ON THE AVENUES: Gahan’s hoarding of power and money is a threat to New Albany’s future.


“I had always given Jeff the benefit of the doubt. No more. I’m afraid once again, another human being has let power go to their head.”
— Facebook comment (from outside the mayor’s immediate family)

DemoDisneyDixiecratic Party chairman Adam “Tricky” Dickey has a longstanding gag order prohibiting two-way communications between the delicately perfumed governing class and rude dissidents like me.

But periodically we witness this leash being chewed straight through by Mayor Jeff Gahan’s family and functionaries (often one and the same person) who find themselves in a state of outraged pique and distemper. When this occurs, they usually return hurriedly to the scene and scrub the social media graffiti clean rather than risk the sting of Dear Leader’s nocturnal lash.

As here.

Gahan’s own obsessions run primarily to slobbering in the presence of powerful special interests who write him campaign finance checks, and he has shown little ability to inspire genuine affection on the part of regular townspeople. Still, some of them devour the Rice Krispies Treats and chug the Kool-Aid.

Baylor’s obsession with the mayor is crazy! He goes to every website he can find to rant against a very good man and excellent mayor. I know he is obsessively in favor of David White, but to constantly malign Mayor Gahan is dirty tactics and should not be tolerated in politics … this is exactly WHY you should not listen to his rhetoric and vote for your priorities and what his platform stands for. Gahan has done a lot for New Albany and deserves respect for his accomplishments, not maligned for dirty partisanship.

My response to such comments?

“Thanks for reading, and know that I’m not finished yet.”

“Obsessive” social media outbursts like the preceding make it clear that we’re overdue a refresher course about the meaning of politics, power and political realities, as opposed to fantasies.

“The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth – that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community – and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and practical means.”
― Wendell Berry

Like it or not, politics is about power — who has it, who doesn’t, who benefits from it, who wins and who loses. At any given time there’ll be those among us differing with the balance of prevailing political power, and who believe it to be excessive. Our conceivable responses in terms of resistance are many, from accepting the status quo to opposing it, and from exercising the ballot box to lobbing a Molotov cocktail.

Simply stated, Gahan has amassed far too much power. 

Gahan’s pursuit of power has been relentless, marked by an insatiable thirst for money and a fetish for silence and secrecy, as opposed to discussion and openness.

Gahan’s primary objective has been the accumulation of as much unrestrained political power as can be gained by a big fish in this otherwise small pond; to raise as much money as he possibly can through pay-to-play campaign finance patronage; and to deploy his concentration of power and money to limit decision-making to an inner circle of cliquish elites.

As Bluegill put it on the topic of last week’s Colonial Manor debacle:

Gahan isn’t remotely interested in input. His personal insecurity, control issues, and need to generate campaign kickbacks from the contractors involved keep any sort of real input from ever happening. Citizens get expensive, poorly conceived and executed projects and Gahan gets a flood of tax dollars into his campaign coffers. It’s a worst case scenario, repeated frequently enough to be the hallmark of his tenure as mayor. New Albanians two generations from now will still be paying for his ego trip.

Conversely, ordinary people who disagree with Gahan often find it difficult to make themselves heard. The local newspaper has long since abandoned its investigative mandate and responsibility to the people to become an absentee-owned, feel-good lifestyles rag filled with taxpayer-funded ads from the very same mayor who knows exactly what his largess purchases. Call it what you will, although to me simplicity suffices: it’s protection money.

Sorry, but I wasn’t raised to root for US Steel, the New York Yankees and berserk kleptocrats. I was raised to believe in fair fights, level playing fields, assistance to underdogs and two-way conversation. The News and Tribune can’t be bothered with any of it, so NA Confidential has undertaken to follow Gahan’s big money, at least that iceberg’s tip of which we can see, given that $500 handshakes are notoriously hard to trace. The results are summarized in a 20-part series, with links in the finale:

The Jeff Gahan Money Machine, Part 20: Buying and selling a city? Our master list of 59 Gahan wheel-greasers is a pornographic potpourri of pay-to-play.

As for the power Gahan has gathered, consider these points.

Gahan is the salaried mayor.

Gahan has amassed $438,041 in campaign finance donations during the period 2011-2018, dwarfing all predecessors. Why so much? Money is power.

Gahan’s campaign finance expenditures amply document this power. We’ll be exploring them in the coming weeks.

Gahan is the salaried president of the sewer board, which controls tens of millions of dollars.

Gahan’s appointees control the Board of Public Works and Safety, which administers city-owned infrastructure.

Gahan’s appointees control the Redevelopment Commission, through which passes almost all the money (especially Tax Increment Financing funds) for capital projects, again totaling tens of millions of dollars which are not reflected by the yearly general fund budget.

Gahan is the president of the Horseshoe Foundation, and in a position to influence the foundation’s disbursements.

Gahan annexed the New Albany Housing Authority to direct City Hall control in 2017, appointing his own director and their own pliant board, in effect placing NAHA’s physical assets under his sway. They’re now being used to purchase commercial properties all over town.

Gahan directed and helped fund former Building Commissioner David Brewer’s successful 2018 run for Township Trustee, extending City Hall’s reach into the trustee’s budget, then rewarding Brewer with a consultancy to make up for his cut in pay.

Gahan belongs to the Ohio River Greenway board, has openly sought to manipulate the Human Rights Commission, and has made a series of board and commission appointments reflecting loyalty first and competence second.

Gahan’s political appointees include Police Chief and Fire Chief, and the former has openly participated in purely partisan fashion during previous election cycles.

Gahan has manipulated public funding outlays for city “communications,” transforming legitimate public service announcements into a daily social (and conventional) media stream of messages aimed at his own political self-glorification, via the conduit of favored no-bid contractor ProMedia.

Obviously Gahan’s patronage machine has lots of buttons — and he has lots of fingers.

Doug England’s wheeling and dealing previously was the gold standard of local legend, although by comparison with Gahan’s exploits it appears quaint and penny ante. Here’s a story that illustrates the point.

Ten years ago one of Gahan’s current and biggest out-of-town corporate contributors tried to make inroads with England. They met, and England handed the company’s spokesman a card with a Louisville tailor’s address and the measurements for a new suit.

In 2019, Gahan wears the same lackluster Soviet Politburo-vintage suits as before, and the company in question now pulls one lucrative no-bid design contract after another while funneling tens of thousands of dollars straight into Gahan’s breast pockets.

It’s irrelevant whether Gahan launders this money to finance Disney World junkets. The point is that money of this magnitude equates to political power. In 2018, Gahan passed almost $9,000 of it directly to other Democratic candidates.

By the standards of a small city with a quarter of its residents existing below the poverty line, Gahan has hoarded a vast stock of power. He wields it autocratically with almost no input from outside the ruling circle, and buttresses his power by means of a ludicrous personality cult reflecting a former veneer salesman’s abrupt makeover from regular guy to flawless genius.

It’s, well, creepy and more in keeping with Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis, but then again, so very few of them read books.

As such, whenever his family members, their former co-workers and other mindless fans prattle about loathsome stalkers hating on the epitome of mayoral perfection, a reminder is in order.

One simply can’t speak truth to power without breaking a few eggs, preferably right between the powermonger’s eyes. 

In the face of so much power, money and control, those of us in the political opposition have a perfect right to seek counter-balancing power where and as we find it. It is Gahan’s objective to hold power, and the opposition’s to modify his grasp of power, or when necessary, to seek depriving him of it. His tools for exercising power are considerable and entrenched. By necessity, ours are improvisational.

My own chosen tools are words.

They may not seem like much compared to money and authority, but I believe the bully pulpit still matters when used consistently and creatively. Then again, I’m literate; the illiterate might disagree, because lacking the words, they’re deprived of power, at least my kind of power.

In 2019, an election will decide whether Gahan’s reign is furthered, or the city returns to self-government. I’m looking forward to it. My own “obsessive” recommendation on May 7 is to vote for David White in the Democratic mayoral primary and #FireGahan2019.

Recent columns:

March 19: ON THE AVENUES: In 1989, six months of traveling fabulously in Europe.

March 12: ON THE AVENUES: Tender mercies, or why Democratic Party luminaries didn’t want to be seen at the “Protect Hoosiers from Hate” rally.

March 5: ON THE AVENUES: Prom planning’s nice and all, but New Albany still needs an autonomous independent business alliance.

February 26: ON THE AVENUES: Pretty in pink slips, aren’t they? Those who mutilated Speck need to be cashiered.

February 22: ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL: Take your cult of personality and shove it, Dear Leader.