David Hoppe

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:: Kennedy better kick it up

More ideas, please

By David Hoppe

I've said from the first that this Fall's mayoral election will be close. But if Democrat Melina Kennedy doesn't kick her campaign up a notch or two, she could prove me wrong and Mayor Greg Ballard will walk away with a second term.

Kennedy is a thoughtful and articulate candidate. She even appears to have a genuine sense of humor. These qualities make her an admirable human being and are certainly welcome in anyone seeking public office.

But, to this point, Kennedy's has been a disarmingly quiet candidacy, and this is a problem if she really wants to unseat Mayor Ballard.

Sure, Kennedy has taken shots at Ballard's record. She's argued that while Ballard initially ran for mayor as a crime fighter, violent crime in the city has gone up.

She's also busted Ballard on taxes, claiming the mayor has found over a hundred ways to raise taxes and fees, while failing to repeal the local income tax increase he used as a cudgel to beat Kennedy's old boss, Bart Peterson, in the last election.

Kennedy's stance on crime has won her the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police. But, given the various forms of glop the police department has been caught stepping in during the past year or so, this may be a dubious honor.

Her finger-pointing on taxes has been downright dismaying. While Ballard proved himself a hypocrite on the income tax issue, making promises reality wouldn't let him keep, Kennedy seems to be setting herself up for more of the same. Given our constitutionally mandated cap on property taxes and the certainty of impending federal budget cuts, finding revenues for city services is going to be an increasingly difficult job. Taxes and fees are going to be a major part of the next mayor's fiscal vocabulary and Kennedy would do better to push the public conversation toward coming to terms with what things actually cost than to perpetuate the fantasy that a city runs on good intentions.

But good intentions seem to be what the Kennedy campaign is made of. Last week, Kennedy unveiled her economic strategy. "What we need is an active mayor," she was quoted as saying in the Star. "We need someone who will help move the ball forward.using the bully pulpit, bringing the business community together and never letting her eye off the ball."

After scraping aside the clichés with a steel brush, just what is it Kennedy wants to do? Well, she wants to create a "single point of contact" within the city administration to promote job growth; conduct a quarterly "webinar" on business issues; create a business owners' guide to the city; and produce an annual survey on the local state of business.

OK. She also wants to use city resources to promote the growth of small businesses. More web site use is suggested here. Oh, and she wants to form a commission including up to 20 business leaders, to support small and medium-sized businesses. There will be more workforce training in schools and community centers. And, lest our entrepreneurs feel left out, Kennedy would create partnerships with local entrepreneurs to fund merit scholarships for Marion County high school grads.

All of this, of course, is fine. The trouble is, much of it is the same sort of stuff that any mayor, like Ballard, for example, could support. In fact, the only way Kennedy chooses to separate herself from Ballard is in her criticism of his attempts to reach out to international companies, a curious position, given this city's recent history, the Peterson administration included, of trying to make itself known as an international destination.

I'd actually like to hear Kennedy speak at greater length on this subject. It would be interesting for her to stake out a clear and detailed position on why and how we might establish ourselves as a center for locally inspired, grown and developed ideas, products and services -- from foods to design and high quality manufacturing.

But this sort of specificity has been in short supply in Kennedy's campaign. Instead, what we get are generalities about "improving" the cleanliness and safety of our rivers, streams and drinking water. Or the sorts of false choices that would make even a high school debater blush, like this set-up regarding education on Kennedy's web site: "The mayor of Indianapolis therefore has a choice: live within the constraints of the current system and focus primarily on the negative consequences when too many children don't succeed, or become deeply engaged in the education of our children and seek longterm solutions to the current problems."

H'mmm. That's a tough call, isn't it?

The fact is we know our air and water are in terrible shape. We know our schools have to be better. Just what a mayor can actually do about these issues may be limited, but Mayor Ballard has done a decent, if uninspiring, job of steering Indianapolis through the bleakest economy in a generation. If Kennedy wants his job, she'd better make it clear she has ideas to match her intentions.