"His invisibility gave him victory

Bart Peterson, who made a political career out of being in the 50th percentile on every issue and never doing anything that wasn’t scripted, finally did something unpredictable last week by losing an election he should have won in a landslide.

Make no mistake, this was not an election that was won by the personal charisma of Greg Ballard. Just after proclaiming Ballard’s win the biggest upset in Indiana history, Channel 8 cut away from the new mayor’s victory speech after 20 seconds because it was pointless and boring.

The day after the election, our newly elected mayor sounded like he still didn’t believe he’d actually beaten Peterson. He was all over the local TV news and I’ll bet that it was the first time many people had seen his face.

I voted for Ballard because I’d had enough of the slickness and deception of Peterson. I consider myself reasonably well-informed, but before I’d filled in his name on the ballot, I couldn’t have picked Ballard out of a lineup. As we watched the news that night, my wife said, in shock, “That’s the guy you voted for? He looks like a manager at Fazoli’s.”

“Yep,” I said, sheepishly. “His campaign slogan was ‘Free breadsticks for everyone.’”

As the returns came in, it became more and more clear that enough pissed-off people came out to vote and that traditional Democratic voters stayed home until the liquor stores opened up at 6 p.m. Ballard’s invisibility turned out to be the thing that put him over the top.

The TV news analysts who predicted a narrow Peterson win looked shocked when Ballard’s lead became insurmountable. Veteran pundit Jim Shella had it right, for maybe the first time in 25 years, when he called Ballard “the accidental mayor.”

Ballard was scorned by the Republicans at the slating convention, won a primary in which nobody voted and remained consistent in his stand that he was not Bart Peterson. That proved to be enough to give him the victory.

It’s a good thing, though, that Ballard isn’t in the pocket of the county Republicans. He owes them nothing. The tables have been turned. The party has to come and kiss his ass instead of him groveling before them. He has a clean slate.

The big-money people obviously didn’t think Ballard had a chance in hell of winning or he would have been able to run ads on TV before the final week of the campaign. So the new mayor can tell them to go to hell, too.

The Indianapolis Star, in its traditional role of kissing up to the front-runner, endorsed Peterson and trashed Ballard in an editorial. Our new mayor can afford to give them the middle finger as well.

And since nobody expects much of Ballard except that he continues to not be Bart Peterson, he might actually be able to get some things done. Sometimes the accidental choices turn out to be good. And if, as most people think will happen, he sucks as mayor, he’ll get thrown out four years from now.

I like the new mayor and look forward to getting to know more about him. He has an attractive and interesting wife and good-looking family. He seems like an OK guy, even if his victory speech was incoherent while Peterson’s concession speech was classy and gracious.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, he does. He’ll lose if he goes up against Sheriff Frank Anderson. He’ll lose if he tries to raise taxes. So he probably won’t do much of anything, which is actually a pretty good thing.

With Steve Goldsmith, we had an evil Mr. Burns at the helm. With Peterson, we had a Goldsmith in a John Edwards costume. With Ballard, we will probably get exactly what we see: a mildly competent middle-manager type who sits in his office and looks out the window all day.

Personally, that’s what I want out of our mayor. I don’t want to see him on TV, I don’t want to hear about any financial problems in the city and I especially don’t want him to promise things he can’t deliver, as his predecessor did.

This city could stand to have a do-nothing mayor for a while. And that, as much as anything, is what the voters of Indianapolis were saying last Tuesday.

Well, that, and, “Could we have some more breadsticks, please?” 



Recommended for you