We'll probably remember this year's local election for years. There have been a number of twists this year that make the upcoming Nov. 6 mayoral and City Council elections difficult to predict.
This year's election has had few periodic stints of normalcy. Almost weekly, something out of the ordinary has happened. Normally, incumbency would help get someone elected or the person's political party could most likely secure a win, but not this time. Incumbency could hurt someone's chances since there's an anti-incumbent mood among many voters who are upset over the smoking ban, or Harrison Square, or being blocked out of a big public hearing—or just because.
This year, it's hard to tell how much weight political party affiliation carries, with some Democrats sounding like Republicans and some Republicans sounding like Democrats and Libertarians—who fielded nearly a full slate of City Council candidates—sounding like Libertarians.
By now, independent polls on who's "leading" the races traditionally would be all over the papers. Not this time. Polls are being taken by the parties with results kept under wrap; and no one is putting any faith in the on-line polls being done by the papers and the TV news channels due to unreliable results caused by the Rep. Ron Paul effect of "poll-stacking" or "cyber-jamming," a new political phenomenon made possible by the Internet.
The key to who will win is in which groups will show up with the greatest numbers. Will it be the pro-Kelty, pro-Henry, pro-Libertarian, antiincumbent, anti-smoking ban or other candidate-specific groups? Whoever and whichever group shows up with strength in numbers will win.
Just consider these highlights—or lowlights depending on your point of view—which could impact voter turnout this year:
- Election year starting off with accusations that a Kelty billboard was too big.
- Citizen complaints that campaign signs were causing traffic problems on busy intersections.
- Former Notre Dame football coach Jerry Faust getting involved in local election politics by verifying that Kelty did practice and try out to be a Notre Dame punter.
- Presidential contenders speaking at the party convention in Fort Wayne of a third party, the Libertarian Party.
- Kelty winning the Republican primary for mayor in an unexpected upset.
- Democrat primary winner Henry firing his campaign manager before campaign ever gets started.
- Both Henry and Kelty being accused all summer by media of hiding out on the issues and having a low or no profile.
- A Democratic Council candidate changing his mind and dropping out of race.
- An anti-incumbent coalition fueled by the citywide smoking ban forming and endorsing a slate of candidates.
- The leader of the anti-smoking ban group being discovered previously guilty of voter fraud and leaving the city, apparently not coming back since.
- Kelty changing his initial campaign finance report to clarify and address questions of party leaders.
- Henry's top advisor—his father, Jerry Henry—offering his son the sage advice of running his own campaign and staying out of the competition's.
- Republican Party Chair Steve Shine working overtime to mend party factions and volunteering to get "dunked" for local charity after lingering bitterness over Kelty's upset of party favorite Nelson Peters in the primary election threatens Republican unity.
- The Allen County Elections Board investigating possible campaign finance reporting irregularities by Kelty and finding no wrongdoing with two Republicans topping one Democrat on the board in a 2-1 vote.
- Common Cause of Indiana getting involved by filing complaint with Allen County to investigate possible Kelty campaign finance irregularities.
- The Republican Allen County Prosecutor punting the case to out-of-county independent inquiry—Dan Sigler, the same special prosecutor who filed campaign violation charges against former Democrat Mayor Win Moses during the 1980s.
- A grand jury indicting Kelty on his campaign finance report, leading to Kelty being handcuffed and taken to jail in full view of cameras rolling.
- Conspiracy theories playing out in private opinion articles casting blame on either Steve Shine, the Republican Executive Committee, the Democrats or Democrat Election Board member Andy Downs for Kelty's situation.
- The Republican Party split over supporting Kelty for the mayor's race and the Executive Committee being abolished.
- Party faithful of both mayoral parties splitting ranks, with "Republican for Henry" and "Democrat for Kelty" signs appearing.
- Stop Crawford (the At-large city councilman who authored the smoking ban legislation) bumper stickers appearing.
- A political satire birthday cake receiving two weeks of press coverage nearly topping coverage of the war in Iraq.
- Popular and powerful Republican Congressman Mark Souder withdrawing his Kelty endorsement, resulting in Souder supporters being angry at him over endorsement withdrawal—given that many of same people supporting Kelty also put and kept Souder in office.
- Libertarians fielding nearly a full slate of City Council candidates, so that for the first time ever in history, voters have three partycandidate choices for eight of the nine council seats.
Interestingly, another unexpected factor that makes this election different is this campaign's clean and even friendly public tone-so far. Both mayoral candidates publicly have been speaking highly of each other's families. City Council candidate public forums also have a friendly tone. The forums have been marked by professional common courtesy and candidates voicing positions without interruption and potshots. No jeering or tasers either.
When the above events are taken together or even in bits and pieces, the city's 2007 election sets the bar at an unprecedented height for a really strange and unpredictable election year. Will the absence of "normalcy" in this election turn people off or help get out the vote? There are a whole lot more registered voters than in the election four years ago. As of October 24, there were 172,800 people registered to vote or 34,207 (24.6 percent increase) more than the 2003 election due to three annexations and a city population increase. But, of all these people, who will actually show up? It really is up to us. We do hire them, and fire politicians. We make a difference in the direction of our city. And, we can put our mark on it again by showing up on Nov. 6. As always, it's up to us.