When Center Township Constable Tony Duncan called City-County Councilor VopOsili the “n-word” last week at a Center Township Democrat Club meeting, you knew trouble was in paradise.
Duncan’s comment — “That nigga doesn’t know what he’s doing down there” —referenced Osili’s support of expanding the downtown Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District to include Mass Ave and 16 Tech. The proposal passed out of committee on Friday and was up for a full vote Monday after a month’s long delay.
You would think the battle over the TIF would have featured Republican Mayor Greg Ballard on one side and Council Democrats on the other. Not this time, this fight has been Democrat versus Democrat, or to be more specific Old Guard versus Young Turks.
Former State Rep. Bill Crawford, Auditor Billie Breaux and Center Township Constable Tony Duncan lead one side. On the other side: Council President Maggie Lewis, State Senator Greg Taylor and VopOsili. There are various other players, some major like the ministers and neighborhood and business groups that have been supporting the TIF expansion. And then there are the peripheral players like Council Vice-President Brian Mahern, who was all but politically neutered at Friday’s committee hearing when after the vote he began to read a statement and his microphone was turned off and the Channel 16 screen went to black. To add insult to injury, the Council passed the measure Monday night 25-2.
While this all makes for good theater, it reveals a deeper divide in the local Democratic Party. The TIF district fight is symptomatic of something much deeper, much like a couple arguing over too much sugar in the coffee when they are really fighting about something else. That same dynamic exists here.
The Old Guard, which is more aligned with County Chairman Ed Treacy and the Mahern clan, has taken a more combative tone with the Mayor, wanting to deny him victories. The Young Turks have decided that cooperation and collaboration work better in moving the city forward, especially in neighborhoods that are in the most need of services, public safety, jobs and economic development.
Even long-time Democrat stalwart and political heavyweight Lacy Johnson paid the Young Turk crowd a compliment recently. That was enough to throw anyone for a loop.
This internal battle is for the heart and soul of the Marion County Democratic Party and what role it will play in local politics, not only for the next few years but likely for the next 10-15. It is even getting to the point where a number of Democrats want Treacy to remain Chairman when his term ends next year so that a civil war doesn’t erupt. Other Democrats are clamoring for 7th District Congressman Andre Carson to step up and take a more active role in internal party affairs.
Who will win? As one Young Turk sympathizer told me the other day: “Time is on our side, because eventually death is going to catch up with those old guys.”