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Friday, September 24, 2021

Here comes the federal judge

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Immediately after Barack Obama’s election, scores of African-American leaders, those highly visible and those who work behind the scenes, came together on a mission.

The goal was that with the election of a Democratic and African-American president, an election where Indiana voted for the winner, that it was time to push hard for the selection of an African-American federal judge for Indiana.

During the Carter Administration, there’d been a push to name a Black to the Federal bench. Sen. Birch Bayh was supportive, but the powerful American and Indiana Bar Associations blocked it.

Black leaders realized that a highly visible effort would mobilize the forces of hate and bigotry that fought the effort decades ago. So, the lobbying was behind the scenes.

Oh, whenever I’d publicly interview Senators Bayh and Lugar, I’d bring up the subject of selecting an African-American federal judge for Indiana. Knowing my public questioning reinforced the quiet lobbying efforts.

Black elected officials, key community leaders from the Urban League, NAACP and Black church groups lobbied and pressed Bayh on this issue. So did key Black power brokers within the Democratic Party; directly with the senator and his key party allies.

Black leaders identified several quality candidates who could pass the vetting process and withstand potential attacks by right wing and racist groups out to block any jurist of color.

Of the many names suggested, one that stood head and shoulders above the rest for many was Tanya Walton Pratt.

In her 14 years on the Marion County bench, Pratt has impressed with her positive judicial temperament, her integrity and quality. The fact that her judicial colleagues had selected her as one of the presiding judges of the court system didn’t hurt. And neither did the fact that in the last two judicial elections, Judge Pratt had been the leading vote-getter.

The lobbying and cajoling worked, as last Monday, on Dr. King’s Day, Sen. Bayh publicly announced his recommendations to fill three Indiana judicial vacancies.

One of those is the first African-American – Tanya Walton Pratt.

By the time you read this, President Obama will have formally and officially nominated Pratt and the Senate confirmation process will begin.

To his credit, Sen. Richard Lugar concurred with Bayh’s recommendation, which’ll help Pratt gain the votes needed for Senate confirmation.

Evan Bayh made history twice as governor integrating the Indiana Court of Appeals (Robert Rucker) and the Indiana Supreme Court (Myra Selby). Now, Bayh does something his father could never do, make history integrating the Federal bench here.

Long overdue and well deserved!

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

In his 45-minute State of the City speech last week, Mayor Greg Ballard spent several minutes delineating what his administration had done for “inner city residents, their economic prospects and neighborhoods.”

Here’s some of what the mayor touted as accomplishments benefiting African-Americans:

“Spending of millions of dollars to fix pools in Center Township that were leaking millions of gallons of water a year.”

“Appointed a public safety director committed to diversity in the police and fire department.” (New director Dr. Frank Straub’s remarks on diversity were so strong at his Council confirmation hearing, that the internet Bigoted Blogger lashed out against him. A sign that the new Public Safety honcho may be serious about really hiring and promoting Blacks.)

Using Lilly Endowment cash to fix up “parks serving the urban core.”

Supported the Wishard referendum to “make sure those who need health care have access to the best care available.”

Fixed “the City’s broken Equal Opportunity Division and turned a 200-case backlog of discrimination claims into a zero-case backlog and reduced the adjudication period for discrimination claims from 700 days to 90 days.”

Reached out “to the minority community that this city is open for business and ready to handle discrimination claims in a timely and respectful manner.”

Having 49 percent of board and commission appointments “represented women or minorities.”

And lauded “the leadership of Director Greg Wilson” in making “minority and women business development a keystone of our economic development strategy unlike anything seen before in our city.”

But, here’s what was missing from the Mayor’s speech.

After making employment opportunities for ex-felons a priority, beginning in his Inauguration speech, the mayor made no mention of it this year.

The mayor’s idea to have the Health and Hospital Corporation handle poor relief if township government is abolished is absurd. And it’s an idea top Health and Hospital execs disavowed to me privately.

And despite the mayor’s promise to use newly found tax abatement penalty cash to push for economic development in inner city areas, I see no coherent plan how that would work or if businesses would even choose to locate jobs in our neighborhoods.

In terms of presentation, it was Mayor Ballard’s best effort, but in programs to benefit our African-American community, it left much to be desired.

The slinking away from running for re-election by lame duck Prosecutor Carl Brizzi makes the open prosecutor’s race much more unpredictable.

Brizzi’s departure opened the way for political unknown Helen Marschal to run in his place. Marschal is a former deputy prosecutor who’s been Brizzi’s chief of staff (the person really running the Prosecutor’s Office) for the past few years.

But the community has no clue where she stands on the issues.

Brizzi’s departure, while it takes a major issue away, does give the initial edge in the race to Democrats. But most voters don’t really know the three candidates running.

The favorite among Democratic Party insiders and committeepersons is veteran attorney Terry Curry, who’s quietly gathered support these past several months. In his campaign finance forms filed last Friday, Curry reported he’d raised some $100,000 and had over $80,000 in the bank.

That’s impressive, but pales to what former State Representative David Orentlicher has raised. Orentlicher has spent virtually nothing yet on his campaign, but he’s raised and banked some $180,000!

Third candidate, Marion County Assessor Greg Boles has virtually no money, less than five grand in the bank.

Curry may be the favorite among party insiders, but Orentlicher has name recognition and lots of cash available for a hard fought primary campaign. Bowes has no bucks and if he doesn’t raise some soon, his outsider campaign will be as dead as Brizzi’s.

See ‘ya next week!

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