Thursday, August 06, 2015

ON THE AVENUES: Money is the ultimate bully.

ON THE AVENUES: Money is the ultimate bully. 

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

New Albany is a city of 37,000 residents. Not even 1% of them bicycle to work. The poverty rate is 23%, and incumbent mayor Jeff Gahan came into the year 2015 with almost $100,000 in his re-election fund.

He’d have spent some of it during the primary season, and surely raised more since then.

That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?

Do you ever wonder where it all comes from?

For $100,000 to have come entirely from New Albany, every voter opting for Gahan in 2011 already would have donated at least $22 to his 2015 campaign. One needn’t be a card-carrying cynic (like me) to know this has not been the case, and I’d wager that less than 20% of the mayor’s total take has come from “just plain folks” locally.

Speaking in broader terms, we needn’t bother examining Gahan’s financial filings with a magnifying glass in order to make educated guesses about the sources of the lucre.

$50,000 or more probably has come from elsewhere, whether Indianapolis, the Magic Kingdom or the Canary Islands, by way of various PACs and Democratic Party funding sources. In addition, there are certain to be significant chunks from those engineering, contracting and construction firms commissioned to erect Gahan’s many gleaming palaces by means of taxpayer money.

Did I say gleaming palaces?

I meant TIF-bonded, plaque-ready building projects. They’re pictured on the flash cards Gahan holds aloft at every opportunity, although where I grew up, things can’t be classified as “gifts” when the giver used your credit card to pay for them.

Since 2012, the good times have rolled and many beaks have gotten nice and wet. Randomly adding together Bicentennial Park, the farmers market buildout, Main Street beautification, parks and aquatic center bonds, Coyle site sewer fee waivers and the accompanying corporate TIF welfare handouts, special event equipment rentals, overtime and an expense account luncheon here and there, Gahan has spent well north of $30 million since January 1, 2012, on wants, as opposed to needs.

It’s probably closer to $40 million … and I forgot the drive-to-only dog park.

$40-odd million.

That’s a lot of money, isn’t it, and it helps to explain the familiar cycle of campaign funding, doesn’t it, and as a longtime blogger, independent mayoral candidate and fairly well-read fellow who also enjoys sitting at the bar and nursing a beer, is it somehow my fault that I possess the ability to bring all this to your attention in an educational and entertaining way?

Am I forcibly seizing the bully pulpit? Using the tools at my disposal? Deploying guerrilla tactics against a well-heeled, unscrupulous opponent?

Of course, all the while hoping there still exists a modicum of free speech, allowing any of us to mount that soap box and let it rip – and to toss a hat onto the ring, file petitions, do paperwork, amass a scant pittance of campaign contributions, mount an insurgency against a man who has held elective office for twelve years, who has $100,000 burning a hole in his pocket, and what’s more, possesses a slick publicly-financed social media stream disseminating shameless re-election materials daily under the shabby guise of civic news -- and lest we forget, flaunts a local Democratic machine faithfully at his side, one ready to transition the incumbent as an Indiana Senate hopeful at the drop of a few hundred thousand bucks.

Let's try to be adults. Even this heretic knows that Goliath was the big bad bully, and not the dude with the spot-on slingshot, and accordingly, I’ll continue to speak and write openly about the way things are in New Albany, because when it comes to underdogs, sleepers, dark horses and the man in Tiananmen Square blocking a column of tanks with his briefcase, you won’t find any of them in the $100,000 mayoral suite overlooking one-way Spring Street.

And that’s exactly the way I like it.

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars comprising New Albany’s debt, but what the hey -- it’s the way American politics work, all disgusting and horrible when Republicans do it, which is why Democrats do it, too. Meanwhile, 44% of African-Americans in New Albany live below the poverty line … and 100% of Gahan’s out-of-town sugar daddies remain unaware of this fact.


Four years ago, Jeff Gahan and I got together. He held a grudge over my participation in an abortive lawsuit intended to compel unwilling city council members to redistrict fairly, a reform Gahan helped shoot down, but heeding advice to be a good soldier and work within the Democratic Party system, I parleyed.

Over coffee, we spoke about what we viewed as important for the city’s future. On my list were topics familiar to anyone who’s been reading this blog since 2004, including two-way streets, rental property registration, slumlord abatement, ordinance enforcement, economic localism and historic preservation. He seemed to be in agreement, and I supported his candidacy as a result.

Obviously, Jeff Gahan won the election.

Obviously, Gahan hasn’t followed through on his promises to my satisfaction – and I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Obviously, I believe he has turned out to be an absolutely lousy mayor. If I believed otherwise, would I be running against him as an independent?

Hence, my point: When I say Jeff Gahan is a lousy mayor, either aloud or in written form, and at times with pictures, some of them artistically altered so as to be funny, it’s hardly character assassination. Rather, it is an ongoing dialogue, and an argument constructed with concepts, ideas and evidence in addition to the wit and snark. In 2015, it’s also a political campaign, and as such, it is a milieu that each candidate has accepted as part of the game.

Of course, several of us have gone to great lengths, fairly often and for a very long time, to explain in excruciating detail why Gahan’s decision-making process is faulty, how we’d have done it differently, and what we might yet do to reverse the mistakes and make things better.

Here is one recent example.

Gahan’s corporate welfare bursar is David Duggins, although his official title is the increasingly improbable “economic development director.”

Duggins is fond of using words like “ripple effect” to describe Reaganite-style “trickle down” Hail Mary plays in cases like the Coyle site upscale luxury apartment development, in which the city of New Albany will pay one-third the price of a private company’s $15 million investment, devoting taxpayer dollars to mitigating the private company’s risks, these being magnanimous guarantees unavailable to dozens of homegrown entrepreneurs and investors.

One “ripple effect” of the Coyle site deal, which Duggins himself has referred to as mere “boilerplate,” is that it neatly closes the circle of campaign finance (see above).

But to me, these unfortunate “ripple effect” references better describe the many negative ramifications of Gahan’s bad Coyle site decision, above and beyond “just” losing the $5 million in corporate welfare handouts being thrown at Flaherty Collins.

For one, it sends a dreadful message to stakeholders in perennially neglected neighborhoods a mere stone’s throw away, which can be read in the smirk on Duggins’s face:

“Relax, folks. Trendy bocce ball access is on the veranda, with Mojitos and the best internet service in town, and these amenities matter far more than taking the time to curb the slumlord or revert the one-way street, actions that would increase your property values, reduce crime and enhance your quality of your life. Just be patient and wait for the ripple effect, because we’re sure the high rollers won’t forget the gratuity when you’re finished picking up after them. After all, they’re the right kind of people.”

The underemployed single mother in a shotgun house?

She must have forgotten to make a campaign donation.

Furthermore, the Coyle site subsidy represents five of 40-odd million questionable decisions, each one representing opportunity costs, lost chances and squandered potential. The money might have been spent on projects and programs designed to address genuine fundamentals of the sort calculated to spread the risks, spread the rewards, nurture the grassroots, and help lift the many rather than stroke the few.

However, far too often Gahan’s “investments” have not been directed toward these goals, and this isn’t my idea of what quality municipal government does. Perhaps it is yours, in which case I’d recommend voting for the mayor’s re-election, because in the end, that’s how elections are supposed to work.

They’re not enthronements. Ideally, they represent choices, and that's precisely what I aim to provide in 2015. If Jeff Gahan cannot keep up, it isn't my problem.

So, let’s be crystal clear: We rage against the current mayoral machine because the machine is the bully in this equation. To think otherwise is to practice the sort of enduring self-deception and intellectual debasement that have characterized Democratic machine politics in New Albany for so very long, and which prevent this city from reaching its potential.

I believe there are alternatives to the same tired civic rituals, practiced by the usual underachieving political suspects, and which come down to these three priorities:


Broken down a bit further, I’ll close the column today with these ten bullet point Baylor for Mayor platform planks.

Infrastructure upgrades and management
Quality of life by two-way design and ordinance enforcement
A sane and sustainable budget
Historic preservation and greening
New Albany’s economy comes first
Equal governance and level playing fields
A deep personnel cleaning of City Hall
Internet connectivity as infrastructure
Transparency and governmental communication
Human rights as non-negotiable mandate

Next week, I’ll elaborate on these points.


Recent columns:

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.

July 2: ON THE AVENUES: "Water on the brains: Much less for far more will keep us swimming in it."

June 25: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Red scarf, white shirt and San Miguel beer (2012).

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