This column is probably going to throw every Republican, Democrat and political insider in Marion County for a loop, but Indianapolis City-County Councilor Brian Mahern, at least for the next couple of years, is now the most powerful elected local Democrat in the city. No, you did not read that incorrectly. Mahern is now officially the most powerful Democrat in the city. And for that to come from me of all people, the person who has criticized his every move since Democrats took over the Council says quite a bit. Allow me to elaborate.
Mahern has been at odds with his party for quite a while, criticizing his fellow Democrats almost as much as he does the Mayor. Things got so bad this year that Mahern had to step down as vice president and Democrats removed him from his position as chairman of the Rules Committee. Mahern recently attempted a coup against current Council President Maggie Lewis. He called for an election to be put on the agenda for the Council's next meeting so a new president could be chosen. The motion needed 15 votes, but it only garnered 11. Republicans Jeff Miller, Will Gooden, Christine Scales and Jose Evans joined the Democrats in defeating the measure. The County party retaliated, in part, by removing anyone related to a Mahern from their appointed position as precinct committeeman.
So how does all this make Mahern the most powerful elected Democrat in Marion County? Well, to use a Star Wars analogy, by striking Mahern down Democrats have only made him more powerful than they could imagine. When Democrats took over the City-County Council in 2012, they had a 16-13 majority over Republicans. Earlier this year, Jose Evans switched parties and became a Republican which took them down to 15-14. And now between a failed coup and efforts to politically castrate Mahern, Democrats really only have a majority in name only, in other words what is a 15-14 majority on paper is really a functional, sorry, make that dysfunctional majority of 14-14-1, with Mahern being the one.
If this still isn't connecting, let me try this another way. To pass anything down at the City-County building you need 15 votes, Democrats only have 14 guaranteed votes. With Mahern now being the wildcard in all this, the Democrats have a couple options: Try and work with Republicans on legislation that is actually good for the City; rely on Christine Scales, who can be a bit of a maverick in her own right, on the Republican side; or keep doing business as usual, roll the dice and hope for the best. They've already gotten a taste of what a dysfunctional majority is like when the Council tried to pass an appropriation for the Sheriff's Department to cover raises since John Layton overspent his budget (again), but Mahern did not join them and the measure failed.
Now the good news for the Democrats is that they still control the committee process, which gives them more control of the agenda. However when the measure gets to the floor, it's open season. And also add the fact that with only a 14-member in name "majority" Democrats can't afford for anyone to be absent. And to make life even more interesting, in January it will be time to pick new Council leadership which means this whole process will start all over again. Who would have thought that within two years, Democrats would have taken their 16-13 majority and turned into a 14-14-1 cluster-you-know-what. And to put icing on the cake, the most powerful one of the lot, would be the one they can't stand the most. Behold, the Mighty Mahern!