and accompanying $20 million parks bond, and the Coyle site giveaway) or sheer organizational ineptitude (the three Speck meetings). It does not help that public meetings (Board of Works, Redevelopment) dealing with important decisions are held at inconvenient times for working people, and that we do not harness widely available electronic mediums to film and disseminate them.

Consequently, in the interests of greater transparency, I’ll dedicate the necessary resources to ensure robust two-way communications and conversations between the city and its citizens. My aim is equal governance and a level playing field, and so I will promote transparency every single day at City Hall, not every now and then. Finally, I will commence a deep cleansing of management level personnel in City Hall. New thinking is needed to stimulate the “same old, same old” management culture, which is in-bred and unresponsive. We’ll take applications, interview candidates, and find new talent, because our city employees already work hard. They need bosses who work smart.

Budget sanity
I support a sane, sustainable budget, something that is not currently being provided by Democrats, and which is not to be considered an exclusive province of the GOP. I will not sacrifice long-term budgetary sustainability for short-term glitz and glitter. On the one hand, Gahan’s astronomical bonded debt will be with us for decades to come, placing an ever greater strain on his illusory budgets. On the other, a Zurschmiede administration’s budgetary model would be that of Republicans in Floyd County government: Starvation rations, bread made from sawdust and the occasional corn husk. Disneyland versus North Korea? These are not the only two choices. It’s going to take an independent candidate like me to find truth between the extremes – and I will, because our real infrastructure needs will require investment.

Fix infrastructure
Maintaining the city’s public infrastructure and effectively utilizing our physical assets isn’t sexy. It’s essential, and it’s also about every single day, not every now and then. Like much of America, New Albany has neglected these fundamental needs, and yet they are the conditions that matter most right where you live. Everything else we do as a city extends from strong fundamental physical infrastructure: Streets, sidewalks, sewers, storm water and many more similar functions, big and small. These tasks comprise the city’s bones and blood.

Two-way streets are the perfect illustration: Speck them to spec, and watch as street design and expanded walkability support and enhance other measures already aimed at bolstering neighborhood revitalization, property values and independent business success – rather than actively work against them in a cloud of semi-trailer fumes and vehicular speed. It is my contention that quality of life cannot be imposed from the top down, but must rise from the grassroots up. Without better infrastructure management, this is not possible. We’ll analyze these areas from the ground up, and plan for success by design – every day, not every now and then.

Ordinance enforcement
Equal governance and level playing fields cannot be attained without consistent and principled ordinance enforcement, as applied professionally and separated from petty politics. To cite just one example, the city of New Albany still does not have a rental property registration and inspection program in the year 2015.

Here is another: Parking ordinances are enforced in some places and not others – and no one knows where the non-enforcement line is drawn. On one block, blocking the notoriously inefficient street sweeper earns you a ticket. On the next, cars are parked on the sidewalk as we look the other way. It is hypocrisy to have laws and selectively enforce them, and it is lunacy to have no laws at all covering basic human habitation of living space. It’s time to begin moving toward a government of law, not variable political whim, and it is sad that we’ve waited this long to even start.

Local economy first
There is a “boilerplate” arsenal of economic development incentives, abatements and secret handshakes that seldom if ever apply to small, local, independent business operators, builders and developers, who have been the engine of growth in New Albany at a time when old-line companies like Pillsbury are departing, and the existence of River Ridge in Clark County is making it harder to replace them. As mayor, I will put New Albany first by nurturing grassroots economic development initiatives, and spreading risks and rewards, because I believe that economic development begins right here at home, with the empowerment of our own people and a level playing field for independent local businesses.

Locally-owned businesses activity encourage recirculation and a multiplier effect, wherein more money spent locally stays in the local economy, and for a longer period. I think we can position ourselves to thrive in the changing regional economy by exploiting market niches, but it will require thinking outside self-imposed boxes, and investing in economic development by fundamentally improving our infrastructure, not building plaque-ready water parks and pandering. It’s about priorities, after all.

Democracy & social justice
Human rights are a non-negotiable mandate, whether Dan Coffey thinks so or not. Respect for human rights and freedoms, democratic principles and social justice must start with the city’s employees and appointees, who must be accountable to the very highest standards in protecting and defending the civil rights of every person in this city. City Hall also must do what it can to be cognizant of institutional racism, discrimination, poverty, income inequality, homelessness and other social issues. We cannot pretend these problems don’t exist here, and I will not pretend to have all the answers. What I can promise to do is listen long and hard, and act on what I hear. It’s about starting a dialogue, and since the two major political parties have refrained from doing so, an independent mayor will get it done.

Two way streets NOW
Gahan’s bizarre fear and timidity aside, the arguments have been made, the overwhelming fact-based evidence presented, and the case effectively closed. There is no reason whatever not to implement the Speck downtown street network proposal in its entirety at the first opportunity, toward which purpose the use of TIF bonds actually would be a fitting and proper exercise, as two-way streets would increase safety, decrease crime, and directly assist in the revitalization and quality of life of a downtown area of approximately 120 square blocks, while not impeding reasonable use of these streets by commercial vehicles.

Once Speck’s directives have been accomplished, we can begin harnessing the same principles to the corridors within the beltway, as incorporating the city’s original suburbs off State Street, Grant Line Road and Charlestown Road. I’m often asked whether I “care” as much about Klerner Lane (as a random example) as downtown. I do. Know that my business meal ticket remains a pizzeria and brewery on Plaza Drive on the north side, and that our development patterns in these areas do not preclude connectivity elsewhere.


This is enough for the moment, but there is so much more:

  • The importance of community oriented policing.
  • Infill housing to remediate intemperate demolition.
  • Public art.
  • Recognition of placemaking and urban design principles.
  • Hiring a full-time grant writer to help fund projects.
  • Internet connectivity as an aspect of vital infrastructure for people.
  • The importance of historic preservation.
  • Trees, shade and green thinking.

Transparency means that we’ll be having a constant conversation about the city.

Infrastructure is the fundamental propriety for things.

Empowerment is the basic prerequisite for people.

These themes are the ties that bind, and precisely because they’ve been undervalued by the two-party system, they’re ripe for improvement. It's true that as an independent mayor, I'll have no political party structure at my back, but surely this is liberating, not constraining. We'll work with those willing to work, of all political party affiliations, or none.

Thanks for reading, and your support is appreciated.


Recent columns:

August 10: ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL EDITION: When it comes to the RCI, can the RDA opt out of the RFRA?

August 6: ON THE AVENUES: Money is the ultimate bully.

July 30: ON THE AVENUES: Homegrown New Albany, but not in a good way.

July 23: ON THE AVENUES: A citizen's eloquent complaint about the parking debacle at River Run reminds us that planners and brooms go hand in hand.

July 16: ON THE AVENUES: Louisville Beer, then and now ... and cheers to Rotary.

July 9: ON THE AVENUES: A mayoral petition as prologue to history.

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