ON THE AVENUES: Democrats should judge city council incumbents in districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 by their regressive deeds, not their progressive words.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Ever since Dan Coffey’s how-did-it-take-so-damned-long-anyway defection from the Democratic Party in January of 2016, New Albany’s nine-member city council has been populated by just four presumed Democrats.
- District 2: Bob Caesar (now in his twelfth year)
- District 3: Greg Phipps (eighth year)
- District 4: Pat McLaughlin (twelfth year)
- District 5: Matt Nash (fourth year)
The scuffed fingernails of this motley 44th percentile have managed to cling to an ever-shrinking semblance of significance for a variety of reasons, absolutely none of which attest to any specific distinction or merit as public servants.
Both literally and figuratively, it hasn’t been about them at all. The gradual evolution of mayoral authority, as capable of governing New Albany by authoritarian decree apart from direct council oversight, has allowed the city’s diminished Democrats to hang on to what’s left of their power.
With the municipal populace forever determined to ignore local matters in favor of arguing endlessly over national issues, apathy and inertia play their roles, too.
It also took a while for the three council Republicans and two Independents to come together (occasionally) for a semblance of common cause against the imperial excesses of Jeff Gahan’s reign.
One example: In hindsight, Al Knable probably regrets being conciliatory at the beginning of his council career in 2016, seeing as conniving and opportunistic Democrats lost no time in paying back Knable for his equanimity by savagely attacking his character over the contrived and nonsensical 9-1-1 phone call episode.
Unfortunately the Republican at-large troika hasn’t always been able to maintain a unified front. Their biggest head-slapping disgrace in recent memory remains David “I’m Passionate for Masonry” Barksdale, who resembled a slobbering puppy angling for tasty kibbles and bits during the course of gulping Dear Leader’s cynical pleasantries, as necessary to procure approval for the cherished Democratic Party goal of an election-ready Reisz Mahal luxury city hall boondoggle.
Then earlier this month, a befuddled David AeberSOLD out his compatriot Knable by bizarrely rolling over on behalf of an unctuous Caesar in the election for 2019 council vice-president.
With friends like those, who even needs Adam “Tricky” Dickey as an enemy?
The enduringly fascinating aspect of our bedraggled Democratic council quartet is the beige patina of its blandness. The best historic parallel is those jowly Politburo geriatrics propped atop Lenin’s Mausoleum during Soviet May Day parades of old; colorless and featureless functionaries without the first original thought of their own, committed only to agreeing in lock step with the First Secretary.
By the end of 2019, New Albany’s four remaining Democratic council critters will have 36 years of combined service – and for what ultimate purpose? They’re faded pawns waiting to be pushed around the chess board, and veritable rubber stamps in desperate need of re-inking. They seem far older than they really are, with a collective demeanor suggesting mute charred hulk burnout.
That’s no surprise, given that their chief duty these past eight years has been to purge their souls of any damning stain of cogitation and meekly obey whatever orders Gahan and Dickey have given them as obsequious toady foot soldiers digging trenches to maintain Gahan’s sole achievement as mayor: a cash-laden political patronage machine constructed to enable VIP treatment for donors and vested interests, boasting pay-to-play as the order of the day, and with the lion’s share of the proceeds going to the mayor himself.
Witnessing these four remaining council Democrats in (re)action at last Thursday’s meeting, and knowing that all of them will trudge forward to re-enlist for four more senseless, torpid years of tuck-pointing Gahan’s prophylactic wall against fresh thinking and new ideas, I couldn’t help noticing their utter political exhaustion.
They’re bored, lethargic and absent anything resembling excitement, save for the sporadic flaring of pet fetishes. As such, Caesar briefly showed a heightened pulse when allowed to gush like a hormonal crush-afflicted schoolboy over One Southern Indiana’s yearly panhandling appointment to tout its oligarch masturbation outreach.
Similarly, Phipps became momentarily lucid on the topic of resuscitating (yet again) his otherwise toothless Human Rights Commission; those of us with long memories winced while recalling the time just a year ago when he dramatically “washed” his hands of the HRC. This exceedingly rare moment of Phippsian candor evidently has been delightfully airbrushed from the narrative, Dickey having issued contradictory marching orders numerous times since then.
In customary fashion McLaughlin said almost nothing the entire evening, leaving the accidental Democratic council yes-man Nash to shock the peanut gallery by erupting at freshly installed council president Scott Blair’s appointment of civilian Scott Whalen to the Board of Zoning Appeals in place of Stephen Pacciano, whose term had expired.
It is the prerogative of the council president to reappoint or replace board members, which the remaining eight councilmen subsequently affirmed. It later emerged that Pacciano had wanted another term, with Blair preferring his own man, although characteristically secretive Nash didn’t clearly explain any of this during the course of his weirdly emotional and garbled complaint.
Nash’s outburst came as a surprise to veteran council watchers, who’ve grown accustomed to the passing of entire seasons between instances of Nash saying anything at all. Last summer when it came time for the final Reisz Mahal vote, Nash remained impassive and unquestioning through a lengthy and detailed discussion without uttering a peep apart from the single syllable “aye” when called upon by Gahan and Dickey to vote in favor of the most misguided expenditure of public funds I’ve witnessed since my council viewing began in 2004.
The 5th council district plainly deserves better than this.
As much as I like Nash personally, the sad fact is that politically, he is a pliable tool of the Democratic Party’s fix-is-in machine, a jalopy lubricated for decades on end by Warren Nash, the councilman’s father.
In 2015 Matt Nash became the nominee for 5th district councilman by predetermined precinct committee decision when Dustin Collins became ill, and later when down on his luck in 2018 after the failure of his business venture, he abruptly and miraculously landed a job with the housing authority, itself the victim of a hostile annexation by Gahan the year before – something Nash has yet to publicly reference even once as a councilman.
If that’s not nepotism and political bondage according to the gnarly Tammany Hall model, American history books might have to be rewritten.
For Nash to be angry about Pacciano’s treatment might well have been exemplary and praiseworthy – but exactly where has Nash’s outrage been hibernating during his council term as Gahan and Dickey have run roughshod over basic human decency, bullying, bribing and bartering without any semblance of empathy or conscience?
Had Nash murmured even once about the immoral morass and selective ethics of his Democratic Party overlords, it might be different for me – but wait, I forget; he has the same tired excuse as every other Democrat in town, namely that Republicans are always worse.
Meanwhile here in the 3rd, the PhippsBot becomes even further estranged from his self-described powers of cool, analytical detachment, with these skills inevitably being spotted solely as knee-jerk responses to Republican initiatives, and never in gauging the various special interest power plays advanced by his own party.
Last Thursday Phipps haltingly described the inadequacy of the digital speed control installations on Spring Street, and he’s right, but apparently it has not occurred to Phipps that his own cowering and complicit complacency during the run-up to two-way street reversion crucially enabled Gahan to assign HWC Engineering the task of unceremoniously junking the vast majority of Speck-recommended precepts as intended to REDESIGN these same streets to lessen vehicular speeds.
And this is the ultimate truth: unalloyed enablement.
Each of these four Democrats – Caesar, Phipps, McLaughlin and Nash – are pleasant enough company for a beer (well, maybe three of them, excepting the former jeweler, who still has those Bicentennial Commission finances safely hidden), but the political roles they’ve agreed to play are exuberantly passive.
They’re to emit gurgling sounds of rote acceptance on cue to whatever degraded and dictatorial whims Gahan and Dickey decree – just as Shane Gibson’s daily insider job is to find legal precepts capable of being artfully molded to accommodate a mayor and party chairman so crooked that it takes two valets each morning to help them screw on their pants.
Enablement and passivity, silence and culpability.
These are the de facto re-election “platforms” of New Albany’s four incumbent Democratic council representatives Caesar, Phipps, McLaughlin and Nash. That’s 36 years of … what, exactly?
As you might expect, Gahan and Dickey are working hard to assure there’ll be no primary opposition to incumbent council candidacies in 2019. That’s highly ironic, given that during mid-term elections last November numerous residents of the council districts represented by Caesar, Phipps, McLaughlin and Nash loudly declared themselves to be progressive, and publicly supported folks like Liz Watson, Dan Canon and Anna Murray.
If we are to assess the situation today, referencing the record of 36 combined years of actual city council seat-warming rather than their imagined stances pertaining to substantive policy, the incumbents in districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 are nowhere near as “progressive” as their 2019 Republican challengers – and Phipps’ underachieving sinecure is as yet uncontested, at least until I get my Independent petition started.
It’s very sad for the Democratic Party, though not for residents of those districts, who have high-quality Republicans ready and waiting for November. Personally, I find it hard to fathom that seemingly none of Watson’s, Canon’s and Murray’s purportedly progressive enthusiasts living in these precincts have grasped that when it comes to deeds and not words, their own Democratic council representatives are the ones who are completely out of sync.
There’s still time. Shouldn’t the local Democratic Party be walking the walk and not just talking the talk?