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Mayor Ballard surprises as New Year and election campaigning starts

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Welcome to 2008 a year of major challenges facing our African-American community and an election year for president, governor, Legislature and Congress.

Kicking it off will be a special election to complete the late Julia Carson’s congressional term. The process starts Jan. 12 as 7th District Democratic precinct committeepersons gather at Shortridge Middle School for what’s expected to be a bare knuckled, raucous caucus.

At deadline, just one Democrat — state Rep. David Orentlicher — has filed federal paperwork as a congressional candidate. Others are expected.

Other media pundits and reports have said who is running. Based on my conversations with committeepersons and key Democrats, here are those the pundits said would run who are NOT: Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer, former Mayor Bart Peterson, Sheriff Frank Anderson, former prosecutor candidate Melina Kennedy and former Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis.

Those running or seriously considering running, besides Orentlicher: City-County Council members Andre Carson and Joanne Sanders, Marion County Treasurer Mike Rodman, political consultant and former Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Robin Winston; former health executive Dr. Woodrow Myers and state Reps. Gregory Porter and Carolene Mays.

I know well these prospective Democratic candidates wanting to succeed Carson. They’re far better than any Republican running or rumored to run.

This column has only endorsed once in a primary, in 2006 when Kris Kiser made his challenge against Julia. This year, this column returns to its normal neutral stance in primary elections. Though, you can expect that I will speak out on both the special and general elections.

Oh, somebody tell Gov. Mitch Daniels that holding the special election the same day as the May primary would be a confusing train wreck for voters and election workers. Mitch, make the special in late March.

What I’m hearing in the streets

Mayor Greg Ballard stunned supporters, opponents and our African-American community by naming Olgen Williams as deputy mayor for neighborhoods. Insiders expected former Councilman Isaac Randolph to get that post. Instead, Ballard chose an activist agent for change neighborhood organization leader as his administration’s point person for neighborhood issues.

While Black leaders and many neighborhood leaders were pleased, the choice unleashed extreme criticism tinged with racism and bigotry from some of Ballard’s core supporters. White backlash against the ascendancy of Black elected and appointed officials in the Peterson administration fueled part of Ballard’s victory. These bigoted Ballard partisans expected a return to a virtually all-white city/county government.

Ballard’s appointment made a strong statement on a growing issue among African-Americans; the hiring of former felons. Ballard’s choosing someone who’d served time for mail fraud 35 years ago, sent a signal that this mayor wasn’t afraid of hiring someone who’d made a mistake and turned his life around. But bigoted Ballard supporters didn’t want to hear that.

And it didn’t help that Indy’s TV stations played up Williams’ three decades old ex-con status, while downplaying his 2002 presidential pardon.

Olgen Williams isn’t the only public figure who’s an ex-con. But why did Channels 6, 8, 13 and 59 play that up? In their newscasts do they regularly mention that Martha Stewart, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Tim Allen, Michael Milken, Tanya Harding and George Steinbrenner are ex-felons and ex-cons?

Mayor Ballard’s choice of Williams is a high risk/high reward gambit. After years of being his own man, Williams must now work in a team environment, adhering to Ballard’s policies.

But the appointment signals that Ballard will do the unconventional. Of his first eight appointments, three are African-American, one’s Hispanic.

The two other Black appointees are interesting. Greg Wilson, Ballard’s director of minority business, raises that position to a higher profile. A key supporter and advisor, Wilson has been on the transition’s executive committee and accompanied Ballard on his visit last month to the Phoenix Apartments. But, to many Black businesspeople, Wilson is unknown.

Another unknown is press secretary Marcus Barlow, who demonstrated as PR maven for FSSA a lack of understanding the importance of serving minority, as well as mainstream media. It’s an open question whether Barlow can handle the demands of a big city mayor and big city media.

Then there’s former Prosecutor Scott Newman returning as Ballard’s public safety director. Four days after the election, Ballard and Robert Turner appeared with Bishop T. Garrett Benjamin on WTLC-AM’s “Unity in the Community.” By appearing together, the impression was left that Turner, an early supporter, would have a significant role in a Ballard administration. Perhaps in his old job as public safety director. Instead, it’s Newman, who seemingly will act as a police commissioner, with a goal of improving “police morale.”

Robert Turner and Isaac Randolph are two high profile African-Americans, who served on Ballard’s transition executive committee, but are seemingly shut out of administration positions, so far. Why?

They did what they said they’d do. Indiana Black Expo’s Board of Directors said they’d pick a new president/CEO by year’s end and they did choosing seven-year board member Tanya Bell last week. Bell, 33, a bright attorney who has worked for Ice Miller, Ogletree Deakins and was a top attorney at Community Hospitals, comes to Expo’s helm as the youngest president since Charles Williams assumed the position at age 35.

Bell has been a quiet force on Expo’s board, but her challenge is going to be quickly getting up to speed and getting to know our community — here and statewide.

Expo faces a myriad of challenges, and despite Bell’s legal experience, some wonder whether her youth, lack of direct managerial and supervisory experience and inexperience understanding event management and planning will be a negative.

See ‘ya next week!

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915 or by e-mail at ACBROWN@AOL.COM.

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