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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Despite stunning upset, Blacks wary of Mayor — elect Ballard

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Greg Ballard, the former Marine who signed up to run as the Republican candidate for mayor when no one else would; a candidate written off by business and community leaders and viewed warily by the African-American community, engineered the biggest political upset in Indianapolis and perhaps Indiana history by beating Mayor Bart Peterson decisively Tuesday.

In unofficial returns, Ballard received 50.7 percent of the vote to Peterson’s 46.9 percent, defeating the two term mayor by over 6,000 votes. Libertarian candidate Fred Peterson (no relation) got 2.3 percent of the vote. Mayor Peterson’s defeat is the first time an incumbent Indianapolis mayor wasn’t re-elected since John Barton lost to Richard Lugar in 1967 — 40 years ago.

Six City-County Council incumbents, five Democrats and one Republican were defeated Tuesday, including the dean of the council Rozelle Boyd, whose 40 consecutive years on the council, dating back to pre-UniGov days, came to a sudden end.

Mayor-elect Ballard was swept in by a tidal wave of voter anger and resentment over the increase in residential property assessments, which resulted in property tax increases, many of which were sizeable. Though those increases weren’t caused by city/county government, voters angry over those increased assessments and taxes punished Mayor Peterson and council Democrats.

Voter anger was also directed at the controversial vote by the Democratic-majority council to increase the county option income tax from 1 percent to 1.65 percent to fully fund police and fire pensions, hire more police officers and provide for crime prevention programs.

Despite voter anger, voter turnout wasn’t appreciably up. Unofficial returns estimate that between 160,000 to 165,000 persons voted Tuesday. That’s up just 7 percent to 10 percent over the last municipal elections in 2003.

Voters were also angry over the ethical issues surrounding City-County Council President Monroe Gray. Gray was re-elected, but by a far smaller margin than in years past. Four years ago, Gray won with 72.6 percent of the vote. Tuesday, he got just 56.6 percent of the vote, in unofficial returns.

Democrats lost their majority on the council as Boyd and four other Democrats lost — Councilman Ron Gibson, Majority Leader Lonnell “King Ro” Conley and Councilwomen Sherron Franklin (District 12) and Angela Mansfield (District 2).

The only bright spot for Democrats were victories by Jose Evans in the District 1 seat held by the retiring Issac Randolph and Brian Mahern who beat incumbent Republican Scott Keller.

Republicans will hold a 17 to 12 margin on the council, having won two district seats from the Democrats and three of the four at large seats. For the first time in 16 years, there will be two African-American Republican City-County Council members, Kent Smith, who led all at large candidates and Barbara Malone who placed second.

Republican Ed Coleman was the third at large Republican councilman elected, while council Vice President Joanne Sanders was the lone at large Democrat to win re-election.

The new council which convenes in January, will have nine African-Americans — two Republicans and seven Democrats; two less than at present.

Mayor Peterson’s defeat was the most stunning result of the elections held across the country Tuesday. President of the National League of Cities, Peterson lost despite outspending Ballard 30-to-1 with a $3 million campaign war chest. The defeat ends Peterson’s eight-year tenure as the first Democrat elected mayor under Uni-Gov. Peterson’s record of diversity and inclusion is one that the new mayor-elect will be hard pressed to replicate.

The defeat is also a bitter one for Marion County Democrats who must regroup quickly to get ready for the critical 2008 elections, including the election of legislators, a governor and president.

Mayor Peterson’s stunning defeat will also increase pressure on Congresswoman Julia Carson to decide whether her health will improve enough to run for re-election and help rebuild a shattered and demoralized Democratic Party.

Other than his views on taxes, crime prevention and cutting 10 percent of the city/county budget in the next four years, very little is known about the mayor-elect’s positions on issues of importance to African-Americans; including his views on diversity in hiring in city government and utilization of minority owned businesses as well as whether a Ballard administration will fight the Justice Department’s anti-affirmative action lawsuit against the Indianapolis Police Department. And little is known about what African-Americans the mayor-elect will include in his leadership team.

But just as Muhammad Ali “shocked the world” when he first won the heavyweight title in 1964, Mayor-elect Greg Ballard “shocked the world” with his victory Tuesday.

After his victory, Muhammad Ali went on to become a beloved and admired figure that did much good for his nation and the world. Time will tell whether Mayor-elect Ballard will do the same for Indianapolis.

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