In a sweeping speech (linked here and published below) in front of the Indianapolis Kiwanis Club, the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Indianapolis articulated a sweeping vision for the city that will guide her first four years in office and pay dividends into the future, and it’s getting rave reviews from many even as some try to chop it down.
The political writer of record for the Indianapolis Star, Matthew Tully, who continues to equally upset the right and the left, gave Kennedy high marks. He praised Kennedy for offering a clear picture of what a Kennedy Administration would look like as well as the reasonable and necessary steps for getting there. My favorite passage of the piece said:
Kennedy...has promised to fill out the details of the plan she outlined Friday with a series of announcements in the coming weeks. The biggest battle clearly will be over her proposed method of paying for some of her programs. She wants to use $150 million, or roughly one-third, of the money Ballard raised by selling the water and sewer utilities to create an endowment to fund crime-prevention grants, early education programs and job training. The remainder of the money would remain earmarked for infrastructure repair.
Kennedy said the endowment's leaders would be charged with leveraging local money to win federal grants and raise philanthropic dollars, hopefully growing it into a major and sustained force in the city.
"It's an opportunity to create something lasting," she said, "as opposed to spending all of the money in 10 years."
That money, of course, has been marked for continuing work on streets, sidewalks, alleys and other infrastructure projects. And while I wholeheartedly and perhaps obsessively support such infrastructure projects, Kennedy's speech was a reminder that a city's infrastructure goes beyond concrete and steel. It also includes things such as early childhood education, crime prevention and job training -- efforts that also make a city stronger. Additionally, with this huge and rare pot of money from the utilities sale, the city needs to make sure it uses it in the most effective ways possible.
"We've got choices before us," Kennedy said. "Will we be satisfied with paving roads as our biggest idea, or will we make more significant investments in people? Will we have the resolve to do what it takes for Indianapolis to become a quality of life capital or be satisfied with the status quo?"
Kennedy’s speech was not without its critics. Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, the host of WXNT’s Abdul in the Morning and blogger at Indiana Barrister, wrote that Kennedy’s speech was little more than a political ploy offering a point-by-point analysis of her remarks.
I think Abdul is missing the point, and I think Tully gets it. Being Mayor of a city like Indianapolis or even the smallest town in Indiana involves having an idea of what four years under your leadership will look like. We have not once received that glimpse of leadership from Greg Ballard. This is not a new problem. I addressed it back in the early days of this blog. Even nearly four years into his term as Mayor, as Tully points out, his vision is more tied up in legacy. These are two different things.
You can have a legacy, but if it's not connected to anything discernible, it's just a disjointed legacy. Ballard lacks vision. It’s an overarching goal that guides your principles and leadership strategies and mission statement. Mission and vision are tied together. Ballard’s vision is not known. He’s a nuts-and-bolts guy more comfortable with paving roads and streets and striking deals that might or might not be good for the city to pay for short term projects. He's running his administration to try to do enough to get another four years in office by simply checking off what he believes are the most likely items to get him back in the office.
Ballard’s slogan, as I’ve said before, should be “Reactionary Leadership at Work.” Take his crime strategy, for example. Ballard's solution to our city's crime wave has been to play, what Ed Treacy called, "whack a mole" with policing. Crime pops here...he beats it on the head. Crime pops here...he hits it on the head. It's a short term strategy that doesn't have anything to do with vision, and it goes against the community policing idea that has worked for Indianapolis in the past. If your an a war like this, you would lose.
Conversely, Kennedy’s plan for the city to help with early childhood education will go a long way to preventing young ones from getting into trouble. As an educator, I can tell you that the lack of preparedness for students to come to school ready to learn is certainly a key contributor to students giving up on school. If they don’t think they can learn, then that student will give up. When students give up on education, studies show that they are more likely to make bad choices that will end up with them in bad places. The education aspect is something that is sorely needed to fight crime before it begins. As the speech reads, it's not her only plan to reduce crime. She also has previously articulated a vision to remove guns obtained through illegal means from our streets. Again, it’s time we have visionaries and not reactionaries.
In this political climate, we need a Mayor that’s not only able to react to a given set of circumstances, but one that’s willing to make the decisions that are best for the city. Coupled with that, we have to have a Mayor that sets a clear vision for moving forward. That person is not Greg Ballard. It’s Melina Kennedy.
When you think of Indianapolis Mayors in the Unigov era, you think of strong politicians who not only have a legacy but had a vision. Look at the list: Richard Lugar, William Hudnut, Stephen Goldsmith, and Bart Peterson. You can agree or disagree with any of those individuals politically, but they all had a vision. When you throw Greg Ballard into that list, immediately he looks out of place.
Come November, it’s time to put a visionary back on the 25th Floor of the City-County Building. The person for that job is Melina Kennedy.