A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Since I announced my candidacy for mayor of New Albany as an independent, I’ve been asked this question more than once.
“But Roger, aren’t you afraid you’ll pull votes away from the Democrats, and the Republican candidate will win?”
Seeing as a two-party system is considered normal in a nation where Coca-Cola alone vends 500 brands of non-alcoholic beverages, it should be fairly obvious that I must pull votes from one or both parties, or I won’t get very many.
So yes, but it’s important to understand the dynamic involved in this electoral calculation, for while it’s far too early to know whether Kevin Zurschmiede will be the ultimate beneficiary of Jeff Gahan’s self-possessed vanity candidacy, the ballot indeed is set, and there's nothing at all we can do about Gahan selfishly siphoning votes away from the only genuine Democrat left in the mayoral race.
This being me.
It naturally depends on the meaning of the word Democrat, and whether the word Democrat actually has any discernible meaning in New Albany, right here at the grassroots level where the political process begins.
Republicans, bear with me now as I attempt to identify the local Democratic species. I fear it may have mutated.
Is one a Democrat by virtue of paid membership, as in a club, or is it explained by fealty to the fried mushrooms available annually at Harvest Homecoming?
Could it be the sum total of voting patterns? Does it have to do with family traditions and heredity?
Or, must a Democrat possess a coherent system of fundamental values and actions, such as those listed in a (gasp) party platform?
I suppose being a Democrat might entail any or all of these, although to me, the game’s not worth the flame without the platform, and those pesky values and actions therein.
We turn to the Democratic National Committee for clues:
For more than 200 years, Democrats have represented the interests of working families, fighting for equal opportunities and justice for all Americans.
Our party was founded on the conviction that wealth and privilege shouldn’t be an entitlement to rule and the belief that the values of hardworking families are the values that should guide us.
We didn’t become the most prosperous country in the world by rewarding greed and recklessness or by letting those with the most influence write their own rules. We got here by rewarding hard work and responsibility, by investing in people, and by growing our country from the bottom up.
Today Democrats are fighting to repair a decade of damage and grow an economy based on the values of Main Street, not greed and reckless speculation. Democrats are focused on rescuing our economy not just in the short run but also rebuilding our economy for the long run—an economy that lifts up not just some Americans, but all Americans.
Now, these local “Democrats” to whom my questioners are referring … who are they again?
They’re the ones who have occupied the mayor’s chair for the past twelve years, with council majorities during this same period of 8-1, 8-1 and 7-1-1, and with these overwhelming majorities, the Democrats have accomplished … uh … er … well …
Buy another round of ice-cold Bud Light Limes, because it ain’t very pretty. Let’s take a closer look at the ideological scorecard, and compare the national Democratic Party’s platform points with local “Democratic” practice.
Democrats have represented the interests of working families, fighting for equal opportunities and justice for all Americans.
Pervasive silence, as when Dan “Mr. Local Democrat” Coffey uttered homophobic slurs at a city council meeting and was filmed in the act, and neither Gahan nor his party has had the first thing to say about it. Not only that, but the Human Rights and Ethics Commissions enabled by council Democrats were stillborn, and designed to fail.
Wealth and privilege shouldn’t be an entitlement to rule and the belief that the values of hardworking families are the values that should guide us.
While spending hundreds of dollars per foot to increase property values on a street that already was situated atop local valuation charts, City Hall looked the other way as General Mills spent many years openly preparing to close Pillsbury, and when the day of reckoning finally came, Gahan could do no more than ineptly feign shock and concoct half-cocked performance art to “honor” the values of hardworking Pillsbury families by insulting their intelligence.
The mayor’s brilliant plan? Imagine $7 million in economic development funds and toss the bags of Monopoly money in the general direction of the moving vans as they queued to depart, safe in the knowledge that it was a done deal, anyway. Honor? Such was the embarrassment that it gradually begins to make sense that Gahan’s handlers never allow him to speak in public.
We didn’t become the most prosperous country in the world by rewarding greed and recklessness or by letting those with the most influence write their own rules.
Never in history had the city of New Albany waived sewer tap-in fees for a property developer, at least until Gahan noticed the words “business of residence” mentioned in an otherwise unread Wall Street Journal editorial, and decided to award waivers to the big-dollar, influential Flaherty and Collins firm from Indianapolis, whose plan for redeveloping the Coyle site includes a bocce ball court, the best internet service in town and other “upscale” and “luxury” amenities – while rental properties a block away remain free of regulation and hazardous to the health of their occupants.
When this top-down proposal came before the Redevelopment Commission, both Coffey and local Democratic Party chairman Adam Dickey enthusiastically voted in favor.
That’s right: The chairman has been appointed to this position. His wife works in city government. The mayor’s son-in-law has a business degree, and is in charge of the floodwall. But see: No one’s writing his own rules here in New Albany.
We got here by rewarding hard work and responsibility, by investing in people, and by growing our country from the bottom up.
A disproportionate share of living spaces in New Albany are rental properties, and so naturally, after 12 solid years of Democratic dominance, there remain no rental property registration or inspection programs. Basic ordinance enforcement, from downtown parking to municipal cleanliness, still is subject to arbitrary whim and daily coin tosses.
Meanwhile, City Hall’s over-arching rationale for projects like the water park and the Coyle site luxury apartment complex has been the vague possibility of a “ripple effect” from the top down, or in the phrase Will Rogers coined during the Great Depression, “trickle-down” – a practice last associated with Republicans during the Reagan administration, and one almost never confused with development from the “bottom up.”
Democrats are fighting to repair a decade of damage and grow an economy based on the values of Main Street, not greed and reckless speculation.
During the Gahan term, the city’s budget has come close to doubling. Bonded indebtedness and debt service outlays are skyrocketing, with somewhere between $30 and $40 million bonded in the last four years alone, pledged against future property tax revenues to pay for showpiece “bread and circus” capital construction projects, like a water park being used by children who’ll still be paying for it when they have kids of their own – and when City Hall finally noticed the national party platform’s citing of the “values of Main Street,” it didn’t involve advancing the economy (for example) by growing the increasingly important independent small business segment, but rather by appeasing a vocal minority through the expenditure of millions of dollars to beautify a scant mile of Main Street, a project so resoundingly unpopular that at last, the “ripple effect” was proven genuine, and sorely-needed street calming and two-way traffic solutions elsewhere are maligned by outraged taxpayers as “just another Main Street boondoggle,” and consequently held hostage by the mayor’s own pervasive political cowardice.
Democrats are focused on rescuing our economy not just in the short run but also rebuilding our economy for the long run—an economy that lifts up not just some Americans, but all Americans.
Apart from the usual economic development abatements, giveaways and boilerplate (a term used non-ironically by City Hall itself), there is no tangible evidence of Gahan’s administration accomplishing even the first initiative designed to boost New Albany’s economy in the long term.
There is scarcely any mention of the economy at all; rather, all we hear on a daily basis is North Korean-style propaganda exhortations about nice, shiny objects gifted to us by the all-knowing leader. Paraphrasing the late, Carpathian-born and unlamented Nicolae Ceausescu, Jeff Gahan has become our “Genius of the Flood Plain.”
Outmoded trucking and industrial businesses actively impede the quality of life and future economic development potential downtown, while 40 acres of industrial park land languishes unoccupied on the north side of the city.
There have been no efforts to utilize IU Southeast or Purdue Polytechnic in programs benefiting working people, but we’re quick to reward chains and big boxes to “create” more poverty-level jobs, perpetuate income inequality, and lay asphalt so as to divert even more storm water to an unresponsive, overwhelmed system.
We’re constantly told that if enough is done to subsidize, monetize, incentivize, enrich and attract those with proper monetary and demographic endowments, probably some of it eventually will leach down to the masses, and if it were a Republican saying this, I’d yawn, because that’s how Republicans do it, right?
Except that in New Albany, it is the Democratic Party saying and doing these things.
Rather, they’re calling themselves Democrats, but as can be seen quite clearly, if you identify with Democratic principles as outlined in the national platform, it is almost impossible to find local evidence of them in practice, right here, at the grassroots level.
Are you a Democrat? It’s time to think carefully about what this means in real, daily, working terms. If disappointed, you have an alternative when it comes time to cast a ballot. To read more about how I think, go here: Baylor for Mayor: 3 Goals + 7 Platform Points.
As always, thanks for reading.
ON THE AVENUES: Whips, chains and economic development (2010).
August 20: ON THE AVENUES: In the groove.
August 13: ON THE AVENUES: It’s time to purge two-party politics and tie the community together.
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.