Elkhart needs a healthy mayoral election

Elkhart could use a spirited 2015 election for mayor.
Posted on Aug. 17, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 17, 2013 at 5:46 p.m.

It seems as if we just elected a mayor.

Perhaps that’s because we did.

In November 2011, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore won reelection over Republican David Ashe with 61 percent of the vote. He’s already hinting that he’ll seek a third term.

At least one Republican — State Rep. Tim Neese — already wants a shot at him. And, although it appears early to begin the 2015 campaign, a long, hard look at a crowded field of candidates could be the best thing for Elkhart’s future.

Neese served on the Elkhart City Council before winning six terms in the Indiana Statehouse. He received only token opposition in 2012, crushing Democrat Dan Morrison by nearly 2-1. Moore put up similar numbers in both his campaigns, winning election with more than twice as many votes as Republican Jim Pettit in 2007.

But lopsided political victories do not necessarily serve a community well.

A candidate does not win two landslide mayoral elections by accident — or, for that matter, six terms in the General Assembly. Moore and Neese crafted positions that appealed to a devoted core of supporters.

Still, if either candidate had faced more than placeholders, they would’ve been forced to continue to articulate their ideas for voters. A tight election brings out both the best and worst in a candidate, and in order to make an informed decision, the public needs to see both.

Moore faced no primary opposition in 2011. He began his second term with a series of decisions made in isolation — plans for an expansive transit center in Central Park, for instance, and forgiveness of the RV/MH Hall of Fame’s $115,000 utility bill — that caught the city council by surprise.

In the first case, his disdain for collaboration led to the abandonment of a visionary idea. In the second, he so distracted the council that it lost focus and approved Moore’s disastrous compact fee policy — an issue that continues to consume the city.

Neese, assured of a sixth term, showed up in the Statehouse and sponsored a piece of legislation on behalf of the reactionary John Birch Society essentially banning the United Nations from Indiana. This after he insisted that nothing mattered more than economic development and restoring cuts in education funding.

This is not to dismiss either Neese or Moore. It is only to point out that unchallenged politicians often lose their focus on the things important to a community, which is something Elkhart cannot afford.

Elkhart did not anticipate, when it elected a mayor in 2007, that less that two years later it would find itself struggling to survive 20 percent unemployment. Moore, in concert with business leaders and elected officials throughout the county, continues to rebuild the local economy.

But we have made up most of our losses, cutting unemployment to 8.6 percent, and our focus must eventually shift from recovery to reinvention — to building a new, high-tech economy, fueled by a young, educated workforce, and efficiently using our limited funds to improve public safety and livability.

In order to do all that, we need to hear from many candidates. We need to thoroughly test their ideas — lots of ideas, not just Neese’s and Moore’s.

Yes, it makes for a long election cycle, but too much is at risk; we need to get our 2015 mayoral decision right. So let’s start now.

Let the campaigning begin.

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