If elected mayor in two weeks, Melina Kennedy promises to usher in to city government what she calls a spirit of collaboration and a bold effort to tackle, from the ground level and with the help of many people, the city's massive education problems.
Kennedy talks often about overcoming the city's challenges by working closely with neighborhood groups and building tight relationships with community leaders, teachers and other residents. The core of her campaign message seems to be a vow to rally Indianapolis residents around the notion that the city can be greater. Her team says she can be the force that brings competing factions and diverse interests together.While I'm not the fan of Huber that Tully is, I think he painted the rest of the picture quite well. Time is running short and there are repercussions that may outweigh the benefits to the tactics being embraced by Kennedy's campaign. I know in my house, which is composed of Liberal Democrats, the majority are now voting for Ballard precisely because of Kennedy's actions.
It's a compelling message -- one that anyone who has read my column in recent weeks knows has swayed me toward Kennedy as Election Day approaches. I'm convinced that Indianapolis needs a mayor who can persuade residents to embrace tough solutions to our biggest challenges, and Kennedy seems to have an ability to get people around her excited and motivated.
And that is what makes the topic of today's column -- the relentlessly negative and exaggerated television and radio ad campaign Kennedy has run -- so disheartening. For weeks, she has pummeled incumbent Mayor Greg Ballard, by all accounts a decent and honest man, with phony and unfair attack ads portraying him as everything from a corrupt fat cat politician to a reckless big spender eager to raise taxes.
Meanwhile, she has sat back while the nasty and bullying leaders in the Marion County Democratic Party air radio ads on African-American stations suggesting, at the very least, racial insensitivity on Ballard's part, invoking an unwelcome dose of racial politics into the campaign.
Finally, her campaign has needlessly dragged Deputy Mayor Michael Huber through the mud. That's a particularly infuriating tactic. In 19 years of covering politics, I don't think I've ever dealt with a more impressive, sincere and dedicated political aide than Huber, a young father who spends his days eager to find solutions to the city's biggest problems, including efforts to transform the city's infrastructure.
Huber is exactly the type of person we need in politics -- collaborative, creative and smart. But the attacks against him explain why so many good people avoid public service.
For months, I've listened to Kennedy's speeches. I've read her position papers. I've spent hours talking to her about issues such as crime, education and her vision for the city. She is a master of policy and has big ideas about what the city can achieve. She is an impressive communicator and a tireless worker. She's pretty much sold me; I believe a Kennedy administration could do big things.
But this much is clear: The tenor of her paid-media campaign does her candidacy a horrible disservice. And it is turning many people off.
Repeatedly, I have talked to voters, both Democrats and Republicans, who mention with disappointment the nonstop negativity coming out of the Kennedy campaign. This week, I talked to a friend who said she went to bed Sunday night, after watching the final mayoral debate, excited about Kennedy. But after seeing a handful of attack ads during the local news the next morning, she'd changed her mind.
It's just too mean, she said.
For the record, Ballard's campaign has run negative ads, too. But Kennedy went first, forcing Ballard to respond, and the ads coming from her campaign are more personal; they are filled with much more dangerous allegations. And, of late, they have come without any balance. It's as if her campaign has decided to go all negative, all the time in these final weeks.
In the end, it might work. Fear and anger clearly motivate voters, and those emotions have helped retire many incumbent politicians in recent years.
But there is a cost. And it's far too steep, particularly for a candidate with Kennedy's potential and in a city that desperately needs leaders who can bring people together.
A campaign too heavily based on mean-spirited messages will leave a lasting stain. If Kennedy is elected, and I still hope she is, voters will remember not just that she won but also how she won. Ultimately, she will learn that harsh campaign tactics make it much harder to bring about the type of positive change she so often talks about outside her TV ads.
That would be a shame. That would be harmful for Indianapolis. That's why Kennedy should stop the silliness and end her campaign on a different, much more uplifting note.