Looking for trends in the city elections

Will voters do their civic duty? Turnout reports have been all over the map. Indianapolis is reporting heavy early voting and that absentees are up. But we’re hearing just the opposite in places like Fort Wayne and Lafayette.

Will minority party mayors rule in big cities? If Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, Ballard in Indianapolis and Republican Lloyd Winnecke in Evansville win, it could represent a trend of mayors from the minority claiming victory. Evansville Democrats are clearly divided, but we’re not seeing fratricidal tendencies in the two biggest cities.

Will this be the year of the female? If Melina Kennedy in Indianapolis and Paula Hughes in Fort Wayne win, they will join Gary’s Karen Freeman-Wilson as ceiling breakers. While Indiana has had a number of female mayors in mid-sized cities such as Mishawaka, Elkhart, Bloomington, Greencastle, West Lafayette, Carmel and Richmond in the past, the gender gap still exists in the big cities. I will also be watching incumbents Sally Hutton in Richmond and Olga Velazquez in Portage to see if they are reelected. Columbus will have a female mayor with the race between Republican Kristen Brown and Democrat Priscilla Scalf. In 2007, 11 of the 14 female mayors elected in 2003 were defeated in either primary or general elections, and Muncie Mayor Sharon McShurley is facing a very tough challenge from State Rep. Dennis Tyler.

Will “nationalized” races win at the local level? Paula Hughes’ challenger campaign in Fort Wayne, as well as those in Crown Point and Greenwood, feature Republicans who have made municipal debt a predominant issue, mirroring Republicans in Congress.

Another interesting twist could be what Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg calls the Republican “overreach” in the Indiana General Assembly on education and labor issues. Max Jones, editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, told me that many Democrats there are motivated to go the polls this Tuesday “as a counter-balance against the Republican legislature.” They believe the new laws there were devastating to the party’s key components. “This is the first chance they will have to vote since the General Assembly,” Jones said.

How do I see the big city races taking shape?

In Indianapolis, the WISH/Franklin College Poll shows Ballard leading Kennedy 44-33 percent with 21 percent undecided. That undecided number seems large. Normally at this stage of the campaign it would be in the five to 10 percent range. The poll was also conducted with 400 “registered voters” as opposed to “likely” voters, which most independent surveys concentrate on. If that undecided number is correct, a standard rule is that 75 percent of the undecideds tend to break for the challenger. If that’s the case, this election is a squeaker. 

I have been skeptical that Kennedy’s emphasis on early childhood education is enough of a motivating factor to toss out an incumbent mayor who many voters still view as relatively apolitical. The poll shows only nine percent of Kennedy “supporters” viewing education as a top issue. “That suggests that her message is not connecting with voters,” WISH-TV reported. Ballard has implemented the full consolidation of the Marion County sheriff with city police, moving leadership to the city’s appointed Public Safety Director from the sheriff. He’s expanded the mergers of township fire departments with the Indianapolis Fire Department and partnered with Wishard Health for more efficient emergency medical services for six townships and the Town of Speedway led by the city’s Public Safety Department, upgraded parking meters, created miles of bike lanes, and emphasized sustainability; major roads and thoroughfares are being upgraded in preparation for Super Bowl 2012. Voters are seeing things happening.

Evansville seems ripe to be a significant GOP pick up. The Evansville Democratic Party appears to be split, evidenced by the endorsement of Winnecke by Democratic City Council members Curt John and Connie Robinson. Outgoing Democratic Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel is working behind the scenes for Winnecke. Democrat nominee Rick Davis told the Evansville Courier & Press, “This endorsement is further proof that the political insiders are circling the wagons to try to ensure that one of their own succeeds.”

 In Fort Wayne, this has been a bitter dogfight. I see it as a “tossup,” but challenger Hughes was behind in polls during the primary and closed strong. Democratic Mayor Tom Henry will have to fend off that type of momentum in the final days.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at bhowey2@gmail.com.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *