I think I’m going to run for Indianapolis Mayor

Indianapolis just had an election for Mayor, with Republican Greg Ballard winning, albeit closely, to Democrat Melina Kennedy. I think Greg Ballard’s a pretty good guy and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him a few times, too. I voted for him in the last election.

The next election for Mayor is in 2015, and I want to run for the position as an Independent. This two-party system is ridiculous. There’s no reason why a fiscally smart guy like me can’t also be open to liberal and progressive thought, freethinking and diversity. Those two things can exist inside the same brain. It’s not water-and-oil.

I’m actually very serious about this, and I’m curious whether this strikes your fancy. For now, I wanted to share with you a brief overview of some of the ideas I have. Some won’t win me any fans in entrenched circles, but I’m not really bothered by that.


We’ll have to wait and see where Greg Ballard takes us in the next four years on transportation. My assumption is “about as far as IndyGo can take you now.” Which is to say, not very far.

Because of our 19th century model of county government, this region doesn’t actually think like a region. The people in Hamilton County act completely independently of Marion or Johnson and other counties, yet people wouldn’t exist in those locales in the numbers they do today if it weren’t for Indianapolis. As a result, it’s up to the State legislature to approve the funding and taxation required to build a good transit system.

That worked for Lucas Oil Stadium, which arguably, a very small minority of people in the region actually use. Yet we all pay for it with our cheeseburgers and sodas through a food and beverage tax in the nine-county area. There’s two million people and the whole stadium holds, at most, 70,000 people. Someone got screwed, and I think it’s “most of us”. Yet, there’s a big difference between a $720 million dollar stadium and a $2.5 billion dollar 25-year transit plan, albeit, the differences in utility and vast.

Since the State Legislature is comprised mostly of people from places “not Indianapolis”, I doubt anything happens. People in Crawford County don’t give a hoot what Indianapolis wants or needs.

Screw the state legislature, it’s time for Indianapolis to do what’s best for Indianapolis. I’d try to get all the mayors and county councils from neighboring counties together in a room and I’d say, “Look, we can’t just build highways out of this problem. This is not sustainable. Half of you can’t even handle the soil problems coming up because of all the urban sprawl.” With any luck, we could create a mutual transit fund to help our suburban friends get to work.

But since that would require people in far off lands, like, uh, Carmel, to contribute to something that also benefits Indianapolis, I doubt that happens, either.

So it’s up to Marion County to fund what Marion County wants. We might not be able to afford a $2.5 billion transit plan to build light rail and hover cars, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t afford $500 million to beef up IndyGo.

I don’t actually think Indianapolis is quite ready for a light rail system — I just don’t think the density is there. At least not right away, but maybe someday. instead, there’s no reason why Indianapolis can’t have the best damn bus system in America. Currently, we’re ranked 99th — just behind a guy with a potato cart in Boise, I think.

I honestly don’t think there’s any money to be found in making the current IndyGo more efficient. If anything, I think that’s the one agency in Indianapolis we can all agree is barely scraping by and isn’t wasting much of anything except the time and patience of riders and would-be patrons. It costs money to run busses all over the place all the time.

I support IndyConnect’s proposed bus enhancement plan. It’s supported by businesses and residents alike, promotes cross-city routes that means you won’t have to hop a bus to go Downtown only to go up the road to Castelton from Irvington. With the expanded bike routes that Indianapolis is building under Greg Ballard’s tenure, bicycling a short distance to go a long distance is an added bonus. Imagine an Indianapolis where a bus stop runs within with a mile of your front door, at most, and when you get there, a bus is there in 10 minutes or less. Hop on and go.

At least 15% of your income goes to your car if you make a payment, maybe more. Think about the savings you stand to gain.

To pay for it all, there’s no bones about it, it’s most likely going to come from tax increases. I also think tiered rider fees are fair. If you’re on welfare or unemployment, you can get a temporary discount until you get a job or until your discount expires. If you live in a million dollar home in Washington Township, expect to pay full price for a ride.

It puts more money in the pockets of more people, increases disposable income for residents to spend locally and makes us even more attractive to the young, the elderly in need of transportation and businesses looking to setup shop someplace with a lot of people traffic.


I’ve asked a lot of people and talked to a lot more about crime in Indianapolis. By the sound of some people, you’d think we’re all about ten minutes from a shoot-out at the Ok-Coralle smack in the middle of Meridian Street. Most don’t feel one way or another on crime, however.

Police forces by their very nature are reactive. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they can be proactive by being in just the right place at the right time, like if you were about to see someone back into a car and you could stop them. But that’s rare. Even if the number of police on the streets reached a ratio of 2:1, there’d still be crime. And to be truly proactive, that would require a level of Orwellian surveillance that none of us are excited or impressed by.

Murders, assaults and rapes do not happen because everyone’s crazy or insane. I happen to believe that most people are inherently good. Crime happens when people reach a situation where they are completely incapable of identifying any other alternative. They have no money, they need to eat, so they rob a gas station and someone gets hurt in the process. Again, unless you want to pay for armed guards at every gas station in the city, all the restructuring and rejiggering of the police force in the world won’t solve this problem.

Crime prevention programs aren’t very effective because most criminals don’t exactly pickup a copy of the Indianapolis Star each morning and read about all the programs and things they can do.

And this is because they probably don’t have much respect for education. No one disputes that educated people are much less likely to commit aggressive crimes.

In most of America, it costs more to send someone to prison than it does to send them to school. That’s a pretty striking example of some messed up priorities.

So here’s an idea everyone can get behind because it helps adults, reduces the prison population and saves money at the same time: how about we start turning prison cells into classrooms? There is absolutely no reason why a person in jail, particularly if they’ve done something “soft”, like drug or alcohol abuse, has to sit there and stare at a wall or play basketball or lift weights all day and not know how to read. Instead of training jailers and prison staff to be disciplinarians, how about we also train them to teach?

Give prisoners real support, so we can return them into society and hopefully not encounter another run-in with them again. Plenty of people are in need of just the kind of labor former prisoners can provide.

But what about preventing them from getting into prison in the first place? That leads me to my next issue…


Education at this level of government is hard. The state has an increasingly dominant role in public schools. Indianapolis Public Schools and its Superintendent Eugene White and the school board do  not report to the Mayor. The Mayor’s office has absolutely no control over what IPS or Warren or Wayne or any of the other township schools do or do not do.

So it’s with a heavy set of shackles on our arms that we try to move forward by offering ideas, but ideas are cheap. Execution matters.

Prior administrations have made Charter Schools, a form of public school that exists outside of the control of the school districts and are directly under the Mayor’s office. They’re some good charters out there, and they’re some crummy ones, too, that should be shut down.

Running a sort of phantom school system just to run around another is costly, ridiculous and unfair to students, teachers, parents and tax payers.

But, that’s the boat we’re in now and it won’t be easy or quick to change it. It’s seemingly the only solution we’ve got, so let’s run with it. Ideally, under the charters, I’d like to see an increase in teacher qualifications, standards and prior experience.

I’ve sat in a lot of classrooms, admittedly not charter classrooms, but I’ve sat in a lot of classrooms where the teachers are teaching a topic and they’re not necessarily up-to-date on the content themselves, and they willingly and knowingly admit this to me. This is particularly true of courses centered around science, technology and engineering.

A lot of teachers (not all, but some) might even admit that in retrospect, their training and education was focused on “how to teach”, not “what to teach”. This is useful in a lot of circumstances, like trying to help a young student learn to read when they’re struggling, but this isn’t the best approach for every situation.

Most of Indianapolis’ elementary schools are actually pretty good. Things start to break down in middle schools and high schools are what most would describe as deplorable.

If I’m learning chemistry, I’d rather be taught by a really passionate chemist who actually worked in the field for a number of years, not just someone who went to school 20 years ago to learn chemistry and has been teaching it ever since. Getting professionals to teach brings in a level of excitement, passion and subtle skills and knowledge that’s contagious, and it infects the students around them. My own experience teaching tells me that when students know actual, valuable, useful work is being produced, the interest level is sky-high.

Colleges and universities do it all the time, hiring adjunct faculty that teach a class after having done their trade themselves for years. Some of the best classes I ever had at IU were by those people, not career professors. I want to bring that to our middle and high schools. Let Language Arts be taught by actual writers and poets, let Journalism be taught by actual journalists, let web development and computer programming courses be taught by actual computer programmers and designers.

Giving students the access to people who are actually making something of themselves brings a level of inspiration to the classroom, just like some students get inspired to be teachers by seeing their teachers teach. Let’s broaden that and allow qualified and upstanding professionals teach their trades. No one knows better what they want to see in future co-workers than people in their industry.

Let them do what they do best: innovate, inspire and produce results.

Miscellaneous Matters

  • I want to blog my entire time in office. If the office is to be truly transparent, then that should start with me and my work. If I have a meeting with the water company about repairing some pipes under Washington Street, then I should write about it, let people know and explain the decisions we reached. If we decided to delay repairs because of bad weather, then I’ll explain it. If we decided to do it right now, despite some traffic flow issues, then I should explain that, too.
  • I’d invite a journalist from The Indianapolis Star, IBJ or Nuvo to hang around during the day, but I doubt they take me up on my offer to have someone reporting on everything.
  • I quite literally want to remove every copy machine from the City-County Building. There is no reason why, in 2011, that everything must still be printed on paper. I’d be taking a serious look at the number of administrative assistants in that building, too. Some are needed, no doubt, but people can and should manage their own resources, schedules and work.
  • I think the era of direct-democracy is darn close. I’d like to build a website that functions similar to Digg or Reddit that allows people to vote up or down issues of the greatest importance to them. It’d be secure, allow you to vote only once on each issue (and you can change your mind, of course), and it would help me and the City-County Council keep our finger on the pulse of the city. Residents can propose ideas, post responses and offer their ideas on a host of matters that might otherwise go unnoticed but reflect on the livability of the city.
  • I’ll only stay in office one term unless it’s clear that my leaving after just one term is clearly not the majority opinion of residents.

Sound like a good start? Sound worth my time? Worth fighting for?

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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