A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promis'd. Yet do I fear thy nature,
It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.
- Lady Macbeth
A little more than a year ago, Leadership Southern Indiana held a New Albany mayoral debate, and one candidate conspicuously declined to attend.
More than a year later, on the day after the 2016 election, Mayor Jeff Gahan finally climbed aboard the Leadership Southern Indiana bus.
The bus stopped in front of The Grand, and prior to my Discovery 2017 class disembarking, Gahan got on. Blocking the only potential escape route except his own, he stood at the front of the bus and offered a few words about New Gahania in an emerging Time of Trump.
As Gahan’s many handlers long have noted, and tended to plan the mayor's schedule accordingly, his agoraphobia manifests itself in the usual way.
Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
It isn’t that Gahan fears human contact. He fears unscripted situations in public settings, and when compelled to interact with people in such places, he generally over-compensates, displaying a forced, cheerleader-level of excitement, which at best is chatty, though usually comes off as just plain strange.
However, give this man a proper script, show him the markings, block it out, and he invariably succeeds in appearing “mayoral,” whatever that really means. Team Gahan knows this, and extemporaneous environments are studiously avoided, because it’s anyone's guess what might come out of the mayor’s mouth amid the escalating inner panic.
On Wednesday, standing there on a bus chartered by an organization he shunned, nothing was written on paper, and the results were predictably weird.
However – amazingly – Gahan got something right when he conceded that downtown New Albany’s revitalization owes primarily to risks taken and investments made by independent business persons and entrepreneurs, not City Hall.
This was a startling admission, given that Gahan’s re-election campaign was predicated on taking personal credit for the city’s improved prospects. In addition, it doesn’t jibe with Team Gahan’s day-to-day municipal governance, which relies on Goebbelsian marketing and rule-of-plaques, both real and metaphorical, as erected by Gahan’s various funding mechanisms and the toadies manning them.
Still, it was a factual utterance, and worthy of note.
Then, in closing, Gahan actually said something interesting, though not before somehow confusing a busload of local residents for visitors from Omaha, by expressing the misplaced hope that they would enjoy their “stay” here.
The most important thing for you to remember about New Albany, and what we always remind everyone, is that we’re a kind city.
That’s kind, as in affectionate, loving, helpful, benevolent, and displaying the qualities of kindness.
Whether this assertion is true isn’t the point.
Rather, in spite of Gahan’s odd suggestion that his statement functions as some sort of widely embraced local mantra, it’s the very first time I’ve heard him express this sentiment by using the precise word “kind.”
And, since it isn’t in the mayor’s nature to be improvisational, the word – the concept, this mantra – must have been planted by someone, at some point in advance. He’s simply not good enough with words to pull “kind” from the ether.
It’s just my opinion, but I think it’s no coincidence that Gahan introduced this fresh new concept of a “kind” city on the afternoon following a smoldering train wreck of an election on the part of his Floyd County Democratic Party, a topic covered elsewhere: ON THE AVENUES: Don't be a Dickey, local Democrats. The verdict is in, and it's time for a change.
The last county election cycle was in 2014, and it was just as catastrophic for the Democrats as Tuesday. In 2015, the New Albany city council lost its Democratic majority, and 12 percentage points came off Mayor Jeff Gahan’s big 2011 total, bringing him within easy reach of the GOP in 2019, assuming the latter can locate a man or woman with the minimum requirement of a pulse.
My guess: In Gahan’s mind, he’s the last courageous bastion of blue “values” in a sea of red, hence his trial balloon of a “kind" city, this vision temporarily supplanting the woeful anchor-in-river-mud chosen by Sheriff Duggins as a “branding” mechanism for our burg.
The truth is more complex. As laudable as Come to Our Kind City might be, it will take more than just words to meet the challenges ahead of us. In Floyd County as a whole, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a whisker shy of twenty percentage points, recording almost 60% of the total votes cast for president.
Meanwhile, and although I don’t have time to run all the precinct numbers, Councilman Greg Phipps’ 3rd council district (precincts 3, 5, 7 and 10) in the center of the city went solidly for Clinton 1,020 to 791.
Unfortunately, when it comes to a platform of positions aimed at meeting the urban realities of the local Trump landslide, Gahan’s got next to nothing.
True, the mayor has made vague gestures of symbolic support for the city’s vulnerable communities, but talk is cheap, and not once in almost five years has he risked political capital to step beyond this into concrete proposals.
Now likely is the time, seeing as “quality of life” just took on a whole new connotation. For the foreseeable future, we’re going to be grappling with an Orwellian social phase, as summarized by the novelist’s phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Thus far, regrettably, Jeff Gahan’s mayoral legacy has been one of detached passivity in every area save for the utilization of funding schemes sufficient to erect bright, shiny objects of the sort appreciated primarily by a sizable number of voters who just opted for Trump.
Just as tragically, far too many of the city's progressives have consciously accepted Gahan's purely Faustian bargain: In return for City Hall's lip service on social agendas, the mayor's financially ruinous program of heroic monument construction is overlooked.
As the young folks like to say, on Tuesday shit got real.
Beyond a hope for simple human kindness shared by many of us, and as ironically expressed to a group currently engaged in a leadership exercise, itself sponsored by an organization Gahan previously sidestepped with vapid nonchalance, does the mayor actually have what it takes to lead when the going starts getting tough?
I don’t think Gahan knows the answer himself, but history's tides move to their own rhythm, and he’s going to find out, sooner rather than later.
So are the rest of us. It's been that kind of week, after all.
November 10: ON THE AVENUES: Don't be a Dickey, local Democrats. The verdict is in, and it's time for a change.
November 3: ON THE AVENUES: It’s our big fat Hibbardendum, and Jeff Gahan is carrying the superintendent across the threshold as Metro United Way tosses rice and One Southern Indiana steals all the liquor.
October 27: ON THE AVENUES: It's NAC's 12th birthday, and the beatings will continue until morale improves.
October 20: ON THE AVENUES: Key events in the New Albanian rebirth, but first, a piccolo of grappa, per favore.