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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Kennedy lays down gauntlet to Ballard in mayor’s race

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If in the formal announcement of her mayoral campaign, Democratic candidate Melina Kennedy was trying to make a stark contrast to Mayor Greg Ballard, then Kennedy succeeded.

Kennedy made jobs the focal point of her campaign, choosing to make her public announcement in the warehouse of an Indianapolis-based, locally owned business.

The warehouse of Cannon IV, an office products supplier, was jammed with old school and new school Democrats, folks of all races, ages from all parts of the city/county. There were independents and I suspect a few Republicans there also.

Mayor Ballard’s formal campaign kickoff was in the lobby of the Indiana War Memorial, a setting that made no strategic or logical sense for a mayoral campaign. He spoke before a very monochromatic audience where you could count the number of Blacks on your fingers and toes.

The racial mix at Kennedy’s announcement reflected the racial reality of Indianapolis today; not the Ballard campaign’s idealized vision of diversity.

Many Democrats, both professional pols and ordinary folks, have had qualms about Kennedy. Will she be tough enough? Can she “bond” with working women and stay-at-home moms? Is she “serious” enough to be mayor? Can she relate to working folks and folks who’re hurting in this economy?

Melina Kennedy started answering those questions with a speech delivered, without a teleprompter, in firm tones and understandable language. She publicly spoke of her immigrant parents, who came to America seeking a better life. About working in her parent’s restaurant, learning life lessons as a waitress.

That quintessential Hoosier and American story needs to be told by Kennedy at every campaign stop, including in our community.

But Kennedy’s words weren’t all about her. But it was about taking the campaign to Ballard.

“Under this mayor jobs are down, they’re not up,” Kennedy stressed. “Taxes are up, they’re not down under this mayor and public safety leadership has lost all control.”

Kennedy blasted Ballard on his job creation record, saying the city needed “a mayor committed to creating jobs by taking more trips to Brightwood and Fountain Square than India and Brazil.”

Kennedy lit into Ballard’s record on public safety, “We keep being told that public safety is job one, but over the last year we’ve seen murders up in our city while they are down all across the country and we’ve painfully watched scandal after scandal take hold of the police department, leaving it in disarray.”

Blasting Ballard’s public safety ineptitude, Kennedy said that our city/county needs “a mayor strong enough to end the bureaucratic finger-pointing in public safety,” one “tough enough to focus on the illegal guns and drugs destroying our neighborhoods.”

Melina Kennedy distilled the contrast between her and Mayor Ballard with a metaphor appropriate for the self-style capital of auto racing.

“Our city’s economy is running out of gas, and our city is stuck in neutral,” Kennedy declared. “I think it’s time to shift into gear, put the pedal to the metal and get this city moving again.”

As I mentioned, the attendance at Kennedy’s official campaign launch was easily twice that of Ballard’s. Nearly all the major Democratic countywide and City-County Council elected officials were at Kennedy’s event.

Democrats wanted to project a theme of unity and confidence. And it helped that 48 hours before her official announcement, one of Kennedy’s Democratic opponents ended his campaign.

City-County Councilman Jose Evans dropped out and endorsed Kennedy, appearing with her in a unity display on stage at her announcement. Evans’ withdrawal to run for re-election in his Pike Township council district leaves former Councilman Ron Gibson as Kennedy’s only challenger.

Clearly qualified, Gibson wants to be the candidate of those struggling in Indianapolis because of the economy and Mayor Ballard’s insensitive policies towards neighborhoods and working families. Yet, Gibson’s campaign is low on funds and media recognition.

Now that the mayor and Melina Kennedy have had their formal campaign launches, and the attendant TV exposure that goes with it, it’s time for Gibson to formally launch his campaign.

Is he a serious candidate prepared to push Kennedy and Ballard on the issues? Or is it a Don Quixote-type campaign, tilting at windmills, raising issues, but not a serious attempt to capture the mayoralty?

What I’m hearing

in the streets

Last week’s bizarre shifts in top Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department leadership reinforce Melina Kennedy’s criticisms of a department in disarray. The highest ranking African-American commander in IMPD, Deputy Chief William “Bill” Benjamin, was laterally moved from running IMPD’s Investigations Division to running IMPD’s Operations Division. An IMPD spokeswoman told me Benjamin would command the motor pool, the Park Rangers and the six IMPD neighborhood districts.

A veteran Black police officer told me they felt the move was a demotion for Benjamin. Running the Operations Division, they said, is managing managers. Not being out in the streets with officers solving crimes. Which is Benjamin’s forte.

When I asked about the move, IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski told me that this is better for Benjamin because instead of “commanding 300 officers, he’ll be commanding 1,200 officers.”

But to many in our community (and I betcha also inside IMPD) Benjamin’s move makes no sense. Bill Benjamin is a cop’s cop, respected by the officers in the streets. To move him to operations is like moving Peyton Manning from quarterback to defensive back. It’s putting the wrong person in the wrong spot. And it will be seen by our African-American community as a deliberate slight of a talented, respected officer by IMPD brass, the public safety director and the mayor.

Meanwhile, IMPD has created a new, unprecedented position of chief of staff and promoted some more officers from lesser ranks to top ones. All involved are white males.

As the Ballard/Straub Public Safety regime continues the relentless pursuit to turn IMPD into America’s most racially undiverse major police department, there’s a new wrinkle.

It seems that while IMPD follows state law and reports incidents of hate crimes to the Indiana State Police, IMPD is the only major police department and Indianapolis the only major city to refuse to report hate crime incidents to the FBI.

Why? What do the mayor and Public Safety Director Straub have to hide from the nation’s top law enforcement database?

See ‘ya next week.

You can e-mail comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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