When Greg Ballard first got elected Mayor of Indianapolis in 2007 he was dubbed by one of my media colleagues as “the accidental mayor.” The logic behind the name was that Ballard only beat incumbent Mayor Bart Peterson because of high property taxes, crime and a 65-percent County Option income tax increase. Fast forward four years later.
Facing a political climate that was perfect for a Democratic victory (a popular Democrat, a county that was trending Democratic by at least 10 points, and early voter advantage by Democrats, allegations of racism and 70 degree weather and sunny skies) Ballard did something very people thought he was capable of doing, he won a second term.
Not only did he win, but he did it with crossover appeal. Although Marion County Democrats had a straight-ticket voter advantage of 54-34, Ballard beat Melina Kennedy, 51-47. How did it happen? There were a number of factors.
The polls showed while Ballard had a 11-point lead (44-33) over Kennedy, there were 21% undecided and the undecided voters broke along traditional lines, 2-to-1 for the challenger. That put him at 51-47, exactly the way the vote totals turned out. It was also interesting to note that while there were 12,000 more straight ticket Democratic voters than Republican, Ballard won by 8,100 votes. That means that a lot of Democrats crossed over. Why? A coalition of African-American businessmen and pastors came to the Mayor’s rescue.
Despite the best efforts by the Baptist Ministers Alliance who accused the Mayor of being racist, Ballard won because the coalition went out into the neighborhoods and communities and counteracted the allegations that the Mayor was racially insensitive. Also by doing this, the ministers and businessmen have given Republicans a winning formula for Marion County.
It also didn’t help that Kennedy was an unlikeable figure.
Of course the Mayor will have to contend with a Democratic-controlled council (16-13) however, there isn’t much Ballard won’t be able to accomplish by appealing to the Indiana General Assembly, which ultimately has more authority than the City-County Council.
So while, Ballard’s first election might have been considered an accident by some, the second time was definitely no accident. In fact, one could argue that it was done on purpose.