Mayor Greg Ballard's 2014 State of the City address might be summed up in three words (with apologies to Warren Zevon): business, guns and money.
But not necessarily in that order.
The address, delivered in The Christel DeHann Performance Hall on the U. Indy campus, was preceded by an invocation from the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation's Senior Rabbi Brett Krichiver. In stark contrast to a prayer given prior to a recent debate on same-sex marriage at the statehouse, Krichiver exhorted the crowd to remember the discrimination suffered by our LGBT neighbors. After a slick promotional video scrolled through Ballard's Greatest Hits (Indy's Super Bowl, lower oil use by the city and the like), the Mayor began to "outline a way forward for our city to ensure that future generations choose to 'Live Indy'."
That slogan (arguably a lot less cornpone than the State's clunky new "Honest-to-Goodness Indiana" tagline) is essentially shorthand for the buzzword "livability." It's about ensuring that residents, present and potential, have dining, fitness and entertainment options right outside their urban doors — and guaranteeing said residents feel safe enough to venture outside said doors.
Job One? Figuring out how to keep Circle City residents from shooting each other. Indy's murder rate hit 125 in 2013, and the vast majority of those killings were caused by firearms. The city's already seen over two-dozen gun murders in 2014, including a 15-hour stretch that tallied eight deaths.
The Mayor's first order of business on that front: more cops. To pay for more — and more diverse — recruits in IMPD uniforms, the Mayor again expressed his desire to ditch the local homestead tax credit. By Ballard's math, homeowners under the 1% tax cap would see an average increase of two bucks monthly.
Secondly, said Ballard, "It is also time for us to engage in some straight talk. This current pattern of violence is robbing us of an entire generation of young men of color and it must stop. I have been meeting with leaders in our African-American community for many months. There are no easy answers, but shortly we will announce a plan to address the many root causes of this violence."
One of the leaders the Mayor has been consulting is the President of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, Rev Charles Harrison, pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church. Rev. Harrison was unwilling to share his knowledge of the details of Ballard's initiative the day after the address, but he said that the Mayor's been speaking with black leaders about "the quality of life issues that [are] driving the violence ... we have a couple generations of particularly African-American men who are in a state of hopelessness, and because of that desperation, we see them doing desperate things."
"We've had very honest conversations with [the Mayor] about the root causes driving this violence," Harrison said. "From joblessness to education, broken families, missing positive male role models in the lives of many of these young men, those are some of the major root causes that we really have to address."
The other bullet in Ballard's chamber? Tougher sentencing.
"I am asking our state lawmakers to stand with our police, make our city safer and pass my proposal to keep convicted gun criminals in prison longer," said Ballard, thanking state Senators Jim Merritt and Mike Young "for carrying this legislation for me. Criminals who use a gun while committing a crime need to serve a minimum of 20 years behind bars."
That's OK by Rev. Harrison: "Some of the concern in the community is that there are no real serious consequences for this senseless violence. Do we need to send a message that this is not going to be tolerated? We're dealing with a desperate situation out here, and we may need to take desperate measures ... I do support that."
Ironically, against the backdrop of an escalating number of deaths by firearms, the city will host the NRA's national convention this April. "I would love to see the NRA become a part of this conversation," said Harrison. "We have a large number of illegal guns on the streets, in the hands of people who have no regard for human life. [The NRA needs] to become a positive part of a conversation about how to address this problem."