David Hoppe

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:: Pity the mayor

by David Hoppe

Pity Mike Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas. He not only has to deal with corporate cowboys and cops, now there’s Ebola to contend with. After a second nurse from a Dallas hospital was diagnosed with the virus, Rawlings confided that he got the news via phone at one in the morning.

As if he could do something about it.

There are politicians who claim being a big city mayor is great because it’s a job where you can really make an impact. The ideological issues that have ground our national government to a steaming standstill take a backseat to problem solving. It’s not so much about grandstanding as getting things done.

In Indianapolis, this has been Mayor Greg Ballard’s M.O. The unheralded ex-Marine who managed to unseat a Democratic incumbent that most Republicans assumed could not be beaten deserves credit for keeping the city’s trajectory headed in a positive direction.

Critics will quickly point out that while Ballard initially ran as a law and order candidate, he has been ineffective at curbing violent crime.

But if he did nothing else, the man would deserve enormous credit for having navigated the city through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression — and managing to preside over an extraordinary downtown building boom in the process.

Yet there seems to be some doubt about whether Ballard still wants the job. His testy relationship with the City Council suggests he might be fed up.

Not only that, the Star’s reigning conservative and opinion editor, Tim Swarens, recently wrote a column comparing Ballard to an aging Willie Mays by way of saying it’s time for Ballard to call it quits, rather than run for a third term.

What, one wonders, must Joe Hogsett, the Democrats’ great hope, make of this? Hogsett, part of Evan Bayh’s technocratic inner circle, finally made a reputation for himself as a prosecutor just as the city’s homicide rate was going through the roof. After first claiming he wasn’t interested in being mayor, he changed his mind, much to the relief of his fellow Dems who, up until then, were unable to field a clearly compelling candidate.

What’s weird is that should Ballard take Swarens’ advice, Republicans are in a similar pickle. No one on their side seems an obvious choice to lead the city.

Indeed, the benches of both parties appear to be embarrassingly thin, made up primarily of dues-paying hacks and operatives, none of whom have much to say when it comes to articulating a vision for Indianapolis’ future.

What accounts for this bipartisan lack of ambition?

Perhaps it’s due to the wet blanket stored beneath the dome of the Statehouse on west Washington St. Indiana’s legislature is dominated by anti-urban Republicans from rural and suburban districts who lazily persist in thinking that Indianapolis prospers at their expense. They haven’t done Ballard any favors. And if Hogsett gets a shot, he’ll be greeted with a heaping plate of humble pie.

There’s nothing the next mayor, whoever it is, will be able to do about that.