The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as smart. -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in The Sirens of Titan
A survey of the political landscape little more than one month before the national/state/county/township primary elections yields a startling conclusion about New Albany's 2007 city elections: Mayor James E. Garner is in position to secure re-election, becoming the first mayor in decades to do so in this city.
The possibility of a serious intra-party challenge grows increasingly remote. The usual suspects are tarnished, to put it lightly, and Garner seems all but assured of renomination. Were the mayor a mere seat-warmer, that wouldn't be. But that is not the case. Garner has earned respect across the state as a quick study and has strong support among Indiana party leaders.
The GOP will, of course, field an opponent, but the blood-feud bitterness expected to flow from that party's primary will reveal a series of flawed candidates drafted only for appearances sake. Some have speculated that Garner would stand an even chance of winning not only the Democratic Party primary, but of making a race of it among Republicans.
How did Garner reach this position? How did the mayor deflect the initial criticisms of this blogger (and for that matter, that other blogger, The New Albanian)? How did Garner outmaneuver the Gang of Four on the City Council so intent on kneecapping this administration, and by extension, this city?First-Instinct Honesty
For his political advisors, Garner's lack of calculation can be a headache. His Honor invariably answers any question without guile, simply stating the facts as they are, and not as he would wish them to be. There is no trimming, no spin, no manipulation of language to make himself and his administration look better. He responds with the easiest answer - the truth.
That's not to say Garner isn't careful. At council meetings, he is the answer man, even when faced with an ambush scenario as has become increasingly common recently. The members of the council do so little preparation, so little homework in advance of their twice-monthly meetings that Garner, or his staff, must provide them with mini-tutorials on almost every issue facing the body.Comprehensive Knowledge
When in that role, the mayor is exceedingly careful to give the facts as he knows them. That often results in the mayor losing eye contact with his audience (the council), lowering his chin and rolling his eyes upward to consult some virtual spreadsheet or memorandum to retrieve an answer. He'll do that even in other public forums, and it is a classic mistake for a politician to lose eye contact with his listeners.
Fortunately, once the fact-retrieval process is completed, Garner comes back to full engagement with the questioner and the audience. Compared to his obstructionist opponents, the mayor comes across as a literal fountain of knowledge.The X-Factor
But what is the third element in Garner's political strength? That would have to be his effectiveness in pushing through his vision for the city.
Facing almost intractable problems, particularly with the city's 2005 finances, unfunded mandates, and deteriorating infrastructure, the mayor has managed to win passage of every single initiative he has put forward, including the Scribner Place redevelopment project and the reorganization of the city's sanitation operations.
Granted, these victories have often come by 5-4 votes, with four faux-Democrats voting reactively against any mayoral initiative, but victories they are, nonetheless, for Garner and for the city.The Weakness
Communication continues to be the mayor's biggest weakness. Perhaps to keep from ruffling too many feathers among those whose perceive New Albany to be a sleepy little town (it never was, as Bluegill so ably points out), the mayor has failed to forcefully articulate his vision for the future.
The Garner program dribbles out piecemeal. It may be well defined in his own mind. It may be well known among his closest advisors. But there is no declaration, no white paper, no communications campaign to lay out that vision.
Only by laying out that vision in a series of position statements can the mayor cause the citizenry to coalesce around that vision. There's no upside in keeping it in your head, Mr. Mayor. And there's no advantage in trying to accommodate your enemies. For whatever reason, they are and will continue to oppose you.
But the survey shows that while there's no groundswell of "love" out there, there is a broad segment of the city, across party lines, that sees in this mayor the glimmer of hope for a resurgent New Albany.
Act now, Mr. Garner. It is not too early to campaign for your issues. By articulating your vision now, you can secure that re-election next year. As it stands today, the election is yours to claim. Don't let it slip away by being timid about telling us what you want for this city. Step Up and claim your prize.
------------------------------Volunteer Hoosier will soon cease to be a regularly updated Web log. We are being acquired by a burgeoning, branded online operation. This blog will, however, remain as an archive of our previous postings and the comments thereon.As we wind down this current incarnation, we invite you to share with us your favorite Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. quotes.