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Blog > Tony Katz > Did Erika Smith Really Live In Indianapolis?

Did Erika Smith Really Live In Indianapolis?

The former Indy Star columnist describes a different city in a divisive and dismissive "Dear John" letter to Indy

Perceptions - whether that be of people or of a city - can differ from person to person, based on their experiences. However, over time and observation, trends and truths can be gleaned. After reading former Indy Star columnist Erika Smith's "Dear John" letter to Indianapolis, the truth is as clear as day: Erika Smith never lived in Indianapolis. Not a day in her life.

For a lifetime (or so it must have seemed,) Indy was a big town wondering if it would ever reach little city status. Then - certainly not overnight, and not without forethought and the dogged determination that only a Hoosier mind could provide - Indianapolis became a city. Not a little city, a real city. Not little Chicago, nor a way station between Cincinnati and St. Louis. A city, with an identity and a people and a soul.

Indianapolis is a city; fresh and joyous. It took what Mayor Hudnut proffered - a vision for something bigger. Oh, hello Colts! - and continued it through to Mayors Goldsmith, Peterson and Ballard, creating a bi-partisan city that took aim at the old moniker, "Naptown," and quite literally smacked it out of the Hoosier consciousness.

Did Erika Smith not notice this growth? This determination? This vision for what could be? Did Erika Smith not notice what came with it? BlueBeard and Milktooth and Bakersfield and Mesh on Mass to match the mainstays like John's Famous Stew and the Mug and Bun (with the greatest root beer in the nation!)

Did she not notice the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and its $70 million plus expansion in 2005? Did she never once walk in the door, and notice what hangs on its walls? Hopper, Monet, Gauguin; all in our city, providing a sumptuous feast for the senses. Or the Eiteljorg, which had its own major expansion in 2005. Exactly how many cities have a museum that honors native Americans, their art and the history, and can boast a collection that includes Warhol, O'Keeffe and Wyeth?

That is but a sampling on the list of things that makes Indy a truly amazing city. A city, as Smith put it, she always knew she would have to leave one day, "...for one that better reflects my ideals."

World class art. World class chefs. World class sports. World class people. If those four things aren't part of your "ideals," what in the world do you actually believe in?

Smith never lived a day in Indy, the city entrepreneurs flock to for their shot at the American Dream. One that sees nature and business working hand in hand - just take a look at how Sean O'Connor, and the team at Flat 12 Bierwerks, care for Pogues Run, part of which borders the back of their brewery.

Smith never lived in the Indy of growth and possibility. The Indy that recognized that you don't have to sacrifice being good in order to be great. The Monon trail doesn't divide us, it gives us a place to come together. The Indy that brings the Hilbert and the IRT, along with the 500 and the Eleven.

For Smith, rather than use her own words, she quoted a friend to explain her issues. "What I love most about Indianapolis is I can make a difference here," Smith states. "What I hate most about Indianapolis is that I have to make a difference here."

Erika Smith's Indy didn't meet up to her lofty "ideals," as she put them. But she has an idea of what cities do stack up. As she writes;

"We aren't Portland or Austin or Boston or San Francisco."

Portland? Portland might be the whitest city in America! The former Governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, had to resign in disgrace a few months back because his fiancee used his position - and hers - in order to obtain consulting work. And should we mention their $300 million failed Obamacare website?

In San Francisco, seven police officers were fired for sending racist texts - including jokes about blacks and lynching, and attacks on gays and hispanics. In Indy, we have Chief Rick Hite and a pro-active police force that wants to work with and within our neighborhoods to stop crime before it starts.

Smith is moving to Sacramento, to join the Sacramento Bee. The unemployment rate in Sacramento is 7.3%. In Indianapolis, it's 5.8%

When Smith talks about places that share her ideals, is this what she's referring to?

Austin is great; a fun city with lots of art and excitement (and South by SouthWest!) and an unemployment rate of 3.2%, thanks in large part to a successful state run by Republican Governors and led by a Republican legislature.

And did Erika Smith just compare us to Boston? As I said, she has never lived a day in Indy.

Nothing is without trials and tribulations and growing pains. Indy has had plenty, and will continue to have them. Crime is an issue. Violent crime is an issue. In 2014, the murder rate in Indy was 3rd highest on record, with 135 criminal murders. It is real, important and can not be brushed aside. It is an unfortunate part of our growth, but not unexpected.

But Smith knows that (or must, if she's honest at least to herself.) What she's really saying is that Indy is racist, bigoted and homophobic. Not just Indy, but all of Indiana. She writes:

....that diversity — in all of its forms — is something to be embraced, not feared. That education — preschool all the way through college — is something to be pursued and prized. That bike lanes aren't just a hassle for cars, that all poor people aren't lazy, that all black males aren't thugs, and that investing in troubled urban neighborhoods isn't a waste of money and energy.

She finishes the construction of her elitist, pseudo-intellectual drive-by on Hoosiers by stating, "That good enough is no longer good enough to compete in a world with Portlands and Austins and Bostons and San Franciscos."

Maybe she hasn't noticed the investment in the East Side; Sun King and Flat 12 and Smoking Goose. Erika, have you been to General American Donut or the Inventorialist? Have you seen the rebuilding of house after house after house?

Some might think bike lanes are a hassle, but is that a reason to write off a city? That's not sound reasoning. It's just petty.

I would respond to her claim that Indy thinks all black males are thugs, but I don't respond to nonsense talking points dreamed up by MSNBC hosts and repeated by opinion columnists who quote others because they can't think for themselves.

(Hey, Erika? When you make your black thugs claim, are you saying that's how Chief Hite thinks? Or Rev. Harrison of the Ten Point Coalition? Or Paul George? Or Abdul Hakim-Shabazz?

And, if the mentioning of prominent black Indy residents is too on the spot for your insulting attack on the character of the people here, are you saying that's how Mayor Greg Ballard thinks? Or former Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle? Or Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan? Or Pacers coach Frank Vogel? Or Colts owner Jim Irsay?)

And , just in case the mentioning of prominent white Indy residents is also too on the spot for your insulting attack on the character of the people here, are you saying that's how the owners of Sun King think? Or the featured performers in Spamalot at the Booth Tarkington Theater? Or Troy, who cuts my hair? Or me?)

Perhaps her haphazard comments are a response to RFRA, and the outpouring of hate from across the nation and within the state (including her former Star colleague Matthew Tully.) While I opposed RFRA (with logic and a message of the Constitution,) Smith's cohorts disagreed by calling all Hoosiers "bigots" and threatening to burn down a pizzeria.

And now she moves to California, where, in 2008, 52% of the people declared - with their vote! - that marriage is between one man and one woman. Such a tolerant land, California is... unless you're gay... or a farmer in the Central Valley.

Erika Smith has never lived in Indy. She has lived, unfortunately for her, in a living hell of her own creation; A place where nothing is good and nothing is right, except for her and those she declared to be good and right. Smith lives in a place of constant racism and strife, where no uplifting moments exist; moments that could be built upon and learned from.

Smith never lived in Indy. She spent her years here thinking the worst of everyone around her. Constantly, it would seem, Smith is enraged and disgusted at her lot in life; an opinion columnist with no opinions in a city she declared racist and bigoted, dreaming constantly of life in the big city.... of Portland.

She ends her statement, saying, "I am honored to have been part of Indianapolis' evolution."

But that's just not true. Look at her words, then look around this magnificent place we call home. Erika Smith never lived in Indianapolis. And that's a shame, because it's a great city.

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