If you were looking at yesterday’s primary election as a morality play about the coming succession, black contrasting with white, teeming with pro- and anti-government forces locked in pander-to-pander combat to determine the city’s direction, then my guess is you’re feeling a wee bit cheated.
That’s because voters notoriously opt to send mixed signals, and on this morning after, with the Elector-induced dementia temporarily abated, looking at Tuesday’s results reveals a tea leaf patchwork.
In selecting underdog Jeff Gahan, Democrats resoundingly rejected outgoing mayor Doug England’s bizarre backroom deal to bring Irv Stumler, for all intents and purposes a Republican, to the forefront of the local Democratic Party.
However, these same voters did not opt for rejecting Doug England. Rather, he effortlessly cruised to the top of the city council at-large standings, edging out John Gonder and Shirley Baird.
Voters also ignored the pathetic bleatings of “a vote for virtually anyone we dislike is a vote for Doug England,” handing me 1,341 votes in a losing at-large bid, pushing Randy Smith to within two dozen votes of Diane “My Boy Plays Bassetball” Benedetti in the 5th, and enabling Greg Phipps’ historic toppling of Li’l Stevie in the 3rd.
And so, Gahan won big, yet among his most vociferous backers were Price and Vicki Denhart, both of whom recorded epic fails.
In the 3rd district, political newcomer Greg Phipps decisively proved what we’ve always said was true: Price cannot come even remotely close to winning a primary against a single, thoughtful opponent. In fact, Price barely improved on his 2007 primary performance against two foes, topping out at a mere 42% against Phipps. Our brave new world in the 3rd? Priceless, and so let the mindless karaoke resume, this time safely removed from council chambers.
Meanwhile, over in the bafflingly hermetic 1st district, Denhart’s fundamentally overarching narcissism received a world-class and long overdue puncturing, not coincidentally illustrating the Price Three-Way Cluster F/Theorem in reverse, and ensuring Dan Coffey’s entirely unmerited victory over Denhart and the luckless Theresa Timberlake, the latter again losing by only a handful of votes.
Based solely on Denhart’s previous recorded claim (made to the newspaper) to have spent $1,200 on yard signs, it cost the taxpayers’ purportedly Hillaryesque savior fully $8.16 for each of her paltry 147 votes.
Had I spent at the same rate, my 1,341 votes would have cost just shy of $11,000, and yet I spent less for them than the cost of steak, eggs and the build-your-own Bloody Mary bar on Sunday afternoon at Bank Street Brewhouse.
Denhart and I both lost. C’est la vie … although that’s French, not Italian. Gucci … Chianti … Rocco, and all that.
Irrespective of one’s opinions about Jeff Gahan, whom I endorsed, there is much to admire in his win over Irv Stumler and Paul Etheridge. In fact, combining Gahan’s and Etheridge’s vote totals yields a stunningly decisive 67% of Democratic primary voters rejecting Stumler’s candidacy, despite England’s touting, thousands of dollars spent and the active support of current job holders.
Gahan slogged it out with a ground game the old-fashioned way, lapped the supposed thoroughbred, and deserves acclaim for standing for office as a Democrat — as admittedly muddled as the New Albany definition of Democrat usually is.
Still, to his credit, Gahan neither mouthed mock Republican policy bullet points, nor pretended to be anything other than he is, and has been for eight years as a council person – the latter a mixed record, but a record nonetheless. He ran on it, and won against what remains of the machine.
In the end, the Stumler conversion charade simply didn’t hold water, and the voters saw right through it.
Now, who pays for the fiasco in the larger sense?
Not Stumler, who is free to devote his dotage to Keep New Albany Clean and Green, albeit without the taxpayer monies inevitably destined to finance the do-good non-profit had he actually become mayor. He’s had a long career and a fine, productive life. His money once again can openly flow to the Republican National Committee, because as was said in ancient Rome: “In Moolah, Veritas”.
Not England, who is a political pro’s pro. As we’ve already seen, he has somehow wiggled out of political responsibility for The Bad Deal, and with a brand new coat of Teflon to boot, although as we’ll see, there are repercussions.
It’s further down the totem pole where one spies dripping, gooey egg on the faces of otherwise solid folks like Todd Bailey, Matt Denison and several prominent others, whose enthusiasm for a tawdry and self-serving political accommodation leaves them with, shall we say, uncertain prospects for future job security.
Regrettably, their zeal for a fractured Deal may have helped turn undecided voters away from Stumler, and toward the two alternatives. The whole spectacle disturbed me. It was ugly, heads eventually will roll, and that’s sad.
Where does the aftermath leave New Albany?
On balance, the big winner after yesterday is none other than Mayor England. He also may prove to be the big loser, though not just yet.
Gahan beat the odds and scuttled The Stinky Deal, but England emerged unscathed, with his underlings left holding the bag (and the tab) for the schemes and plots.
Furthermore, the anti-England tsunami predicted by Troglodyte Nation did not materialize; there was some collateral damage, though scantily defined. Incumbents Coffey and Benedetti made it through, barely. As yet, the former has no Republican opponent, although there are rumors of an independent insurgency. The latter cannot use her family as human shields forever.
Honestly, I did damned well for a first time contender who ignored every accepted rule. It would have been great fun to put the GOP on trial for six solid months as part of a general election bid, but so it goes, and I’m both serene and vindicated by the majority of the results.
Elsewhere, perhaps with some toughening before November, Mrs. Baird will be able to put a dent into Kevin Zurschmiede’s incumbency. Zurschmiede will be the only credible Republican council at-large candidate, and while Shirley adeptly played her classic insider Democratic Party strategy to take the third at-large slot, her standard “I just want to help people” line won’t go very far against the workmanlike Zurschmiede, who can point to his stolid experience whilst receiving assistance from the many Democrats who aren’t.
But, predictably, the final Shakespearean twist finds England both winning and losing. His political career will see another chapter, and yet his dream of controlling both executive and legislative branches is dashed. Rather than a pliant, genial elder, England will be compelled to deal with either a wary Gahan or a Republican yet to be named, and furthermore, he’ll be obliged to negotiate with eight other council members, each with his or her own agendas, and without Hizzoner’s customary recourse to absolutism.
Entertaining? Yes, it will be.
An improvement? We can only hope it will be.
The best possible outcome? Nope. They never are.