Many readers have been asking me what I think about the municipal election, which will conclude around 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 5. You’re entitled to my opinion, so here goes.
Previously I issued my endorsements:
- Vote Stefanie Griffith for New Albany City Council District 1.
- Vote Scott Stewart for New Albany City Council District 2.
- Vote for Thunder the Wonder Ferret as a write-in for New Albany City Council District 3.
- Vote Cisa Kubley for New Albany City Council District 4.
- Vote Josh “JT” Turner for New Albany City Council District 5.
- Vote Scott Blair for New Albany City Council District 6.
- Vote Al Knable and Christina Estill for New Albany City Council At-Large.
- Vote your conscience for New Albany City Clerk, as both candidates are excellent.
- ON THE AVENUES: Socialists for Seabrook, because we desperately need a new beginning in New Albany.
As for who I think will win the 2019 New Albany municipal election, first consider the results of the last 12 elections.
1971: Democratic challenger Warren Nash defeats Republican incumbent Garnett Inman, 9,097 to 6,180.
Total votes: 15,277
Percentage: 60 – 40
1975: Republican challenger Robert Real defeats Nash, 9,264 to 4,763.
Total votes: 14,027
Percentage: 66 – 34
1979: Real defeats Democratic challenger John Stein, 6,637 to 3,801.
Total votes: 10,438
Percentage: 64 -36
1983: Democratic challenger Charles Hunter defeats Real, 6,148 to 5,888.
Total votes: 12,036
Percentage: 51 – 49
1987: Real defeats Hunter, 6,005 to 5,467.
Total votes: 11,472
Percentage: 52 – 48
1991: Democrat Doug England (4,785) defeats Independent Phyllis Garmon (4,154) and Republican Kenny Keilman (2,344).
Total votes: 11,283
Percentage: 42 – 37 – 21
1995: England defeats Real, 6,573 to 5,628.
Total votes: 12,201
Percentage: 54 – 46
1999: Republican challenger Regina Overton defeats England, 5,512 to 4,205.
Total votes: 9,717
Percentage: 57 – 43
2003: Democratic challenger James Garner defeats Overton, 5,971 to 3,893; 196 votes cast for Melanie Hughes (Libertarian).
Total votes: 10,600
Percentage: 59 – 39 – 2
2007: England defeats Randy Hubbard (Republican), 4,017 to 3,741.
Total votes: 7,758
Percentage: 52 – 48
2011: Democrat Jeff Gahan (4,506) defeats Republican Dale “DM” Bagshaw (1,389), Independent Jack Messer (1,024) and Libertarian Thomas Keister (88).
Total votes: 7,007
Percentage: 64 – 20 – 15 – 1
2015: Democrat Jeff Gahan (3,527) defeats Republican Kevin Zurschmiede (2,695) and Independent Roger A. Baylor (462).
Total votes: 6,684
Percentage: 53 – 40 – 7
The first and most noticeable trend is declining voter participation. In 2015 there were 4,000 fewer voters than in 2003. That’s a precipitous and stunning drop-off. Even if turnout modestly increases in 2019 (in spite of there being little reason to anticipate this), the long-term reality suggests an inexorable decline, with a few hundred more opting out this year.
These vaporized voters may or may not be a bad thing. Ask the 25% of eligible voters who took part in the 2015 election about persistent low turnout and they’d probably cite a civic duty to vote, expressing personal annoyance with low turnout. Then again, half the drivers on Spring Street as I walked to work in a pea soup fog on Monday morning didn’t think it was necessary to activate their car’s head lights.
Probably the only way the decline could be substantively reversed is holding municipal elections in the same years as presidential elections and mid-term congressional elections, which bring out bigger crowds, although this doesn’t appear likely.
Moving along, the historical math is clear.
Mayors in New Albany who run for a third term receive fewer votes than they scored the first two times. There hasn’t been a successful candidacy for a third term in City Hall since C. Pralle Erni, the FDR of New Albany politics, who won four consecutive terms from 1948 through 1963.
It’s unclear why third-term mayoral seekers do badly even as council representatives remain in office for multiple terms. Bob Real barely lost to Charles Hunter in 1983, while Regina Overton hammered Doug England in 1999. Both Real and England were popular enough, and both won second terms decisively (both also were elected mayor a third time, albeit non-consecutively).
Perhaps in a two-party duopoly like ours, eight years is plenty of time for the losing political party to siphon support, work back channels and mount a winning bid the third time out. Fatigue sets in after eight years as voters tire of the incumbent; as such, a new face (any new face) from the opposition is attractive.
This year in Jeffersonville might prove an exception; Mike Moore is seeking a third term and looks strong, but then again the face chosen by Democrats to challenge Moore is Tom Galligan, himself a former mayor and longtime wheeler-dealer, and hardly a breath of fresh air by any definition.
Against this backdrop we see that Gahan dropped 1,000 votes between 2011 and 2015, then hemorrhaged another 300 in the 2019 primary. Some of these departing voters succumbed to low-turnout indifference. Others sided with David White during his two Democratic Party primary insurgencies and did not return in the fall. Some died; some moved.
Some may have found a different religion. Others want to know when they can vote for Trump again. Conversely, perhaps getting to know Gahan better isn’t a tremendously positive experience.
Using the 2015 numbers as a yardstick, the decline in Gahan’s support might find him with as few as 3,200 reliable votes for the general election in 2019; recall that around 1,400 Democratic voters opted for White in 2019, as they did in 2015, and it’s a safe assumption that these voters have strong feelings against Gahan and will not return to the party line in November.
(By the way, NA Confidential approves of this thought process.)
It’s also a safe assumption that few of my 2015 supporters (492) aim to support Gahan in 2019. Combine them with Kevin Zurschmiede’s 2,695 tally in 2015, factor Gahan’s primary drop-off in the primary this year, and the race is a dead heat at around 3,100 votes each for Gahan and Seabrook.
Concurrently, while it would be overly-simplistic to suggest that all of my 2015 general election voters and all of White’s 2019 primary voters will swing to the Republicans, joining Zurschmiede’s supporters to produce an epic beat-down against Gahan, the scenario need be only half accurate for it to be a very bad omen for the incumbent.
New Albany political history in my own lifetime reveals that it is entirely possible for a New Albany mayor to be viciously humiliated in a re-election bid. Witness one Warren Nash, Gahan’s cadaverous and enduringly vacuous mentor, who won 60% of the vote in a winning bid in 1971 but then just 34% in 1975 while suffering a cataclysmic landslide loss.
In short, the electoral math has been favorable for Seabrook from the beginning, which explains (a) Gahan’s crazed drunken sailor’s expenditure of $200,000 so far this year, and (b) the Democratic Party’s hair-trigger willingness to lose their minds and go appallingly negative in the campaign’s final days.
Paranoia, the destroyer.
This is the Alamo insofar as the Democratic Party’s privileged upper echelons are concerned, and who better to inspire them to near insanity than Seabrook, their arch enemy. The top dogs grasp fully that Gahan’s complete, unquestioned control of the party brings with it certain negatives, namely that if the mayor suddenly becomes the ex-mayor, their gravy train goes flying from the tracks.
Thus the rabid flailing of Tricky Dickey’s sycophantic stalwarts is understandable; obviously those with the most to lose have turned into yes-men and yes-women of the most odious obsequiousness, and yet just as obviously not every voter leaning Democratic shares this view, or else there wouldn’t have been 1,400 votes cast for David White in the primary.
In effect, these are the swing votes, and Seabrook is uniquely well-positioned to swing them.
Seabrook is the highest-profile Republican candidate for mayor since Regina Overton ran for re-election (and lost) in 2003. He possesses two potent wild cards unavailable to the Democrats, both realities of which are incapable of being gauged (and gouged) by campaign finance alone.
First, Seabrook’s unimpeachable career as a funeral home owner and director is an asset of incalculable value to his reputation, quite apart from his parallel experience in politics. Being helpful to people at their hour of greatest emotional need has a lasting effect far outweighing Gahan’s career in veneer sales or my lifetime spent pushing beer across a bar. What’s more, Seabrook’s legacy in this sense is felt most keenly by older voters – i.e., those most likely to vote.
Second, Seabrook’s campaign has benefited mightily from the grassroots energy generated by the Republican Party’s well-chosen roster of city council and city clerk candidates, of whom there’ll be more to say in a moment. While Gahan saturation-bombs with San Francisco-inspired mailers from the skies via his bountiful special interest cash air force, Republican candidates erode shoe leather with enthusiastic and broadly smiling faces in a meticulous ground game led by incumbent at-large councilman Al Knable.
In many respects, Seabrook is wisely leveraging the coattails of his high-quality fellow Republican Party candidates, and his willingness to be part of a team effort like this speaks positively to the prospects for a deep, talented City Hall team once he becomes mayor, as opposed to the ludicrous cult of personality built by Gahan.
Still, there is another wild card in play this year: Dan Coffey, onetime Democrat turned independent, running as a “none of the above” brigand in 2019 just as I did in 2015.
Coffey has been the 1st district councilman for two decades, almost all of it identifying ostensibly as a Democrat, and his core of support lies in the city’s west end, especially at Riverview Towers, the high-rise public housing unit for the elderly currently being depopulated by Gahan for reasons as yet unclear.
As noted previously, I may be the only person in the city who takes Coffey at his word with respect to his motives for seeking the office of mayor. Coffey’s resourceful political arsenal may still be intact, but something has changed with him; health, age or religion, and it doesn’t matter which, except he’s not exactly the same copperhead he used to be.
Sticking to practical terms, will Coffey’s vote total next Tuesday help/hurt Gahan or Seabrook?
You might say that Coffey always has been an old-school conservative Democrat, implying that those choosing him as mayor would otherwise opt for Seabrook. There is some truth in this, although in a city where so few “Democrats” are left of center in any real sense, it’s a muddle defying easy categorization.
I think Coffey will get votes from right-leaning Democrats who have been disillusioned during recent cycles and stopped voting in local races, as with former councilman Steve Price’s core supporters in the 3rd district. Coffey will get a few hundred votes out of his own 1st district, and a handful elsewhere. He’ll surely top my independent tally from 2015, if for no other reason than name recognition (read: persistent notoriety).
However Coffey’s name on the ballot will not sway the mass of committed Democrats or Republicans. He’ll take some away from both, but I disagree with my esteemed colleague the Bookseller and believe Coffey’s candidacy stands to erase far more votes from Gahan’s ledger than Seabrook’s. This may be no more than a net loss of 200 to the Democrats, but in a race this close, that’s a lot, and it means the ultimate winner might not top 3,000 votes.
To summarize, I believe the dustbin of history awaits Team Gahan, and if we’re lucky the show trials will begin by Christmas.
The at-large council race is quite interesting this year. Barring Russian vodka-bot intervention, incumbent Knable (R) is a lock both to keep his seat and to run for mayor in 2023. Knable is Seabrook’s ground game manager and revels in the exercise. He stands to receive the most votes of any candidate.
Of the remaining aspirants, incumbent David Barksdale (R) and challenger Jason Applegate (D) are in the strongest position to win for precisely the same reason, albeit reversed: Barksdale is a Democrat who pretends to be Republican, and Applegate a Republican now masquerading as a Democrat.
Some hardline Republican voters will punish Barksdale for his pro-Reisz Mahal sell-out, but most won’t; they sense a tsunami coming and will pragmatically vote to encourage it.
Whatever support Barksdale loses on the right will be compensated by quasi-pretend-progressives in and near the Spring and Main Kool Aid Corridors. Meanwhile, Applegate was a lifelong Republican until his ownership of Extol Magazine made a political brand change feasible in 2018.
However, a significant caveat: Democrats Christina Estill and Sam Charbonneau clearly are outworking Applegate on the campaign trail, as noted by Nick Vaughn in his election preview at The Aggregate News. One of them could easily sneak past Applegate, and if this occurs, I favor Estill.
I’d be content to see Republicans sweep the remaining races in a swirling display of rage against the Gahanite machine, but that’s too much to hope for. Remember, my picks reflect who I think will be the winning candidates, not necessarily the ones I support or chose at the polls.
1st Stephanie Griffith (R)
2nd Scott Stewart (R)
3rd Greg Phipps (D)
4th Pat McLaughlin (D)
5th Josh “JT” Turner (R)
6th Scott Blair (I)
This leaves the contest for city clerk, not necessarily a marquee job or a political race (city clerk should be an apolitical position), just an important one. Incumbent Vicki Glotzbach must be considered the favorite, although as the county election cycle in 2018 illustrated, high Republican voter participation could upset the apple cart as it did then in the county clerk’s office.
I was undecided until the last minute, but challenger Kelly Feiock’s detailed answers in the special newspaper section displayed a vivid commitment to transparency in keeping with the gist of the entire GOP campaign to date, and I opted for her.
This is it: Gahan and the Democrats have built a political patronage system dependent on fat cat donors and padlocked file cabinets, and the Republicans are encouraging Mr. Dickey to tear down that stiflingly corrupt wall. In fact the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse is coming in November, and I can think of no better analogy for what’s about to happen to local Democrats.
Not only will they be ceding power, but it’s going to be lost to them for a very long time.
Remember, this city belongs to us — not HWC Engineering, Jorge Lanz or Clark Dietz.
Paybacks are hell, and I’m going to richly enjoy this one.