ON THE AVENUES: In the 3rd district, that “stepping aside” time finally has arrived.

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ON THE AVENUES: In the 3rd district, that “stepping aside” time finally has arrived. 

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

In 2019, ON THE AVENUES moves to Tuesday — unless I change my mind again.

The Confidentials reside in New Albany’s 3rd city council district, made up of precincts 3, 5, 7 and 10. In the city as a whole, there are five other enumerated council districts and also three “at-large” council seats. In municipal elections, we vote for the mayor, the city clerk, and the council person in our own district, as well as three candidates from a slate to fill the at-large seats.

The 3rd district’s boundaries are the Ohio River on the south, and Silver Creek to the east. To the northeast, there’s a brief jagged frontier with the 5th district, but a clean division westward along Ekin. A weird salient juts to the north along 8th Street near where Grant Line Road begins, then Falling Run Creek forms the line in a southwesterly direction to where it crosses State Street, which forms the western extent of the 3rd, most of the way back to the riverbank. The 3rd district contains much of the city’s revitalizing downtown business district as well as the usable portion of its waterfront.

Greg Phipps, our current council representative, took to Facebook on November 13, 2018 to announce that he’d be seeking a third term.

Now that the 2018 election cycle is over, and after much deliberation, I have decided to publicly announce my candidacy for the 2019 election. I will be seeking a 3rd term as the 3rd district councilman for the City of New Albany. If elected, I will continue my support for efforts to revitalize our historic downtown and mid-town neighborhood.

Some of us are so old that we can remember his oft-repeated disclaimer about personal suitability, as in 2014.

But I digress. We have eleven months to discuss this and other pressing matters. Before doing so, I’ve assembled a few statistics from the past two election cycles.

3rd district city council (precincts 3, 5, 7 and 10)

2015: municipal election (mayor, city council, city clerk; no state or federal offices)

4,130 registered voters
779 votes cast (19% turnout)
266 straight ticket (33% of all votes cast)

2018 mid-term election (county, state and federal offices)

4,209 registered voters
1,702 votes cast (40% turnout)
971 straight ticket (57% of all votes cast)

Straight ticket votes 2015 vs 2018

2015: 266
172 Democratic
94 Republican
0 Libertarian (none ran)

2018: 971
650 Democratic
303 Republican
18 Libertarian

I’ll leave you to make of these numbers as you will, with only a few disjointed observations. Unsurprisingly, straight tickets in the 3rd district more than tripled for each party in 2018. This has the appearance of an anomaly. Historically Democrats have far outnumbered Republicans in the 3rd, and in 2016 Hillary Clinton carried the day (except for the 10th precinct). Sadly, voters typically turn out in very low numbers for municipal election cycles.

All of this bodes well for Phipps’ dynastic ambitions, or so we’re led to believe.

During his career in politics, Phipps has experienced two primaries and two general elections. Not one has been a close contest. His debut race came in the 2011 Democratic primary, when he ran against two-term incumbent Steve Price.

COUNCIL DISTRICT 3
GREG PHIPPS. . . . . . . . . . 303 – 57.93%
STEVE PRICE. . . . . . . . . . . 220 – 42.07%

Phipps handily defeated Jameson Bledsoe in the 2011 general election. Running for re-election in the fall of 2015, he recorded 502 votes (63%) against 277 for his Republican opponent, Dale Bagshaw (37%).

Will Phipps even have a challenger in the 2019 Democratic primary? It seems unlikely. Party chairman Adam Dickey surely would discourage any such dissent given Phipps’ nearly perfect record of voting in accordance with Mayor Jeff Gahan.

However, if reliably blue-tinged voters in the 3rd district paid slightly closer attention to what Phipps, Dickey, Gahan and other local Democratic office holders actually do, as opposed to what they constantly say they’re doing, there might well be a progressive revolt against the status quo.

It’s revolt that should be occurring every single day.

At this juncture, allow me to insert a big caveat: for reasons I’ll explain shortly, I’m not limiting this discussion to those who identity as “progressive.” However, because the 3rd is blue, I’m opening the proceedings with blue terminology, and aiming my comments at blue voters. In fact, the solution to our present difficulties is far more ecumenical.

Imagine for a moment a younger progressive voter, one inspired in 2018 by the candidacies of Anna Murray, Liz Watson and Dan Canon – and disappointed by Republican wins in those races.

Now imagine Dickey’s forthcoming boilerplate: “Carry forward the progressive movement-building work of Anna, Liz and Dan by re-electing Jeff Gahan and Greg Phipps (and Bob Caesar, and Pat McLaughlin, ad nauseam).

Think about this sentiment for a moment. Have a nice, strong drink – if you can keep it down.

Granted, Phipps is an intelligent and pleasant fellow, and he plausibly can lay claim to suitably progressive public positions on social justice and human rights issues; he’s fought for one or the other of them on scattered occasions, though generally only when given explicit permission by the likes of spider-webmaster Dickey.

It’s just that Phipps has yet to utter the first peep of principled protest when these matters of basic human decency are blithely violated by Gahan, as in the obvious examples of the chaotic public housing takeover, City Hall’s abysmal record of threatening and bullying both city employees and civilians, the mayor’s steadfast refusal to concede the existence of issues like homelessness and opioid addiction — not to mention Gahan’s personal addiction to campaign finance receipts.

Moreover, Phipps has yawningly rubber-stamped virtually every extravagant spending proposal ever minted by the mayor’s crack team of TIF juicers, the vast majority of which have been explicitly intended to encourage gentrification by benefiting higher-income segments of the city’s population, as well as fluffing a gigantic pool of pay-to-play special interests who donate profusely to Gahan for the privilege of profitable participation in these projects.

It’s enough to make a progressive’s blood boil – so why aren’t progressives in locales like the 3rd district mad as hell at the Floyd County Democratic party’s perennial bait and switch?

Well, it’s because no matter how low Gahan and his cronies go, the Democrats have the same answer:

Paraphrased: We might be shameless, bullying and conniving ward heelers, forever packing the political patronage machine full of cash drained from fat cat contract-seekers, rarely if ever keeping our word when it comes to disposable platform promises about fairness, dignity and equality of opportunity for those among us who are in the greatest need, and squelching free speech at every turn, but … but …

But what?

“BUT THE REPUBLICANS ARE EVEN WORSE.”

Forever and always in Nawbany, this is the alleged “choice” given to us by local Democrats, and I have news for you: it isn’t.

It isn’t a choice, and it isn’t reason enough to justify excusing their transgressions.

If you’re a 3rd district left-leaning voter prone to taking Phipps’ word for being a spotless progressive just like you, I have two bits of advice. The first is to avoid misunderstandings by being sure both of you are using the word “progressive” in the same way. The second is to stop giving Phipps a free pass to be progressive when it suits him for one set of issues, and Gahanishly regressive as it pertains to another.

It’s early, and so far we don’t know what sort of candidate the GOP will field in the 3rd in 2019. The conventional wisdom is that Republicans simply can’t go higher than 35%-40% of the vote in the 3rd, and may not field a candidate. I simply shudder to think of Phipps grabbing a third term without an opponent in either the primary or the general election.

But what if I told you it isn’t impossible for a council candidate in the 3rd district to possess impeccable social justice and human rights credentials, while simultaneously embracing the Strong Towns approach of fiscal sanity, which emphasizes cumulative and sustainable grassroots strategies for economic development and quality-of-life enhancement, thereby avoiding those overloaded TIF One credit card debts?

After all, it’s your children and grandchildren who’ll be paying those. I’m speaking of consistent, community-friendly precepts and policies across the board, and not just when Dear Leader graciously allows lip service to the principle.

As an added bonus, these precepts and policies also are in keeping with the instincts of many 3rd district residents who’d never in a million years think of themselves as progressive. 

Rather, they’re libertarian when it comes to social issues, and fiscally conservative on expenditures; they know a boondoggle when they see it, and have noticed that Gahan takes full credit for an inordinate amount of them.

In the end, the terminology and tags are junk. It’s a local grassroots election, and it’s about the place where we live.

The ideal candidate to match up in the 3rd district against Phipps is one who keeps government out of the private sphere, upholds the marketplace of free speech and expression, and regards human rights as non-negotiable; is serious about multi-modal transportation options and grasps the value of a walkable city; understands what small business ownership means and never once had “tenure” as a safety net for a household budget; busted ass in the trenches during the first generation of downtown revival and knows how much more remains to be done; views Gahan’s personality cult and his fetish for branding a whole city in his own sad image as the height of absurdity; will put the district’s people first and not fold like a house of cards when the party’s hierarchy demands it — because the ideal candidate is an independent, not a cog in the wheel-greasing of money machines.

Is it possible?

I think it is, so let’s keep talking. Let me know where you stand.

Recent columns:

January 1: ON THE AVENUES: As a new year dawns, I’m existentially yours.

December 29: ON THE AVENUES: Another year older and deeper in debt, so let’s doo-doo it all over again.

December 20: ON THE AVENUES: Truth, lies, music, and a trick of the Christmas tale (2018 Remix).

December 14: A joyful noise? The six most-read ON THE AVENUES columns of 2018.

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